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New study says costs of Roundup Ready wheat are greater than benefits

(Friday, Sept. 2, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. New study says costs of Roundup Ready wheat are greater than benefits
2. Organic farmers granted leave to appeal class certification decision
3. Roundup adjuvants may boost toxicity
4. Kenyan government stops research on maize

1. New Study Says Costs of Roundup Ready Wheat Are Greater Than Benefits: Industry Could Lose Up To $272 Million

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, August 30, 2005

CONTACT: Dr. Charles Benbrook, 701-371-1564, Tuesday only; Dena Hoff, 406-687-3645; Todd Leake, 701-594-4275; or Kevin Dowling, WORC staff, 406-252-9672

(FARGO, N.D.) - Introduction of genetically modified wheat would lower income for wheat growers and the wheat industry, according to a report released today.

Published by WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils), Harvest at Risk - Impacts of Roundup Ready Wheat in the Northern Great Plains examines the likely consequences of Roundup Ready wheat adoption and projects economic impacts on wheat growers and the wheat industry.

"This is a technology for which there is really no compelling need," said Dr. Charles Benbrook, author of the study. "Existing weed management systems are stable, the price of weed management is not increasing, and farmers are managing resistance to currently used herbicides."

If Roundup Ready wheat is introduced, increased seed and herbicide costs and reduced wheat prices would outweigh the operating cost savings from Roundup Ready wheat's simplified weed management by as much as $37 per acre, the report concludes. Farmers who do not plant Roundup Ready wheat would also face increased costs and lower income, ranging from $5.60 to $18 per acre.

"Overall, the wheat industry could lose $94 million to $272 million," Benbrook said.

Benbrook said the wheat industry needs an in-depth and independent study of the factors and impacts of GM wheat so that the technology does not reduce farm income in the long run.

"I don't see any advantage to the farmer in the introduction of Roundup Ready wheat," said Todd Leake, a North Dakota wheat grower and spokesperson for the Dakota Resource Council.

The report projects costs per bushel and per acre for farmers adopting Roundup Ready wheat and for non-adopters under a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. In either case, farmers would lose money from introduction and use of Roundup Ready wheat.

The report finds mostly negative effects from nine factors affecting the costs and benefits of growing Roundup Ready wheat: emergence of resistance, gene flow, disease pressure and related problems, impacts on seed plus herbicide expenditures, market rejection, dockage, yields, grain quality, and wheat prices.

Harvest at Risk is the latest WORC report analyzing the probable effects of commercial introduction of Roundup Ready, genetically modified wheat. An earlier report by WORC found that introduction of genetically modified wheat in the U.S. risks the loss of one-fourth to one-half of U.S. hard red spring and durum wheat export markets and up to a one-third drop in price.

WORC commissioned the study to answer questions about gene flow and contamination, weed resistance, disease problems and cost and returns, said Dena Hoff, WORC Chair, farmer, and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

"There are other unanswered questions about the impacts on soil and water and human and animal health that should be studied," Hoff said. "We're going to have to work together so that we don't put our harvest at risk."

Monsanto indefinitely postponed development of Roundup Ready wheat in May 2004.

Dr. Benbrook runs Benbrook Consultant Services, based in Sandpoint, Idaho. He has a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. He has served on the President's Council on Environmental Quality, in staff positions in Congress, and as Executive Director of the National Academy of Science Board on Agriculture.

WORC is a regional network representing farmers and ranchers in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The Dakota Resource Council and Northern Plains Resource Council are members of WORC.


Note to Editor: Harvest at Risk and related material are available at http://www.worc.org .

2. Organic farmers granted leave to appeal class certification decision

Organic Agriculture Protection Fund (Canada)
Media Release, August 30, 2005

Today the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal released Honourable Mr. Justice Cameron's decision granting the certified organic farmers of Saskatchewan leave to appeal the Court of Queen's Bench decision dated May 11, 2005 denying them class certification under Saskatchewan's Class Actions Act. The farmers are seeking compensation for losses due to contamination of organic fields and crops by Monsanto's and Bayer's genetically engineered canolas.

