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Japan finds 9th U.S. corn cargo tainted with Bt-10; other news

(Friday, Aug. 26, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Japan finds 9th U.S. corn cargo tainted with Bt-10
2. Syngenta bid to monopolise rice patents
3. Letter urges Brazil to stop growing biotech soybeans
4. New study reveals thousands of field tests of genetically engineered crops across U.S.
5. GM crops research pipeline going dry

1. Japan finds 9th U.S. corn cargo tainted with Bt-10

Reuters, 23 Aug 2005

TOKYO, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Japan's Agriculture Ministry said it discovered a ninth U.S. feed grain cargo tainted with Bt-10 biotech corn, and has told the importer to destroy it or ship it back to the United States.

The tainted cargo arrived on Aug. 1 at the port of Shibushi on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, the ministry said in a statement issued late Monday. Samples containing Bt-10 were taken from 5,963 tonnes of corn in the vessel.

The ministry did not name the importer.

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.

It was the ninth discovery since the ministry started random tests on arriving U.S. feed corn cargoes on May 23.

Japan has a zero-tolerance policy on imports of unapproved GMO crops. The 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.

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

The chances of finding contaminated cargoes are expected to become slimmer when newly harvested U.S. corn starts to reach Japan around November, a ministry official said.

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.

Some U.S. grain shippers have started testing their corn shipments to Japan, in response to requests from Japanese importers. But others are reluctant to do so because of high costs and extra work to arrange tests, traders said.

2. Syngenta bid to monopolise rice patents

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

NEW DELHI, AUG 15: The Swiss biotech giant, Syngenta has tightened its monopoly control over rice by seeking global patents over thousands of gene sequences.

A single grain of rice contains 37,544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a human body. With the multinational all set to "own" rice, the world's most important staple food crop, there may be serious implications for future research in this crop.

These patents are filed before the European Patent Office, US Patent and Trademark Office and the World Intellectual Property Rights Organisation (WIPO).

"If conceded, it will be the beginning of scientific apartheid not only against India but for all Third World countries," said Devinder Sharma, chair of the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

The former director-general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and present vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu University Dr Punjab Singh said, "The situation is very serious. All patent applications need proper scrutiny and India should fight to safeguard its interests, if they are affected."

Syngenta's patent claims are also aimed at other important food crops like wheat, corn, sorghum, rye, banana, soyabean, fruits and vegetables besides others. The company claims that most of the gene sequences that it has 'invented' are identical in other crops and therefore the patent needs to extend to those crops also. In all, Syngenta has filed for patents on 15 gene sequences.

In a communication to the NGOs - Berne Declaration (Switzerland), Swissaid (Switzerland), the German NGO "No Patents on Life" and Greenpeace, Adrian Dubock, head of Biotechnology ventures in Syngenta, had said, "Syngenta's original commercial interest (discontinued for now, but not necessarily forever) was for sales in the industrialised countries of nutritionally enhanced crops, included, but not limited to rice."

According to Dubock, the patent on the GE rice will not be dropped. Yet the company claims there are no commercial interests in this technology at the moment.

3. Letter urges Brazil to stop growing biotech soybeans


Letter to José Maurício Bustani
15 August 2005,
His Excellency,
José Maurício Bustani,
Brazilian Embassy,
32 Green Street,

Dear Sir,

I am writing on behalf of the Independent Science Panel (ISP) to urge the Brazilian government to stop growing GM soya and indeed, any other GM crop, in Brazil. The soya in Brazil is intended for the European, Chinese and other markets, mainly as animal feed. But there is stiff consumer opposition in Europe and growing rejection around the world on account of serious concerns over the safety of GM food and feed.

The ISP, launched 10 May 2003 at a public conference in London, UK, consists of dozens of prominent scientists from 11 countries spanning the disciplines of agroecology, agronomy, biomathematics, botany, chemical medicine, ecology, epidemiology, histopathology, microbial ecology, molecular genetics, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, toxicology and virology ( http://www.indsp.org/ISPMembers.php ).

