from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
Welcome to WW58 bringing you all the latest news in brief on the GM issue.
There are welcome signs that the people outside the government/industry clique are becoming increasingly immune to spin and lies - from irate demonstrators throwing whitewash at the railings of Blair's residence in the wake of the Hutton Report, to a refreshingly honest report in New Scientist on the failure of the Monsanto/Wambugu GM sweet potato project in Kenya (see lead article in HIGHLIGHTS).
The shameless Dr Wambugu, however, hasn't woken up to this global shift in attitude, and continues to hype GM as offering higher yields - the exact opposite of what her GM sweet potato produced! Dr Wambugu once remarked, "I appreciate ethical concerns, but anything that doesn't feed our children is unethical." Well, the Monsanto/Wambugu GM project has demonstrated that it won't feed Africa's children so it is unethical. And nor can Africa's children live off all the lies and spin with which the project was promoted.
A test case for independent thought on the part of the American public is coming up this March in Mendocino County, California. Voters will decide whether to support a ballot measure to ban the cultivation of GM crops in the county, which has a strong organic sector.
Will industry succeed in its efforts to spin the public into rejecting the GM ban by throwing record amounts of dollars at the problem? A similar battle fought in Oregon was won by industry after its multi-million dollar campaign convinced voters that GM labelling would be "costly"... let's hope the people of Mendocino County are made of sterner stuff.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
+ NEW SCIENTIST REPORTS ON FAILURE OF GM SWEET POTATO IN KENYA
The following article from the New Scientist covers a story first broken in Europe by GM WATCH: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2481
Monsanto's showcase project in Africa flops New Scientist, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004 A showcase project to develop a genetically modified crop for Africa has failed.
Three years of field trials have shown that GM sweet potatoes modified to resist a virus were no less vulnerable than ordinary varieties, and sometimes their yield was lower, according to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Embarrassingly, in Uganda conventional breeding has produced a high-yielding variety more quickly and more cheaply.
The GM project has cost Monsanto, the World Bank and the US government an estimated $6 million over the past decade. It has been held up worldwide as an example of how GM crops will help revolutionise farming in Africa. One of the project members, Kenyan biotechnologist Florence Wambugu (see New Scientist, 27 May 2000, p 40), toured the world promoting the work.
Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, says the researchers went wrong by concentrating on resistance to an American strain of the virus. In any case, the virus is only a small factor limiting production in Kenya, he says. "There was too much rhetoric and not enough good research."
Monsanto says it plans to develop further varieties. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2561
For how the Monsanto project was promoted through a massive campaign of hype and disinformation: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=131
+ WAMBUGU STILL WAMBUZLING
Even as the Wambugu/Monsanto GM sweet potato project in Kenya is shown to have utterly failed, yielding less than conventional sweet potatoes, Florence Wambugu is quoted in the Kenyan press extolling the virtues of GM crops for, er... raising yields!
An article in the East African Standard says, "Kenya's own scientist and pioneer in the science of GM foods, Dr Florence Wambugu, argues that GM foods are good for Africa because Africa's priority is food security and anything that will increase crop yields should be greatly encouraged." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2543
We'd better greatly encourage non-GM farming then, not least as a conventional breeding programme in Uganda has resulted in a virus resistant sweet potato that roughly doubles yields.
+ MONSANTO PULLS OUT OF ZIMBABWE
Monsanto has pulled out of Zimbabwe by selling its business to a local consortium, citing the country's unstable economic environment, according to company officials in South Africa. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2543
+ GM COTTON TO INVADE WEST AFRICA
The world's biggest agrochemical companies and the US government are rushing to introduce GM crops into West Africa, starting with cotton. A new report from GRAIN shows that Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences, supported by USAID, are finalising plans with the Malian government to convert the West African country's cotton crop to transgenic varieties over the next five years. Cotton is Mali's number one export. Yet local farmers and the general public are in the dark about this.
"Bt cotton is the biotech industry's trojan horse for bringing patented GM crops into West Africa," says Jeanne Zoundjihzkpon of GRAIN in Benin. "The infrastructure for cotton is well established and they want to take advantage of this. But cotton is a critical crop for the region. It is shameful for public researchers to play with the livelihoods of their people, when the technologies they are bringing in offer nothing to farmers but greater dependence on foreign companies." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2520
+ INDUSTRY HYPES GM COTTON IN SOUTH AFRICA
Here's a funny thing: shortly after reports that the Monsanto GM sweet potato has failed in Kenya, and at a time when the industry is desperate to push GM cotton into West Africa (see above item), a couple of "independent" reports emerge claiming success for Monsanto's GM cotton in South Africa.
