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Clash over GM seeds brings private eyes, angst -- and lawsuits

(Friday, July 8, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Japan finds 4th U.S. corn cargo tainted with Bt-10
2. Genetically modified corn study reveals health damage and cover-up
3. U.S. cotton farmers subsidize Monsanto's market expansion in India
4. Agragen sows a crop of false assertions
5. Argentina to fight Monsanto in court, suspend soybean talks
6. Ballot measure sparks battle for biotech crops
7. Clash over GM seeds brings private eyes, angst -- and lawsuits
8. China no to GMO
9. Farmers ask why GM crops perform worse in drought

1. Japan finds 4th U.S. corn cargo tainted with Bt-10

Reuters, July 7, 2005

TOKYO - Japan has discovered a fourth U.S. feed grain cargo tainted with Bt-10 biotech corn, and the importer must either destroy it or ship it back to the United States, the Agriculture Ministry said.

Samples from the U.S. feed corn cargo tested positive for traces of Bt-10, a genetically modified (GMO) corn strain made by Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta AG that has not been approved for distribution.

Syngenta said in March that some of its corn seeds in the United States had been mistakenly contaminated with Bt-10 from 2001 to 2004.

Japan has a zero-tolerance policy on imports of unapproved GMO crops. The Agriculture Ministry has proposed accepting feed grain cargoes with up to 1 percent of Bt-10 corn, to smooth the flow of U.S. corn supplies to Japan's livestock industry. But the plan is subject to approval by Japan's Food Safety Commission, an independent agency.

In a statement issued late on Wednesday, a ministry official said the tainted cargo arrived on June 20 at the port of Tomakomai on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Samples containing Bt-10 were taken from 1,429 tonnes of corn in the vessel.

The ministry did not name the importer.

It was the fourth discovery since May 23 when the ministry started random tests on arriving U.S. corn shipments. The three previous cases were reported on June 1, June 3 and June 23.

More contaminated cargoes will likely be found, as the ministry has stepped up its tests to cover all U.S. corn cargoes.

To ensure tainted supplies are not shipped to Japan, the ministry has told importers of U.S. corn they must obtain certificates stating the cargoes do not contain Bt-10.

2. Genetically Modified Corn Study Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up

By Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception

When a German court ordered Monsanto to make public a controversial 90-day rat study on June 20, 2005, the data upheld claims by prominent scientists who said that animals fed the genetically modified (GM) corn developed extensive health effects in the blood, kidneys and liver and that humans eating the corn might be at risk. The 1,139 page research paper on Monsanto's "Mon 863" variety also revealed that European regulators accepted the company's assurances that their corn is safe, in spite of the unscientific and contradictory rationale that was used to dismiss significant problems. In addition, the study is so full of flaws and omissions, critics say it wouldn't qualify for publication in most journals and yet it is the primary document used to evaluate the health impacts.

Mon 863 is genetically engineered to produce a form of a pesticide called bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, designed to attack a corn pest called the root worm. Rats fed Mon 863 developed several reactions, including those typically found with allergies (increased basophils), in response to infections, toxins and various diseases including cancer (increased lymphocytes and white blood cells), and in the presence of anemia (decreased reticulocyte count) and blood pressure problems (decreased kidney weights). There were also increased blood sugar levels, kidney inflammation, liver and kidney lesions, and other changes. According to top research biologist Arpad Pusztai, who was commissioned by the German government to evaluate the study in 2004, based on the evidence no one can say that Mon 863 will cause cancer or allergies or anything specific. The results are preliminary and must be followed-up to rule these out. He warns, however, "It is almost impossible to imagine that major lesions in important organs. . . . or changes in blood parameters. . . . that occurred in GM maize-fed rats, is incidental and due to simple biological variability."

French Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, a molecular endocrinologist at the University of Caen, agrees that the results indicate a toxic reaction. Seralini is a member of two French government commissions that evaluate GM food, one of which originally rejected a request for approval of the corn variety in October, 2003 due to the adverse findings of the study. Seralini won a French lawsuit allowing him to express his concerns in public, and now Greenpeace has won a German court battle that makes public the data that is the source of his concerns.

Pusztai and Seralini spoke about the Mon 863 study at a June 22 press conference in Berlin organized by Greenpeace. Both scientists are uniquely qualified to evaluate the study. Seralini studies endocrine disruptors and the impact of pesticides on health. He was one of four experts appointed to respond to the WTO challenge filed by the US against the European Union's policy on GM food and crops. He has read all of the industry's GM-food submissions to Europe as well as all the commentaries on the submissions. Pusztai is the leading authority in his field of protein science (lectins) and had been commissioned by the UK government in the 1990s to develop the ideal testing protocol for all GM foods. Although his protocol was supposed to be adopted by the UK government and eventually in Europe, Pusztai's controversial finding that GM potatoes damaged the health of rats ultimately stopped the work. Pusztai has also been commissioned to evaluate all published studies on GM foods, and has analyzed most of the confidential submissions made by industry.

