REVIEW number 322
REVIEW number 322
from Claire Robinson, REVIEW editor
The pressure's hotting up over the UK's GM wheat trial, with a former GM farmer condemning the trial, and the industry-backed group Sense About Science and other lobbyists pulling out all the stops to try and milk the PR possibilities of the threat by activists to pull up the crop (GM WHEAT LOBBYWATCH).
In Europe, there's an odd mix of scandal and good news as European Food Safety Authority management board chair Diana Banati resigns or is asked to leave, depending on whom you believe, to resume her former career at another industry-backed lobby group, ILSI. While this is yet another example of the revolving door, a type of conflict of interest for which EFSA has become famous, at last EFSA seems to have got the message that ILSI links among its staff and experts are unacceptable. And the European Parliament has voted to postpone signing off on EFSA's budget, largely over its record on such conflicts of interest (LOBBYWATCH).
In the US there's been a tragic killing of Connecticut's GM labelling bill, though Californians are still on track to vote on such a bill in their state (GM LABELLING).
Finally, further shocking reports have emerged from India recounting the devastation wreaked by GM cotton (ASIA).
GM WHEAT LOBBYWATCH
OTHER LOBBYWATCH NEWS
CORPORATE ONSLAUGHT ON AFRICA
CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF SCIENCE
GM WHEAT LOBBYWATCH
+ FARMERS CHALLENGE GM TRIALS ON NEWSNIGHT
In a debate on the BBC TV's flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight's science correspondent Susan Watts took a look at the arguments for and against GM, ahead of a live studio discussion with John Pickett, the principal scientist behind the GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research, Jyoti Fernandes from the campaign group Take the Flour Back, Laurence Woodward who advises on organic standards, and Tracey Brown from Sense about Science.
For those in the UK who missed the programme, you can watch again on the BBC's iPlayer:
If you're outside the UK, you can currently see the programme on YouTube:
+ ROTHAMSTED SCIENTIST'S ROLE IN TRASHING KEY GM RESEARCH
Prof. John Pickett, who leads the Rothamsted GM wheat team, was a key player in the attempts to stop the publication of Arpad Pusztai's research. There's nothing wrong, of course, about arguing over the merits of research. But when Pickett claimed in a national newspaper prior to its Lancet publication that Pusztai's research shouldn't be published because it had failed peer review, that was simply untrue. The Lancet's editor has made clear that a majority of the peer reviewers supported publication. And the reasons Pickett gave for denouncing the research as unpublishable can each be shown to be false.
+ ROTHAMSTED TRIAL BACKER COSIED UP TO BIG TOBACCO
Tracey Brown, the Managing Director of Sense About Science, the lobby group spearheading the "Don't Destroy Research" campaign in support of the GM wheat trial, is known to have approached BAT Industries (British American Tobacco) offering to help BAT undermine the litigation launched against tobacco companies by people harmed by smoking. No industry has done more than Big Tobacco to manipulate, halt, undermine, and otherwise discredit scientific research. Brown is also part of the notorious LM (Living Marxism) network, which has done its best to promote climate change scepticism, and climate scientists have not been among those Sense About Science has been keen to defend from attack.
+ BACKGROUND ON ROTHAMSTED RESEARCH
Read a profile of the director of Rothamsted – GM scientist Maurice Moloney, who has a long history of GM industry interests.
+ GM FARMER ATTACKS GM WHEAT TRIAL
A UK wheat grower has slammed Rothamsted Research's GM wheat trial in an article in Farmers Weekly. What makes the article remarkable is that Guy Smith isn't just any farmer – he's a former GM crop trial farmer and a member of the biotech industry funded lobby group CropGen. Smith writes: "Take the latest Rothamsted work looking at GM insect-resistant wheat... the main question I have is why are we spending a large chunk of our finite R&D budget on a crop no one wants to buy? Even in the USA, GM wheat has stalled because of consumer resistance. Can anyone think of another example of money being spent on the development of a crop that has no market prospects? What's next, research on apples that taste of herring?... It is as if the R&D committee got drunk before the meeting."
+ PROTEST GROUP'S LETTER TO ROTHAMSTED
Protest group Take the Flour Back has written an open letter to Rothamsted telling the researchers that by pressing ahead with the trial, "you threaten the future livelihoods of the farming community. Via your close connections to North America you know that cross-contamination can and does happen, and that farmers have lost millions in exports as a result. You ask us not to pull up the GM wheat. We ask you not to recklessly endanger livelihoods and our food supply by letting it remain in the open air. We do not believe that it should be lawful for you to spread contamination in this way. If the government, through its close biotech industry ties, refuses to take responsibility for this problem, then we are left with no other choice."