The conclusions of the new South Afrcan reports follow in a long line of claims of remarkable success with the growing of Monsanto's GM cotton in the Makhathini Flats. However, Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, who first exposed the hype around the now discredited Monsanto project in Kenya, has raised just as many questions about what's been going on in South Africa.
DeGrassi has exposed many false claims about the Makhatini project in his report on the failure of GM crops in Africa. DeGrassi shows not only that many of the claims being made fail to correspond with the best available evidence, but that the claims of success are often inconsistent with each other. DeGrassi challenges the claims of financial benefits to the farmers growing GM cotton: "Where it has been adopted, there is now evidence that the Bt cotton has not only failed to solve Makhathini farmers' problems with debt, it has actually deepened and widened indebtedness."
One recent article from the South African press says that in one of the new reports, the researchers point to a high uptake of the crops as a sign of success. However, deGrassi notes, "The plans to grow cash crops [specifically Monsanto's GM cotton] in the area have not come from the communities themselves. Rather, they have descended from the echelons of government in Durban and Pretoria, in collaboration with large multinational businesses."
This promotion of GM crops has included the extending of credit for the purchase of the more expensive seeds, which are twice as expensive as conventional seeds. This, of course, has added to the farmers' burden of debt. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2517
+ MONSANTO'S CHAPATI PATENT RAISES INDIAN IRE
Monsanto has been awarded patents on the wheat used for making chapati - the flat bread staple of northern India. The patents give the US multinational exclusive ownership over Nap Hal, a strain of wheat whose gene sequence makes it particularly suited to producing crisp breads. Another patent, filed in Europe, gives Monsanto rights over the use of Nap Hal wheat to make chapatis, which consist of flour, water and salt.
Greenpeace is attempting to block Monsanto's patent, accusing the company of "bio-piracy".
According to a Guardian report, a spokesperson for Monsanto in India denied that the company had any plan to exploit the patent, saying that it was pulling out of cereals in some markets. "This patent was Unilever's. We got it when we bought the company. Really this is all academic as we are exiting from the cereal business in the UK and Europe," said Ranjana Smetacek, Monsanto's public affairs director in India. But campaigners in India say that there are concerns that people might end up paying royalties to Monsanto for making or selling chapatis. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2509
We should not be fooled by Monsanto's apparent nonchalance. Indeed, a report in The Scientist revealed Monsanto to be bullish about defending its patent. "The people opposing the patent allege there's nothing novel here. But it is indeed a novel invention," Monsanto Europe-Africa's Director of Public Affairs Thomas McDermott said. "The patent has been granted, and we will defend it." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2567
+ SOIL ASSOCIATION RESPONSE TO GM CONTAMINATION RESEARCH
Research by Professor Murphy of the University of Glamorgan tested 25 soya products for the presence of GM soya (Round up Ready soya). Ten out of the 25 products tested (40%) gave positive results. Five of the ten containing GM soya were organic, of which one is certified by Soil Association Certification Ltd (SACert).
The Soil Association contacted Professor Murphy to obtain details of the products tested, so that these could be made public. SACert will work with the manufacturer to identify the source of the GM material in the products tested, and will then take steps to further improve systems to eliminate the problem.
SACert found GM contamination in organic animal feed 18 months ago and the findings were made public at the time. As a result, the Soil Association is drawing up a protocol with key parts of the organic food industry to keep organic animal food free of GM.
Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director said: "The Government appears to be about to allow GM maize to be grown in the UK - these plans must be scrapped. The public does not want GM food and the food industry continues to struggle to keep GM out of products. If GM crops are grown in this country, we will see more contamination problems and consumers will be faced with higher costs to stay GM-free." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2565
+ BIOTECH BOOM LINKED TO DEVELOPMENT DOLLARS - CRITICS
The 12% boom last year in GM plantings, if accurately reported by industry body ISAAA (the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications), is in part due to close links between the industry and powerful development institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Bank.
For example, Eija Pehu, a senior scientist in the Bank's department of agriculture and rural development (ARD), is listed on the website of the ISAAA -- whose funders include biotech industry giants Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science -- as a member of its board of directors. Gabrielle Persley, an advisor to the Bank on biotechnology issues, is also listed as director of ISAAA programmes.
