25 April 2003
EU awaits heated debate on GM crop mix/U.S. Lacks System to Track Engineered Food/Govt-Ind Nexus on GM in India
Monsanto stooge Chengal Reddy is doing their bidding again. According to the final article below, Reddy's Indian Farmers and Industry Alliance claims Bt cotton has been a big success in India, especially in Andhra Pradesh, with farmers reporting higher incomes. Which is pretty remarkable when the state government in Andhra Pradesh is having to consider a compenation package because farmers using Bt cotton 'aren't getting the yields they were promised and the poor quality of the crop also fetches a lower price in the market'. Bt cotton proves a failure in Andhra Pradesh http://www.sunnt.com/news/regional/andhra/andhra.asp?id=7242
Sun Network, Hyderabad, Mar 03
for more on Reddy's lobby work for Monsanto, see The Fake Parade: http://ngin.tripod.com/041202d.htm
* EU awaits heated debate on GM crop mix
* U.S. Lacks System to Track Engineered Food, Report Says
* Greenpeace protests biotech at Monsanto meeting
* GM crop ban defeated
* Food labeling ban sought
* Panel On GM Crops Meets Today; NGOs Allege Govt-Ind Nexus
EU awaits heated debate on GM crop mix
EU: April 25, 2003
BRUSSELS - Europe's biotech industry is set to clash with farm and environment groups this week in a debate over whether genetically modified (GM) crops can co-exist with traditional varieties.
Due to consumer health and environment worries, the EU has not authorised any new hi-tech crops since 1998, when several member states vowed to oppose any applications for new permits.
But the European Commission, which will host Thursday's debate, is expected to support the biotech industry's line that the EU should not exclude any form of agriculture and that farmers should be able to grow the crops they choose.
"There are certainly going to be some farmers in Europe who would like to grow these crops and we think if there is very vigorous regulatory system, they should be able to do so," said Simon Barber of Brussels-based industry lobby group EuropaBio.
"So that means we need to have co-existence. Just as organic farmers co-exist with non-organic farmers today, we need to have something pragmatic to let all three co-exist," he said.
While the Commission says co-existence is not linked to restarting EU authorisations of GM products, some nine EU states led by Italy - and backed by green groups - say it is essential to resolve the issue sooner rather than later.
"It would be a serious mistake to lift the moratorium without having properly addressed the contamination problem," said Eric Gall of international environmental group Greenpeace.
"The Commission is really in a hurry to lift the moratorium. But some member states are very concerned with the contamination issue...and would like to link it to the moratorium," he said.
EU farm and environment ministers have already thrashed out tighter legislation on traceability, labelling and other rules relating to GM food and feed. These bills are to be debated and voted on by the European Parliament later this year. When these bills become law, the Commission says, there will be no reason to keep the moratorium.
Apart from a chance for a general airing of views, little policy-making is likely from the debate, which will focus on GM maize and rapeseed as the EU has already approved limited cultivation of these crops.
One of the EU's main tasks will be to set rules for economic liability if there is cross-pollination of neighbouring crops.
Civil legislation on liability for such damage to crops differs widely across the 15-nation bloc.
The Commission has suggested various options to control the risk of cross-pollination, such as buffer zones, pollen barriers and crop rotation arrangements for differing flowering periods.
"The farming sector will have to work so it can provide things that don't have to be labelled," said EuropaBio's Barber. "It can probably do this but it will take effort and cooperation between GM farmers and non-GM farmers," he said.
U.S. farmers say the EU's de facto moratorium has significantly harmed their exports of maize, cotton and soy, and the United States is exerting steady pressure for the 15-nation bloc to accept its GM farm exports.
Little Oversight of Altered Crops
Beyond the Farm, U.S. Lacks System to Track Engineered Food, Report Says
By Justin Gillis
Friday, April 25, 2003; Page E04
The government has no effective system of overseeing genetically altered crops after they go to market, a regulatory gap that could pose acute problems as more such crops are commercialized, according to a new report.
Two government agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, don't even attempt to enforce rules on gene-altered crops after they're commercialized, and may lack sufficient legal authority to do so, said the report, commissioned by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
The third agency that regulates such crops, the Environmental Protection Agency, has legal authority to set rules that apply after commercialization, but has established no effective means of enforcing them, the report found.