Both scientists have expressed alarm about the unsupported arguments that Monsanto and some European regulators use to force product approvals. Now that the Mon 863 study is available, other scientists and the public can evaluate the industry's defense, which Pusztai and Seralini say contradict well established scientific principles. Chief among their concerns are the ways Monsanto explains away statistically significant effects.

Faulty Comparisons Hide Problems

In animal feeding studies, researchers attempt to minimize differences between the test animals and the control groups, so that only the impact of the item being analyzed will stand out. In this study therefore, the test rats ate Mon 863 and the control group ate non-GM corn from the same parent line, i.e., corn whose genetics are the same except for the insertion of the genetic material and its impact. When comparing the results of these two appropriate groups, the health impacts were unambiguous and occurred at a rate that the scientific community accepts as not due to chance. But Monsanto and their supporters in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) appear to throw away the accepted methods of science that have been used for decades in order to rationalize the findings.

1. Researchers used six additional control groups, which were fed commercial corn varieties with entirely different genetics. While such comparisons are appropriate for commercial studies, it is entirely inappropriate for a safety assessment, according to Pusztai. Monsanto claimed that when the changes in the test rats were compared to this much larger, irrelevant control group, many changes were no longer significant.

2. In spite of the strained logic, many results were still statistically significant when compared to these six other controls and were reported as such by the laboratory that Monsanto used to conduct the study. Monsanto therefore ignored the study's figures and claimed that since the changes in the rats were still within a wide range of reactions that are normal for the animals, they should be considered biologically irrelevant. Using this argument, for example, they declared that a 52% decrease in reticulocytes (immature blood cells) was "attributable to normal biological variability." According to Pusztai, an allowance of 5% variability is the norm in food experiments. Similarly, he says that the increase in blood sugar levels by 10% "cannot be written off as biologically insignificant, given the epidemic of diabetes."

To put Monsanto's claims into perspective, suppose that a large number of women who were fed a carefully controlled diet had a 25% increase in breast cancer compared to matched controls on another diet. Using Monsanto's logic, the findings can be dismissed because the increase was still within the normal variability of breast cancer for the whole population.

3. In spite of the statistical slight-of-hand, several results could still not be dismissed since they were well beyond the range Monsanto had defined as normal. So the company claimed that the potentially dangerous health effects were not considered significant because the reaction among the rats was not consistent between males and females.

"This is really ridiculous," says Seralini, because everyone studying cancer and endocrinology, for example, knows that there are differences between genders.

4. When even the gender defense could not be applied to a particular finding, Monsanto dismissed it since the reactions were not always dose specific. Specifically, the results observed in rats fed a diet that was 11% Mon 863 were sometimes more pronounced than results found in rats fed a 33% diet. Seralini notes that in endocrinology and toxicology research, differences are not always proportional to effects noted. A small dose of a hormone, for example, can cause a woman to ovulate, while a larger dose can make her infertile.

5. When all other excuses failed, Monsanto claimed that with such a large study, one would expect lots of results to fall in the statistically significant category purely by chance. Thus, no follow-up is required.

Seralini says, "It is dishonest not to do the tests again if you have statistical significance." Pusztai similarly asks, "What is the point of doing a study if you dismiss the results you find?" He insists that you design a study specifically so that statistical significance indicates biological significance.

In spite of the fact that Monsanto's explanations were at odds with time-honored principles of science, the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) recommended that Mon 863 be approved. In fact, the agency's justification mimics that of Monsanto, point for point. In spite of EFSA's recommendation to approve Mon 863, the majority of the countries in the EU Council of Ministers voted not to approve the corn on July 24, 2005. But EU law requires a "qualified majority" on such a vote, and so the pro-GM European Commission is now authorized to make the decision and is expected to approve Mon 863 within a few months.

Mon 863 will not be the first approved GM food in Europe to have shown significant health effects in rats. According to Seralini, an oilseed rape (GT 73), Roundup Ready corn (NK 603), and two Bt corn varieties (Bt11 and Mon 810) all showed statistically significant problems that regulators did not pursue with follow-up research. Seralini said that the effects of the GM crops were similar to that of pesticides. Some included inflammation disorders and problems in the livers and kidneys, the two major organs involved with detoxification. Seralini is part of a research group raising money to do independent research on a GM variety he says showed more than 50 significant rat anomalies.

GM Food is Prone to Unpredicted Effects

How can a GM crop create so many significant unpredicted side effects? There are several ways. The process of gene insertion, for example, typically results in hundreds or thousands of mutations throughout the genome. Insertion also changes the amount of protein that natural genes produce (5% of the genes in one study) and can destroy natural genes altogether. The protein created by the inserted gene may also create allergies or toxins. Several studies indicate, for example, that the Bt pesticide may cause allergic or immune system effects. Furthermore, according to Monsanto's submission on Mon 863 to Australia and New Zealand, some of the foreign genetic material that was added into the corn was mutated during the insertion process. This means that the composition of the Bt protein that the corn creates is actually different than the one scientists intended.