Another link between the World Bank and industry is the Bank's staff exchange programme. In the past it has brought in representatives from Dow, Aventis and Syngenta to work in the ARD, and dispatched employees for stints at Rhone-Poulenc (since merged into Aventis) and Novartis Agribusiness. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2507
Note also that Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies has compared ISAAA data with other data from a biotech industry source and scientific sources, and finds that ISAAA's data gives figures 20 times larger than other sources. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2285
+ AGRIBUSINESS ON PR BLITZ IN LATIN AMERICA
Agribusiness giants Syngenta and Monsanto have gone on an aggressive PR campaign in Latin America to push for the widespread adoption and acceptance of GM crops. On December 27, 2003 an advertisement sponsored by Syngenta in the Argentine "La Naci””n" newspaper showed a map of the "RepÅ“blica Unida de la Soja" (United Soya Republic) - a territory spanning Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil and covered by Roundup Ready soya.
But behind this virtual map of Syngenta's is a real world where peasants are being threatened, their land are being taken away from them, their forests are being devastated, their cattle and crops are being killed and the peoples health are put in danger by RRsoya producers' fumigation. This map does not take into account the fight against RRsoya production by the peasants that have been living in these areas for years because they are in the way of the agribusiness. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2510
+ CALIFORNIA, US: BIOTECH INDUSTRY GIVES RECORD $150,000 TO FIGHT PROPOSED GM CROP BAN
A consortium of producers of GM crops has pumped $150,000 into a campaign to defeat a Mendocino County ballot measure that would be the first in the nation to ban the cultivation of GM crops.
It is the largest contribution ever funneled into a Mendocino County campaign. The donation is from CropLife America, a Washington-based industry lobbying group representing Monsanto, Dow and DuPont. CropLife's $150,000 contribution dwarfs the $18,000 raised so far by local supporters of Measure H. With a month left before the election, the anti-Measure H group is positioned to spend at least $3 per voter on direct mail and local radio and newspaper ads to convince them the ballot initiative is a "dangerous precedent."
In 2002, CropLife contributed $3.7 million to a successful statewide campaign in Oregon to defeat a measure that would have required the labeling of foods produced from GM crops. Mendocino's Measure H does not require labeling. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2522
+ LEGAL CHALLENGE TO MONSANTO'S PATENT RIGHTS
E. Ann Clark brings news from the Canadian Supreme Court hearing of Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian farmer whom Monsanto successfully sued for patent infringement when his canola crop became contaminated with its Roundup Ready GM traits. Schmeiser's lawyer Terry Zakreski is arguing that Monsanto has no patent rights beyond the cell. This would mean that its patent does not cover seeds or plants.
Moreover, the Supreme Court has already ruled on the Harvard "oncomouse" patent case that higher life forms cannot be patented. Seeds and plants can be defined as higher life forms. Here's the legal nitty-gritty:
"The actual wording of Monsanto's Patent 830, entitled "Glyphosate-Resistant Plants" consists of 52 claims encompassing various aspects of the RR gene itself and the RR cells that result from inserting the gene. But most critically, Monsanto's patent makes no reference to seeds, plants, or crops. Thus, although its actual patent ends at the cell, Monsanto has chosen to commercialize its patent rights at the level of seeds, plants, and indeed, whole crop fields. Paraphrasing from Zakreski's argument, while Monsanto says that they don't own Canada, they nonetheless claim every province and territory in Canada.
"This is a critical distinction, because a seed or a plant is a higher life form, and in its ground-breaking Harvard Mouse ("oncomouse") decision last year, this very same Court had ruled that higher life forms could not be patented in Canada. Zakreski cited other evidence showing that the Patent Act was never intended to apply to seeds or plants, which instead are covered under the Plant Breeder's Rights Act.
"Thus, in order to support Monsanto's patent infringement claim against Schmeiser, the Court would necessarily have to conclude that seeds and plants - higher life forms - are subject to the Patent Act, directly contravening both their own decision on the Harvard oncomouse case and the wording of the Patent Act itself. A finding against Monsanto's claim would not deny Monsanto, or indeed, the biotech industry, their lawful patent rights. But it would affirm that patent rights are as actually worded in the patent - no more, and no less." More at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2553
+ SCIENTIST PLANS TO CASH IN ON GM ANIMALS HIGH IN OMEGA 3
The science journal Nature (5 Feb 2004) has published research describing the production of GM mice that have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies and milk. The scientists involved suggest applying the technique to farm animals, such as chickens and cattle, to produce 'healthy' eggs and milk. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to have a protective effect against heart disease and are normally found at high levels in oily fish.
GeneWatch UK has discovered that the lead scientist involved filed a patent application for the technique on 12 March 2002. If granted, this will give him monopoly rights over the use of the work and he will able to charge license fees and royalties. The patent claims cover the GM animals themselves.
Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK's director, commented, "If this ever got off the ground, we are likely to see the ridiculous situation of fish meal and oil being used to feed GM cows and chickens to provide us with omega-3 fatty acids we could have got from the fish in the first place. It's a crude attempt to squeeze more profits out of animals." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2562
+ GROWING PUBLIC UNEASE OVER GM CROPS - WHERE'S THE EVIDENCE?
The government has been warned of "widespread unease" over "incremental" steps being taken towards the introduction of GM crops in the UK. Liberal Democrats told the Commons such a "momentous and irreversible" decision was supported by only 2% of the public.
But Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett denied the Government was trying to pre-empt the outcome of ongoing research "through stealth". She told MPs at question time: "In a world where GM is extensively grown, and extensively available, we have to deal with the reality of its existence and not hope that it can somehow be wished away."
Labour former minister Tony Lloyd said the public was "considerably sceptical" about the value of GM crops. Crop-contamination could have an "irretrievable" long-term impact and do "permanent damage" to the economy and agricultural system. "Will you lay the scientific evidence very clearly before the public if you want to convince this doubting public that there is benefit in GM crop plantings?" he asked. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2564
+ DEVINDER SHARMA REPLIES TO BECKETT
Indian trade and food policy analyst Devinder Sharma replied to Beckett thus: GM crops are not extensively grown. These crops do not occupy more than 5 per cent of the world's cultivable lands. If this is her logic for pushing GM crops into Britain, she should know that in the United States alone, the pornography industry is 35 times the size of Hollywood - is this an argument for acquiescing in its expansion? Iraq is a reality despite the uproar over Blair's lies to the British people, does it mean that Britain should go on launching armed attacks against every country Blair wishes?
Devinder concludes, "Tony Blair took Britain into war with Iraq to promote the commercial interests of the oil industry. Margaret Beckett is promoting the commercial interests of a discredited GM industry." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2566
+ FDA, MONSANTO NEED TO REVEAL TRUTH ABOUT GROWTH HORMONE
Monsanto has announced a 50 percent cutback in sales of its GM bovine growth hormone, rbGH. The veterinary drug is trademarked and sold as Posilac. Monsanto hasn't revealed reasons for the cutback, so speculation is rife.
Two instances of rbGH quality control problems have surfaced. In summer 1993 - just before the FDA's approval of the drug - confidential company documents revealed nearly a ton of dry rbGH had been contaminated at the manufacturing plant in Austria. And in 1994, Monsanto scientist Bernard Violand reported aberrant amino acid sequences - an unintended result that his article in Protein Science acknowledged researchers did not fully understand.
The drug, which is banned both in Canada and the European Union, has been linked to illnesses and deaths in cattle. Some scientists have concerns about higher levels of a hormone called IGF-1 in the milk of cows treated with the drug, since the hormone is a suspected cancer promoter. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2555
+ EUROPE CLOSER TO BANNING GM OILSEED RAPE
The Belgian government on 2 Feb 2004 rejected Bayer's application to grow GM oilseed rape. The rejection follows research showing that the GM oilseed rape would damage the environment. Belgian experts concluded that growing this GM oilseed rape would have negative impacts on biodiversity that could not be brought under control. They also believe that guidelines for farmers to prevent contamination of non-GM crops are unworkable and difficult to monitor.
Bayer had applied through Belgium for a Europe-wide licence to grow the GM oilseed rape. The Belgian government could only have forwarded it to other member states for a joint decision if it had met European laws to protect the environment. Two other applications for a similar crop, also by Bayer, are being processed by Germany. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2518
+ BAYER ONE OF TEN WORST CORPORATIONS OF 2003
GM and chemical giant Bayer has been named by Multinational Monitor as one of the ten worst corporations of 2003. At http://multinationalmonitor.org/mm2003/03december/dec03corp1.html you can read how Bayer pleaded guilty early this year to defrauding the US government out of 100 million USD in Medicare payments. George Couto, a then Bayer executive, blew the whistle on his employer after he attended a mandatory ethics session at a Bayer office. The head of Bayer told employees that "Everyone is expected to obey the law - not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as well... Should you feel prodded, speak with a lawyer, or call me. I'm serious about that."
Couto took the lecture to heart. He wrote a letter to his boss asking him how he reconciled his ethical stance with the scheme to defraud Medicare. He got no reply and duly filed suit against Bayer in 2000. Sadly, Couto did not live to see the outcome of the case, dying of cancer in 2002.