A crop regulated by EPA and subject, in theory, to broad planting and harvesting restrictions was the cause of the biggest failure yet in crop biotechnology, the report noted. StarLink corn was supposed to be approved for use only as animal feed, but farmers and seed companies failed to honor government restrictions and the corn wound up in a wide variety of products on U.S. grocery shelves, forcing recalls in 2000.
That problem was caught not by a government surveillance program, since none exists, but by an environmental coalition buying corn products off the shelves of Safeway and having them tested.
The StarLink episode could be a harbinger as more genetically altered products, including crops designed to grow pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, are brought to market, said the report, released yesterday.
The report was prepared for the Pew Initiative, a Washington think tank set up to foster public discussion of genetic engineering, by Michael Taylor and Jody Tick, analysts at Resources for the Future, a group known for researching environmental questions.
Taylor emphasized in an interview that weak oversight has not resulted in major health or safety problems. Even the StarLink debacle, which cost food and biotechnology companies hundreds of millions of dollars, is not known to have harmed anyone. Moreover, he said, a broad government monitoring program could be costly and complicated, and its purpose would be to guard against harms that are somewhat theoreticalso more public discussion is needed on whether such an effort would be worth the trouble.
If the public concludes that it wants more effective monitoring, Taylor said, probably the only way to get it would be to pass a law in Congress, since federal agencies have already stretched the intent of old laws in their attempts to oversee the engineered crops.
Government agencies often lack the ability to test for the presence of altered genes in food, the Pew report said.
And there's evidence to suggest the minimal restrictions that government agencies are imposing are often ignored. For instance, the EPA requires that farmers follow certain planting guidelines with insect-resistant crops, but leaves enforcement in the hands of the companies selling the seed. Anonymous farmer surveys done by others suggest that compliance with those rules may be as low as 60 percent in some regions of the country, the report said. The government is not inspecting farms to verify compliance.
"Looking ahead, there's some things that we normally look to government regulation to do that aren't being done," Taylor said. "The question is, do they need to be done for this technology?"
Spokesmen at the Agriculture Department, the FDA and the EPA emphasized yesterday that they review biotech crops carefully before they are brought to market, demanding food-safety studies and other data, but they acknowledged that under current practice, it's largely up to individual farmers and companies to obey government rules after a crop is commercialized.
The regulators emphasized that any time they become aware of a problem, they can take action, as in the StarLink case. EPA spokesman David Deegan noted the agency has changed its rules to prevent any case exactly like StarLink from happening again.
The agencies are already studying the question of whether more aggressive monitoring of crops after they reach the marketplace -- regulators call it "post-market surveillance" -- is warranted, now or in the future.
"We certainly welcome this new contribution to a discussion that has been ongoing," said Cindy Smith, chief biotechnology regulator at the Agriculture Department. Added James H. Maryanski, biotech coordinator at the FDA: "It's very important to us to maintain the integrity of the food supply. It's also important to make sure we don't inhibit a new industry if it's not necessary."
The biotechnology industry has strongly opposed n legislation to tighten restrictions on gene-altered crops, declaring the current system adequate. The report yesterday annoyed the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington trade group, which said in a prepared statement that the Pew initiative "appears to be in search of a reason for existence by commissioning a report on a non-issue." The group added, "There are zero cases of any proven health issues associated with the food products of biotechnology."
Greenpeace protests biotech at Monsanto meeting
Reuters, 04.24.03, 6:23 PM ET
By Carey Gillam
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Reuters) - Opponents of Monsanto Co.'s biotech crop business used the company's annual meeting on Thursday to attack Monsanto's efforts to boost sales of genetically modified crops.
"We believe the company's direction and pursuit of genetically modified agriculture is reckless," Greenpeace campaigner Jeanne Merrill told shareholders during the meeting at the company's headquarters in suburban St. Louis.
Merrill was one of four Greenpeace representatives who attended the meeting to convey the message that Monsanto's biotech efforts are bad business for both investors and consumers.
"The potential for catastrophic problems... is very high and effectively inevitable," said Greenpeace's Lindsay Keenan, who traveled from Germany to take part in the campaign against Monsanto.
Monsanto is the leader in the development and commercialization of genetically modified crops. The company sells corn and soybeans that are engineered to tolerate herbicide. Other crops it sells are designed to fight off insect pests, and it is close to marketing the world's first biotech wheat.