As their contribution to the global GM debate, the ISP reviewed the evidence on the hazards and problems of GM crops as well as the proven successes of sustainable agriculture, and published its report in June 2003 [1].

The key findings of the ISP report on GM crops are as follows:

  • Regulations over the releases of GM crops and products have been highly inadequate.
  • There has not been a single credible independent scientific study showing that GM food and feed are safe to eat.
  • Few feeding studies have been carried out, but existing evidence raises serious doubts over the safety of the transgenic process itself.
  • GM varieties are unstable; and this may enhance the horizontal spread of transgenes, with the potential to create new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases, and to disrupt gene function in animal and human cells.
  • Many GM crops contain gene products known to be harmful: Bt proteins incorporated into a wide range of GM crops to control insect pests are known to be strong immunogens and allergens.
  • Herbicide tolerant GM crops - accounting for 75% of all GM crops worldwide - are tied to the broad-spectrum herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium , and will likely increase their use. Both herbicides are systemic metabolic poisons linked to spontaneous abortions, birth defects and other toxicities for human beings and laboratory animals, and also harmful to wild life and beneficial organisms in the soil.
  • GM crops have resulted in no benefits to the environment. There has been no reduction in the use of pesticides, while herbicide tolerant weeds and volunteers have emerged, and highly toxic herbicides have had to be brought back in use.

Since its publication, all the major findings of the ISP report have been further corroborated; and the inadequacies of the US regulatory system identified by two US scientists [2].

New evidence confirms that most, if not all GM varieties may be unstable. French government scientists examined five GM varieties already commercialised, and found all the GM inserts had rearranged themselves. Belgian government scientists confirmed those results, and found some of the GM varieties were also non-uniform [3-5].

A paper published in 2002 [6] reported that 22 out of 33 transgenic proteins have runs of 6 or 7 amino acids identical to known allergens. These include all the Bt toxins (Cry proteins), the CP4 EPSPS and GOX conferring glyphosate tolerance, the coat protein of the papaya ringspot virus, and even marker proteins such as GUS ( b -glucuronidase). A follow-up study confirmed those results [7], highlighting the inadequacy of current methods to predict the allergenic potential of proteins new to our food chain and the need to take these positive findings seriously until they can be ruled out by further tests to be "false positives"[8]. This warning is particularly significant as a string of anecdotal evidence ñ including feeding trials presented by companies to regulatory authorities under ìconfidential business informationî ñ continue to raise serious doubts over the safety of GM crops and GM food and feed [9].

More reports from the scientific literature indicate that the natural toxin is not the same as, or ìsubstantially equivalentî to, the GM toxin. Green lacewings suffer significantly reduced survival and delayed development when fed an insect pest (lepidopteran) that has eaten GM maize containing the Bt toxin Cry1Ab, but not when fed the same pest treated with much higher levels of the natural toxin in bacteria [10,11]. These findings again suggest that the genetic modification process itself may be unsafe.

Recent findings indicate that glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells and Roundup Ready considerably worse [12, 13]. Roundup was found to be extremely lethal to frogs [14, 15].

A report drawing on 9 years of US Dept of Agriculture data concludes that overall, GM crops have increased pesticide use by 122 million pounds weight since 1996 [16].

These uncertainties over the safety of GMO are widely publicised amid mounting opposition to GM food and feed from farmers and consumers around the world.

Many also share the ISP scientists' concern about the accelerating destruction of the Amazon rainforest to make way for soya cultivation, as the integrity of the Amazon rainforests is widely acknowledged to be crucial for stabilizing global climate and rainfall patterns, and hence mitigating global warming [17, 18].

In view of the evidence against GM crops and in favour of all forms of sustainable non-GM agriculture, the ISP has called for a global ban on further environmental releases of GM crops and a comprehensive shift to non-GM sustainable agriculture. This is all the more urgent as water and oil - on which industrial monoculture, and even more so, GM agriculture are heavily dependent - are both rapidly depleting. We urge you to convey a strong message to President Lula to reverse the decision to allow cultivation of GM soya. Instead every effort should be made to support reforestation of existing soya plantations for sustainable, small-scale agro-forestry that can truly provide food security for all [19].

