GMWatch News Review archive
MONTHLY REVIEW No. 102
GMWATCH MONTHLY REVIEW No. 102
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review editor
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEW IN BRIEF
+ LETHAL EFFECTS OF GM BT TOXIN ON LADYBIRD LARVAE
Swiss researchers have confirmed earlier findings that the Bt toxin Cry1Ab produced for pesticidal purposes by GM Bt maize increases mortality in the young ladybird larvae in laboratory tests. These ladybird larvae are typical 'non-target' beneficial organisms which are not supposed to be harmed by GM maize.
On February 15, the research team headed by Dr Angelika Hilbeck published the results of additional tests after their first publication in 2009 was strongly criticized by proponents of GM crops in a coordinated attack in the scientific journal "Transgenic Research." Following the well known pattern described by the US science journalist Emily Waltz, the counter-articles tried to discredit the 2009 research as "pseudo-science," and presented their own research aimed at disproving the original work.
The Swiss researchers also investigated why the counter-research could not repeat their first results and arrived at a simple conclusion: the protocols were significantly different and much less likely to detect adverse effects of the toxins.
+ BT PROTEIN TOXIC TO HUMAN CELLS – NEW STUDY
Insecticidal Bt toxins such as those produced in GM plants are toxic to human cells, according to a study by researchers at the University of Caen (France). According to companies like Monsanto, the Bt toxins in GM plants are supposed to be active only against particular insects and should have no effect on mammals and humans at all. The investigation of effects of Bt toxins on human cells is not a requirement for risk assessment in Europe or in any other region. The study also found that extremely low doses of Roundup (glyphosate herbicide) can damage human cells and interact with Bt toxins. Such combination effects are not investigated in risk assessments of GM crops.
+ UGLY FACTS ABOUT BT COTTON YIELD IN INDIA – RESEARCHER
GM industry lobby group ISAAA recently put out a series of publications on the "remarkable success of Bt cotton in India". But US researcher Glenn Davis Stone said the facts do not support claims that Bt cotton has increased yields in India.
Stone said national yields did rise by 84% in the first 5 years after Bt was released, but almost all of that rise occurred in 2003/4 (when only 1.2% of the cotton was Bt) and 2004/5 (when only 5.6% of the cotton was Bt). So Bt couldn't have been responsible for the rise. A more likely explanation was short-term gains from insecticides for sap-sucking pests.
Bt adoption didn't top 10% until 2005/6; since then, adoption has climbed to 92%. In that same period from 2005 to the present, national yields rose from 478 to 481 kg/ha up only 1%. Over the last 4 seasons, with Bt adoption topping 90%, yields have dropped 13.2%. In Andhra Pradesh, yields are lower than they were before Bt became popular. Stone calls these statistics the "ugly facts" on Bt cotton in India.
+ BT COTTON SHOULD BE BANNED – FARMER GROUP
Dry land cotton farmers who opted for Bt cotton are in line for a Maharashtra state government bailout that will cover the failure of the crop in the year 2011-12. This is the second such bailout in five years, the first being in the year 2005-2006. Farmers' group Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti has asked for the crop to be banned as it is too sensitive to climate challenges.
+ PARLIAMENTARY PANEL TO STUDY FARMER SUICIDES
A parliamentary standing committee will visit the farm suicide capital of Yavatmal, Vidarbha, India on March 2 to find out why farmer suicides continue unabated despite measures taken by the government to provide relief to dry land cotton growers.
+ AGENT ORANGE CORN UNDER ATTACK
A campaign is growing in the US to urge the US Dept of Agriculture to ban Dow's new GM corn, which is engineered to tolerate the herbicide 2,4-D, an ingredient of Agent Orange. A petition signed by 72,000 supporters has urged Walmart not to carry the corn.
But according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 2,4-D shouldn't even be on the market. The NRDC has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their failure to respond to a 2008 petition to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances of this known neurotoxin and ingredient in Agent Orange.
"This dangerous pesticide is lurking all over the place from ball fields and golf courses, to front lawns and farms exposing an enormous amount of the American public to cancer and other serious health risks," said NRDC senior scientist Dr Gina Solomon. "There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent Orange-ingredient in the places our children play, our families live and our farmers work. EPA must step up and finally put a stop to it."
+ CHINA TO SHUT DOWN GM RICE
After massive pressure from citizens, scientists, and celebrities, the Chinese government has said it is suspending the commercialisation of GM rice. And in a separate development, the State Council has released the draft proposal of a grain law that establishes legislation restricting research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of GM grain seeds. The draft stipulates that no organisation or person can employ GM technology in any major food product in China.
+ FRANCE WANTS EU TO BAN GM MAIZE
The French government has asked the EU to suspend authorisation of GM maize MON 810. The ecology ministry said its request is based on latest scientific studies which show that the use of GM crops poses a significant risk to the environment. The ministry said if the EU does not act it can invoke a safeguard clause that allows EU states to independently restrict or prohibit the sale of certain products.
