BEST OF 2008 - PART TWO
BEST OF 2008 - PART TWO
Global resistance to GMOs continued apace in the second half of 2008, although the news agenda was increasingly dominated by the U.S.-led financial crisis. Happily, many people recognised that the crisis had major implications that went way beyond Wall Street, financial speculators and the banking sector.
Marie Robin's film The World According to Monsanto, released earlier in the year, contained chilling footage of George Bush Sr's visit to Monsanto's HQ, when he was U.S. Vice President. Bush told the folk at Monsanto that if they ran into any problems steering their new genetically engineered products past U.S. regulators, "Call me. We're in the 'de-reg' business. Maybe we can help."
It is, of course, "the 'de-reg' business" that lies behind the market meltdowns. And because the financial crisis exposed the anti-regulatory agenda as a complete disaster, it's helped many people to recognise that a hands-off approach to huge commercial interests can devastate people's lives and wreak havoc with the global environment.
As Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth USA has put it, "The government must impose oversight and re-regulation... The days of the fox guarding the henhouse, with corporate lobbyists writing the laws that regulate their industries, must end." http://action.foe.org/pressRelease.jsp?press_release_KEY=418
And nowhere has the fox been guarding the henhouse more, of course, than with GMOs. (Revolving Doors: Monsanto and the Regulators)
Monsanto and its corporate lobbyists still have undue influence over the new U.S. administration, but fortunately the end of 2008 also saw the demise of the corporate supremacist ideologues of the Bush administration for whom Monsanto's interests and interests of the U.S.A. were automatically synonymous.
Here's our review of the second half of 2008.
+ AMERICAN NURSES ASSOCIATION OPPOSES rBGH, CALLS FOR GM LABELLING
The House of Delegates of the American Nurses Association passed a resolution at their 2008 conference making it ANA's official position to oppose Monsanto's GM hormone rBGH. The ANA also supported the labelling of all GMOs.
+ AUSTRIA BANS MONSANTO'S GM MAIZE
Austria banned the import of Monsanto's GM maize MON 863. The announcement was made on health safety grounds. Tests carried out on rats fed with MON 863 maize revealed they suffered liver and kidney damage. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/austria-bans-monsanto-maize250708
+ GM WHISTLEBLOWER VINDICATED
The biologist and GM whistleblower Christian Velot won support from the Presidency of his university -- Paris-South (Orsay), after suffering repeated persecution because of raising concerns over GMOs. The attacks included the removal of funding, the requisitioning of his lab, and a false allegation of supposed aggression against a colleague -- aggression denied even by the supposed victim! The Presidency of the University made commitments to Velot on protection of his freedom of speech and his research work. The Presidency also agreed to write an open letter to clear Velot and his team of the false accusations levelled against them.
+ PRINCE CHARLES WARNS GM CROPS ARE MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER
In a story that triggered a storm of media interest, Prince Charles warned that GM crops were the "biggest disaster environmentally of all time" and that firms were conducting a "gigantic experiment" with "nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong". Relying on "gigantic corporations" for food, he said, would result in "absolute disaster". "That would be the absolute destruction of everything... and the classic way of ensuring there is no food in the future," he said. "
+ PRINCE SHOULD CONTINUE TO SPEAK OUT
A Daily Telegraph poll revealed strong backing from the public for Prince Charles to continue to speak out on issues such as global warming, GM food, and organic farming. Asked if he was right to speak out publicly on such controversial issues, 68 per cent were in favour with only 24 per cent against. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/theroyalfamily/3411051/Public-support -falls-for-Queen-Camilla.html
+ MORE SUPPORT FOR THE PRINCE
Numerous letters and opinion pieces were written in support of the Prince's comments:
+ MONSANTO SELLS GM DAIRY HORMONE BUSINESS
Monsanto sold off its GM growth hormone for dairy cows, rBGH or rBST, to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. The decision came as more and more retailers, responding to consumer demand, opted to sell dairy products from cows NOT treated with the GM hormone.
GM Watch comment: rBGH, marketed as Posilac, was launched in 1994. It was Monsanto's first GM product to hit the market, and it's taken 14 years of hard campaigning to get to this point... but what a success!
+ COMMENTS ON MONSANTO'S SALE OF rBGH
"No one wants the growth hormone rBGH used in milk production, not even the company that makes it. In the last year we've seen retailers including Walmart, Kroger, and Starbucks fall like dominoes in the race to meet consumer demand for artificial growth hormone-free milk."
-- Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter
"If genetically engineered products like this were safe, Monsanto would put 'made with GE' in big block letters on all its products."
-- Josh Brandon, agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace
"[rBGH is] a very attractive product."