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho,
Member of ISP,
Director, Institute of Science in Society,
PO Box 32097,
NW1 0XR,

References [see on site - vl]

4. New Study Reveals Thousands of Field Tests of Genetically Engineered Crops Across U.S.

Publication: Environment Maine
Date: Thursday, August 18, 2005

PORTLAND- More than 47,000 field tests of genetically engineered crops were authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture between 1987 and 2004 despite serious environmental threats and inadequate regulations in place to monitor their impacts, according to a new report released today by Environment Maine Research & Policy Center and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). Three hundred seventy-five of these tests were conducted in Maine, mostly for genetically engineered potatoes.

Both the National Academy of Sciences and the General Accounting Office have criticized the USDA for inadequate oversight and expertise in authorizing the release of genetically engineered crops.

Nevertheless, this new study reveals substantial increases in 2003 and 2004 of testing of crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals, as well as of many new crops never before released.

The report, Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., highlights potential risks associated with the release of genetically engineered plants. The results of large scale field trials conducted over many years were just published in the March 2005 Proceedings of the Royal Society demonstrating adverse effects on wildlife, but experiments conducted in the United States continue to be piecemeal and short term. Scientists have criticized research in this country as deliberately designed to hide any harm.

Coincidentally, this report is released on the heels of three Maine towns, Kennebunk, Brooklin and Kennebunkport considering opposition to genetically engineered organisms. Kennebunk selectmen rejected a petition from citizens to place a ban on genetically engineered organisms, Brooklin citizens voted in favor of a non-enforceable measure to declare their town a GE Free Zone, and Kennebunkport is considering a measure identical to Brooklin.

"Our environment is being used as a laboratory for widespread experimentation on genetically engineered organisms with profound risks that, once released, can never be recalled," said Environment Maine Advocate Matthew Davis. "Bt corn plants have been found to be toxic to monarch butterflies and other non-target species. Until proper safeguards are in place, this unchecked experiment should stop."

Findings of the new Environment Maine Research & Policy Center report include:

  • As of January 2005, the fourteen states and territories that have hosted the greatest number of field test sites are: Hawaii (5,413), Illinois (5,092), Iowa (4,659), Puerto Rico (3,483), California (1,964), Nebraska (1,960), Pennsylvania (1,707), Minnesota (1,701), Texas (1,494), Indiana (1,489), Idaho (1,272), Wisconsin (1,246), Georgia (1,051), and Mississippi (1,008).
  • Since 1991, USDA has received 240 requests for 418 field releases of crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, or other so-called biopharmaceuticals; the number of requested field releases of "biopharm" crops increased from 22 in 2003 to 55 in 2004.
  • Nearly 70% of all field tests conducted in the last year now contain secret genes classified as "Confidential Business Information," which means that the public has no access to information about experiments being conducted in their communities.
  • The ten crops authorized for the greatest number of field releases are corn, soybean, cotton, potato, tomato, wheat, creeping bentgrass, alfalfa, beet, and rice. Potatoes have had 143 field releases in Maine .
  • USDA authorized field tests on several crops for the first time in 2003 and 2004, including American chestnut, American elm, avocado, banana, eucalyptus, marigold, safflower, sorghum, and sugarbeet.
  • These experimental genetically engineered crops are grown in the open environment to test the outcome and environmental impact of certain gene combinations. The groups charged that field testing genetically engineered crops in such a widespread way poses serious threats to the environment and neighboring farmers.

"For over a decade, MOFGA has called for the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act prior to any field testing or field release of GE plants or other organisms. We're still waiting," said Sharon Tisher, Chair of the MOFGA Public Policy Committee. "Not only the distinguished National Academy of Sciences, but also the staff of the U.S. Department of the Interior, have raised serious questions about the risk of GE crops and animals becoming harmful invasive species. Also, GE crops that present a risk of genetic contamination of organic crops are a direct economic threat to certified organic farms."