With so many ways to create side effects, many scientists and consumer groups are demanding extensive evaluations and insist that a simple 90-day rat experiment is not competent to protect the public. In the EU, pesticide approvals require research on three types of mammals, with feeding studies ranging from 90 days to two years. Seralini points out that Bt crops create new pesticides. Mon 863, for example, is unique; it differs from the natural version of Bt pesticide in seven ways and should, according to Seralini, require at least the same level of evaluation as chemical pesticides. The same holds true for herbicide tolerant crops, which are engineered to survive large applications of weed killers such as Monsanto's Roundup. Seralini points out that these GM plants have far more herbicide residues in the edible portions and extensive toxicity tests must be performed. But the biotech industry claims that they could not afford to introduce GM crops if they had to pay for the tests normally required for pesticides in Europe. For GM crop approvals in the US, they spend even less. US authorities require only 30-day studies for the Bt plants and no safety tests whatsoever are required for herbicide tolerant varieties.

Flaws in the Mon 863 Study Should Have Caused It to be Rejected

According to Pusztai, the quality of Monsanto's study was well below that normally required for a peer reviewed publication. He says, "It is odd, therefore, that it remains the central document considered by government regulatory authorities upon which to make a decision to protect the health of European citizens."

Several features of the study appear to have been rigged to avoid finding problems. Nutritional studies, for example, typically use young, fast-growing animals, which are sensitive to toxic and nutritional effects. By using a mix of young and old animals, Monsanto's research design may have hidden serious problems. Similarly, they used rats with a huge range of starting weights. According to Pusztai, the starting weights in a rat feeding study should not vary more than 2% from the average. By contrast, the male starting weights in Monsanto's study ranged from 198.4 to 259.8 grams (or 143 to 186 grams according to the conflicting data in the study's appendix). In either case, says Pusztai, the wide range "can make it impossible to find significant differences in animal weights at the end of the experiment."

Monsanto tested the effects of two diets: in one Mon 863 constituted 33% of the rats' diet, and in the other, it was 11%. Even in the 33% group, GM corn protein comprised only about 15% of the rats' total protein. According to Pusztai, researchers should have started with the maximum amount of corn possible (while maintaining a balanced diet), and then used lower concentrations to evaluate any dose effect. (Since rats are stand-ins for humans, it is interesting to note that African aid recipients typically rely on corn for 90% of their total caloric intake.) Researchers also supplemented the corn with a commercial animal feed. Although its composition wasn't reported, it may have contained GM soy, which could have skewed the results.

The study relied on analytical methods that are half a century old and ignored powerful new methods, such as profiling techniques, DNA chips, proteomics, and others. They relied on just two observation times (week 5 and week 14), which will not give data about the intervening periods. And the short 90-day time period will miss chronic and reproductive problems, as well as problems in the next generation.

The analysis of the findings was obscured by using six irrelevant control groups fed commercial diets, as well as data from historical databases. Such comparisons are totally unacceptable in the field of nutrition. According to Pusztai, "The study should have included a control group fed the non-GM parent line, spiked with the Bt obtained from the Mon 863. If rats reacted badly to this diet, it would show that the genetic engineering process and its unpredicted side effects, and not the Bt toxin, were responsible. Pusztai says, "A second parental line spiked with a known toxin would also be useful as a positive control," to make sure the measurements are sensitive enough to detect the expected impact of the toxin. Without this, it is difficult to know if the methods were working properly.

Monsanto also defended changes in kidney weights by comparing the values with a separate study, which used different corn genetics and a different lab. According to Pusztai, this absurd inter-experimental comparison is never done and should be disregarded.

Some of the reported weight measurements were also bizarre, suggesting possible problems with animal management or faulty data. One rat dropped 53 grams in one week and gained 102 grams in the next. Some that were heaviest at the beginning of the experiment were the lightest at the end. And the rats hardly grew at all during the last four weeks.

Overall, the research paper was confusing, conflicting, and poorly reported. It failed to disclose, for example, the nutritional composition of the feed - backed up by chemical analysis - and the methods used to measure changes in the animals. Since these most basic requirements for a nutritional study were not provided, the research cannot be repeated and the results remain suspect.

Referring to the study as a whole, Pusztai says, "Nutritional scientists and leading journals would not accept these blatant inadequacies and misinterpretations."

The Politics of Science Fails to Protect the Public

When Seralini wanted to voice his concerns about the industry's safety studies, he was told by French authorities that he was legally bound to keep even his opinions confidential. A lawsuit eventually granted him the right to speak, but until June 20, 2005, biotech companies were able to keep their feeding studies hidden by claiming that they contained confidential business information. Seralini says that "No one can understand, even among EU regulators, why the composition of the blood of rats that have eaten the GM is secret." The precedent established by the German court may open the door for more biotech studies to be made public. Without disclosure, says Seralini, just a few toxicologists can make the decision without public evaluation. And too often, the decision-making body is heavily influenced by the applying company.

In his French Commission for Biomolecular Genetics (CBG), for example, the government nominates three candidates for the position of the very important "external referee." That referee studies the application and presents the relevant facts to the 18-member committee. For about ten years, the applicant companies such as Monsanto were able to choose which candidate of the three was to be the referee overseeing their products' approval process. Seralini says, "I had a big fight with the commission" over the conflict of interest. As a result, the government changed the rules, and for the Mon 863 application they allowed the president of the commission the right to choose the referee. The president, however, is a geneticist who works very closely with industry. He appointed the same person that the biotech industry had chosen in the past.

