U.S. backlash against GM crops
2.Gene-altered animals and food safety
3.Legal tussle over modified sugar beets
4.USDA now says new GMO rule can preempt state, local laws
5.GM Papaya Should Not be Deregulated
NOTE: Download the report referred to in item 1 here:
1.US backlash against GM crops
Western Daily Press (UK), 9 November 2008
Is the US starting to turn against genetically modified food? And if so, should we care?
A new report by the Bristol-based Soil Association says there's a growing backlash against GM crops in the US - not just from consumers but from farmers as well.
And that will undoubtedly have an impact on the British market, says the report's co-author Katherine Hewlett: "The vast majority of GM crops are American and it's American companies that are lobbying to get GM products accepted into the UK and Europe."
The issue of whether GM products should be allowed into the food chain has been one of the most hotly debated in the food industry over the last decade.
In Europe, both regulators and consumers have shown a great deal of reluctance to accept GM - despite being painted by the pro-GM lobby as ignorant and backward.
Nowhere has the argument been more clearly crystalised than in agri-giant Monsanto's controversial genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH).
Developed in 1994, it is injected into dairy cows to increase milk yield; by 2002 a quarter of American cows were being given it.
However, the GM hormone was rejected by the EU and Canada because of human safety fears and animal welfare issues.
Their researchers found that rBGH causes "very significantly poorer welfare in cows", with 50 per cent more lameness, 25 per cent more mastitis and 18 per cent greater incidence of infertility (an indicator of overall poor health).
Human health risks include veterinary drugs found in milk and higher levels of pus in milk.
Scientists have also voiced concerns about the milk's five times higher levels of a growth factor which has been linked to cancer of the prostate, breast and colon.
The EU banned rBGH in 1989 and has held firm, despite a massive effort by the US to overturn it, including trade sanctions amounting to $116.8 million per year, which are still in effect.
But now it seems that rBGH's future is now in doubt even in the land of its origin.
The Soil Association report, Land of the GM-Free?, says the powerful pro-GM lobby managed to keep US consumers in the dark about the food they were eating for more than a decade by successfully lobbying against mandatory GM labelling.
This, despite 87 per cent of US consumers saying GM products should be labelled.
But last year proved a turning point. Responding to their customers' rising concerns, many big supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, and producers banned the hormone from their milk or offered GM-free dairy products as an alternative.
"The GM milk market just collapsed dramatically," says Katherine, who wrote the report with Peter Melchett.
So much so, in fact, that in July Monsanto announced it was selling off the product.
The wheels may be falling off the rest of the GM wagon, too, as other GM products have been rejected by both consumers and farmers.
"Both GM rice and GM wheat faced such strong opposition from farmers that they never made it out of field trials," she says.
"Hardly any GM sweetcorn is grown for human consumption either - it tastes so bad that consumers won't buy it. It's used in animal feed."
Farmers, in particular, have woken up to the fact that growing GM crops could kill their overseas markets, says Katherine.
Attempts to launch GM alfafa, America's fourth most widely grown crop, fell flat after farmers took legal action against the release of the crop, and won.
The sale and planting of GM alfafa seeds is now banned.
Almost alone in Europe, the English government has been pro-GM (the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all commited to GM-free policies).
But Katherine points out that they can't control the market, as US farmers have found to their cost.
When in 2006 biotechnology firm Bayer CropScience accidentially contaminated nearly a third of the entire US long-grain rice supply with three of its GM varieties the result was catastrophic.
Two of the varieties had not been approved for cultivation or consumption anywhere in the world.
Many countries effectively shut down rice trade with the US and the sector lost more than $1 billion.
Furious farmers and traders have filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against Bayer CropScience.
2.Gene-altered animals and food safety
By Rick Weiss
Boston Globe, 10 November 2008
PERHAPS you're still getting used to the idea that some of the meat, milk, and cheese you are eating may come from cloned cows or their offspring, a controversial culinary advance that the Food and Drug Administration green-lighted in January after deeming food from clones to be safe. Well, hurry up and swallow, because the next course is on its way.
Largely unnoticed due to the mayhem of the markets and the presidential race, the FDA recently proposed rules that would allow, for the first time, the marketing of foods from genetically engineered farm animals as well. Unlike clones - which are weirdly procreated from a single parent but are otherwise conventional creatures - engineered animals have had their DNA codes rewritten to endow them with traits never before seen in those species.
Among the gene-altered animals angling to appear on our dinner tables are farmed salmon with novel DNA that makes them grow faster; pigs with bacterial genes that make their manure less environmentally damaging; and perhaps even cattle bearing fish genes for omega-3 fatty acids. Imagine filet mignon as healthful as fillet of sole.