A major goal of the field tests is to obtain information about potential ecological risks associated with genetically engineered organisms. However, independent reviews of the data collected by the USDA demonstrate that very little information has been gathered. As a result, despite the large number of field experiments that have occurred, fundamental questions about their impact remain unanswered, including long-term impacts on the soil and non-target species.

"The evidence continues to mount that the U.S. regulatory system is based on the principle of ‘don’t look, don’t find,’" said Davis. "Conducting field tests that are poorly designed is taking large risks without any benefits."

Environment Maine Research & Policy Center and MOFGA called for a federal moratorium on genetically engineered foods unless:

  • Independent testing demonstrates safety,
  • Labeling for any products commercialized honors consumers’ right to know, and
  • The biotechnology corporations are held accountable for any harm resulting from the products.

Environment Maine Research & Policy Center researches problems, proposes policy solutions and educates the public about clean air, clean water and open spaces.

MOFGA’s mission is to help farmers and gardeners grow organic food, to protect the environment, and to recycle natural resources; to increase local food production, to support rural communities, and to encourage sustainable farm economies; and to illuminate for consumers the connections between healthful food, environmentally sound farming practices, and vital local economies.

5. GM crops research pipeline going dry

M.R. Subramani
The Hindu Business Line, August 21 2005

THE bio-technology industry says it has turned its focus on drought-resistant and health providing genetically modified (GM) crops. But world-wide data shows that the pipeline of GM crops research is drying up.

In the US, which is the global leader insofar as GM crop research is concerned, not a single petition has been filed for field trials this year. And statistics available from other nations show that the number decline in field trials of GM crops began in 2003.

According to a presentation by Dr Greg Jaffe, Director, Centre for Science in Public Interest, at a recent biotechnology conference in the US, 75 per cent of the GM crops that are in the trials state would be completing the process of getting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Again, only three companies - Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta - have been actively carrying out trials in the area of GM organisms.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, there has been a slide since 1995 when 15 petitions were filed. The lowest number of applications - five - were filed in 2002 and things improved marginally during 2003 and 2004.

In Canada, confined research field trials of GM crops have declined from 178 in 2000 to 64 in 2004. In the EU, environmental release of GM crops has slid from 264 in 1997 to 68 in 2004. In both these places, there was a rise in activity during 2003.

According to Dr Jaffe, there were only 15 consultations for GM crops between 2000 and 2004 in the US.

"GM crop trials have basically been curtailed to cotton, corn, soyabean and canola. And these have been for only herbicide and insect resistance," he says.

One reason for the loss of interest in carrying out research in GM crops could be the length of time taken to review the petitions by the authorities, especially in the US.

During 1995-99, the FDA took six to months to review a petition but between 2000 and 2004 the time taken was 13-14 months.

"For instance, the Roundup Ready got the FDA approval in six months but the Roundup Ready wheat took 26 months," Dr Jaffe says.

In another instance, it took 14 months (filed in April 2004; approved in June 2005) for the US authorities to approve alfalfa, a cattle fodder. At the same time, a glyphosate-tolerant corn got approval in roughly eight months (filed in January 2000; approved in September 2000). Incidentally, alfalfa is the only crop that has been approved by the US authorities this year.

According to agriculture experts, the firms intending to bring out new GM crops are concerned about the time taken to get approval for a new strain and the high costs involved in it.

"Maybe, a change in the regulatory system can lead to renewed interest in research of GM crops. Also, a review is needed to cut costs since funding for research is limited," an expert said.

However, at the laboratory level, work is on in a few fields with at least two research works related to India. One is rice rich in folic acid to rectify malnutrition problems and the other is a groundnut variety that is immune to the tobacco streak virus.

Among the others are apples, bananas and wheat. DuPont is developing a glyphosate resistant crop. Monsanto is developing apples that have in-built resistance against codling moth. There are at least seven varieties of GM corn in the pipeline, including ones that nutritionally enhances, three varieties of corn and two strains of soyabean.