+ WELSH FARMER PREPARED TO BE ARRESTED
A Welsh farmer says he is willing to risk being arrested when he joins a group of activists at a protest aimed at destroying a trial crop of GM wheat. Gerald Miles, a critic of GM crops since trial plots were planted near his organic farm in Pembrokeshire in 2001, said stopping the trial at Rothamsted Research had to be a priority. "I would rather not risk being arrested, but myself and others are being forced to take that risk because we have no other means of preventing this crop from contaminating other crops and spreading across the country," said Mr Miles.
+ GM WHEAT OUTCROSSES SIX TIMES MORE THAN NON-GM
Recent research has found that varieties of GM wheat are outcrossing to other plants at a rate six times higher than conventional varieties. These findings, along with other data showing wheat can outcross from commercial fields to crops over 2.75 kilometres away, are reviewed in a new briefing by GM Freeze. Although wheat is largely self-pollinating, the new data show the difficulties of preventing contamination if GM wheat is ever grown commercially.
GM ACTIVISTS LIKENED TO NAZIS
OTHER LOBBYWATCH NEWS
+ EFSA CHAIR MOVES TO FOOD INDUSTRY LOBBY GROUP
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has demanded that Diana Banati resign as chairwoman of its management board because she is rejoining the board of the International Life Sciences Institute Europe (ILSI), an industry-backed group with members including Monsanto and Syngenta. She is to become the executive and scientific director at ILSI.
Banati was the centre of controversy in 2010 when it was revealed that while chairing the EFSA board she also held an undeclared position on the board of ILSI. Jose Bove, a French Green MEP, demanded her resignation from EFSA, saying that her ILSI position was in conflict with EFSA's role in approving foods in the EU, including GMOs.
Jonathan Matthews from GM Watch said: "She should have been removed from her position at EFSA some time ago. It has been known for a very long time that she had connections to the GM industry and the wider food industry through ILSI. It is a clear conflict of interest and she should not have been in this key position at EFSA."
Currently there is controversy over the European Commission's nomination of Mella Frewen to the EFSA board. Frewen, who in the past worked as a lobbyist for Monsanto, is director-general of the industry lobby group FoodDrink Europe.
+ EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REFUSES TO SIGN OFF ON EFSA'S BUDGET OVER CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
The European Parliament voted to adopt a report by Monica Macovei MEP, deciding that the approval of the European Food Safety Authority's 2010 budget will be postponed. Also, a strong resolution was adopted denouncing the conflicts of interest that have plagued the agency. A similar decision was taken on the approval of the 2010 budget of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory said: "This vote is a very important signal that conflicts of interests with industry are not acceptable. By postponing the approval of EFSA's budget, the EP has used its powers to tell EFSA to be serious about the links between its experts and staff on the one hand, and industry on the other. After all, EFSA is supposed to be 'the independent voice of science' guiding EU institutions. Despite EFSA's new rules, it is uncertain whether conflicts of interest will be adequately dealt with. The new rules are a considerable improvement, but they are not 100% conflict-proof."
A few weeks from now the names of the new experts on eight EFSA panels will be published. Media and other interested parties have to wait for that moment before they can investigate whether the new rules have the effect of banning conflicts of interest from the EFSA panels.
Importantly, the Macovei report provides a basis to break the systemic links between EFSA and ILSI Europe, an industry lobby group.
CORPORATE ONSLAUGHT ON AFRICA
+ OBAMA'S POVERTY PLAN C/O MONSANTO
U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a new public-private partnership programme involving some $3 billion in corporate pledges in order to relieve poverty and hunger for Africa. The pledged investments come from the likes of Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta and Cargill. They were made at a G8 related event attended by African leaders at which Monsanto announced a $50 million commitment to African agricultural development
and Syngenta announced its commitment to build a $1 billion business in Africa.
+ NEW PLAN DENOUNCED BY OXFAM AND OTHERS
"The G8 must not give in to the temptation to make bold and convenient assumptions about the private sector as a development panacea," said Gawain Kripke, Director of Policy and Research at Oxfam America. "There is no evidence that the growing focus on private sector engagement at the expense of other approaches will truly deliver for the fight against hunger." The planned investment does not bring the voices of small-scale farmers to the table, but does set a plan for massive profits to be reaped by giant agribusiness. "The rhetoric is all about small-scale producers, but they haven't yet been a part of the G-8's conversation," Lamine Ndiaye of Oxfam said. Giant agribusiness' "objective is not to fight against hunger; their objective is to make money" Ndiaye said.