Bayer was charged with knowingly providing Medicaid incorrect data regarding pricing of prescription drugs, preventing Medicaid from receiving discounts to which it was entitled. Bayer pleaded guilty to one federal criminal count and agreed to pay a $5.5 million criminal fine. The company also agreed to pay $251 million to settle Couto's civil False Claims Act case. Couto's estate will get a $34 million relator's fee. GlaxoSmithKline, which engaged in a similar fraud against Medicaid, will pay $87 million to settle its case. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2563
+ NANJUNDASWAMY DIES
Prof M D Nanjundaswamy has died aged 68 after a long illness. Prof Nanjundaswamy founded the 'Cremate Monsanto!' movement in India, in which Indian farmers burnt fields of GM crops. He alerted the world to the poor performance of Monsanto's GM crops in trials back in 1999, years before the crop's failure was confirmed by the Indian government.
He circulated the following letter: "The officials of Mahyco Monsanto, who have signed a written declaration admitting their illegal behaviour, went regularly to apply manure and pesticides to the Bt cotton, including heavy doses of insecticides. However, the plants are infested with bollworm (the pest that Bt cotton is supposed to control) and other pests like white fly and red-rot. Despite the heavy use of chemical fertiliser, traces of which still can be observed in the field, the Bt plants grew miserably, less than half the size of the traditional cotton plants in the adjacent fields." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2556
See Devinder Sharma's tribute to Nanjundaswamy: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2554
+ RYLOTT PIED
Paul Rylott, Bayer UK's top GM scientist, was last week queuing up for a meal after delivering a talk on predicting crisis in the food industry when he had a crisis of his own. One of the Biotic Baking Brigade (BBB) slapped a chocolate fudge cake in his face. Rylott's response was not recorded but the BBB, like Stotty (see below), rewrote Shakespeare:
"O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers.
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the pies of war."
- John Vidal, Eco Sounding, The Guardian, February 4, 2004
+ BARD TO WORSE
Stotty, aka Philip Stott, all purpose eco-contrarian and emeritus professor of geography at London University, may have finally lost it. He has taken up cudgels against a windfarm and in order to make his point has rewritten chunks of William Shakespeare:
"Blade answers blade, and through these, sharpened, slice
Birds, small and large, slash-slaughtered in a trice;
Turbine faces turbine, in high and boastful whines
Piercing the night's dull ear ... "
Steady, Stotty, steady.
- John Vidal, Eco Sounding, The Guardian , February 4, 2004
For more of Stott's rot: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=126&page=S
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
+ PROF ALAN IRWIN ON RISK
"...why would anyone accept additional risk - no matter how improbable - if the benefits were not clear? This view that risks make no sense without matching benefits emerged during the GM debate. Whatever the risk, if the need for a new technology has not been demonstrated, why go ahead?"
"...science is too important to be left to scientists alone. We should accept that scientists don't have the monopoly on rationality... Next, we should appreciate that risks can't be separated from the contexts in which they occur. In the case of GM, that means considering the perceived influence of US companies and the feeling that there are better solutions to world poverty than another technological fix. Honest reflection on the ethical and philosophical issues should not be labelled as procrastination.... Rather than representing citizens as risk-averse, we should be engaging more with what people want from technical change."
- Alan Irwin, professor of sociology, Brunel University, contributing to a Spiked debate on risk, Jan. 27, 2004 http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2516
REST OF THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
+ WHO'S PUSHING GM IN AFRICA
In the face of continued resistance to GM in Europe, the US and the GE industry are pursuing a well-orchestrated strategy in Africa to lower resistance to GE and gain acceptance of the technology. The major pushers of the technology, including USAID, the UK's Dept for International Development, and Monsanto-trained scientist Florence Wambugu, are profiled with further links at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2291
+ ISAAA HYPES GM CROPS BY A FACTOR OF 20 OR MORE
The industry-backed International Service for the Acquistion of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) is claiming that "Genetically engineered crop plantings increased 15 percent last year despite continued consumer resistance in Europe and elsewhere". ISAAA's Clive James said: "Farmers ... continue to rapidly adopt biotech crops because of significant agronomic, economic, environmental and social advantages".
Or do they? Where attempts have been made to compare the figures in the ISAAA's annual surveys with other available evidence, including controlled scientific trials, it appears that the ISAAA's claims are either exaggerated by a factor of 20 or more, or that they may be the reverse of the truth.
Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies provides an example of how questionable ISAAA figures are in relation to GM cotton farming in South Africa: "ISAAA implies that small farmers have been using the technology on a hundred thousand hectares. Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe - an industry coalition - suggests 5,000 ha of 'smallholder cotton.' The survey team suggests 3,000 ha." In other words, ISAAA's figures are 20 times higher than even those claimed by a biotech industry source. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2285
+ INDIAN JOURNALIST EXPOSES GM COTTON HYPE
The Times of India recently reported that "India [is] a key GM crop cultivator", saying India has made it to the list of top ten transgenic crop-growing nations by doubling its (GM) Bt cotton cultivation. But an article in India's Financial Express by Ashok B. Sharma has revealed that if India is "a key GM crop cultivator", then the biotech industry is in dire trouble. Sharma's article draws on a leaked internal report of the Indian government which says the area under cultivation with India's first transgenic crop, Bt cotton, is actually minuscule compared to the total area given over to cotton. The report also says this shows the unpopularity of the GM crop with India's farmers.
"In 2002-03, the first year of its approval for commercial cultivation, Bt cotton covered an area of only 38,038 hectare area representing 0.51 per cent of the area under cotton in the period. In 2003-04 with good monsoon rains the area under Bt cotton increased to 92,000 hectare. This area coverage under Bt cotton is almost negligible as compared to over 9 million hectare under cotton crop in the country. This points to the low acceptability of Bt cotton by farmers", says the internal report of the Union agriculture ministry.
The agriculture ministry's findings undermine the hype created by the US-based International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-biotech Association (ISAAA), which gave rise to stories like that in the Times of India.
+ UK MINISTERS TO APPROVE COMMERCIAL GROWTH OF GM CROPS...
The government is to approve the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain for the first time. But ministers claim they will impose strict conditions on the cultivation of GM maize and ban commercial GM sugar beet and oilseed rape after trials showed that they could be more damaging to the environment than conventional crops. The decision to go ahead follows this week's recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).
Farmers are unlikely to be able to go ahead before 2005 and will be subject to similar restrictions to those governing the trials, which specify the type of herbicide and the variety of GM seed they can use, and the type of plants they can grow in neighbouring fields.
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said: "It seems the only time the Government wants to do something on the environment is when it wants to damage it." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2292
+ ... BUT GM CORN WILL BE APPROVED FOR ONE YEAR ONLY
GM maize will be given the go-ahead for a single season in Britain, in a move largely crafted to save the Prime Minister's face, according to a story in The Independent on Sunday. The Government is preparing a very limited approval for just one crop, GM maize, which will effectively mean that it will only be able to be grown in 2005 and then under strict conditions that may make it uneconomic.
After the first crop of GM maize, atrazine, the pesticide used on conventional maize, will be banned under EU rules. The chemical, which effectively sterilises the soil, is entirely responsible for the poor performance of the maize against its GM counterpart in the official trials.
If it is to get permission for GM maize beyond 2006, the industry will have to prove its case again with new studies, to show that growing its product remains more beneficial than traditional cultivation even after atrazine has been replaced. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2300
+ PRO-GM SCIENTISTS URGE BLAIR TO APPROVE BIOTECH CROPS
Just before the Blair government's announcement of commercialisation of GM maize, 150 pro-GM scientists signed a letter to Tony Blair urging a "science-based approach" to the country's policy on GM crops.
It turns out that means unquestioning acceptance of faith-based claims such as the following: "GM crops are providing farmers with cost-effective means of controlling pests while using less pesticides and reducing the impact of agriculture in the face of increasing environmental pressures. In reality, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that this technology is a safe and useful approach to improving agricultural production and environmental sustainability, and contributes significantly to better health." No references are given for these claims. For more on those behind the letter, see http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2410
+ CRITICISM GROWS FOR GM REPORT
Criticism of the government's statutory advisor ACRE (Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) over recommendations on GM crops has continued with a rebuke from Greenpeace, which called the proposals "bad for farmers, bad for the organic food industry and bad for our countryside". ACRE reported that, based on last year's Farm Scale Evaluations, GM maize would not pose any adverse environmental effects if grown commercially. The advice was also condemned by politicians of all parties, former environment minister Michael Meacher, the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth and a host of other groups.
Greenpeace's Sarah North commented, "The only reason GM maize got through the British tests was because its impact on wildlife was compared to that of conventional maize, which is managed using a chemical herbicide [atrazine] which is so toxic it's now been banned throughout Europe. If you compare one bad practice with an even worse practice, of course the result is that the former looks better than the latter. It's like recommending a holiday in Baghdad on the basis that it might be safer than Chechnya." http://www.greenconsumerguide.com
More on the ACRE report:
On ACRE chairman Chris Pollock:
+ UK SUPERMARKETS TO STAY GM-FREE
Consumer hostility towards GM products in the UK means that British supermarkets are queuing up to pledge to stay firmly GM-free in 2004, according to an annual survey of retailers carried out by www.gmfoodnews.com.