Merrill, Keenan and the other Greenpeace representatives sought shareholder approval of a proposal calling on Monsanto to give a detailed report on the risks and environmental impacts of its genetically engineered crops, which include millions of acres of corn and soybeans in the United States and abroad.
Shareholders overwhelmingly rejected the measure.
Monsanto Chairman Frank Atlee said no such report was needed as all the company's biotech crops are approved for human consumption and have demonstrated their safety through years of testing and market usage.
"They're safe," Atlee said. "These products have been used...without evidence of any problems. We don't want anything to be done that is unsafe."
Monsanto, which is set to report first-quarter results on April 30, has been working to refocus its revenue growth on biotech sales as competition eats away at profits in the herbicide business, which traditionally gave Monsanto the bulk of its revenues. The company posted a net loss of $1.7 billion last year.
The Greenpeace activists argue that Monsanto's biotech business will contaminate the food supply with undesirable or dangerous elements, as well as spur out-of-control resistance by pests and weeds.
In an interview after the meeting, Monsanto Chief Operating Officer Hugh Grant said the company recognized the significant obstacles to its bid to advance acceptance and use of biotech crops around the world.
"It's not going to be overnight.... This takes time," he said. "We're very conscious of the concerns."
But he said seven years of commercialization of the company's Roundup Ready soybeans, which are genetically modified to tolerate the company's Roundup herbicide, had demonstrated not only that the technology is safe, but also that the technology had substantial environmental benefits.
Grant said biotech crops had led to sharp reductions in the use of pesticides and herbicides on crops around the globe.
Juli Niemann, an analyst with R.T. Jones Capital Markets, said some of the issues raised by Greenpeace were valid, but at this point the biotech issue was largely unsettled.
"It is something I'm watching," said Niemann, who attended the shareholders meeting. "There is science on both sides of it, and neither side is totally convincing."
In other business Thursday, Monsanto announced board approval of an 8 percent increase in shareholder dividends.
Monsanto stock has lost about half its value in the last year. It closed 18 cents higher at $16.20 on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.
GM crop ban defeated
Green campaigners in Dorset have failed in their attempt to make the county a genetically modified (GM) crop-free zone. The motion to ban the growing of genetically modified crops was defeated at a county council meeting by 21 votes to 16.
Other motions however, including banning GM products from all county council establishments, were passed by the council.
Devon and Cornwall County Councils have already passed legislation declaring their regions GM-free.
If people will not buy it, then farmers won't grow it
Dorset has seen several growing trials, which were the target of several major demonstrations last summer.
Ralph Arliss, from the North Dorset Green Party, said the group was disappointed at the result as they had thought they had overcome legal objections.
"At a cabinet meeting last month they did not ban GM crops as they thought it would be illegal to do it.
"We told them that European law does allow areas to declare themselves GM-free - it's called Article 19.
"We're very depressed about it, we really thought it would be supported."
He said their next move would be to lobby district councils to declare themselves GM-free, and to step up pressure on supermarkets and the public.
"If people will not buy it, then farmers won't grow it", he said.
Dorset County Council organised a public meeting in February that attracted a huge turn-out of local people.
The proposal to declare the county a GM-free zone came out of the meeting. At Thursday's meeting the council voted to inform the government of their concerns over GM technology and to raise the issue at the South West Regional Assembly.
Food labeling ban would deny right to know
Oregon Daily Emerald
April 24, 2003
Measure 27, which would have required labeling of genetically engineered foods, was defeated by voters last fall. Now, however, the Oregon Legislature is taking the issue to an absurd level, and food labeling proponents, consumer advocates and states' rights activists should stand together and fight. House Bill 2957, introduced in early March by Rep. Jeff Kropf, R-Sublimity, and passed by the House, would remove local governments' rights to require food labeling. It also would ban any state agency from requiring food labeling that is more stringent than the federal government's labels.
Essentially, HB 2957 is a pre-emptive strike against consumers' right to know what they're buying. No city or county has proposed food labeling laws, but Kropf and a sizable portion of the House want to be sure localities don't get uppity.
Neither Kropf nor any of the other 47 representatives have offered an explanation as to what, exactly, food producers are trying to hide. All Kropf has said is that his bill would prevent the "crazy quilt of patchwork laws" that would result from cities developing their own requirements.