+ MONSANTO TO START COMMERCIAL GM PLANTING IN MEXICO
After a decade of small-scale experimental planting, GM multinationals are now free to start commercial development of GM corn in Mexico. On December 31 the government's Secretariat of Agriculture, Cattle Raising, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (Sagarpa) quietly lifted the last barrier to the use of GMOs for corn sold to consumers. Monsanto will sow 63 hectares in the northern state of Sinaloa, to be followed by other northern states: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Sonora.
+ OBAMA WANTS TO MAKE LIFE EVEN EASIER FOR MONSANTO
While activists have been pushing for years to have more oversight and more scientific analysis in the approval process for GMOs, the Obama administration is moving in the other direction. Michael Gregoire, a USDA deputy administrator, said they are looking to streamline the approval process and cut the time it takes to get new GM crops approved (currently about three years) in half.
+ BILL GATES'S SUPPORT FOR GM IS WRONG APPROACH FOR AFRICA
Bill Gates' technocratic ideology, which includes support for GM crops, runs counter to the best informed science and with grass-roots agronomic movements, when it comes to what is best for Africa. So writes South African agricultural consultant Glenn Ashton in an excellent article in the Seattle Times. Ashton points out that the IAASTD report, written by hundreds of agriculture experts from all over the world, came to the opposite conclusion to Gates, finding that the GM crops are not a meaningful solution to hunger and recommending agroecology as the way forward.
+ KENYA: USAID WORKSHOP SAYS CHILDREN NEED EDUCATING ON GM
GM should form part of the school curriculum in Kenya, concluded a biosafety workshop funded by USAID. Prof Collins Ouma, director of public health and community development at Maseno University, delivered the required message, saying, "The genetically modified technology is all about fast maturity period, resistance to pests and diseases and drought tolerance. Farmers will spend less to produce high quality crops as compared to cultivating them under the traditional ways."
+ MONSANTO REFUSES TO RELEASE EMAIL FROM MONSANTO-LINKED LOBBYIST
The White House is withholding documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by an environmental group that suspects the Obama administration of working with Monsanto-linked lobbyists to defend the planting of GM crops in wildlife refuges across the country. The information being withheld includes a portion of a January 2011 email that a top White House policy analyst received from a lobbyist with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which represents GM seed companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta.
+ MONSANTO INFLUENCE IN THE EU?
In a prime example of the revolving door, Romania's new minister of agriculture Stelian Fuia has had a long career at Monsanto and other agrochemical companies.
GM lobbyist Nina Federoff has been recycling the ancient argument that critics of GM are "anti-science". This argument is exposed for the lazy and opportunistic tactic it is in an excellent article by blogger and science policy researcher Jack Stilgoe. He said, "I know dozens of scientists who are anti-GM, or anti- a particular sort of GM. Are they anti-science?"
+ VANDANA SHIVA CONDEMNS INDIA'S PRIME MINISTER
In an interview with the journal Science, India's prime minister Manmohan Singh claimed foreign influence lies behind Indian opposition to nuclear power and GM crops. Vandana Shiva, the scientist and renowned activist who founded Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 16 Indian states, sent us her response to Singh. Shiva wrote: "The GMO push comes from the US and the US-India Knowledge Agreement that the PM signed with President Bush. The Nuclear push comes from the US-India Nuclear Agreement. Sadly, the foreign hand in today's India's domestic policy is the PM himself.
"People's movements like Navdanya are trying to stop the 250,000 farmers suicides due to unpayable debt linked to costly, proprietary, nonrenewable seeds. We are trying to promote a sustainable agriculture that safeguards the livelihoods of our small farmers and the nutrition of our children, half of whom are wasted and stunted. Does the PM want more farmers suicides and more children dying of hunger so Monsanto can walk away with royalties and super-profits, while destroying our biodiversity, our farming and our food?
"As the Navdanya global study 'The GMO emperor has no clothes' has shown, GMOs have not increased yield, nor reduced chemical use. We expect the PM to protect India's seed sovereignty and food sovereignty, not Monsanto's profits."
+ INDIA'S PRIME MINISTER TRYING TO STOP GM DEBATE
India's prime minister Manmohan Singh's claim that foreign influence lies behind Indian opposition to nuclear power and GM crops disrespects science and democracy, said the Coalition for a GM-Free India. The Coalition's statement said, "The opposition to the government policies which threaten the food sovereignty, public health and farmers' rights has come from all segments of [Indian] society ranging from politicians to farmers to scientists to civil society. It has taken many forms, all of them legitimate.