After the CBG failed to approve Monsanto's corn in 2003, the president asked for an outside scientist to re-evaluate just one of the significant differences - kidney weight. According to Seralini, the consultant ignored the blood and liver disorders entirely. And no additional research was actually conducted; the consultant simply re-examined the same data and declared the results insignificant. The commission scheduled another vote, but failed to achieve a quorum. The president ruled that a quorum would not be needed in the next meeting, and only five members showed up. The president cast the deciding vote that approved Mon 863, 3 votes to 2. The other votes in favor came from the commission's vice-president, who works at an organization that conducts agricultural research, and a scientist. According to Seralini, the scientist is a toxicologist who, oddly enough, is "always against long animal toxicity tests." In fact, he had been part of the French committee that approved Novartis (now Syngenta) E 176 corn after it had been tested for only two weeks with three cows. Actually, there were four cows at the start of the study, but one died and was removed.

The toxicologist is also on the European Food Standards Agency that endorsed Mon 863. EFSA has come under attack for including primarily pro-GM scientists. According to a November 2004 report by Friends of the Earth, "One member has direct financial links with the biotech industry and others have indirect links. . . . Two members have even appeared in promotional videos produced by the biotech industry." And several members, including the chairman, have been part of an EU-funded project with the stated goal to "facilitate market introduction of GMO's in Europe."

US Pushes its Agenda, and its Pests, on Europe

The United States government's support for biotech is no secret. In fact, it is the official policy in several US agencies to promote the industry, and some of them have attempted to push acceptance of GM crops in Europe. In the case of Mon 863, it seems that the corn is designed to solve a European problem that the US introduced. The corn is engineered with a pesticide to attack insects such as Diabrotica. According to Seralini, "Diabrotica is from a very dangerous family of insects for a wide range of crops and was absent from the European countries until the late 1990s, forbidden even in laboratories because it is very difficult to eliminate it with known chemical insecticides." He says it appears to have entered Europe from the US in large numbers during the Balkan war. Specifically, it was widespread around US military airports, whose planes were likely to have carried the pest. It has since spread primarily in Italy, France, and Germany.

According to Seralini, "Monsanto seems to have anticipated this problem." Before any infestation had been discovered, they were already field testing their corn in France in the late 1990s. Since it takes about five years of local field trials for a GM variety to be accepted in an EU nation, such early testing was necessary.

In addition to the crop pests, Europe may have also imported the US tradition of approving GM products based on faulty studies. Documents stolen from the US FDA reveal that when Monsanto's researchers intended to illustrate that their GM bovine growth hormone did not interfere with cows'; fertility, they allegedly added cows to the study that were pregnant prior to injection. An FDA whistle-blower also charged that sick cows were removed from industry studies altogether (see Seeds of Deception, chapter 3).

Critics demand that regulators use independent studies, not industry studies, to prevent manipulation of data. But there are only a few independently funded researchers. Biology professor Bela Darvas of Hungary's Debrecen University is one of them. After discovering that one of Monsanto's Bt corn varieties, Mon 810, is lethal to two Hungarian protected species and one insect classified as a rare, he ran into an unexpected obstacle. Now Monsanto refuses to give him any more Mon 810 corn to use in his tests. They also refused his request for Mon 863.

Perhaps with the court's release of Monsanto's rat study, the public will demand a more thorough investigation into GM foods and a change in the review and approval process. Until then, Europeans are relatively safe from the unintended effects, since most manufacturers refuse to use even approved GM ingredients there (with the exception of animal feed). Meanwhile, consumers in the US will unwittingly serve as the guinea pigs.

This is the June 2005 issue of Spilling the Beans, published by the Institute for Responsible Technology (www.responsibletechnology.org). Permission is granted to reproduce this in whole or in part.

(c) 2005 Jeffrey M. Smith

3. US Cotton Farmers Subsidize Monsanto’s Market Expansion in India

Media release, June 30, 2005

Many US cotton farmers are paying a high price for Monsanto’s Bt cotton technology, while the biotech giant fails to collect revenues for pirated Bt cotton varieties in India. The Polaris Institute asks if US farmers are picking up the tab for Monsanto’s market expansion in India.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), illegal Bt cotton is planted on an estimated 600,000 hectares in India, that is more than half of the country’s entire area planted to Bt cotton. Approved varieties are planted on 525,000 hectares. The USDA predicts that the plantings of illegal Bt varieties will jump to 700,000 hectares for the next growing season. In 2004/05 the area of illegal Bt planted in India is equivalent to 12% of the total US cotton hectares planted.

In the US, farmers must pay a ‘technology fee’ when purchasing the seed from authorized Monsanto seed dealers. If they are found violating their contract with Monsanto, whether for saving seed or supplying seed to someone else, they must pay 120 times the technology fee, in addition to the St. Louis company’s legal fees.