But patchwork is exactly what local and state laws are. Anything not regulated specifically by the federal government becomes a "crazy quilt" of varying state laws. Then, anything not regulated specifically by state governments becomes another "crazy quilt" of local laws. That's how our system works.
It isn't odd that a Republican who owns a peppermint and pumpkin seed farm would want to stop "radical" local governments from passing laws that could be a burden to farmers. (He was likely targeting Eugene, where radical consumers believe they should be allowed to know what's in their food, and Portland, where radical consumers banned polystyrene food containers in 1990, helping to change fast-food packaging nationwide.)
What's strange is that the House saw fit to include the state government in this bill, as well. Essentially, Kropf is saying that in the interest of an orderly set of laws, the state gives up its rights to the federal government, and localities have their rights stolen entirely.
Why is no one making any noise about this? Other than an Associated Press dispatch and a short story in The Oregonian, everyone seems content to have blindfolds put over their eyes when they buy food. Kropf's move is anti-free market and anti-consumer, and it should be recognized as such.
Consumers should have as much information as possible about the products competing for their dollars, and then they can purchase the superior product and let the others fail.
It's also interesting that a crackdown on labeling is occurring at the same time the federal government is preparing for increased labeling. New "country of origin" labeling laws will be mandatory by September 2004, requiring meats and produce to say where they come from.
We applaud the federal government; more information makes better consumers. However, Product Inform, a Kilkenny, Ireland-based company, is poised to be the first to market a new technology that delivers comprehensive food product information to handheld devices consumers can carry while shopping. Now that's free-market progress.
Currently, this bill is before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Frank Shields, D-Portland, is the chairman. Contact Shields at (503) 986-1724. The University area is represented by Sen. Tony Corcoran, D-Cottage Grove, who also sits on this committee. Contact Corcoran at (503) 986-1724. Contact Kropf, the bill's sponsor, at (503) 986-1417.
Panel On GM Crops Meets Today; NGOs Allege Govt-Ind Nexus
Financial Express, India
New Delhi, April 24: Even as the domestic industry, farmers' associations and activist organisations continue to be at loggerheads with one another over going ahead with cultivating the genetically modified (GM) crops, it is being feared that reasons other than scientific validity may influence the decisions to be taken by the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) meeting on Friday. The committee is slated to consider on Friday the approval of cultivation of Bt cotton in the Northern states and to discuss performance of GM-mustard.
Greenpeace scientific advisor Ashesh Tayal says, "GEAC may not give an approval to Bt cotton as preliminary investigations commissioned by Greenpeace on field trials in Punjab indicated failure on the most basic claims - bollworm incidence and pesticide use has not been reduced and yields are comparable or less than from non-Bt variety."
Greenpeace has also alleged that Monsanto has inside information that the committee may approve its GM seeds indicating nexus between industry and government officials. The former has further said this information may have been leaked to the markets, explaining the sudden heightened interest in Monsanto stocks over the last few days. But analysts believe this (share price rise) has more to do with Monsanto's buyback move.
Terming Greenpeace's allegations a figment of imagination, Monsanto director (public affairs) Ranjana Smetacek said the company is nonetheless optimistic about its products getting approval for cultivation.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has already submitted its report to the panel, but it is yet to be made public. Asked if GEAC may give a go ahead to GM crops if the ICAR report gives a green signal, Dr Tayal said, "in that case the report will be incorrect as our tests are totally credible which do not approve these crops."
On the other side, the Indian Farmers and Industry Alliance, an association of farmers' organisations and the Confederation of Indian Industry, have urged the GEAC to approve use of GM mustard seeds. Alliance's co-chairman Chengal Reddy said, "the farmers should not be denied a technology needed to compete with those in the rest of the world. Farmers are looking forward to getting a better income from mustard, especially those in rainfed areas in UP, MP, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, where the productivity is low."
The alliance has also claimed that according to independent studies carried out by ICAR, GM mustard seeds provide higher yields than the best comparable non-GM seeds across different regions, giving the farmer an extra income of at least Rs 3,000 per hectare. The alliance also believes that increasing domestic production of mustard oil will help cut down the Rs 6,500-crore edible oil imports.
The alliance also claims that GEAC's approval of Bt cotton in six states has been a big success, especially in Andhra Pradesh, with farmers reporting higher incomes, and believes same can be emulated in case of GM mustard too. It also claims a green signal to GM mustard will send a right signal to the domestic biotech industry.