GMWATCH REVIEW number 314
from Claire Robinson, REVIEW editor
There have been huge protests in India against the proposed BRAI bill, which would fast-track GMO approvals and contains draconian punishments for anti-GM protesters.
Two GM myths – about the magical qualities of GM bananas and papayas – have bitten the dust (see GM HYPE).
And don't miss our ORGANICS section for the results of the world's longest-running study on organic farming.
+ MONSANTO DENIES SUPERINSECT SCIENCE
Monsanto has responded to the news that pests have developed resistance to its GM (ostensibly) bug-killing corn with a flat denial of the science. "Our [Bt corn] is effective," Monsanto scientist Dusty Post insisted in an interview with the St Louis Post-Dispatch. "We don't have any demonstrated field resistance," he added, pretending away a entire study conducted in Iowa, to speak nothing the cornfields that are "toppling over" in Illinois and and Minnesota. And Marcia Ishii-Eiteman explains how such failures of GM crops simply generate more business for GM firms, which get to sell stronger chemicals to control the resistant pests. What a brilliant business model!
+ HUNDREDS RALLY AGAINST GMOs IN BOULDER COUNTY, COLORADO
Hundreds of people holding signs and wearing pins and stickers – some saying, "Hey GMOs, stop trying to get in my plants" – gathered in front of the Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado to support banning GM crops on open space land. Boulder County is crafting a management plan for the 18,000 acres of cropland overseen by the open space department, which will include a policy on whether to allow GM crops. An advisory panel has been meeting since February but reportedly has not set aside time to receive input from the public. "People feel muzzled," said rally organizer Mary VonBreck, campaign manager for GMO Free Boulder. "They haven't been allowed to speak to the commissioners. ... We're done waiting, and we're going to be heard."
+ HOW ARE GM CROPS AFFECTING FOODS?
Here's an article detailing the sorry tale of how America's food supply ended up being genetically modified with no democratic mandate.
The article is accompanied by a great audio interview with Eric Holt-Gimenez, executive director of Food First, Ignacio Chapela, associate professor of microbial ecology at UC Berkeley, Mike Ludwig, a reporter, and Jim Gerritsen, a farmer in northern Maine and one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Monsanto.
+ SUIT OVER GM FOODS LABELLED "NATURAL" COULD OPEN LITIGATION FLOODGATES
A class action lawsuit which has been filed against food giant ConAgra for labeling its cooking oils as "All-Natural", even though some allegedly come from GMOs, could open the floodgates to litigation against many companies which make "Natural," "All-Natural," or "100%-Natural" claims for their food products which could be considered unfair, misleading, or deceptive under very broad state consumer protection laws, said public interest law professor John Banzhaf. Reportedly about 70% of processed foods contain ingredients which come from GMOs, and many nevertheless make claims that they are "all-natural", said Banzhaf.
+ TRADITIONAL MAIZE CAN COPE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE
Maize, Mexico's staple food as well as a symbol, has the potential to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects without any need for GM seeds, according to agricultural scientists. Mexico has at least 59 landraces (traditional, locally-adapted strains that are rich in biodiversity) and 209 varieties of corn.
+ DOES KENYA NEED GM CROPS?
Kenya's newly passed Biosafety Act, which allows for the importation of GM crops, has been met with opposition by environmental groups, high-ranking Kenyan parliamentarians, and small-scale subsistence farmers, who fear that the importation of GM seeds could contaminate existing seed stocks and decrease food security. GM seeds are patented and cannot be saved. Teresa Anderson, of the Gaia foundation, which partners with the African Biodiversity Network, said, "There is a strong resistance from African farmers in particular who are concerned about the impacts. Eighty per cent of small scale farmers save their seed; this practise is crucial for African farmers' livelihoods."
+ DEFRA APPROVES GM WHEAT TRIAL FOR UK
UK farm ministry Defra has approved a GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire. The wheat has been genetically modified to produce hormonal chemicals called pheromones, which act as "alarm signals" to decoy aphids away from the crop. GM Freeze opposed the application during a public consultation on the following grounds:
*The lack of market for GM wheat anywhere means it is a waste of time and money (some GBP1.28 million).