According to an article in Nature Biotechnology (2001) illegal Bt cotton containing Monsanto’s gene began to spread even before the government had approved the variety for commercial use. At the time, Monsanto's Indian director of government and public affairs, stated that the company could not take action against Navbharat Seeds ­ the company alleged to be developing and selling the seed illegally ­ because the Bt gene was not patent-protected in India. Monsanto gained patent protection for its Bt cotton in India in December 2004.

But this year, even with the patent protection in place, illegal varieties are spreading. The USDA reports that as many as 50 unapproved Bt varieties are being developed and sold by farmers and private seed companies, and cultivated in the country’s South, Central and Northern regions.

"The pattern of profitless adoption seems to be one that Monsanto cannot avoid," said David Macdonald, Analyst with the Polaris Institute. "The company attempted this same strategy in South American with soy to the detriment of investors and farmers alike."

David Macdonald, Tel: 613-237-1717 Cell: 613-725-7606

4. VIEWPOINT: Agragen sows a crop of false assertions

By Ernie Hoffert
Grand Forks Herald, 26 June 2005

In response to Agragen Inc. executives Sam Huttenbauer Jr., Sam Huttenbauer III and Eric Murphy, I would say most of it does not need to be dignified by my rebuttal.

However, some of their assertions are total fabrications or distortions.

The meeting that Ameriflax organized June 9 in Fargo was not a closed meeting. One of the authors contacted me about this issue, and I told him that Ameriflax was bound by the North Dakota open meeting law (in that it is funded by grower check-off funds) and that the meeting was open but that he was not welcome and Ann Bailey from Agweek magazine would be there to report on the discussion.

Agragen states that this is just an edible flax industry concern. Wrong: This is an entire industry concern. In 2004, flax growers produced about 15 million bushels from 600,000 acres that generated nearly $150 million for our producers. The food industry as well as the feed industry is at risk with Agragen's concept.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has a zero tolerance for commingling of plant-made pharmaceuticals in the food and feed supply, so even the linseed meal that remains after the linseed oil is extracted is subject to these regulations.

We also have our export market to Europe to consider. I was surprised when one of the major commercial flax buyers told us that 15 percent of our flax is exported to Europe - and, contrary to Murphy's assertion that Europe is softening its stance regarding biotech, it is not.

Agragen also claims that this opposition is being promoted by a "small but profitable sector." This, too, is false. Ameriflax has hosted two meetings on this subject, with the first in September 2004, where Agragen was given the whole day to sell this concept. Virtually all of the flax industry leaders - from the big industrial users to organic interests to North Dakota State University scientists - were there, including both major flax organizations from Canada.

And yet between the two meetings, not one - I repeat, not one - word of support for Agragen or their concept was voiced. In fact, the comments ranged from being very concerned to outright opposition. I think this is a little more than a "small, but profitable sector."

Again, the entire industry is at risk and not just in North Dakota. Just this week, a news story from Winnipeg voiced serious concerns from the Canadian Flax Council about the very real threat of their flax being contaminated by plant-made pharmaceutical flax from this side of the border.

Opposition to these pharmaceuticals is not limited to flax, but to all food and feed commodities in this country, including many of the major processing groups such as the Grocers Manufacturers Association and the North American Millers Association.

The entire plant-made pharmaceuticals concept has been a big disappointment to the biotech industry. Since 1991, there have been more than 200 open-air trials involving corn, beans and other crops - and to date, not one has passed the stringent guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration.

But Agragen officials would have you believe that this is no problem - even though their only other experience with plant-made pharmacueticals tried to use tobacco in Kentucky, but for whatever reason did not succeed.

They also would like you to believe that they have all the answers regarding accidental comingling, be it by pollen drift, seed mixture or other means. But they fail to talk about disasters such as Prodigene in Nebraska in 2002, when failure to monitor a plant-made pharmacueticals test plot from a previous year's trial led to contamination of 500,000 bushels of soybeans at a local elevator and a $3.5 million liability problem for Prodigene.

I wonder how much liability insurance Agragen will have to cover such disasters? Or will this liability fall back on the farmers involved - or will it be state, local or federal entities who may help fund this concept? Or will it be the angel investors or venture capital groups they hope to attract?

"Genetically engineered foods are among the riskiest of all possible insurance exposures that we have today," according to Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute.

What about lost markets to foreign or domestic buyers such as in the Starlink fiasco? Even biotech leader Monsanto has abandoned its subsidiary, Integrated Protein Technologies, due to "uncertainity of the longer-term reward from a highly capital-intensive business," Hartwig said.

And farmers don't buy into the idea that this concept will save many farms in North Dakota. In a recent Farm Industry News issue, Senior Editor Wayne Wenzel tells farmers to forget "pharming."

Another thing Agragen failed to mention in its letter has to do with the Ventria rice debacle. Originally, the company introduced a plant-made pharmaceutical rice concept in California, but the rice growers mounted such opposition that they were forced to look elsewhere to try their experiment.

As a friend of mine in Missouri said recently in an e-mail regarding the Ventria rice situation: "We are faced with a situation where we have 200 acres and one grower and a promise, versus 250,000 acres, 600 growers and an existing industry worth $100 million ... tough trade off !"

