1.New Pep for the German Soy Market
2.Germany: Objections filed against open field trial of GM wheat
3.Old Ways, New Pain for Farms in Poland
4.Germany approves GMO sugar and potato field trials
5.Why food prices will go through the roof in coming months
NOTE: All these interesting items can be found on GM free Ireland's excellent news page: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/news/index.php
EXTRACTS: ...environmental and consumer organisations perceive it [the GM-free label that can now be put on animal products where no GM feed has been used] as a great step for agriculture if it facilitates the strong demand for GM-free feed crops. That's the way it looks now. (item 1)
...about 7000 citizens have expressed their protest against the planned trial (item 2)
In part because Poland has remained one of the last strongholds of small farming in Europe, it is also a rare bastion of biodiversity, with 40,000 pairs of nesting storks and thousands of seed varieties that exist nowhere else in the world. (item 3)
1.New Pep for the German Soy Market
By Annegret Grafen-Engert
Bioland Organic Agriculture magazine, April 2008 Translated by TraceConsult and GM-free Ireland http://www.bioland.de/verlag/zeitschrift.html [German text]
With the publication of the new [German] biotech act, animal products can also carry the GM-free label 'without genetic engineering' ('ohne Gentechnik') from the first of May. The retail industry wants the label on the assumption it will provide a strong boost for the GM-free soy market.
Early this year, representatives of the animal feed, agriculture, slaughtering, processing and retail industries met the QS [Quality and Safety] System's Advisory Board for Beef, Veal and Pork to discuss the issue of 'GM-free' labelling. The retail industry representatives expect the QS System will expand to include 'GM-free', setting a broad foundation for the standard in the meat industry. An REWE group spokesperson told Bioland magazine this would yield distinct advantages for the major retailers: 'I would have the whole production chain around one table and achieve consistent standards in the entire industry'. A joint approach would also be attractive to stakeholders because it would create a level playing field for the additional certification costs, which experts estimate are not that high anyway.
The larger retailers such as REWE and Edeka seem intent to move ahead with 'GM-free' labels. The consensus is that retailers will benefit. However, the new legislation still needs to be analysed and its feasibility evaluated product by product: 'Our GM-free claims must be consistent and defensible. The REWE spokeperson said 'We want to proceed very seriously without undue delay'.
Things will take some time, as the embedding of the GM-free label in the QS system will cause a strong demand for GM-free soy. A retail industry representative estimated that some 3 million metric tonnes of soy meal would be needed for the pork sold in Germany alone. Biotech expert Christoph Then expressed doubts about the short-term availability of such volumes: 'Many companies have not ordered yet'. Josef Feilmeier, a small animal feed distributor in Lower Bavaria, sees this differently. There was a supply bottleneck around the end of last year; but Brazil can meet the West European demand for soya meal, estimated by Feilmeier to be around 10 to 12 million tons, after the new harvest from May onwards.
The potential for a fast-growing supply from Brazil was also confirmed by Jochen Koester, the owner of Geneva-based consultancy TraceConsult which provides advice to the entire supply chain regarding certified GM-free soy. Until recently he was the European Director of IMCOPA, a Brazilian soybean crusher which markets non-GM products exclusively and has been certified as a supplier of GM-free soy since 1999. Koester said the company's processing volume has increased twelve-fold since then, and it now offers just under 2 million tons of soy meal per annum. This year, additional volumes of approximately 1.5 million tons of certified soy meal from Brazil will reach the market: 'Farmers like to plant it if the demand is there.' But it takes some time to organize traceability systems and segregated supply chains all the way to Europe.
Koester proposes GM-free certification based on the Basel Criteria for Responsible Soy Production, launched jointly in 2004 by the Swiss retail chain COOP and WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature]. Besides rainforest protection and social parameters, the Criteria also exclude genetically modified soybeans. According to the latest estimates, Brazil's 2008 soybean crop will be a little over 62 million tons, of which 26 million tonnes will be produced from conventional seed.
RKW Süd expects growing sales
The demand for GM-free animal feed increased strongly after a bottleneck at the end of the year, according to Dr. Ulrich Steinruck, Deputy Managing Director of RKW Süd in Würzburg. Large and medium-sized poultry producers are the main drivers, but he also cites an enquiry from a large dairy company as an example. He said 'February 15 (the day the Biotech Act was passed) provided a powerful boost'. One can literally observe company boardrooms 'beginning to think now' and 'sending their assistants to do research'. Steinruck expects to sell 20 to 30 percent more GM-free compound feed this year than last year. The Würzburg facility ships 40,000 tons of GM-free soy meal to feed compounders annually, with other GM-free ingredients subsequently added to the mix.