-- Monsanto spokeswoman Christie Chavis
+ SMALL FARMS (NOT GMOs) MEAN FOOD SECURITY
Christian Aid once again criticised GM crops as against the interests of "the larger part of the African population" and as being "far from guaranteed to deliver the needed productivity gains."
+ NEW ACTION AGAINST GM CROPS IN FRANCE
A hundred "volunteer reapers", including veteran activist Jose Bove, destroyed two fields of Monsanto MON810 maize, which is currently forbidden from being grown in France. "These were commercial trials by Monsanto based on MON810 maize, with added herbicide-resistant genes. MON810 has been banned since February 2008 and Monsanto continues to want to force it through," said Bove.
+ CATALONIA SAYS NO TO GMOs
On 20 August over 105,000 signatures against GMOs were delivered to the Catalan Parliament.
+ EU STATES SHOULD BE ABLE TO STOP GM CROPS - GERMANY
Germany wanted EU member states to have the power to block GM crops in their countries, agriculture minister Horst Seehofer said.
+ BASF MAY CUT AND RUN FROM EUROPE
The chemical giant BASF said it may abandon research into GM crops for the European market should it fail to get approval for its GM Amflora potato.
+ DROP IN GM CROPS GROWN IN EU
The area of European farmland sown with GM crops declined by just over 2% in 2008, due to a ban in France. France was previously the second-largest producer of GM maize, the only GM crop allowed to be grown in the EU.
GMWatch comment: Interestingly, the press release announcing this news, from the GM industry PR body Europabio, is written as if the downturn is a mere blip in an otherwise relentless story of GM success in Europe! Spurred on by Europabio's press release, some pro-GM sources actually headlined news of Europe's shrinking GM crop acreage as, "More GM crops being grown across Europe"! Over the past 5 years the GM crop acreage has actually shrunk by 35%.
+ THE DAYS OF GM CROPS MAY BE NUMBERED IN EUROPE
Pressure from the president of the European Commission had not succeeded in advancing the cause of GM crops, said a report for the Inter Press Service. In spite of the power wielded by the executive organ of the European Union, the bloc's member countries are gradually discontinuing the use of GM seeds. This is due in large measure to the difficulty of convincing European farmers to adopt the transgenic crop production model, but also to increasingly vociferous protests in different parts of Europe.
+ UK: CELTIC REVOLT AGAINST WESTMINSTER OVER GM CROPS
The Independent on Sunday reported how UK government ministers are facing an unprecedented Celtic revolt from their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts. All three devolved governments have declared themselves implacably opposed to any GM crops in their territory. And their opposition is likely to have an impact throughout Europe, sapping the UK's hitherto obdurate support for the introduction of the technology throughout the Continent.
+ MEPs VOTE OVERWHELMINGLY FOR BAN ON CLONING FOR FOOD
European parliamentarians voted with an overwhelming majority in favour of a proposal to ban cloning of animals for food. Protagonists on both sides of the debate acknowledge that cloned animals are faced with a wide range of health problems, with a high death rate and a high incidence of disease.
+ U.S.: COURT SAYS NO -- AGAIN -- TO GM ALFALFA
An appeals court ruled that the US government must review the potential environmental effects of GM seeds before farmers can plant them. The decision of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals forces the US Dept of Agriculture to issue an environmental impact statement on Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds.
+ PERU TO BE GM-FREE?
Antonio Brack, Peru's minister of environment, was reported to be ready to back a declaration of Peru as a GM-free nation.
+ FOOD FIRMS LAUNCH GM-FREE GRAIN GROUP
Brazilian soy producers and processors have launched an association, Abrange, that will guarantee grains and feeds free of GMOs to meet demand in Europe.
+ MONSANTO'S INTIMIDATION TACTICS NO LONGER LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA
A landmark piece of legislation protecting California's farmers was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger on 27 September 2008. The bill, AB 541, indemnifies California farmers who have not been able to prevent the drift of GM pollen or seed onto their land and the subsequent contamination of non-GM crops. Currently, farmers with crops that become contaminated by patented seeds or pollen have been the target of harassing lawsuits brought by Monsanto.
+ MONSANTO PROFITEERING CONDEMNED BY PRESIDENT OF THE UN GENERAL ASSEMPLY
The President of the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned the profiteering by Monsanto in the food crisis. H. E. M. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann made his comments at the opening of the High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals at the UN in New York. Brockmann said, "The essential purpose of food, which is to nourish people, has been subordinated to the economic aims of a handful of multinational corporations that monopolize all aspects of food production, from seeds to major distribution chains, and they have been the prime beneficiaries of the world crisis. A look at the figures for 2007, when the world food crisis began, shows that corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, which control the cereals market, saw their profits increase by 45 and 60 per cent, respectively..."