This is the exact same scenario we are facing in North Dakota. From everyone's viewpoint in the flax industry, this is a no-brainer; forget about it. Try a different nonfood or feed crop, and the opposition will disappear.

No one can stop a company such as Agragen from proceeding as long as they follow USDA regulations. Our goal is to prevent tax dollars, state or federal, from helping fund plant-made pharmaceuticals in projects involving flax.

Agragen is free to spend all the money it wants as long as it is Agragen's own nickel, but I doubt Agragen will continue doing that.

Agragen says it will be holding focus group meetings to inform producers about their plans. The reason for this is that it desperately needs farmer support to attract federal and state tax dollars. So, as long as it is not tarred and feathered at these meetings, Agragen will interpret them as a sign of support.

The first rule in economic development is to do no harm to existing businesses and industries. Our concern is that harm will happen eventually, despite all the safeguards that are proposed. Human error will lead to a breakdown in the system, and then it will be too late.

The flax acres in North Dakota have grown from a low of 100,000 acres in the late 1980s to maybe as high as 1 million acres in 2005. Flax is an old crop with exciting new uses. It is probably the fastest-growing grain commodity in the health-food sector as well as in the feed market for horses, chickens, dairy and beef cattle. We cannot let these rapidly expanding markets be jeopardized by high risk concepts such as plant-made pharmaceuticals.

Agragen calls itself "a potential $200 million industry," referring to its projected sales. The key word is, "projected." Everything has potential, but I prefer to go with what is "actual - such as our existing markets, which, this year with a good crop, could be $200 million or more. This is "actual," not potential.

I worked with Agragen for more than a year, thinking perhaps there was such thing as coexistence, But the more I learned, the more I realized this was not possible.

One of the most damaging factors to Agragen's credibility was the decision by NDSU's biotech department to not aid the company in its venture. This speaks volumes.

Hoffert is secretary and treasurer of Ameriflax

5. Argentina to fight Monsanto in court, suspend soybean talks

Associated Press, July, 1, 2005

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina, a leading soybean exporter, is suspending talks with U.S. biotechnology company Monsanto Co. over a payment system that would allow the company to collect royalties on the pervasive use of its popular soybean seeds, Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos said Friday.

Campos met with journalists at a press conference to discuss lawsuits recently filed by Monsanto in Denmark over the shipment of Argentine soybean products to the country.

"Monsanto has shown that it continues to be a national embarrassment," Campos said, adding that the lawsuits have already harmed Argentina's farmers and exporters.

"We will fight this, and we'll use the best lawyers we can get to defend ourselves," Campos said.

Tests carried out on the products showed that they were made with Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds, which are used to plant 95 percent of Argentina's soybeans.

Monsanto has a patent on Roundup Ready in Denmark and in most other European Union countries, but it has never been able to patent the seeds in Argentina. This has made it hard for the company to get farmers here to pay for the right to use the seeds.

Monsanto had said it filed the lawsuits "to clarify its intellectual property rights since some parties (in Argentina) have expressed doubt about those rights."

Those rights, and what they imply legally in Argentina, have been the center of heated and often bitter public talks between Monsanto, Argentine officials, farmers and soybean exporters.

At issue is how, and how much, Monsanto should be able collect for the use of its seeds. Monsanto says Argentines properly pay for certified seed only 17 percent of the time, down from 50 percent in 1996, when Roundup Ready was introduced in the local market.

Campos said Friday that around 30 percent of the seeds used are legally certified.

Monsanto said earlier this week that the suits are merely meant to support its claim that it has a legal right to collect royalties on its seeds. Moreover, the company said it wants to keep talking with officials and farmers to reach a consensus solution to the problem.

Monsanto shares fell 49 cents to close at $62.38 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.


Sacramento Bee, 4 July 2004

Saying their livelihoods are threatened, powerful forces that drive California's $27 billion agricultural economy are mobilizing to defeat a November ballot initiative to ban biotech crops in Sonoma County and possibly even to prohibit such county bans with new legislation in coming days.

Farm interests in Sonoma County say they've already raised $200,000 to fight a local ballot measure promoting a 10-year moratorium on growing genetically modified crops. Statewide, the California Farm Bureau Federation, California Cattlemen's Association and others have launched a political organizing effort, campaign Web site and fundraising operation to confront anti-biotech groups at the polls Nov. 8 and into next year when more counties consider such bans.

"The whole world is watching what is going on here,'' said Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Lex McCorvey. ''This will put our farmers and ranchers at a competitive disadvantage," he said, noting that some already grow biotech corn for cattle feed.

If passed, the major wine-grape and dairy county would become California's fourth to ban genetically engineered seeds. In 2004, Mendocino, Marin and Trinity counties became the nation's first to ban the growing of such seeds, despite having few, if any, biotech crops. Voters in Butte, San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties rejected their proposed bans. The Humboldt County town of Arcata and tiny Point Arena in Mendocino County have also banned growing of biotech crops inside their city limits, while elected officials in nine counties have passed resolutions supporting biotech.