Judge Cameron agreed that the issues raised by the plaintiffs should be dealt with by the Appeal Court. He agreed that the questions of whether Judge Smith erred in her finding of no cause of action - an error which cascades through her decisions on the remaining four tests required to grant class certification - and whether she applied an overly rigorous standard for class certifications should be examined by the Appeal Court.

Plaintiff Larry Hoffman says he feels encouraged by the decision. "It gives us a chance to argue how the Class Actions Act should be applied. The spirit of the law is to even out the odds between the Davids and the Goliaths in the world. The lower court decision made it too hard on us Davids, and we think that's unfair. A farmer like me can't afford to take on a big company like Monsanto when it threatens my livelihood and way of life. But if we can join together in a class action, our combined strength can make it possible to hold these companies accountable for their actions."

"This is great", says plaintiff Dale Beaudoin. "On behalf of 1000 plus organic farmers we can continue to fight for our right to remain stewards for sustainable agriculture. This is no minor issue. It is a matter of independence and survival for all farmers world-wide."

For the decision and other details of the class action suit, please see http://www.saskorganic.com/oapf

August 31, 2005, The Regina Leader-Post

Organic farmers can appeal ruling

Saskatchewan organic farmers will get another opportunity to try to launch a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.

The farmers' first attempt to have the case against the two companies certified as a class action was rejected in a 179-page ruling by Justice Gene Anne Smith in May 2005. On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal granted them leave to appeal that decision.

Two farmers were named as plaintiffs in the suit, which aims to include all Saskatchewan organic farmers certified from 1996. The producers, supported by the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund, are seeking compensation for losses they say are the result of the introduction of genetically modified canola.

In granting the leave to appeal, Justice Stuart Cameron wrote that the proposed appeal raises "some comparatively new and potentially controversial points of law." Smith had ruled that prerequisites needed to certify an action as a class action -- according to Section 6 of the Class Actions Act -- were not satisfied. Cameron noted the Class Actions Act was enacted fairly recently, and Smith's decision "constitutes the most comprehensive application" of Section 6 of the act undertaken so far in the province. "It stands as the seminal authority in the province on class actions," Cameron wrote.

"Without suggesting that Justice Smith's decision is in any respect flawed, I do believe her appreciation and application of the prerequisites of Section 6 raises some issues of sufficient importance generally to warrant consideration by this court." For example, some of the arguments before Cameron centred on the "rigour" Smith applied in considering each of the prerequisites that had to be met to allow the class action, wrote Cameron.

On one hand, it was argued the application for certification as a class action was subjected to more exacting standards than called for by the act. On the other, Smith was said to have approached it rigorously "in the sense of carefully and thoroughly."

Terry Zakreski, the lawyer representing the farmers, said they will now file documents with the Court of Appeal and wait for an appeal date to be set. Zakreski said he feels the decision shows they raised good arguments for the higher court to consider on the basis the lower court may have "set the bar too high" regarding what's needed in order to be certified as a class action. (by Angela Hall)

3. Roundup Revelation: Weed Killer Adjuvants May Boost Toxicity

(Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 113, Number 6, June 2005)

Although the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup is generally thought to be less toxic to the ecosystem than other pesticides, concerns about its effects on human reproduction persist. In a study in Ontario, Canada, exposure of male farmers to glyphosate-based herbicides was associated with an increase in miscarriage and premature birth in farm families. Seeking an explanation for these pregnancy-related problems, researchers at France's Université de Caen investigated the effects of the full Roundup formulation and glyphosate alone on cultured human placental cells [EHP 113:716-720]. The herbicide, they found, killed the cells at concentrations far below those used in agricultural practice. Surprisingly, they also found that Roundup was at least twice as toxic as glyphosate alone.

Virtually all previous testing of Roundup for long-term health damage has been done on glyphosate rather than on the full herbicide formulation, of which glyphosate makes up only around 40%. The remainder consists of inactive ingredients including adjuvants, chemicals that are added to improve the performance of the active ingredient. Roundup's main adjuvant is the surfactant polyethoxylated tallowamine, which helps glyphosate penetrate plant cells.

