1. Dispute Breaks Out Over New Biotech Crop Claims
2. US threatens public's right to choose on GM foods
3. Tobacco Lobbyist Urges Industry To Shoot The Messengers
4. Organic Activists Win Freedom of Information Case
5. WTO, tax havens, deals and Mr Unilever!
1. Dispute Breaks Out Over New Biotech Crop Claims
By Daniel Nelson,
OneWorld UK, Wednesday January 16
A fresh row has broken out over the worldwide spread of genetically modified (GM) crops, following the release of a report this week which claims an "unprecedented" increase in the use of GM technology in farming over the last five years. Anti-GM campaigners have said the report -- from the non-profit pro-GM International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA) -- should be treated with a large dose of skepticism.
Figures published in the report--showing a 19 per cent increase in the area of land cultivated with GM crops--were over-optimistic and based on estimates of farmers' planting intentions, said Ben Ayliffe of the environmental pressure-group Greenpeace. "The report was commissioned by people who stand to gain most from making it seem that GM crops are already accepted all over the world," said Ayliffe. "The increase of planted GM crops does not continue to go through the roof, but is starting to level off."
While the report said that three-quarters of farmers using the technology were from developing countries, Ayliffe pointed out that commercial cultivation of GM crops was restricted to about 15 countries, of which four -- the United States, Argentina, Canada, and China --accounted for 98 percent of the worldwide total. After an initial burst, the number of fields planted with GM crops started to plummet from 1999, according to Ayliffe.
The fact that the acceptance of GM crops was slowing down and was limited to a handful of countries, he said, showed that there was opposition to the technology, not just in Europe but all over the world. The technology -- which allows genes to be moved from one species to another -- has been highly controversial, with proponents saying it would open the door to new high-yielding pest-resistant crops, and critics arguing that intra-species tampering would bring unpredictable risks to the environment and human health.
Li Lin Lim of Third World Network, a Malaysia-based think-thank and campaign group, said Wednesday that the report glossed over many of the realities on the ground, such as the halt to commercialization in India and a legal challenge to GM crops in Indonesia. "It doesn't reflect the sentiment among farmers and the public about these crops," she said. Greenpeace's Ayliffe urged people to take simple actions, such as writing to local supermarkets to demand a switch to meat products from animals reared on non-GM feed.
But Clive James, chairman of ISAAA, remains quietly confident. "There is cautious optimism that the global area and the number of farmers planting GM crops will continue to increase in 2002," he said.
2. USA: US threatens public's right to choose on GM foods, says FOE
17 Jan 2002
A key World Trade Organisation (WTO) document obtained by environmental activist group Friends of the Earth (FOE) shows that the US is putting increasing pressure on Europe to weaken its proposed laws on GM foods and crops.
The document is the US's response to the WTO over EU proposals to improve the safety testing of GM foods and to widely increase consumer choice and information.
The US complains that the current proposals will be "more trade restrictive than necessary". It also says that they should not include animal feeds, even though most GM crops are fed to farm animals, and that they should re-define all food crops as "genetically modified". Furthermore, it insists that Member States should be allowed to have the final say leaving "substantial room for political interference" and that "individual member states will continue to be able to hold the approval process hostage to political concerns".
Meanwhile, a recent EU opinion poll showed that 94.6% of citizens stated that they want the right to choose about GM foods.
Adrian Bebb, FOE food campaigner, commented: "The Bush Administration is trying to take away our right to decide on GM food. The public has made it very clear that they want proper labelling and proper testing for GM foods. The proposed EU laws are at least a step in the right direction. The US wants to weaken these laws to protect the likes of Monsanto and American agri-business.
"European countries must refuse to bow to this bullying. European citiziens demand the right to choose."
3. Tobacco Lobbyist Talks Turkey, Urges Industry To Shoot The Messengers
A food industry website reports that lobbyist Rick Berman addressed Tuesday's annual meeting of the National Turkey Association. "What many of you don't understand is just how many different ways this industry is being attacked by groups. They are coming at you all from the animal rights side, as well as biotechnology, antibiotics hysteria, anti-corporate, labor and the factory farms angle. ... There will be increased consumer anxiety, possible consumption taxes, further competition from alternative food providers, unnecessary market restrictions, and an influx of class-action suits."
Berman urged industry to "shoot the messengers and take their credibility away." Berman's activist-bashing business was launched with $600,000 from Philip Morris tobacco company , which also happens to be the largest food company in the U.S.
4. Organic Activists Win Freedom of Information Case
Santiago Times, Chile, posted by GEFoodAlert, USA
January 7, 2001
Organic farmers and public interest attorneys won their first ever 'freedom of information' case Friday, Jan. 4, when a Santiago court ordered Chile's Cattle and Agricultural Service (Servicio Agricola y Ganadero, SAG) to disclose information concerning the location and ownership of farmlands planted in transgenic crops.