Opponents of genetically modified agricultural crops, which were first commercialized in 1996, say their long-term effects on the food supply, public health and the environment haven't been adequately studied, and frequently link them to an industrial-style agriculture system that they say produces food with harmful environmental practices. According to the Washington-based Council for Biotechnology Information, biotech seeds were planted last year on 200 million acres in 17 nations.

"Once it's out there you can't recall it," said Daniel Solnit, campaign coordinator for GE-Free Sonoma County, the group that qualified the ballot measure with 45,000 voter signatures this year.

"This is not like a defective product you take back. It's not like chemical contamination. This is biological contamination that lasts forever."

Genetically modified crops represent one of the biggest advances in the 10,000-year history of agriculture, biotech supporters say, with potential to greatly increase yields and defend plants from pests and diseases. Scientists create the seeds by splicing new materials into their genetic codes, a now routine laboratory practice that some fear may eventually lead to unintended environmental consequences.

"The insertion of foreign genes into a species is when the problems arise," said Renata Brillinger, director of Sonoma County-based Californians for GE-Free Agriculture.

California has an estimated 600,000 acres of biotech crops, mostly cotton and corn and largely in the Central Valley.

While many farmers say such crops cut their fuel and chemical costs, and require fewer tractor trips across their fields every year, biotech opponents are preparing to initiate battles to restrict the crops beyond Sonoma County to at least a dozen other counties next year, including Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and Nevada.

Already, prospects of such county bans spreading beyond California have prompted a dozen state legislatures to outlaw them, and California will soon become the 13th, if state Sen. Dean Florez, a Shafter Democrat, gets his way.

"We think that debate belongs in the state," Florez said. The senator, who represents parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties, is seeking a special Assembly Agriculture Committee hearing this week on legislation he said could stop Sonoma County's vote.

With time short, Florez is planning a controversial, but common parliamentary procedure known inside the Capitol as a "gut and amend," stripping one of his air pollution bills of its language and inserting new language outlawing county bans on biotech seeds.

That's prompted a massive rallying effort by anti-biotech forces, who call the senator's move a last-minute ''dark room'' deal to subvert local democracy in California.

"I agree in principle that regulating at the state level is more consistent," Solnit said. "But guess what? They aren't doing it. They've had 12 years. They aren't on the ball, and they're showing no sign of doing it."

Solnit and other biotech foes say lack of sufficient federal and state oversight of genetic engineering has forced them to make it a local issue.

But Yolo County rice farmer Tim Miramontes, who planted his first biotech crop this year, 15 acres of herbicide-resistant canola for a European seed company, said his positive experience proved to him that county bans are shortsighted.

A biotech crop ''helps the farming community by keeping our costs down,'' he said. ''It saves more on pesticides and herbicides, which people don't want us to spray anyway.''

In the meantime, battle lines are already hardening in Sonoma County, where the pro-biotech coalition recently ran a half-page advertisement in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. In the ad, a letter from Bill Pauli, a Mendocino County vineyard and winery owner, and president of the Sacramento-based California Farm Bureau Federation, urged voters to be wary of ''scare tactics'' and an outsider-financed ''campaign of fear and misinformation.''

Responded Ryan Zinn, a San Francisco campaign coordinator with the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, which contributed to previous county biotech campaigns: ''It's really disingenuous to say this is outsiders causing problems. In all these counties we have more members than the Farm Bureau does.''

7. Clash over GM Seeds Brings Private Eyes, Angst - and Lawsuits


The National Law Journal via NewsEdge Corporation : A legal war has cropped up between dozens of American farmers and a bioengineering company over who owns the right to replant patented soybean seeds.

In the last six years, St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. has filed nearly 100 lawsuits against farmers in 25 states, alleging that they replanted Monsanto's patented "Roundup Ready" seeds saved from the prior year's crop, in violation of a purchase agreement.

Monsanto officials said that most of those suits have settled for an average of $88,500, with eight lawsuits remaining in Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama.

Farmers' advocates argue that Monsanto has unfairly used patent law to bully farmers into ending a centuries-old farming tradition of replanting saved-up seeds. That argument has been put to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on June 23 is expected to grant or deny certiorari to Mississippi soybean farmer Homan McFarling. In April, McFarling was ordered to pay $278,000 to Monsanto for replanting patented seeds. McFarling v. Monsanto, No. 04-31.

"The process of replanting is a natural process. It can't be patented. That's fundamentally what we're saying....What God has made, Monsanto can't patent," said attorney Jim Waide of Waide & Associates in Tupelo, Miss., who is handling McFarling's appeal to the high court. He is also handling two other seed piracy lawsuits. "As long as farmers have existed, they've been able to save their seed."

Technology benefits 400,000

But Monsanto officials argue that they have the right to protect a technology that benefits up to 400,000 farmers a year. Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" seeds are favored by many soybean farmers because they are resistant to weed killers.

Monsanto officials contend that the patent on that technology extends to second-generation seeds because the technology is carried through. Furthermore, they argue, customers know they can't replant the seeds because they sign an agreement stating they won't do so as a condition of buying the product.

"What Monsanto has done is they haven't taken anything away from the farmer," said Monsanto spokesman Scott Baucum. "Monsanto has brought additional resources to the market. We developed some unique seed technologies, and with new benefits come new responsibilities. The vast majority of farmers have said, 'I understand.' But there are those who have said, 'I want the new value and I don't want to understand the new responsibilities.' "

Gone too far?