+ GM LABELLING TO BE MANDATORY IN SOUTH AFRICA
Labelling of the GM contents of food should become mandatory once the Consumer Protection Bill is implemented, and producers, importers, distributors and retailers will be held liable for any damage these products might cause.
+ CHINA’S LEADERS EAT GM-FREE
The Associated Press reported that suppliers of food for China’s ruling elite have to make sure it is organic and not genetically modified. This news follows on from other recent revelations about the pro-GM elite: one, that contrary to Tony Blair's claims that he fed his children GM foods, his wife Cherie admitted this summer that "I always tried to feed my children organic food", and the other, that Monsanto's CEO buys organic.
+ ORGANIC FARMING "COULD FEED AFRICA" - STUDY
Organic farming offers Africa the best chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and malnutrition it has been locked in for decades, according to a major study from the United Nations. The study found that traditional practices increased yield by 128 per cent in east Africa. The head of the UN's Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said the report "indicates that the potential contribution of organic farming to feeding the world maybe far higher than many had supposed".
+ SYNGENTA HANDS BACK FARM IN BRAZIL WHERE TWO WERE KILLED
Marking an end to a violent conflict, Syngenta handed over its experimental farm in Parana state, in the South of Brazil, to the state government. The 127-hectare farm in Santa Tereza do Oeste, where two protesters were killed, was used by Syngenta to field-test its GM crops.
+ EU KEEPS ZERO TOLERANCE ON IMPORTS
The European Union decided to keep its "zero tolerance" policy on allowing the presence of unapproved varieties of GM plants in imported food and animal feed. Biotech interests and feed importers sought a change to the policy because of concerns that imports with trace amounts of unapproved GM plants would be blocked from the EU.
GMWatch comment: All the industry scaremongering about the European livestock industry being ruined through a shortage of non-GM animal feed failed. The reality is that if they had to label meat, eggs and dairy products from animals reared on GM feed, the market for GM animal feed would be dead overnight. Only consumer deception allows it to continue - see: http://www.bangmfood.org/stealth-gmos
+ GM SETBACK FOR SOUTH AFRICA'S MAIZE EXPORTERS
The World Food Programme, one of the biggest buyers of South African maize, said it was having to consider shopping elsewhere due to a growing shortage of non-GM maize. The move would be another huge blow to grain exporters, with some saying they have already suffered economic losses due to the country's heavy reliance on GM maize. "It is becoming more difficult every year to find sufficient quantities of non-GM maize in South Africa," WFP southern Africa spokesman Richard Lee said. "The situation is that the majority of countries that we send maize to from South Africa as food assistance do not want GM maize," Lee said. South Africa is the only African country growing a GM food crop commercially.
+ AMERICANS STARTING TO TURN AGAINST GM FOOD?
Major new developments suggest that the tide may finally be turning against GM technology in the US, according to a Soil Association briefing which noted:
*the staggering collapse in the market for Monsanto's GM milk hormone;
*the launch of a major new non-GM labelling initiative in the US, involving 400 American processors and retailers;
*the rejection of new GM crops by US farmers.
*the support of US president elect Barack Obama for labelling.
The Soil Association's policy director, Peter Melchett, commented: "Labelling stopped consumers buying milk from cattle treated with the growth hormone rBGH, leading Costco, Kroger, Publix, Safeway and Wal-Mart to turn to non-GM own-brand milk. It is the beginning of the end for GM worldwide."
For details of the report: http://www.soilassociation.org/gm
Download the report:
Land of the GM-Free? How the American public are starting to turn against GM food
Daily Mail article about the report:
Farmers Weekly article about the report:
+ DROUGHT RESISTANCE PROVES ELUSIVE
An article in the New York Times looks at scientists' attempts to genetically engineer drought resistance into crops. One problem is unexpected effects of genetic engineering: "with so many downstream genes activated, there could be other effects on the plants besides less need for water. At a recent biotechnology conference, a university researcher showed a photograph of a cotton plant with an inserted gene for a transcription factor. The plant was missing most of its leaves." The article concludes, "No single approach is likely to suffice for all types of dry conditions." Jian-Kang Zhu, a professor of plant biology at the University of California, Riverside, comments, "Probably no one has found the magic gene yet. Probably there is no magic gene."
+ AG BUBBLE BURSTS -- STOCKS DIVE
Shares of chemical companies had begun to falter in July 2008 with Monsanto stocks losing nearly all their second-quarter gains in a matter of days. Investment specialists blamed "bubblelike conditions" and "pent-up speculation" in some of the stocks. Monsanto lost a further sixth of its market value in October and by the end of the year Monsanto's stock had fallen 51% in value.