The Roundup concentration recommended for agricultural use is 1-2% in water. The authors incubated placental cells with various concentrations of Roundup (up to 2.0%) or equivalent concentrations of glyphosate. The viability of the cells was measured after 18, 24, and 48 hours. No one is sure how Roundup interferes with reproduction, so the team also tested whether it, like other pesticides, would disrupt the activity of aromatase (an enzyme that regulates estrogen synthesis) in placental cells. Aromatase activity was measured after 1 hour and 18 hours.

The researchers found that a 2.0% concentration of Roundup and an equivalent concentration of glyphosate killed 90% of the cultured cells after 18 hours' incubation. The median lethal dose for Roundup (0.7%) was nearly half that for glyphosate, meaning Roundup was nearly twice as toxic as the single chemical alone. Further, the viability of cells exposed to glyphosate was considerably reduced when even minute dilutions of Roundup were added.

After an hour's incubation with Roundup, estrogen synthesis in placental cells (as shown by aromatase activity) was enhanced by about 40%. After 18 hours, however, synthesis was inhibited, perhaps reflecting an effect on aromatase gene expression. This effect was not seen with glyphosate alone.

The study showed that the effect of Roundup on cell viability increased with time and was obtained with concentrations of the formulation 10 times lower than those recommended for agricultural use. Roundup also disrupted aromatase activity at concentrations 100 times lower than those used in agriculture. The researchers suspect that the adjuvants used in Roundup enhance the bioavailability and/or bioaccumulation of glyphosate.

How these findings translate into activity of Roundup in the human body is hard to say. The French researchers point out that serum proteins can bind to chemicals and reduce their availability--and therefore their toxicity--to cells. Nevertheless, the authors conclude that the demonstrated toxicity of Roundup, even at concentrations below those in agricultural use, could contribute to some reproduction problems.

4. Kenya stops research on maize

Article from the Sunday Nation, Kenya. Date: 28 August 2005

The Government has terminated the Genetically Modified (GM) maize experiments recently launched by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) and an American firm, Sygenta, and ordered the crop destroyed. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service(Kephis) will supervise the destruction.

The first ever field experiments on GM maize in the country, was started in May at a Kari field station in Kiboko, Machakos. They were initially hailed as a major break-through in resolving the challenges stem borer pests present to farmers. At the same time, local bio-technology researchers have been cautioned against succumbing to pressure from international organisations at the expense of standards and safety.

The newly appointed Agriculture secretary, Dr Wilson Songa, said there was a tendency by local scientists to yield to pressure and sidestep existing regulations in spite of the absence of any legal framework to mitigate possible negative consequences. "The fact that we don't have an enabling legal framework to fall back on should anything nasty happen, should be reason enough for us to be extra vigilant in biosafety. Unfortunately, there is an emerging tendency by our scientists yielding to pressure from international collaborators pushing to secure approvals for their research projects faster, sidestepping procedures" Dr Songa said.

Dr Songa, who is the chairman of the National Biosafety Committee of the National Council of Science and Technology, was commenting on last month's termination of the stem-borer resistant maize experiments. He cited failure by the transformed maize (Bt maize) researchers to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the biosafety glass house where the maize seeds were grown.

The planting of the seeds in the glass house at the National Agricultural Laboratories in Kabete was launched by President Kibaki in May last year. "We don't have a baseline data on the impact of the maize on non-target plants and insects. This was a major omission as supervisors in the field have nothing to rely on. They shouldn't have gone to the field without some baseline study on the environment. Our scientists should be lobbying for the pending Biosafety Bill to be fast tracked into law. Instead, they are rushing projects in the field that can have serious consequences in case something went wrong, while we have no framework for redress," Dr Songa said.

The Kiboko experiments were terminated after a technician sprayed the trial maize crop with a restricted chemical, Furadan, and which also acts on stem borers which meant it could no longer be possible to tell if it was the Bt maize or the chemical that would influence results being examined. The Kari director, Dr Romano Kiome, could not be reached for comment by Friday but was expected back in the office next week.