Ronnie Cummins, Director of Organic Consumers Association, said, "To help the world's two billion small farmers and rural villagers survive and prosper we need to help them gain access, not to genetically engineered seeds and expensive chemical inputs; but rather access to land, water, and the tools and techniques of traditional, sustainable farming: non-patented open-pollinated seeds, crop rotation, natural compost production, beneficial insects, and access to local markets."
"Bill Gates, Monsanto, and Barack Obama may believe that genetic engineering and chemical-intensive agriculture are the tools to feed the world, but a look at the 'fatal harvest' of modern agribusiness tells a different story. Not only can climate-friendly, healthy organic agriculture practices feed the world, but in fact organic farming is the only way we are going to be able to feed the world," added Cummins.
CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF SCIENCE
+ PUBLIC RESEARCH, PRIVATE GAIN: CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF UNIVERSITIES
From domestication of the blueberry to tools to combat soil erosion, land-grant universities have revolutionized American agriculture for general public benefit almost entirely through public investments from state and federal governments. However, a report released by Food & Water Watch finds that by 2010, nearly a quarter of funding for agricultural research at land-grant universities came from private and corporate donations.
"The original intent that public research should benefit the public has been completely lost and this conflict of interest between public good and private profits remains largely unchallenged by both academia and policymakers," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "Sound agricultural policy requires impartial and unbiased scientific inquiry, but like nearly every aspect of our modern food system, land-grant school funding has been overrun by narrow private interests."
+ HOW YOUR COLLEGE IS SELLING OUT TO BIG AG
The University of Illinois' College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) in Champaign-Urbana has accepted a $250,000 grant from Monsanto to create an endowed chair for the "Agricultural Communications Program" it runs with the College of Communications.
A cynic might interpret Monsanto's move as an attempt to create a new generation of PR professionals to construct and disseminate its marketing message in order to maintain its highly profitable and hotly contested business model, comments Tom Philpott in Grist.
+ TRAGIC TOLL OF GM SEEDS IN INDIA
A new documentary film, Bitter Seeds, describes the devastation wreaked on India's farmers by Monsanto's Bt cotton. The company began selling Bt cotton in India in 2004, after a US challenge at the WTO forced India to adopt seed patenting, effectively allowing Monsanto to monopolize the market. Bt cotton seeds were and still are advertised heavily to illiterate Indian farmers, who have bought the company's promises of high yields and the material wealth they bring. What the farmers didn't know until it was too late is those seeds require an expensive regimen of pesticides, and must be fertilized and watered according to precise timetables. And since these farmers lack irrigation systems, and must instead depend on not-always-predictable rainfall, it's incredibly difficult to control the success or failure of any year's crops. As farmers bought the Bt cotton in droves, the conventional seed they'd been using which needed only cow dung as fertilizer disappeared
little as one season. Now, it's virtually impossible to buy anything but Monsanto's seed and suicides of indebted farmers are legion.
+ THE TRUTH ABOUT BT COTTON
GM promoters are in panic about a flurry of revelations about the performance of Bt cotton in India, including a leaked advisory from the government blaming the crop for the high numbers of farmer suicides. Biotech promoters say in response (truthfully) that overall cotton production has gone up in India since the arrival of Bt cotton. But Kavitha Kuruganti, convenor of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, says that this is because of factors like an increase in acreage planted to cotton, low pest presence in all crops, and the introduction of irrigation and hybrid seeds (which also carry the Bt trait). In other words, where production has increased, it is not because of GM Bt cottonseed. Where irrigation is not available, Bt cotton crops have given poor yields.
+ REAPING GOLD THROUGH COTTON AND NEWSPRINT
A devastatingly powerful article that's well worth reading in full from the world-renowned development journalist P Sainath reveals the terrible truth behind the PR lie of the 'model farming village' showcasing Monsanto's Bt cotton.
P Sainath is a fearless chronicler of India's rural poverty. He is the Rural Affairs Editor for The Hindu and has received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, for his exceptional journalism.