But farmers' advocates argue that Monsanto has gone too far in weeding out patent violators.

Attorney Joseph Mendelsen III, legal director for the Center for Food and Safety, a nonprofit group that has monitored the ongoing seed-piracy litigation, said that Monsanto is using patent law as a weapon against the American farmer.

According to a January report issued by the center, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits-most of them since 2000-against 147 American farmers in 25 states.

The report also showed that total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to $15.2 million, the highest being $3 million; farmers have paid a mean of $412,000 for cases with recorded judgments; and the median settlement is $75,000.

Mendelsen criticized Monsanto's investigative tactics, which include hiring private investigators to spy on farmers and taking anonymous tips on a hotline.

"Farmers used to be neighbors with one another. Now they're asked to...rat out their neighbor if they think they're replanting that seed," Mendelsen said.

Mendelsen accused Monsanto of intimidating and scaring farmers with expensive lawsuits, forcing them to settle rather than fight it out in court.

But some are sticking it out.

North Dakota farmer Loren David is accused of replanting Monsanto seed. His case is currently pending in a Missouri federal court, far from his home state, and home to Monsanto's headquarters. Monsanto v. Loren David, No. 4:04 CV 00425 (E.D. Mo.). Asked why David has not settled, his attorney, Bruce E. Johnson said, "[h>e's stubborn, and Loren says he doesn't feel like he did anything wrong." Johnson, of the Culter Law Firm in West Des Moines Iowa, added, "Loren says he knows what he planted and it wasn't saved 'Roundup Ready' seed. Monsanto takes a different position.

Monsanto's Baucum defended the company's hotline, as well as hiring private eyes to investigate cases of alleged seed piracy, arguing that patent infringement is a tough crime to detect.

"Unfortunately, when it comes to patent infringement, it's left to the patent holder. It's upon us to do our own enforcement," Vaucum said. "This is very difficult for us as we would much rather have a conversation with a grower."

8. China no to GMO

Countryman (Western Australia)
June 30, 2005

CHINA'S third biggest flour miller, which buys some of its wheat from Australia, is asking all suppliers to verify their wheat is GMO free.

The Chinese are rapidly developing GM technology, and it is believed they have a GM wheat, but at the same time some of the audience at a recent wheat industry forum were suprised to learn its consumers were not so embracing.

Grant Lutz, technical operations general manager of Lam Soon Flour Mills, China's third biggest flour miller, said he was asked on a daily basis to verify to customers that their flour did not contain GMO.

"Even though it might be the trend in China to develop genetically modified products, it is certainly not the trend for our consumers to accept them," Mr Lutz said.

"I personally don't have anything for or against GMO, but our customers are scared silly about GMO."

9. Farmers ask why GM crops perform worse in drought

News release, June 30

The Network of Concerned Farmers, an alliance of farmers with concerns regarding genetically modified crops, are calling for research to determine why GM crops perform worse during droughts.

"There is more than enough evidence to reveal that GM crops perform worse than non-GM crops during drought conditions but this vital information is being ignored," said Julie Newman, National Spokesperson for the Network of Concerned Farmers.

"Farmers worldwide have complained that GM crops perform worse than non-GM crops during drought including GM cotton in India and Indonesia, GM soy in the United States and Brazil and GM canola in Canada. Australian farmers have even stated that they use an additional irrigation for GM cotton so it appears there is evidence that GM crops need more water," she said.

"Our Federal Minister for Agriculture is making outrageous statements wanting states to ignore economic risk and claiming we need GM crops to counter drought when reality shows GM crops perform worse in drought. Australia is known for adverse conditions and may be totally unsuitable for GM crops but nobody seems to care about this vital detail."

There has recently been a significant drop in soybean production due to the drought in Brazil. The president of the Rio Grande do Sul seed association sites 25% higher crop losses in GE soy crops as compared with conventional ones. Brazil's agricultural department estimates that yields are down 72% in Rio Grande do Sul which is the biggest adopter of Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM technology.

"Many Brazilian farmers who use Round-Up Ready soy will be thinking twice about it next year," said Etienne Vernet, South American Research Director of the Polaris Institute. Governor of Mato Grosso (25% of national soy production) has publicly stated that he will not plant genetically modified soy next year.

Monsanto and Bayer Cropscience withdrew from the proposed independent trials in NSW in 2004 with Bayer Cropscience stating a concern for dry conditions as a reason. Requests for further independent testing has been denied but Bayer Cropscience has been growing canola under irrigation for export to Canada under special state exemption orders.

"Farmers need trials to compare GM performance during adverse conditions and scientists need to investigate this further. Farmers have had enough of the bulldust, we need facts."

Non-GM drought tolerant varieties of wheat are being grown in Australia.

Mrs Newman claims there are far better alternatives in non-GM biotechnology but some scientists are more interested in attracting corporate investment so are misleading farmers to believe all biotechnology is GM.

Contact: Julie Newman 08 98711562 or 08 98711644 or 0427 711644