The survey results show that opposition to GM foods is as strong as it was in 1999, when supermarkets first removed GM foods and ingredients from their shelves. Just as in 1999, no UK supermarket includes GM food or ingredients in its own-label products and supermarkets are also increasingly specifying GM-free feed for animals producing their meat, milk and eggs.
For more and the policies of individual British supermarkets, see http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2476
+ EU COMMISSION TO RELAUNCH GM MAIZE APPROVAL BID
The European Commission is to resume its fight to authorize the sale of GM sweetcorn, another step toward lifting a five-year-old ban on biotech products. The move comes as some EU states are putting in place the legal framework to govern the planting of GM crops should the EU drop its ban. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2291
+ GM-FREE FOOD IS A GARDEN OF EDEN FANTASY, SAYS FISCHLER
EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler has warned delegates at a conference on organic farming that food which is completely free of GMOs is a thing of the past. And when it comes to setting acceptable thresholds for the levels of GMOs in organic and conventional products, the Commissioner said that Europe must take guidance from scientists, rather than politicians. "We have been banished from paradise. The idea of a zero per cent threshold was no doubt possible in the Garden of Eden, but not in the real world," said Dr Fischler. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2437
+ MONSANTO DELAYS REGISTRY OF ROUNDUP READY WHEAT
Monsanto Canada won't ask an advisory body to consider any of the company's controversial Roundup Ready wheat varieties for registration in 2004, making it impossible for GM wheat to be introduced this year even if the crop passes other regulatory hurdles.
Roundup Ready wheat still needs regulatory approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency before it can be introduced commercially in Canada. Those applications have been before the federal government for a year. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2201
+ CANADIAN GOVT SHELVES GM WHEAT
Agriculture Canada is abandoning a long-running project involving the GM wheat it developed with biotech giant Monsanto, amid doubts about how well the product would sell. The AgCan decision suggests that scientific hopes for the first strain of biotech wheat may be dimming. Jim Bole of the government body Agriculture Canada said the biotech revolution in agriculture has not lived up to expectations: "I'm afraid it was oversold."
The AgCan-Monsanto contract is confidential, but Bole said the company invested $1.3 million while the department invested $500,000. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2274
+ CHILL GATHERS OVER GM WHEAT
Two articles on the reluctance of farmers and grain industry bodies to accept Monsanto's GM wheat, and the company's plans to dump its existing stores of GM wheat on South Africa, are at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2439
+ MONSANTO EXITS ARGENTINA SOY BIZ
Monsanto has stopped selling soybean seeds in Argentina, the world's no. 3 producer (after the US and Brazil), because it can't make a buck. The company pushed its way into the market with cut price GM seed but now says a huge black market for the seeds is making it impossible to recoup its investments. Many suspect Monsanto is trying to arm-twist the Argentine government into exerting more control over farmers in Monsanto's interest. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2301
+ 70% OF AMERICANS ALLERGIC TO GMOS?
A group of Russian scientists will request President Putin to impose a temporary moratorium on GMOs, Alexander Baranov of the Institute of Development Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said at a press conference. He said the measure is necessary until the risks and effects of GMOs on the environment and health are researched. The scientist mentioned that according to investigations conducted by scientists in Sweden and the USA, 8 percent of people in Sweden and 70 percent of people in the USA proved to be allergic to GMOs. http://www.rbcnews.com/free/20031211190732.shtml
+ GENES RUN WILD - NEW NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL REPORT
A report commissioned by the US Dept of Agriculture from the National Research Council warns that bio-containment is not possible and that there are serious ecological risks posed by some GM plants, insects, microbes and animals. It says there is no completely effective way to prevent some introduced genes from running out of control in the wild. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2374
+ US EXPECTS NEW EU BIOTECH LAWS TO FURTHER DAMPEN AG TRADE
As the EU prepares to launch new laws in April to label and track all GM food, US farmers and government officials are warning they may turn out to be stronger trade barriers than the biotech approval ban they are intended to replace.
The EU has promised the US for years it would lift its ban on new biotech crops so long as labelling and record-keeping regulations could be implemented. But trade and biotech counsellor for the USDA David Hegwood said the regulations may be impossible to comply with: "What's not clear about this regulation is whether it's going to require exporters to identify the specific (biotech traits) in a corn shipment. We've got know way of knowing. We don't know how we're going to deal with that."