The good news is that the agency wants to regulate gene-altered animals under its strict "new animal drug" provisions. Usually novel foods can be introduced into the food supply without restrictions, and the FDA does not get involved unless problems arise. But under the new animal drug provisions, each new kind of animal produced through genetic engineering would have to get FDA approval before being commercialized, the way new drugs are approved. That's the right approach for dealing with the biological complexities and cultural sensitivities of allowing gene-altered animal products on supermarket shelves.
The bad news is that the drug approval process in this country is extremely secretive. Under its provisions it would be illegal for the FDA (without a company's permission) to reveal that it had even received an application for a new gene-altered food animal until after the agency had approved it for marketing. Once approved, there would be virtually no recourse available to consumers. And although the agency would ultimately release a summary of safety data, details could remain hidden forever as "confidential business information."
Most of us accept this approach for new medicine approvals, but such a closed-door system is inappropriate for new foods. For one thing, patients understand that medicines carry both benefits and risks, and we count on trusted intermediaries - our doctors - to sort through those details. With no such experts to help with our grocery shopping, we deserve more information on gene-altered food.
A good start would be to require that applications for gene-altered food animals get an initial public review, perhaps through the FDA's veterinary medicine advisory committee, which publically advises the agency on animal drug issues. FDA also needs to take seriously consumer demands that DNA-doped foods be labeled as such. And it should strengthen its system of post-marketing surveillance to watch for unanticipated outcomes.
Beyond human health concerns, rapid commercialization of engineered animals risks disrupting trade with countries not ready for future food. There may also be environmental issues (what happens when gene-enhanced salmon escape their offshore cages and mate with their wild cousins?). And there may be legitimate concerns about the welfare of some engineered animals. In a transparent system, citizens could at least weigh in on industry priorities and shoppers could vote with their pocketbooks.
The United States needs a system for approving some gene-altered animals, in part because this is about more than just food. Scientists are also engineering animals to make human medicines in their blood and milk. Others are striving to craft animals bearing life-saving organs suitable for human transplantation. Still others simply want to give animals new genes to help them resist debilitating diseases.
The proposed FDA rules, open for public comment through Nov. 18, could speed the advancement of these and other innovative endeavors. But they will do more harm than good if they don't also promise transparency and accountability. As demonstrated by this year's Korean riots over US beef imports and by the repeated domestic incidents of tainted food, trust is the American food supply's most precious ingredient.
Rick Weiss is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.
3.Legal tussle over modified sugar beets
San Francisco Chronicle, 8 November 2008
Home gardeners seldom grow sugar beets, but the commercialization of Roundup Ready sugar beets could toss genetically engineered DNA into many a garden-fresh salad unless a lawsuit prevails.
The suit, filed by the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club, is expected to be heard April 3 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. It seeks to halt the planting, sale and use of Roundup Ready sugar beets until the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts an in-depth environmental study of this latest genetically engineered crop. Roundup Ready sugar beets - which can withstand repeated applications of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide - gain their chemical tolerance from a gene that Monsanto plucked from a soil bacterium and pasted into the sugar beet genome.
Among the environmental concerns the plaintiffs want the Agriculture Department to consider is the potential for DNA from genetically engineered sugar beets to contaminate the U.S. chard and table beet seed stock.
In March 2005, the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service deregulated Roundup Ready sugar beets, which meant that Monsanto was free to sell its bacterium-sugar beet construct.
With little fanfare, farmers harvested the first commercially grown Roundup Ready sugar beets this fall. Tom Schwartz, executive vice president of the Beet Sugar Development Foundation, estimates that 60 percent of the 1.2 million acres of sugar beets grown in the United States in 2008 were Roundup Ready, and expects that 90 to 95 percent of the 2009 U.S. sugar beet crop will be genetically engineered.
Sugar from genetically engineered sugar beets will begin entering the food stream in the next several months, although exactly when will be difficult to determine. U.S. law does not require genetically engineered sugar to be segregated from non-engineered sugar, nor to be labeled for the consumer. (Sugar beet sugar accounts for roughly half of total U.S. sugar production, with the balance of U.S. sugar coming from sugarcane.)
The likelihood of genetically engineered DNA from Roundup Ready sugar beets migrating into chard and beet seed packets is high. Sugar beets, chard and table beets are all members of the beta genus and sexually compatible. These kissing cousins are wind-pollinated, and the overwhelming majority - 90 percent or more - of the nation's sugar beet and chard seed, along with some of its table beet seed, is grown in a single location, Oregon's Willamette Valley.