*Serious doubts about whether the GM wheat will work as stated.
*Lack of any data on potential health effects.
*Presence of an antibiotic resistant marker gene, against European Medicines Agency advice.
*Risk of cross-contamination with other wheat crops and some grasses already problematic as arable weeds.
*Unknown impacts on predator and parasites populations, which already provide some control for aphid infestations.
*Unknown impacts on bird species, which feed on aphids as part of their diet.
*The potential for development of aphids desensitised to the alarm chemical after being continually subjected to the GM deterrent over time.
GMWatch comment: We would only add to GM Freeze's comments a warning that synthetic pheromones have gained an extremely bad reputation in California. State authorities sprayed them from planes over populated areas in a scheme to eradicate a fairly harmless moth that had suddenly been declared a dangerous pest. The pheromone, which was untested for toxicity at the time the state sprayed it over people, was said to have proved toxic in skin tests and to have caused ill health effects in sprayed people (http://www.hopefortruth.com/).
+ FRENCH GM CROP BAN CHALLENGED ON A TECHNICALITY – BUT FRANCE WILL KEEP
The Court of Justice of the European Union has challenged a French national ban on the cultivation of Monsanto's GM maize MON810. The court argued that France based its ban on the wrong legislation. Greenpeace EU policy adviser Stefanie Hundsdorfer said: "Monsanto based this case on a technicality, which doesn't change the fact that France and the six other countries banning MON810 have the legal right to do so, given the scientific concerns about the crop's safety. We urge France to improve the legal details of its ban as soon as possible." France has announced that it will keep its ban. French minister for the environment, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, said she was convinced now more than ever that MON810 should be kept out of French fields.
+ MONSANTO'S DISHONEST MEDIA CAMPAIGN OVER BT COTTON EXPOSED
In August, the Times of India re-ran a three-year-old story on Bt cotton, without any updates, as paid news. It was described as a consumer connect initiative. Why did Mahyco Monsanto Biotech get this 'puff piece' republished? The trigger seems to be the bad press it has got recently, said a critical article in the Indian press. Civil society groups have blamed the high price of Bt cotton seeds and consecutive Bt crop failures for farmer suicides. The Mahyco Monsanto article claimed there had been no farmer suicides in two Bt-cotton growing villages. But this was not true. Farmer suicides in these villages had been reported in the press even at the time of the first publication of the puff piece. Kishor Tawari, a local farmers' leader in Vidarbha, sent a letter of protest to the Times of India over the Mahyco Monsanto promo piece. Tawari has repeatedly drawn attention to the role of Bt cotton in the crisis facing Vidarbha's cotton farmers, with farmers there at one point kill ing themselves at an average of one every six hours.
+ RECORD-BREAKING PROTEST OVER INDIA'S BRAI BILL
Chefs from Le Meridian, Indian Institute of Hotel Management and Indian Culinary Forum prepared two mammoth containers of mouth-watering, traditional brinjal (eggplant/aubergine) curry. What made this simple dish made from organic brinjal spectacular was that it made its way into the Limca Book of Records. To protest the tabling of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, Greenpeace organized a cook in protest where a 342.5 kg dish was made from scratch with organic vegetables. A portion of the dish was delivered to the Prime Minister's residence along with a petition containing the signatures of 100,000 citizens. "The draft that is to be tabled is draconian and undemocratic. It not only violates the Right to Information Act but will also lead to a substantial increase in the use and commercialization of genetically modified crops," said Kapil Mishra from Greenpeace. "Our request to the government is not to present and pass the bill in a hurry. We are just asking them to conduct proper studies and research before introducing crops that can have a long-term effect on consumers."