+ CHAPELA VINDICATED - MEXICAN MAIZE CONTAMINATION CONFIRMED
The journal Nature reported on research confirming that Mexico's ban on GM corn (maize) had not stopped transgenes getting into traditional 'landrace' maize crops in the Mexican heartland. The original research exposing this GM contamination scandal was published by Nature back in 2001, but on publication the researchers David Quist and Ignacio Chapela from the University of Califonia, Berkeley, became the focus of a ferocious campaign of vilification aimed at discrediting them. The campaign originated with Monsanto itself, as part of a much wider smear campaign against the company's critics.
+ EXTRA-NUTRITOUS GM FOODS STILL YEARS AWAY
After media reports of a "cancer-fighting" GM tomato, engineered to contain the same nutrients already found in a host of natural foods like berries, aubergines, red cabbage, red onions, etc., there was news of "a GM soyabean that can help to prevent heart attacks". The soyabean is engineered to contain Omega 3 fatty acids, the same nutrients that are already found in natural foods like oily fish, flaxseed oil and walnuts. The GM soyabean will be available in four years' time ... maybe.
+ MUCH-HYPED GM LANDMINE-DETECTION FAILS
There's been a huge amount of publicity over the past few years about how GM plants are going to solve the problem of landmine detection. News items around the globe -- from the New York Times to the BBC -- have trumpeted the life saving potential of plants genetically modified to 'Red Detect': change from green to red when grown near to landmines or unexploded ordinance.
But it emerged in late 2008 that the technology had failed. The biotech company behind Red Detect, Aresa, reported, "As was expected the tests in Serbia did not produce a positive result (none of the plants changed colours to red)". The scientific staff had been fired, reported Aresa, which is seeking to transform itself from a biotech firm into a property company - something Aresa describes as a "far less risky" investment strategy.
+ VICTORY IN HAWAII: GM COFFEE AND TARO BANNED ON BIG ISLAND
The Hawaii County Council voted unanimously to uphold a ban on GM taro and coffee.
+ MASSIVE EU GM CAMPAIGN SUCCESS
Campaigners managed to prevent pro-GM countries like the UK from wrecking an important EU environment ministers' meeting on GMOs and food safety. Over 70,000 messages were sent to EU politicians. Subsequently, EU environment ministers agreed that:
*The long-term effects of GMOs on the environment and health need to be assessed.
*There should be independent scientific research on GMOs, and access to information that is currently kept secret by biotech companies.
*The European Food Safety Authority should consider the environmental impact of herbicides spread over GM crops.
*Pesticide-producing GM crops should be treated in the same way as chemical pesticides.
*Regions and local communities have a right to establish GM-free zones.
Details of the new legal framework for the authorisation of GMOs can be found at:
+ BRITAIN TRIED TO BLOCK VITAL GM SAFEGUARD
Britain single-handedly set out to sabotage a vital safeguard against farmers unwittingly growing GM crops, a leaked document reveals. The document shows that the UK government is alone among European member states in opposing a provision that would keep GM contamination of seed to the "lowest possible" levels.
+ GM FOODS ARE HEALTH RISK - INDIA'S HEALTH MINISTER
India's health minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss has made a strong statement warning of the health risks of GM food. Speaking at a farmers' meeting, he said, "GM food is a health hazard. No independent health impact tests have been conducted on the safety of Bt brinjal. But people are pushing for its introduction in the market. The health ministry will take all necessary steps to see that GM food is not commercialized unless all the safety criteria are met. As a minister of PMK [Indian political party] and as the health minister, I will always oppose this technology."
Government should not allow GM food in Gujarat:
+ FORMER FOOD SAFETY CHAIR QUESTIONS GM RISK ASSESSMENTS!
In an astonishing interview released on YouTube, the former chairman of the European Food Safety Authority, Prof Patrick Wall, said people had lost confidence in the European Food Safety Authority's ability to assess the risks of GM food. Prof Wall said: "Do we want corporate giants to own the food chain? GM food has no benefits for consumers... EFSA is a consumer protection agency; it is not meant to rubberstamp biotech dossiers... We cannot force-feed European citizens products that they don't want. We live in a democracy. People have a right to have objections... If people don't want (GM) technology they have a right not to have it." For the full interview + link to transcript: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/efsa
Press release at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/press/GMFI44.pdf
+ QUOTE OF THE YEAR: THE EXPERIMENT THAT FAILED
"As far as genetic engineering for food, that is the great experiment that has failed. They literally have the entire world market against them. All those dreams... the blind will see, the lame will walk... has turned out to be science fiction. They are basically chemical companies selling more chemicals. They've been able to spread these herbicide-promoting plants around because it is more convenient for farmers who can just mass-spray their crops. But they've given absolutely nothing to the consumer while causing more chemical pollution and contamination."
-- Andrew Kimbrell, lawyer and executive director of the Center for Food Safety (USA)