"It is a deep irony that Dr Manmohan Singh is resurrecting the 'foreign hand' ruse from the 1970s and Emergency era while being at the forefront of inviting foreign investment and control of various parts of the Indian economy and allowing the US government and MNCs [multinational corporations] to push policy changes."
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh also contradicted the PM's claim, saying his decision to put the release of GM brinjal (eggplant) on indefinite hold in 2010 was not influenced by any NGO but by lack of scientific consensus on GM safety and by the fact that the states were not in favour of going ahead with GM brinjal.
+ MONSANTO WINS DISMISSAL OF LAWSUIT BROUGHT BY ORGANIC FARMERS
Monsanto has won a dismissal of a class-action lawsuit brought by organic farmers. The case against Monsanto aimed to protect farmers against aggressive lawsuits for patent infringement if their crops become contaminated with Monsanto's GM genes. According to Monsanto, since 1997, it has filed 145 lawsuits against farmers and settled 700 other disputes out of court. Many other farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops to avoid potential lawsuits. But US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald threw out the suit. The farmers plan to appeal the ruling.
+ GM COULD RUIN ORGANIC AG – CANADIAN FARMER
Financial ruin and loss of organic agriculture will be part of the future Australia if genetically modified crop trials continue, according to Canadian farmer Peter Eggers. Eggers is facing similar consequences on his Alberta property after first trialling GM canola in the 1990s. Aside from providing no financial gain, he said the trial had left him unable to produce the crop organically. "That is impossible," he said. "Once the cat is out of the bag, it's hard to get her back in."
+ INDIA: GM FIELD TRIALS IN GUJARAT VIOLATE RULES
While questions are being raised about the safety of GM food, the Gujarat government has given a no-objection certificate (NOC) for open-air field trials of GM maize. But government papers show that there was no need analysis done for the trials – a violation of Environment Protection Act (EPA) norms.
+ THE FILM WWF DOESN'T WANT YOU TO SEE: THE SILENCE OF THE PANDAS
We've uploaded an English-dubbed version of the documentary film, The Silence of the Pandas, onto our website:
This film by the award-winning German film maker Wilfried Huismann dispels the green image of WWF and exposes its support for dodgy corporate activities. Huismann dug behind WWF's eco-facade to uncover explosive stories from around the world. The film is a journey into the heart of the WWF empire and may shatter public faith in the panda forever.
Recently, residents of Germany who tried to view the film on Youtube were blocked from doing so. Sources in Germany told us this was due to a legal threat from WWF against WDR, the German TV station that broadcast the documentary. The legal moves reportedly did not progress and it is now legally possible to air the film again in Germany.
Parts 3 and 4 of the film focus on the Round Table for Responsible Soy (RTRS), an industry greenwash program launched and supported by WWF. RTRS certifies GM soy sprayed with Roundup herbicide as 'responsible', in spite of the social and environmental devastation caused by the crop.
RTRS criteria include fair working conditions for soy producing farmers. But RTRS member Monsanto has more than once been accused by Argentine authorities of being responsible for workers being kept in its corn fields in slave-like conditions.
RTRS apparently turns a blind eye, as RTRS 'responsible' certification only applies to soy fields that fall under the RTRS certification scheme.
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEWS IN BRIEF
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+ GM INDUSTRY LOBBY GROUP ISAAA COOKS THE BOOKS AGAIN
Industry lobby group ISAAA has been accused by NGOs of inflating figures which suggested a rise internationally of 8% in the acreage of GM crops in 2011. ISAAA, funded by GM companies including Monsanto and Bayer, claimed in its annual report that biotech crops grew by 12m hectares, to 160 million hectares, in 2011.
Wenonah Hauter, director of the NGO Food and Water Europe, accused ISAAA of inflating the statistics by including "trait acres", a figure derived by multiplying the surface area grown by the number of genetic traits engineered in GM crops. Using this system, said Hauter, ISAAA could argue that a field of GM crops that had three GM traits became three "trait fields", thereby tripling the acreage.
+ U.S.: NYC PROTESTERS COME OUT AGAINST MONSANTO
In Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Big Food, and Food Democracy Now protesters joined forces to support family farmers in their struggle against Monsanto.
+ NON-GMO SHOPPERS SAY: JUST LABEL IT!
Update from the US campaign to label GMOs:
+ GM TOXIC SOY PROTEST
Multinational food retailer Ahold has received a petition with the signatures of 26,000 people across Europe demanding an end to greenwash projects like the Round Table for Responsible Soy (RTRS), which certifies GM soy sprayed with glyphosate as "responsible". Protesters report that Hugo Byrnes of Ahold agreed that the RTRS has a long way to go and the current certification scheme cannot be called sustainable.
Video of the 'GM toxic soy is not responsible' protest here: http://t.co/X33VU2EA
+ WAY BEYOND GREENWASHING: WWF AND THE RTRS
WWF has partnered with global agribusiness to greenwash industrial commodity agriculture through schemes such as the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), says an analysis for Independent Science News.