"The Willamette Valley is right at 45 degrees latitude and has just the right day length for daylight-sensitive crops like sugar beets," said Frank Morton, a Willamette Valley seed farmer, breeder and founder of Wild Garden Seed. "We have great soil, plenty of summertime irrigation and a dry climate during harvest. We have mild winters where the ground doesn't typically freeze, so you can overwinter biennial seed crops such as chard and beets. If it were any colder we couldn't do that.
"The valley also has a relatively short agricultural history compared to other regions of the world where you can grow beta crops, so we don't have the diseases endemic here that cause these crops grief."
Voluntary agreements among Willamette Valley seed growers regarding who gets to grow what seed and where minimizes cross-contamination among beta crops. The greater or more significant the difference between varieties, the more miles of separation required between the seed fields.
Since the USDA views engineered and non-engineered sugar beets as substantially the same crop, sugar beet seed growers argue that no greater isolation of genetically engineered sugar beet seed from other beta seed crops is necessary.
Since there are more sugar beet acres in the valley than chard and table beet acres, increasing the miles between crops would disqualify hundreds of miles of land from chard and beet seed production.
Contamination won't be apparent and will go undetected unless every chard and table beet seed lot is tested for genetic purity. Even with testing, risk of contamination remains. "They can only test 10,000 seeds at a time, so what you get is essentially a test that tells you to 1 in 10,000 parts whether or not it is contaminated, so you are only accurate down to about .01 percent," Morton said.
Once the DNA from the Monsanto sugar beets slips into chard and table beet seed, consumers will be tossing it into their salads regardless of whether they bought them at the grocery store or farmers' market or grew them in their garden.
For more information on the lawsuit, visit www.centerforfoodsafety.org. To receive updates on the case and action alerts, sign up on the center's True Food Network.
Forge a bond with your seed supplier
San Francisco Chronicle, 8 November 2008
With pollen from Monsanto's genetically engineered Roundup Ready sugar beets in the wind, gardeners must get to know their seed suppliers if they're going to keep their vegetable beds free from genetically engineered DNA.
"Similar to how the food scares like E. coli in spinach and peppers have driven people to get closer to their source of food, the concern about genetically engineered seed and pollen spreading around means that you need to know where your seed comes from," said Tom Stearns, owner and president of High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott, Vt. "You need to have a relationship with the company, and make sure that the company itself knows where their seed is coming from."
Sugar beets, chard and table beets can pollinate one another. Couple that with the tendency of genetically engineered pollen and seed to ignore the boundaries we set for them, and the fact that seed for all three crops is grown primarily in Oregon's Willamette Valley, and there is real concern that we'll soon be tending genetically contaminated chard and beets in the backyard.
Simply buying organic chard and table beet seed won't ensure that the seed has not been contaminated. Though the National Organic Program prohibits certified organic seed from containing genetically engineered DNA, unless a seed company is testing for genetic contamination, the company won't know whether its seed was cross-pollinated by genetically engineered sugar beets.
Gardeners must question seed companies about how they are isolating their seed fields from genetically engineered sugar beet seed fields, and whether they are testing their chard and table beet seed.
"The best way to make sure that you're not buying seed contaminated by genetically engineered DNA is to buy organic seed from a reputable source," Stearns said. "You need to be buying from a company who is either doing testing, or doing field inspections, or who has as direct a relationship to where they're sourcing seed as possible."
4.USDA now says new GM organisms rule can preempt state, local laws
Sustainable Food News, 10 November 2008
*Revising regulations governing importation, eco-release of GMO's is first comprehensive overhaul to rules in 21 years
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday reversed course on a recently proposed rule overhauling regulations governing the importation and environmental release of genetically modified organisms, saying it can preempt state and local laws.
The agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on Oct. 9 that that would be the first comprehensive revision in 21 years of regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms.
In the Oct. 9 notice, the agency said that the proposed rule, if adopted, would not preempt any state or local laws or regulations. But the agency said in a subsequent Federal Register notice on Monday that that information is incorrect.
"We should have stated that, if this proposed rule is adopted, all State and local laws and regulations that are inconsistent with this rule will be preempted," the agency said in the notice on Monday.
The revisions would also "update the regulations in response to advances in genetic science and technology and our accumulated experience in implementing the current regulations," the agency said.
5.GM Papaya Should Not be Deregulated
Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
*USDA's environmental assessment based on obsolete opinion and ignores published findings of serious potential hazards
The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) Prepared a Draft Environmental Assessment  in response to University of Florida Petition 04-337-01P seeking a Determination of Nonregulated Status for X17-2 Papaya Resistant to Papaya Ringspot Virus . USDA/APHIS solicited public comments by 3 November 2008 at: http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocumentDetail&o=09000064806cf5de
Comment submitted on behalf of The Institute of Science in Society, London , UK ( www.i-sis.org.uk ) available here: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GM_Papaya_Should_Not_be_Deregulated.php