+ PHILIPPINES SUPREME COURT HALT TO GM EGGPLANT/AUBERGINE WELCOMED
A recent move by the Supreme Court to stop commercial production of GM Bt eggplant in the Philippines was welcomed by Greenpeace, which pointed to independent scientific studies showing that GMOs such as Bt eggplant, as well as Bt corn, can negatively impact the liver, kidneys or blood when ingested.
+ MONSANTO IN BIG TROUBLE IN BRAZIL
The courts of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul have suspended the collection of royalties on GM soy seeds by Monsanto. The ruling also provides for the reimbursement of license fees paid (royalties) since the harvest of 2003/2004, as the business practices of Monsanto violate the rules of the Brazilian Cultivars Act.
According to the attorney for the farmers associations that filed the class action suit, the claim may benefit up to five million farmers in Brazil and result in a reimbursement of about 6.2 billion euros.
The Brazilian soybean farmers question the regulations prohibiting them from withholding seed for a renewed planting (after a first planting for which they have paid royalties) and from giving or exchanging seed under public programs.
Monsanto has been accused of unlawful and abusive collection of royalties on seed and Roundup Ready soybeans. Until the ruling, royalties were required not only for the entire soybean crop, but also for soybean seed that was retained from the previous harvest.
The farmers recognize that Monsanto is entitled to royalties when they buy soybean seed, but they demand the right to plant again the GM soybean seed they purchased and to sell this production, as food or feed, without another payment of license fees.
+ GM CORN AND SICK HONEYBEES
What's the connection between the disappearance of bees and GM corn? In the early 1990s most corn was grown with integrated pest management, with few or no pesticides. But in the mid-1990s this unravelled – or was deliberately unravelled – by Monsanto and Bayer, writes Heather Pilatic of Pesticide Action Network. Over the last 15 years, US corn cultivation has gone from a crop requiring little-to-no insecticides and negligible amounts of fungicides, to a crop where the average acre is grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides or genetically engineered to express insecticides before being sprayed prophylactically with RoundUp (an herbicide) and a new class of fungicides that farmers didn’t know they "needed" before the mid-2000s. Neonicotinoid pesticides are are strongly implicated in bee die-offs. An Iowa farmer is quoted in the article as saying that he would prefer not to buy GM seeds but has no choice, as non-GM varieties have been removed from the market
by companies that have monopolistic control.
+ NEW GM CROPS COULD MAKE SUPERWEEDS EVEN STRONGER – SCIENTISTS
Multi-herbicide-tolerant GM crops could fuel the evolution of the worst superweeds yet, according to scientists. These weeds may go a step further than merely being able to survive one or two or three specific weedkillers. The intense chemical pressure could cause them to evolve resistance that would apply to entire classes of chemicals. "The kind of resistance we'll select for with these kinds of crops will be different from what we've seen in the past," said agroecologist Bruce Maxwell of Montana State University. "They'll select a kind of resistance that's more metabolism-based, and likely resistant to everything."
+ GM CROPS' RESULTS RAISE CONCERN
Biotechnology's promise to feed the world did not anticipate superweeds, the disappearance of monarch butterflies, and a new GM biofuels corn that could turn edible corn to mush, says an article for the San Francisco Chronicle that calls America's adoption of GM crops "an experiment" that "is producing questionable results".
Midwest fruit and vegetable growers this month petitioned the Department of Agriculture to block approval of the 2,4-D-tolerant corn, militaristically named Enlist and made by Dow AgroSciences. Similar crops, including a soybean engineered by Monsanto to tolerate dicamba, a similar herbicide, wait in the regulatory pipeline.
+ DARK SIDE TO BETA-CAROTENE – IMPLICATIONS FOR GOLDEN RICE: NEW STUDY
A new study shows that beta-carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A that's been engineered into golden rice) is processed into a number of compounds, not just Vitamin A. Some of these compounds actually block the action of Vitamin A. The scientists who did this study say it may have implications for golden rice: "A concern is that if you engineer these crops to have unusually high levels of beta-carotene, they might also have high levels of these [Vitamin A-blocking] compounds."
For our backgrounder on golden rice see:
+ CALIFORNIA PUBLIC TO VOTE ON GM LABELS
A California initiative to require labelling of GM foods appeared headed for the ballot in November after organizers said they had gathered nearly 1 million signatures in favour of the measure.