The Würzburg's animal feed plant at Raiffeisen has supplied GM-free feedstuffs exclusively since 2006. It also has the capacity to provide animal feed complying with the Basel Criteria, upon request: 'We can trace the product back to the farmer in Brazil.' This additional certification comes with a higher premium. Steinruck believes the food retailers wanting to use the GM-free label will favour the Basel Criteria standard because it is easy for the consumer to understand. Raiffeisen currently sells certified GM-free soy meal for a premium of around â‚¬8 per 100 kg., but this is more due to current market scarcity than to extra costs, which Feilmeier estimates to be at most â‚¬2.50: 'Some people out there are already gambling up the price.'
Companies poised for take-off
Tegut subsidiary KFF intends to label its Landprimus brand of poultry and pork as 'GM-free' as soon as the new law comes into effect. Sven Euen, who is responsible for quality management at KFF, said 'We are ready for take-off'. Switching to this higher certification standard is not a big step for KFF, which has required its agricultural partners to use GM-free soy since 2001. GIven the high price of animal feed, Euen is, however, a little concerned about GM-free soy prices.
Germany's largest poultry producer, Wiesenhof, also wants to start using the GM-free label when the law comes into effect. This company has also maintained a GM-free food chain since 2000, and promotes the fact that it invests several million euro every year to ensure a GM-free supply chain extending from the Brazilian supplier to its own feed mills.
The new rules for 'GM-free' labels replace a 1998 regulation that was very difficult for manufacturers to deal with. The new law applies only to crop materials in the animal feed, and does not affect the use of enzymes and vitamins that may have been produced with biotech methods. The Bauernverband (Farmers Union) and the Association of German Oilseed Crushers strongly oppose the new labeling option and claim consumer deception. But environmental and consumer organisations perceive it as a great step for agriculture if it facilitates the strong demand for GM-free feed crops. That's the way it looks now. The Raiffeisen and oilseed crushers' associations assumption 'that this label will remain restricted at first to market niches' may be quite off the mark [ie wrong!].
2.GERMANY: Objections filed against open field trial of GM wheat at the University of Rostock
Schweizerische Arbeitsgruppe Gentechnologie SAG, 3 March 2008.
At the end of May, the Umweltinstitut München as well as environmental associations, farmers organisations and food companies have officially filed an objection against the planned cultivation of GM wheat to be carried out by the University of Rostock.
The objection has been submitted to the competent regulatory authority (Bundesamt f¸r Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit - BVL).
Additionally, about 7000 citizens have expressed their protest against the planned trial via sample objection text prepared by the Umweltinstitut München.
3.Old Ways, New Pain for Farms in Poland By Elisabeth Rosenthal.
The New York Times, 4 April 2008
STRYSZOW, Poland - Depending on your point of view, Szczepan Master is either an incorrigible Luddite or a visionary. A small farmer, proud of his pure high-quality products, he works his land the way Polish farmers have for centuries.
He keeps his livestock in a straw-floored 'barn' that is part of his house, entered through a kitchen door. He slaughters his own pigs. His wife milks cows by hand. He rejects genetically modified seeds. Instead of spraying his crops, he turns his fields in winter, preferring a workhorse to a tractor, to let the frost kill off pests residing there.
While traditional farms like his could be dismissed as a nostalgic throwback, they are also increasingly seen as the future - if only they can survive.
Mr. Master's way of farming - indeed his way of life - has been badly threatened in the two years since Poland joined the European Union, a victim of sanitary laws and mandates to encourage efficiency and competition that favor mechanized commercial farms, farmers here say.
That conflict obviously matters to Mr. Master. But it is also of broader importance, environmental groups and agriculture experts say, as worries over climate change grow and more consumers in both Europe and the United States line up for locally grown, organic produce.
For reasons social, culinary and environmental, small farms like Mr. Master's should be promoted, or at least be protected, they say. They not only yield tastier foods but also produce few of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
In part because Poland has remained one of the last strongholds of small farming in Europe, it is also a rare bastion of biodiversity, with 40,000 pairs of nesting storks and thousands of seed varieties that exist nowhere else in the world.
