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Illinois farmers want to be able to keep some patented seeds

(Monday, Dec. 12, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Kellogg to use Monsanto soybean oil in foods
2. State, scientists differ on biopharming's upside
3. Report finds only modest gains for farmers who grow genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops
4. Illinois farmers want to be able to keep some patented seeds
5. Warning on bitter GM harvest
6. Austria to launch EU-wide GMO debate after Swiss referendum

1. Kellogg to use Monsanto soybean oil in foods

St. Louis Business Journal
Dec. 9, 2005

The Kellogg Co. said Friday it would use Monsanto Co.'s low-linolenic soybean oil in several of its products to reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids.

The Battle Creek, Mich.-based company would become one of the first food makers to use Monsanto's oil made from Vistive soybeans. Some of Kellogg's well-known products include Pop-Tarts, Cheez-It crackers, Rice Krispies and other cereals and Famous Amos cookies.

Vistive soybeans reduce the need for partial hydrogenation of oil, which reduces trans fatty acids in foods. All food products and dietary supplements in the United States must be labeled with trans fat content starting Jan. 1.

Kellogg (NYSE: K) plans to roll out some products made with the Vistive oil early next year. However, because of the shortage of the low-linolenic oil, it will work with the Bunge/DuPont Biotech Alliance, which also produces the soybeans, to boost production for use in 2007 as well as to increase acreage of Monsanto's Vistive soybean.

Kellogg said it would work in the food industry to encourage more growth of the beans and would require an investment by other food manufacturers to create the market demand needed to begin boosting volumes of varieties of the bean.

Monsanto recently announced agreements with processors of the beans with Cargill Inc., Ag Processing, Zeeland Farm Services and CHS Inc.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) develops insect- and herbicide-resistant crops and other agricultural products.

2. State, scientists differ on biopharming's upside

By Rachel Melcer
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8 December 2005
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/business/stories.nsf/0/4BF71F92E77FE530862570 D2001BB3F3?OpenDocument

Missouri officials see biopharming - using plants to produce medicines and polymers - as an exciting new industry, worth pursuing with tax dollars, despite uncertain economic returns.

But the state's stance flies in the face of a report being issued today by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The study says any biopharming payday would benefit private companies, rather than farmers and rural communities.

The nonprofit group, headquartered in Washington, opposes the technology as unproved and a potential threat to the food supply. Its report, commissioned from economist Robert Wisner at Iowa State University, is meant to balance rosy pictures painted by the industry, said Jane Rissler, senior scientist in the Union's Food and Environment Program.

Missouri is negotiating an incentives package for Ventria Bioscience, a Sacramento, Calif.-based company that wants to relocate to Maryville. It has genetically modified rice to produce human proteins for use in drugs, such as an improved oral rehydration solution for infants with acute diarrhea.

3. Report finds only modest gains for farmers who grow genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops

Union of Concerned Scientists, December 9 2005

States like Missouri and Iowa are lining up to grow crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, in large part because proponents have touted the crops as an engine of rural economic development and farmer prosperity. But a new report by a leading agricultural economist finds that while some drug and biotechnology companies may profit from these "pharma crops," aggregate farmer benefits are likely to be small and rural community benefits may be much more modest than often portrayed.

"Proponents of pharmaceutical crops have inflated the rewards and downplayed the risks," said Dr. Jane Rissler, deputy director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which commissioned the study. "State officials, farmers and rural communities should be wary of rosily optimistic claims."

The new report, http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/genetic_engineering/economics-of-pharmaceutical-crops.html The Economics of Pharmaceutical Crops: Potential Benefits and Risks for Farmers and Rural Communities, was written by Dr. Robert Wisner, University Professor in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University. The report is the first analysis by a land-grant university economist of potential economic benefits and risks of pharma crops to farmers and rural America.

The major benefits of a successful pharma crop industry would be expected to go to companies in the form of reduced production costs. If the companies pass cost savings along to consumers, society may benefit from cheaper drugs.

The net savings in production costs will be at least partially offset by the costs of containment needed to protect the food supply from pharma crop commingling. Contamination from open-air production is considered likely because most drug-producing crops are food crops such as corn, rice, and soybeans, and most pharma crop production occurs in areas where food versions of the crops are grown.

"Those looking at pharma crops as a boon to rural America view increased farm income as a key benefit," said Dr. Wisner. "However, in the end, economic principles dictate that only a small part of the pharma crops' value would be expected to go to growers."