"This is a landmark decision in Chile, where government has traditionally hidden behind the long skirts of secrecy and 'national security' to keep the citizenry ignorant about certain matters," said Miguel Fredes, the attorney for the plaintiffs and head of the non-profit Southern Environmental Law Center, based in Puerto Montt.
The lawsuit was filed on July 27, 2001, in Santiago's 26th District Civil Court after SAG officials repeatedly denied requests by Maria Isabel Manzur, a zoologist, to reveal information concerning the location and ownership of transgenic crops in Chile.
Manzur, who works with "Tierra Viva" Organic Growers Association of Chile, first wrote SAG Oct. 18, 1999, requesting information about the location of transgenic crops. She and Andrea Tuczek Fries, a member of Tierra Viva and also a plaintiff in the case, explained that the commercial success of Chile's organic farming community could be jeopardized if organic growers unwittingly grew their crops adjacent to land planted in transgenic crops.
SAG responded only with general information about transgenics. In a letter dated Dec. 13, 2000, the agency explained that "unfortunately, the location of these (transgenic) crops - which this organization must constantly review and monitor for quarantine purposes - is confidential in nature and is kept in safekeeping because of factors relating to competition."
Chilean law (SAG Resolution 1.927, of 1993) authorizes the entry of transgenic seeds to the country for the purpose of reproduction and export. An interim voluntary monitoring system created by SAG permits field trials for genetically modified crops. SAG argued to the court that disclosure of the location of the field trials would jeopardize enforcement of environmental laws, would threaten corporate profits or would result in damage to intellectual property rights. Organic growers say they fear there have been breaches in the voluntary guidelines concerning the containment of GM material in Chile.
The plaintiffs, in their lawsuit, not only requested exact information concerning the location and size of areas planted in transgenic crops, but also data related to SAG's monitoring of the planted areas. Transgenic vegetal matter believed to be under production in Chile include tree crops, sunflower seeds, melons, potatoes, sugar beets, corn and soya.
Plaintiffs also asked the court to have SAG explain the basis for its 1994 decision to lift its bio-security quarantine on transgenic corn and soya, and for the minutes of different SAG working groups charged with overseeing and monitoring transgenic crops. In its written response to lawsuit, SAG said complete secrecy about the location and ownership of the transgenic crops was necessary in order to protect the interests of the businesses involved and safeguard SAG's ability to do its work without hindrance. The agency cited a letter sent to it by Semillas Siminis Sudamerica Ltda. dated Nov. 24, 1994, concerning the need for absolute confidentiality. SAG also said no minutes had been kept by its different transgenic working groups because they were "not deliberative in nature." It added that it would fully disclose information about transgenics in Chile only after all experimentation had ceased and transgenic materials were removed from the country.
Civil Court Judge Humberto Provoste Bachmann, however, disagreed, ruling that SAG should respond immediately to all the information requests made by the plaintiffs. SAG has 10 days to appeal the decision. Manzur, who works with "Tierra Viva" Organic Growers Association of Chile, first wrote SAG Oct. 18, 1999, requesting information about the location of transgenic crops. She and Andrea Tuczek Fries, a member of Tierra Viva and also a plaintiff in the case, explained that the commercial success of Chile's organic farming community could be jeopardized if organic growers unwittingly grew their crops adjacent to land planted in transgenic crops. SAG responded only with general information about transgenics. In a letter dated Dec. 13, 2000, the agency explained that "unfortunately, the location of these (transgenic) crops - which this organization must constantly review and monitor for quarantine purposes - is confidential in nature and is kept in safekeeping because of factors relating to competition."
Civil Court Judge Humberto Provoste Bachmann ruled that SAG should respond immediately to all the information requests made by the plaintiffs. SAG has 10 days to appeal the decision.
To read more: http://www.ceada.org/TextosFinales/doc%20ddhh/sag.doc
Text of Complaint (spanish) http://www.chiper.cl/reports/index.asp?r=72
Chile Sustainable Report on GMOs in Chile (english)
5. WTO, tax havens, deals and Mr Unilever
ANS - Amigo News Services
Recently the WTO which has ruled in favor of the EU with reference to US tax havens. Curiously enough, the price tag the US has slapped on its losses for not being able to take their GMOs into Europe ($4bn per annum) is identical to the amount the EU intends to slap onto the US for loss of business due to the tax havens. In the event that the EU decides to claim the losses the US will retaliate with a WTO case over the EU GM moratorium (or so suggests the Wall Street Journal), not least as US farmers have just been allocated further big subsidies and the US would like to find non-tax increasing means of paying for that.
As the EU Commission is in favor of lifting the moratorium, it's pretty certain how the WTO will rule. Could hopes of such an outcome, have anything to do with the head of Unilever and various like-minded food-industry types suddenly calling for a rebirth of the GM debate, some wonder.
 Niall Fitzgerald, the head of food giant Unilever used an address to the Sainsbury's-sponsored City Food Lecture at London's Guildhall this week to call for a reopening of the GM food debate and a renewed effort to flog GM products to connsumers by "speaking their language."