But European Union laws are intended for another universe of farming, and Polish farmers say they have left them at a steep disadvantage. If they want to sell their products, European law requires farms to have concrete floors in their barns and special equipment for slaughtering. Hygiene laws prohibit milking cows by hand. As a result, the milk collection stations and tiny slaughterhouses that until a few years ago dotted the Polish countryside have all closed. Small family farming is impossible.
'We need to reward them for being ahead of the game, rather than behind it,' said Sir Julian Rose - an organic farmer from Britain - who, with his Polish partner, Jadwiga Lopata, founded the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside some years back and has been fighting the regulations.
'The E.U. has adopted the same efficiency approach to food as it has to autos and microchips,' he said. 'Those who can produce the most are favored. Everything is happening the reverse of what it should be if they care about food and the environment.'
The small farmers who have rallied behind the coalition here in southern Poland have touched a deep nerve and gained broad influence.
Ms. Lopata received the prestigious Goldman Prize for protecting the environment for her quest to preserve traditional farms. Prince Charles visited her farm (by helicopter) with its solar panels and the black sheep (responsible for mowing the grass) in the yard.
All 16 states of Poland have now banned genetically modified organisms in defiance of European Union and Word Trade Organization mandates. Last month, the Polish Agriculture Ministry announced that it planned to ban their import in animal fodder, another refusal to accept European Union policy.
In Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, officials say they have no desire to undo Polish tradition. 'We are not advocating the industrialization of European farming - from our side we think there is a place in Europe for all shapes and sizes of farms,' said Michael Mann, spokesman for the European Commission Agriculture Directorate. But, he said: 'There has to be some restructuring to become more competitive and less reliant on subsidies. Farming is a business. They will have to look for market niches.'
The European Union currently pays farmers who meet health and sanitary standards a subsidy, to help maintain Europe's farming tradition and as an acknowledgment that it is more expensive to farm in Europe than in other parts of the world.
It also provides matching funds to all European Union national governments for agricultural development, to upgrade and modernize farms. The national governments decide what types of projects qualify, but the boundaries are loosely defined. In various countries they have included buying new equipment and developing organic cultivation, as well as turning nonperforming farms into bed-and-breakfasts.
In a coming review of such polices, the European Commission is planning to encourage spending more money to develop organic agriculture. 'The whole idea is to empower farmers,' Mr. Mann said.
'They don't need to change anything if they don't want to,' he added. 'But they have to survive in business. If you're still milking cows by hand, maybe you would want to use the money to put in a new system.'
While overall farm income in Poland has gone up since the country has joined the European Union, that is certainly not the case for the small farmers here. In Poland, 22 percent of the work force is employed in agriculture, and the country boasts by far the highest number of farms in Europe. Most of them are tiny.
The average farm size is about 17 acres, compared with about 59 acres in Spain, France and Germany. There are 1.5 million small farms in Poland. Only Italy, with its proliferation of high-end niche agricultural products, compares to Poland in its abundance of small producers.
But the fall of Communism and, more recently, European Union membership have opened this once cloistered land to global forces: international competition, sanitary codes, trade rules and the like. Sir Julian recalls that at an agricultural conference in 1999 a pamphlet advertised 'Poland up for grabs!' That is what has happened, he said. In a market newly saturated with huge efficient players, these small traditional farmers are being overwhelmed. The American bacon producer Smithfield Farms now operates a dozen vast industrial pig farms in Poland. Importing cheap soy feed from South America, which the company feeds to its tens of thousands of pigs, it has caused the price of pork to drop strikingly in the past couple of years. Since European Union membership, the prices of pork and milk have dropped 30 percent.
In early March, hundreds of Polish farmers demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, complaining that they were losing money on each hog they raised. Anyway, Mr. Master said, raising pigs for sale was a nonstarter. He is forbidden to slaughter his own pigs, and the nearest abattoir that meets European Union standards is hours away; there are only five in all of Poland.
'It is impossible for me to farm,' he lamented over beet soup, in his ragged sweater and black work pants. He and his wife know that the European Union offers subsidies and loans to modernize traditional farms. But, they say, it is not enough money, it is not what they want and they are not adept at navigating the bureaucracy. They tried to fill out the paperwork to get certified as an organic farm but found it overwhelming.
Poland has a tradition of small farming that has persisted for centuries. Unlike farmers in the rest of Eastern Europe, Poland's farmers even resisted collectivization under Communism. Now, Ms. Lopata said, they are 'organic by default,' and 'at the vanguard of an ecological, healthy way of food producing.'