+ CONNECTICUT'S GM LABELLING BILL EVISCERATED
Connecticut's Genetically Engineered Foods bill may still be alive, but it is no longer a bill requiring the labelling of GM foods. The labelling provision was removed. Rep. Richard Roy of Milford, co-chair of the Environment Committee and the original sponsor of the bill, said, "The labelling provision was eliminated from the bill due to fears that it opened the state up to a lawsuit. The attorneys for the leadership and Governor's office felt that the Constitutional Rights of Monsanto gave them the power to successfully sue the state. Their main duty was to protect the welfare of the state," said Roy.
But Tara Cook-Littman of Right to Know CT, said, "The constitutional argument is absurd, and everyone knows it. As long as Connecticut law makers had a legitimate state interest that was reasonably related to the labelling of products produced from the process of genetic engineering, the GMO labelling bill would be considered constitutional by any court of law." Littman added, "It appears that the biotech industry’s influence was in place all along, waiting for this tactic to be deployed at the last minute, with no time to argue before the vote."
+ DESIGNED TO FAIL: WHY REGULATORY AGENCIES DON'T WORK
William Sanjour retired from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 after 30 years, most of it spent in regulations. He's written an incisive article for Independent Science News on why regulatory agencies don't work, why that suits the corporations just fine, and what can be done to fix the system.
Among other interesting insights, Sanjour says, "When I was writing regulations, I was told on more than one occasion to make sure I put in enough loopholes." For how the European Food Safety watchdog EFSA and other EU regulatory agencies use the notorious "Klimisch loophole" to insulate industry and its risky products from the inconvenient findings of independent science, see the Corporate Europe Observatory/Earth Open Source report here:
+ EUROPE SLEEPWALKING INTO GM SOY CATASTROPHE
Following revelations by Danish pig farmers that GM soy feed caused health damage and malformations in their animals, GM-Free Cyrmu warned, "Europe is sleep-walking into a GM soy catastrophe." The campaign has reminded European health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli that there is a growing body of "prima facie evidence of a severe problem associated with the import and use of GM soy".
The group also also warned of the associated problem of glyphosate residues in feed and straw litter. Spokesman Dr Brian John said the EU had an "extraordinary overdependency" on imported GM soy.
"It is the Commission's responsibility to consider both the direct and indirect effects of using this lethal combination of GM soy plus residues in the livestock industry of Europe." The EU imports nearly three quarters of all its vegetable protein requirements, most of which is fed to livestock.
+ MORRISONS' GM MUCK-UP
Morrisons' decision to allow its farmers to use GM feed looks spectacularly ill-informed and dumb, when Carrefour labels own-label meat and dairy products as GM animal feed-free, or 'Nourri sans OGM'. If the world's second largest retailer can guarantee customers the field-to-fork GM-free food they clearly and consistently demand, then Morrisons can too, writes renowned food writer Joanna Blythman in an article first published in The Grocer.
Blythman says, "Morrisons lazily trots out the Monsanto/Cargill line that GM-free animal feed is hard to source, but as Carrefour's policy shows, this is nonsense. Ricardo de Sousa, boss of the Brazilian Association of non-GM producers, was in the UK recently, reporting that a quarter of Brazilian soya growing land is now cultivated within the 'soja livre' (GM-free soy) scheme.
"What's more, Brazilian growers are finding that non-GM soy cultivars are more profitable than the GM equivalent. Why? They deliver higher yields, farmers are not obliged to pay royalties, and less pesticide is needed to grow them. Indeed Brazilian supermarkets are sprouting 'Nao Trangenico' (No GM) aisles.
"The truth is that GM now looks like an old hat technology that never really caught on. It is being superseded by marker assisted selection (non-GM genetic mapping), which is widely expected to boost yields more effectively than GM, and without the associated risks."
+ UK MPs URGE GOVT CAUTION ON GM CROPS
In the UK, an influential committee of MPs has called the Government to refrain from licensing GM crops until their benefits have been proved. The Environmental Audit Committee challenged the Government's promotion of the "sustainable intensification" model of food production "the need to produce more from less" – in a report on Sustainable Food.
This included questioning its support for GM technology, on the grounds that it had heard evidence that food shortage problems could be "better addressed through other means", for example by tackling the 30% of food grown globally that is lost or wasted.
+ EUROPE MUST LEARN LESSONS FROM AMERICA ON GM
American farmers are increasingly expressing regret over the planting of GM crops, which are now causing major problems, and Europe must take note before it is too late warns Genewatch UK director Helen Wallace. Wallace writes that if farmers in Britain or other countries adopt the same system, there is a danger that they will be trapped in debt – due to seed price hikes and the spread of resistant weeds and pests and will lose markets due to GM contamination.