+ WHAT GATES DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT GMOs
If you assume that Bill Gates is well informed about his philanthropic targets, you would be in good company, but you might be terribly wrong, says an article by Dr Heather Pilatic, co-director of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), that's well worth reading in full. Organisations well versed in the agricultural issues facing developing nations are saying Gates's annual letter is mistaken when it asserts that a lack of support for GM crop development is responsible, in part, for allowing world hunger to endure. In particular, writes Pilatic, the hype generated by Gates and his allies over the Green Revolution, the chemical agriculture push that predated the GM push, has little basis in historical fact.
+ GATES AND THE MILLIONS FUNDING GEOENGINEERING
As scientists search for a plan to deal with climate change, some have pushed for a controversial approach known as geoengineering, a technological fix for climate change that involves efforts such as reflecting solar energy back into space or fertilizing the oceans. Bill Gates is backing a group of climate scientists lobbying for geoengineering experiments.
+ GM AGROFUELS FIRM SHARES NOSEDIVE
Shares of Amyris, the agrofuel firm started by a UC Berkeley bioengineer with cash from Bill Gates, have taken yet another disastrous hit, hitting an all-time low of $6.85 a share.
+ GM HERBICIDE-RESISTANT CROPS CREATE CHEMICAL TREADMILL – EXPERTS
In response to the increasing number of herbicide-resistant weeds, companies are developing new seeds genetically modified to resist multiple herbicides – but this is not sustainable, according to a new study. "I'm deeply concerned when I see figures that herbicide use could double in the next decade," said David Mortensen, professor of weed ecology at Penn State University and an author of the new study. The researchers added that companies are creating a genetic modification treadmill similar to the pesticide treadmill experienced in the mid-20th century, when companies produced increasingly more toxic substances to manage pests resistant to pesticides.
+ BAYER ORDERED TO COMPENSATE FARMERS FOR BT COTTON FAILURE
The Maharashtra government has ordered the Indian unit of chemical/GM company Bayer to pay compensation to 164 farmers as one of its Bt cotton hybrids did not deliver the promised yield, the first instance of a seed company being asked to make good farmers' losses. Maharashtra's agriculture commissioner said, "The company had claimed on its label that its seed was less susceptible to pest and disease. But we found that to be not true."
+ GM HAS EXACERBATED PESTICIDE TREADMILL IN INDIA
Interesting discussion about how GM Bt cotton has exacerbated the pesticide treadmill and contributed to the de-skilling of farmers in India:
+ MONSANTO CAUGHT ILLEGALLY PLANTING GM MAIZE
Monsanto has been caught illegally planting its herbicide-tolerant GM maize in a trial before official permission was granted.
+ UPDATE ON GMOs IN CHINA
China is stuffed full of unregistered and uncontrolled GM crops, which have been promoted by corrupt scientists who stand to profit from the crops, reports Chinese journalist Yinghui Zhang-Carraro. The situation is made worse by the Chinese government's control over the media, which puts out pro-GM stories.
+ EIGHT WAYS MONSANTO FAILS AT SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE NEW PRIMER
The Union of Concerned Scientists has produced a brilliant new primer explaining how Monsanto is failing sustainable agriculture – something that its latest advertising campaigns claim it's promoting! Just follow the links to detailed information.
+ EU FOOD WATCHDOG GIVES IN TO MONSANTO REQUEST TO HIKE GLYPHOSATE RESIDUE LIMIT IN LENTILS
EU food safety agency EFSA has given the green light to a request by Monsanto to increase the EU's permitted Maximum Residue Level (MRL) for glyphosate (the main ingredient of Roundup herbicide) in lentils. The hike will increase the current legal residue level by 100-150 times. Rather than being based on safety grounds, the proposed new MRL appears to be partly based on levels already likely to be found in lentils as a result of the weedkiller being used close to harvest.
The proposed level is some six times higher than the safe limit indicated by independent studies, which EFSA ignored in its advice:
http://www.earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/Roundup-and-birth-defects/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5.pdf (section 3.5)
+ MONSANTO FOUND GUILTY OF CHEMICAL POISONING WITH WEEDKILLER
A French court has declared Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides. In the first such case heard in France, a grain farmer said he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso weedkiller in 2004.
+ SLAVERY IN MONSANTO CORNFIELDS
Poor workers are being recruited under false pretences, then confined and forced to work long hours for little pay in Monsanto cornfields, say Argentine authorities.
+ CONTROVERSIAL RELEASE OF GM INSECTS
British biotech firm Oxitec's release of GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands was an experiment largely conducted in secret, with the local population being kept in the dark, says an article in German newspaper Der Spiegel. What's more, the experiment is likely to serve as a model for future similar exercises, said an expert who's quoted in the article.