The US's problems stem from a determination to deny choice to the consumer, as an USDA official makes clear, "Labeling is a problem for us primarily because the food companies have said they don't want to label their brand name products because they think consumers won't buy them if they do. We have no reason to doubt that would be the case." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2293
Funny that US GM-pushers claim to be so sure that GM foods haven't caused so much as a headache. How would they know, if they haven't a clue which GM traits are in exported foods or where they're going?
+ GM CROPS LINKED TO RISE IN PESTICIDE USE
A story in the Guardian, drawing on a recent report by US agronomist Dr Charles Benbrook, says that eight years of planting GM maize, cotton and soya beans in the US has significantly increased the amount of herbicides and pesticides used.
Benbrook, the author of the report, found that when first introduced, most of the crops needed up to 25% fewer chemicals for the first three years, but afterwards significantly more. In 2001, the report states, 5% more herbicides and insecticides were sprayed compared with crops only of non-GM varieties; in 2002 7.9% more was sprayed; and in 2003 the estimated rise was 11.5%. In total, £73m more agrochemicals were sprayed in the US during 2001-2003 because of GM crops, says the report, which was commissioned by Iowa State University, the Consumers' Union and others. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2206
+ US: OAKHURST DAIRY TO ALTER ITS LABEL
Oakhurst Dairy in Maine will change its milk carton labels to settle a lawsuit filed against the Maine milk dealer by Monsanto, which manufactures artificial growth hormones for cows. Oakhurst's familiar red flag stating "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones Used" will remain. But the bottom of the label will add a disclaimer: "FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones." Monsanto filed suit in July, claiming that Oakhurst's labels misled consumers into thinking there's something wrong with milk from cows treated with the hormone. The trial was scheduled to start Jan 5, but the two sides have held settlement talks for several weeks. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2141
+ MONSANTO'S GM TECHNOLOGY FAILS IN KENYA - THE HYPE FALLS APART
Monsanto's virus-resistant GM sweet potato, which has been featured as a huge success in hundreds of newspaper articles all around the world, has failed. The research assessment was launched in Kenya by US special envoy, Dr Andrew Young, who had flown into the country for the occasion. But the research shows non-GM sweet potatoes yield much more than the GM. The GM sweet potato was found to be susceptible to viral attacks.
The project has been used a showcase to promote GM as the saviour of Africa, not least by the scientist who has been called Monsanto's apostle in Africa - Dr Florence Wambugu. On the strength of the supposed success of the GM sweet potato Wambugu has written for The New York Times, appeared on CNN and on various American TV shows. In an issue of Forbes magazine in December 2001, she was named one of fifteen people from around the globe who will 'reinvent the future.' But Wambugu's figures on average non-GM yields massively understated the reality in order to make the GM crop look good. Find out more about Wambugu and the hype behind the GM sweet potato. http://www.gmwatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=28&page=1
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the GMWATCH archive
6/2/2004 Devinder Sharma versus Margaret Beckett
6/2/2004 Monsanto wheat patent disputed
5/2/2004 Bayer fudged / Bayer 1 of 10 Worst Corporations of 2003 / Potty Stotty
5/2/2004 Growing public unease over GM crops - where's the evidence?
5/2/2004 New Scientist - Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails
5/2/2004 Scientist ready to cash in on GM animals high in omega 3 fatty acids
4/2/2004 Biotech critics at risk - videos/broadcast/article
4/2/2004 Goodbye, Prof Nanjudaswamy
3/2/2004 E. Ann Clark on Supreme Court hearing of Percy Schmeiser
3/2/2004 EU on line to prohibit GM oilseed rape crops - Guardian
3/2/2004 FDA, Monsanto need to reveal truth about GM cattle drug
3/2/2004 Nanjundaswamy passes away/Smart farmers burn Monsanto's GM-cotton
3/2/2004 Wambugu still Wambuzling!
2/2/2004 Approving GM Crops is Abusing Science
2/2/2004 Belgium rejects GM rape - Europe closer to ban
2/2/2004 GM cotton farming in South Africa a success?
2/2/2004 GM cotton to invade West Africa
2/2/2004 Science is too important to be left to scientists alone
1/2/2004 Biotech industry gives record $150,000 to fight proposed GM ban
1/2/2004 Stop the Rot
31/1/2004 Agribusiness on PR blitz in Latin America
31/1/2004 GM uptake figures not accurate/Biotech Boom via Development Dollars
31/1/2004 Monsanto's chapati patent raises Indian ire
30/1/2004 THE WEEKLY WATCH number 57
FOR THE COMPLETE GMWATCH ARCHIVE: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive.asp