Farmers are unlikely to benefit in a big way because they will be unable to negotiate with pharma crop companies from a position of strength. Market forces, including potential foreign competition, will drive farmer compensation down to the lowest levels that pharma crop companies can achieve. Moreover, the acreage likely required if the pharma crop industry meets its expectations is so small that only a few growers would be needed. Rural communities, then, are likely to benefit in a substantial way only if a drug-processing company locates in their town or a local university or private businesses win large research contracts.

In addition, those growers who produce food and feed versions of the pharma crop could be put at risk because of the potential for contamination. For example, Missouri rice farmers worry that they may lose domestic and foreign markets out of fears that their rice is contaminated with drugs.

With the release of this report, UCS is renewing its call to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ban the outdoor production of genetically engineered pharma crops because of threats to the integrity of the food supply. UCS urges the USDA to lead a major campaign to encourage and fund genetically engineered alternatives to food and feed crops for the production of drugs and industrial chemicals.

4. Illinois farmers want to be able to keep some patented seeds

By Repps Hudson
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7 December 2005
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/business/stories.nsf/0/AB9832AF40F9776D862570 D0001332A2?OpenDocument

The Illinois Farm Bureau is urging a fresh look at federal laws that bar farmers from keeping patented plants' seeds from one year to the next.

The immediate target appears to be Monsanto Co.'s patented Roundup Ready soybeans, which comprise more than 80 percent of U.S. soybean production.

Illinois farmers produce one-fifth of the nation's soybeans. This year's harvest is estimated to be 3.04 billion bushels.

A resolution, approved Monday night, reflects the financial pressures on many farmers, who chafe at paying a premium for patented seeds. It also encouraged more research on seed technology by the private and public sectors.

The Illinois Farm Bureau's position, reached a decade after Monsanto began selling its patented seeds, is believed to be the first from a large soybean-producing state that challenges the seed giant's patent rights. The patented soybeans resist Roundup herbicide, which Monsanto also sells.

Farmers, struggling with higher fuel and fertilizer costs, want to save money by keeping Roundup Ready soybeans for their own use and planting them in later years. Monsanto has fought this practice in the courts.

Tamara A. White, the Farm Bureau's director of commodities, said four lawsuits involving brown-bagging are pending in Southern Illinois.

Brown-bagging is the centuries-old practice of saving the seed from a crop to be used in later years. Monsanto's Roundup soybean-use agreement specifically prohibits the practice. If farmers were allowed to brown bag seeds, experts say the resulting reduced sales would cut into the amount of money available for further research into genetically modified crops.

Lyle Roberts, executive director of the Illinois Soybean Association, said it's in farmers' long-term interest to ensure that companies doing research and development on GM seeds receive an attractive return on their investments.

"We believe you should let the marketplace decide. Farmers who plant these seeds make more money," said Roberts. "We think everyone should be working harder to get these products accepted in world markets."

"As far as this affects our business, it's not law," said Tami Craig Schilling, a spokeswoman for Monsanto. "We believe the farmer who loses access to technology in the long term is at risk. Patents protect invention and secure investment and innovation."

The American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington passed a similar resolution several years ago, said Michelle Gorman, a spokeswoman on biotechnology issues.

"Is there a way that farmers could save their seed and pay the tech fee?" Gorman said. "Farmers here see farmers around the world paying less for seeds, and they think that's unfair. You see 'brown-bagging' in Brazil. You see 'brown-bagging' in Argentina."

The Illinois Farm Bureau's resolution said if Congress were to amend the Plant Variety Protection Act, it should consider allowing farmers to keep the seeds from plants grown from patented seeds and to pay a reduced royalty. Farmers could use those seeds only on their own farms and would not be allowed to sell them.

Gorman said Monsanto's patents on genetically modified organisms are protected under a federal utility patent. The Supreme Court has ruled that a utility patent for seeds supersedes the Plant Variety Protection Act, she said.

"We think (the resolution is) fair," said Henry Kallal, a delegate who represents farmers in six counties in or near the Metro East. "The farmers I represent say it's virtually impossible to find non-GMO seeds now."