+ FORMER MINISTER SLAMS INDIA'S BRAI BILL AS ANTI-FARMER AND ANTI-PEOPLE
India's proposed BRAI bill ignores the possible risks and threats posed by GM crops to the nation's agriculture, health and environment, said the former Union cabinet minister for rural development, Dr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. Singh says the haste with which the Bill was listed for tabling "makes it clear that the government is in no mood for an informed debate either inside or outside Parliament on BRAI."
+ CHINESE GM FIRM'S PROFITS PLUNGE, SHARES FALL
China-based biotech company Origin Agritech Ltd posted market-lagging results for the fifth straight quarter amid a slow uptake for GM seeds. There has been intense debate over the safety of GM food in China. Government officials have reportedly banned GM foods from their own tables while approving GM seeds to be cultivated for everyone else's consumption.
+ NON-GM CAN SAVE THE BANANA
There's been a tremendous amount of hype about how bananas are doomed due to a killer fungus and only GM can save them. The problem seems to stem from the fact that the banana industry has relied on monocultures of a single strain – the Cavendish – that is vulnerable to the fungus. But though GM has long been considered the only way to breed a fungus-resistant Cavendish, since the variety is completely sterile, recent research conducted in Honduras has revealed that a few Cavendish plants do produce viable seeds. Researchers say these non-sterile fruit form the basis of a series of promising hybrids, that can be bred for resistance to the fungi. In addition, most banana researchers agree that the real answer – as has been the case with crops like potatoes, apples, and grapes – is to abandon the monoculture that makes the emergence of a disease so devastating. A more diverse banana harvest would allow farmers to isolate susceptible bananas, surrounding them with more resistant varieties.
+ GM PAPAYAS DID NOT SAVE THE PAPAYA INDUSTRY
For years, the GM lobby has claimed that GM ringspot virus-resistant papayas saved the papaya industry in Hawaii. But an article in the Chinese press casts doubt on this. The article quotes Hawaii's Department of Agriculture as saying that the annual yield of papayas in 2009 remained lower than when the ringspot virus was at its peak. The article also says that Hawaii's non-GM and organic papaya farmers have been driven out of existence by contamination from GM papayas and that now contamination is occurring in Hong Kong. An article from 2006 confirms that the Hawaiian papaya industry has been in decline since 2002, just four years after GM papaya were introduced. Several possible causes are named, among them consumer rejection of GM papayas. The tragedy of this is that it is entirely unnecessary. Despite claims that only GM can deliver papaya resistant to the ringspot virus, researchers have developed a resistant papaya through conventional breeding. The researchers commented, "Application of these results should lead to restoration of the papaya industry in virus-infested regions of the Philippines and worldwide."
+ ORGANIC FARMING SUPERIOR TO CHEMICAL – 30-YEAR STUDY
Organic agriculture has been found to outperform chemical ("conventional") farming on just about every parameter that matters in a 30-year trial run by the Rodale Institute in the US. Key findings showed:
*Organic yields match or surpass conventional yields.
*Organic yields outperform conventional yields in years of drought.
*Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
*Organic farming uses 45 percent less energy and is more efficient.
*Conventional agricultural systems produce 40 percent more greenhouse gases.
*Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional farming systems.
Rodale concluded, "organic methods are improving the quality of our food, the health of our soils and water, and the conditions of our nation's rural areas. Organic agriculture creates more jobs, provides a livable income for farmers, and can restore America's confidence in our farming community and food system." The study raises questions about why we are even bothering with trying to extend the life of the defunct chemical model of farming with GM crops.
+ INDIA: BT COTTON ADOPTION IN VIDARBHA
How Monsanto rode roughshod over Indian cotton farmers, leaving a wake of false claims and doctored information, farmer debt and suicides, and sickened and dead livestock.
+ PROF SERALINI ON RISKS OF GM MAIZE MON863
Press conference by Greenpeace and CRIIGEN in Berlin in 2007 on the risks involved in the feeding of Monsanto's GM maize MON863. Rats fed on the maize developed problems in their livers and kidneys and became ill. Nevertheless the maize is considered safe for humans by European authorities.