In a small barn covered with matted straw, Barbara and Andrzej Wojcik say they feel like outcasts. They used to make a decent living selling pork from pigs they raised as well as the milk and butter from their six cows.
But they said that with the price of pork so low they could not afford to raise pigs slowly, the traditional way. As for milk, their local collection station closed a few years ago. So they have no way to get their products to market, even if they buy the required stainless steel equipment.
Now they have sold all but two of their cows and reverted to subsistence farming. They live off their parents' pensions, barter and a bit of money selling sewed crafts. 'The new laws are killing us,' Ms. Wojcik said.
Mr. Mann, from the European Commission, acknowledges that small farmers in places like Poland may have to adapt. 'There is a place for the small farmer,' he said, 'but they have to be smart and not rely on payouts.'
But deft adaptation seems hard here, a place set in its ways Ã³ and may be bad for the environment anyway. A collective system for selling organic vegetables to the city, devised by Ms. Lopata, never got off the ground.
'They tend to be very individualistic,' she said. 'They think they survived Communist efforts to collectivize them, so they will survive this. They don't realize the European Union and the global market are even harder.'
4.Germany approves GMO sugar and potato field trials
Reuters, 2 April 2008.
HAMBURG - Germany's state food safety agency said on Wednesday it approved open-air field trials of sugar beet and potatoes containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The company Planta has been given permission to sow 12,000 square metres of GMO sugar beet at two locations between 2008 and 2011, agency BVL said.
BASF Plant Science, part of German chemicals group BASF (BASF.DE: Quote, Profile, Research), has been given approval to plant GMO potatoes on 30,000 square metres divided among three locations between 2008 and 2012.
'The BVL's safety assessment came to the conclusion that the open-air trials would not have any dangerous influence on humans or animals or the environment,' the agency said.
The crops may not be sold as food or animal feed.
The GMO sugar beet in the trials is resistant to the weed killer glyphosat.
To prevent GMO organisms being spread by pollen, Planta must check sugar beets every two weeks for flowering and destroy any flowers before they bloom, the agency said. There must be a 10-metre gap between the GMO potatoes and conventional crops.
The potatoes were being tested for resistance to several and for their starch content, it said.
The European Union has legalised commercial production of several GMO maize varieties but field trials on other GMO crops require approval from national governments.
German farmers have registered intentions with the BVL to plant 4,413 hectares of GMO maize commercial production in the 2008 crop, up from 2,753 ha harvested in 2007, the agency said in March.
Although up on the year, the total is only a negligible part of German annual maize cultivation of around 1.8 million ha. (Reporting by Michael Hogan; editing by Chris Johnson)
5.Why food prices will go through the roof in coming months
By F. William Engdahl Online Journal, 4 April 2008
A deadly fungus, known as Ug99, which kills wheat, has likely spread to Pakistan from Africa, according to reports. If true, that threatens the vital Asian Bread Basket including the Punjab region.
The spread of the deadly virus, stem rust, against which an effective fungicide does not exist, comes as world grain stocks reach the lowest in four decades and government subsidized bio-ethanol production, especially in the USA, Brazil and EU are taking land out of food production at alarming rates. The deadly fungus is being used by Monsanto and the US Government to spread patented GMO seeds.
Stem rust is the worst of three rusts that afflict wheat plants. The fungus grows primarily in the stems, plugging the vascular system so carbohydrates can't get from the leaves to the grain, which shrivels. Ug99 is a race of stem rust that blocks the vascular tissues in cereal grains including wheat, oats and barley. Unlike other rusts that may reduce crop yields, Ug99-infected plants may suffer up to 100 percent loss.
In the 1950s, the last major outbreak destroyed 40 percent of the spring wheat crop in North America. At that time governments started a major effort to breed resistant wheat plants, led by Norman Borlaug of the Rockefeller Foundation. That was the misnamed Green Revolution. The result today is far fewer varieties of wheat that might resist such a new fungus outbreak.
The first strains of Ug99 were detected in 1999 in Uganda. It spread to Kenya by 2001, to Ethiopia by 2003 and to Yemen when the cyclone Gonu spread its spores in 2007. Now the deadly fungus has been found in Iran and according to British scientists may already be as far as Pakistan.