The 357 delegates, representing counties and districts throughout Illinois, approved the resolution after 35 minutes of debate, said White, and reducing subsidies to farmers, the delegates on Tuesday adopted language that urges the U.S. government to get countries - particularly Japan, South Korea and those in the European Union - to lower agricultural tariffs and subsidies, said Kallal, who chaired the farm-policy task force.

In addition, delegates supported some form of "income assurance" that would protect U.S. farmers when crops fail or market prices are low. They also want to see more government support for "green payments"; for practicing land and habitat conservation.

5. Warning on bitter GM harvest

By Wendy Frew Environment Reporter
Syndey Morning Herald
December 6, 2005

GENETICALLY modified crops have failed to deliver the economic benefits promised to US farmers and could pose similar problems if adopted in Australia, a former US government bureaucrat has warned.

Australia could lose agricultural export dollars, and farmers could find themselves using more herbicides to control weeds and being sued by other farmers for crop contamination if they chose to grow genetically engineered crops, said Charles Benbrook, who worked as an agricultural adviser to the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations.

Dr Benbrook is touring Australia to warn government ministers and farmers about what he believes are the problems with the first decade of genetically modified crops in the US. His tour is sponsored by GeneEthics, a group campaigning against the release of genetically modified contaminated material.

"Across the south-eastern US, where soybean and cotton farmers have relied almost exclusively on [genetic engineering] technology for several years, the system is on the brink of collapse, the volume of herbicides used is setting new records and farmers' profit margins are shrinking," he said.

Most genetically modified crops are designed so farmers can spray their fields with herbicide, killing weeds but not the crop.

Dr Benbrook said the widespread use of genetically modified crops initially led to a drop in the herbicides US farmers used. But farmers with such crops were now using more weed chemicals than were conventional farmers.

"The increase is getting bigger as weeds become more resistant. It has definitely not been an economic boon for farmers," he said, adding that resistance in some markets, such as Europe, to genetically modified products had damaged US agricultural exports.

"What I am urging agricultural leaders and politicians to do is learn from the lessons in the US."

But Dr Ian Edwards, a spokesman for the biotechnology industry body AusBiotech, accused Dr Benbrook of "cherry picking" his statistics to suit his argument. "To blame GM crops for weed resistance has no basis in science."

Weed resistance to herbicides had developed because farmers misused or over-used the chemicals, he said.

He said farmers could always change the type of herbicide they used to avoid problems, although he conceded there was a chance weeds would eventually become resistant to the new herbicide.

6. Austria to launch EU-wide GMO debate after Swiss referendum

29.11.2005 - 09:54 CET | By Lucia Kubosova

EU OBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Austria is planning to hold a pan-European debate about genetically-modified (GM) farming, following strong Swiss support for a five-year ban on gene technology in a referendum on Sunday (27 November).

Vienna will take over the EU's six-month rotating presidency in January and aims to host a conference about GM crops on 4-5 April, the country's agriculture minister Josef Proell has announced.

Austria is one of the staunchest opponents of GM technology in the EU and is sticking to its own ban on modified plants within its territory.

Along with Italy, Austrian authorities indicated they view the Swiss vote as strong proof of the European public's opposition to GM farming.

Although Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, the result of the referendum will "make people think," Italian agriculture minister Gianni Alemanno commented.

Swiss citizens supported a five-year moratorium on the farming of genetically modified plants and animals, paving the way for introduction of the toughest restrictions yet in Europe.

Over 55 percent of voters backed the moratorium, with a majority supporting the move in all 26 of the country's regions or "cantons."

The decision forces the Swiss government to impose a full moratorium on the cultivation of GM crops and the import of animals whose genes have been modified in the laboratory, despite officials' pro-GM feeling.

But the new law will not forbid import of genetically modified food or ban research into GMOs (genetically-modified organisms).

EU battle

Swiss campaigners say they co-operated with groups from the EU and expect the Swiss result to generate strong popular backing for similar moves across the EU.

But the biotechnology sector fears that a Europe-wide anti-GMO trend could stifle research.

The European Commission declined to comment on the result of the Swiss vote on Monday, but confirmed it would study its implications for future trade relations with the Alpine federation.

The EU executive last year lifted a six-year moratorium on the sale of GM foods.

Some of the bloc's member states, like Spain, the UK and the Netherlands argue that Europe has sufficient safeguards in place and should move ahead on GM farming.

But several other countries insist new tests must be carried out before allowing widespread farming of GM crops.

Spain is currently the only EU country with large areas given over to GM crops.