Pakistan and India account for 20 percent of the annual world wheat production. It is possible as the fungus spreads that large movements could take place almost overnight if certain wind conditions prevail at the right time. In 2007, a three-day wind event recorded by Mexico's CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), had strong wind currents moving from Yemen, where Ug99 is present, across Pakistan and India, going all the way to China. CIMMYT estimates that from two-thirds to three-quarters of the wheat now planted in India and Pakistan are highly susceptible to this new strain of stem rust. One billion people live in this region and they are highly dependent on wheat for their food supply.
These are all areas where the agricultural infrastructure to contain such problems is either extremely weak or non-existent. It threatens to spread into other wheat producing regions of Asia and eventually the entire world if not checked.
FAO world grain forecast
The 2007 World Agriculture Forecast of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome projects an alarming trend in world food supply even in the absence of any devastation from Ug99. The report states, 'Countries in the non-OECD region are expected to continue to experience a much stronger increase in consumption of agricultural products than countries in the OECD area. This trend is driven by population and, above all, income growth -- underpinned by rural migration to higher income urban areas . . . OECD countries as a group are projected to lose production and export shares in many commodities . . . Growth in the use of agricultural commodities as feedstock to a rapidly increasing biofuel industry is one of the main drivers in the outlook and one of the reasons for international commodity prices to attain a significantly higher plateau over the outlook period than has been reported in the previous reports.' [my emphasis -- w.e.]
The FAO warns that the explosive growth in acreage used to grow fuels and not food in the past three years is dramatically changing the outlook for food supply globally and forcing food prices sharply higher for all foods, from cereals to sugar to meat and dairy products. The use of cereals, sugar, oilseeds and vegetable oils to satisfy the needs of a rapidly increasing biofuel industry, is one of the main drivers, most especially the large volumes of maize in the US, wheat and rapeseed in the EU and sugar in Brazil for ethanol and bio-diesel production. This is already causing dramatically higher crop prices, higher feed costs and sharply higher prices for livestock products.
Ironically, the current bio-ethanol industry is being driven by US government subsidies and a scientifically false argument in the EU and USA that bio-ethanol is less harmful to the environment than petroleum fuels and can reduce C02 emissions. The arguments have been demonstrated in every respect to be false. The huge expansion of global acreage now planted to produce biofuels is creating ecological problems and demanding use of far heavier pesticide spraying while use of biofuels in autos releases even deadlier emissions than imagined. The political effect, however, has been a catastrophic shift down in world grain stocks at the same time the EU and USA have enacted policies which drastically cut traditional emergency grain reserves. In short, it is a scenario preprogrammed for catastrophe, one which has been clear to policymakers in the EU and USA for several years. That can only suggest that such a dramatic crisis in global food supply is intentional.
A plan to spread GMO?
One of the consequences of the spread of Ug99 is a campaign by Monsanto Corporation and other major producers of genetically manipulated plant seeds to promote wholesale introduction of GMO wheat varieties said to be resistant to the Ug99 fungus. Biologists at Monsanto and at the various GMO laboratories around the world are working to patent such strains.
Norman Borlaug, the former Rockefeller Foundation head of the Green Revolution, is active in funding the research to develop a fungus resistant variety against Ug99, working with his former center in Mexico, the CIMMYT and ICARDA in Kenya, where the pathogen is now endemic. So far, about 90 percent of the 12,000 lines tested are susceptible to Ug99. That includes all the major wheat cultivars of the Middle East and west Asia. At least 80 percent of the 200 varieties sent from the United States can't cope with infection. The situation is even more dire for Egypt, Iran, and other countries in immediate peril.
Even if a new resistant variety were ready to be released today, it would take two or three years' seed increase in order to have just enough wheat seed for 20 percent of the acres planted to wheat in the world.
Work is also being done by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the same agency which co-developed Monsanto's Terminator seed technology. In my book, Seeds of Destruction, I document the insidious role of Borlaug and the Rockefeller Foundation in promoting the misnamed Green Revolution, as well as patents on food seeds to ultimately control food supplies as a potential political lever. The spreading alarm over the Ug99 fungus is being used by Monsanto and other GMO agribusiness companies to demand that the current ban on GMO wheat be lifted to allow spread of GMO patented wheat seeds on the argument they are Ug99 stem rust resistant.F. William Engdahl is a geopolitical risk consultant and the author of 'Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation' (www.globalresearch.ca) and 'A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order' (Pluto Press). He may be contacted at www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net