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Is this the end for GM food? (12/5/2004)

Monsanto's move followed other tactical withdrawals by the biotech industry. In March, Bayer CropScience abandoned efforts to commercialise GM maize in the UK, and earlier this month Syngenta withdrew a European wide application to market GM sugar beet. The agricultural biotechnology industry is clearly an economic disaster but does this mean the end of GM food?

...it is the developing world that it likely to form the immediate focus of the biotechnology industry's market aspirations. (item 1)

[The executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism] cautions that corporations, partnered with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will continue to do whatever they can to prevent opposition to and increase the spread of GE crops.

"It will take continued activism to stop all of the other GE food sources," she predicts. (item 2)

1.Is this the end for GM food?
2.Activists Wary as Monsanto Withdraws GE Wheat
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1.Is this the end for GM food?
The Guardian. May 11 2004
http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,1214256,00.html

Monsanto's abandonment of GM wheat isn't necessarily the victory some campaigners might see it as, writes Sue Mayer http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,1214684,00.html

Monsanto's decision to abandon plans to introduce GM wheat on to the world market is of huge significance.  Not only have they turned their backs on a huge global seed market, but have lost potentially vastly increased sales of their herbicide, Roundup. Millions of dollars of investment in research and development have also been lost and investors, hoping for a share in future profits, have been dealt a serious blow.

Such a step can only have come about because the message from consumers, food producers and farmers has been so consistent and clear for several years. If GM wheat was introduced into North America, the wheat export market would have collapsed overnight because it was a product that would be unsaleable and would contaminate (physically and symbolically) all other wheat grown there.

Monsanto's move followed other tactical withdrawals by the biotech industry. In March, Bayer CropScience abandoned efforts to commercialise GM maize in the UK, and earlier this month Syngenta withdrew a European wide application to market GM sugar beet. The agricultural biotechnology industry is clearly an economic disaster but does this mean the end of GM food?

The answer to that question is probably 'yes and no'. Unquestionably, the scale and trajectory of GM crops and foods has been changed. It is a remarkable achievement that ordinary people and campaigners have been able to change the direction of the GM juggernaut. The controversy has also contributed to widening the debates about agriculture and sustainability in welcome ways. However, while the amount of GM food produced will be restricted, the use of GM feed for animals is likely to continue or increase as a largely 'invisible' use over which people have little influence in terms of consumer purchasing power.

It is also likely that there will be attempts to use GM crops for non-food uses - including as sources of biofuels, industrial chemicals or for amenity grasses. These will have the potential to contaminate non-GM crops and wild related species, but companies hope they will prove less controversial whilst allowing them to use their patented genes and technologies.

But it is the developing world that it likely to form the immediate focus of the biotechnology industry's market aspirations. Pushing GM cotton into India as a bridgehead into the vast cotton markets of Asia was one step. South Africa is being used as the way into the African continent.  In these countries, it is the voices of small farmers which are more often raised in protest, concerned about the effects on food security that arise from the monopolisation of seed by multinational corporations.

While supporters of biotechnology make claims for its ability to provide solutions to world hunger, those at the sharp end have a different perspective. Monsanto and the rest of the biotechnology industry may see these largely disempowered communities as easier to overcome than the consumers of the developed world. The challenge for consumers and campaigners in the developed world will be to ensure the interests of the poor are not swamped and that they have influence on whether or how GM crops and foods are developed and used.

Sue Mayer is director of GeneWatch UK
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2.Activists Wary as Monsanto Withdraws GE Wheat
Stephen Leahy
http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=23697

BROOKLIN, Canada, May 11 (IPS) - Activists who fight genetically engineered products are declaring victory after agricultural giant Monsanto's decision to shelve plans to launch GE wheat in Canada and United States. But some warn that the battle over the wheat, and GE crops in general, is far from over.

"I was surprised and sceptical about the announcement," says Marc Loiselle, an organic farmer in Saskatchewan. On closer examination Monsanto really said it will begin to focus on other types of GE crops but also look at other types of GE wheat aside from the 'Round-Up Ready' varieties it has already developed, he says.

The company genetically engineered Round-up Ready wheat to withstand its herbicide of the same name.

The U.S.-based firm did not respond to IPS requests for an interview, but in a statement Monsanto Executive Vice President Carl Casle said, ”this decision allows us to defer commercial development of Roundup Ready wheat, in order to align with the potential commercialisation of other biotechnology traits in wheat, estimated to be four to eight years in the future.”

The approval of GE wheat would have been a disaster for Canadian grain farmers and their grain trading company, the Canada Wheat Board (CWB). Nearly 90 percent of the CWB's customers had previously said they would not buy GE wheat.

”Monsanto has made the right decision by respecting the wishes of their customer farmers,” CWB Chairman Ken Ritter said a statement.

”Farmers overwhelmingly opposed the introduction of Roundup Ready wheat, which offered few agronomic benefits and threatened to destroy premium markets for their product,” he added.

Canadian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) joined farmers and others in a bitter three-year battle to stop the crop being approved for use in Canada. Just last week, Friends of the Earth in the province of Quebec and the Council of Canadians launched a campaign to have Canadians mail Prime Minister Paul Martin a slice of bread to protest the government's support of GE wheat.

”Strong rejection of GE wheat from virtually every corner of the globe once again showed the resistance to GE foods,” said Pat Venditti of Greenpeace Canada, in a statement.

Strong opposition by farmers, consumers and countries likely prompted Monsanto's decision, says Debra Harry, executive director of the U.S.-based Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism.

The issue has particular relevance for indigenous people because GE crops are grown in open field environments and have the potential to affect neighbouring environments, including soil and water, Harry told IPS at the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

”Any time we can set a limit or stop the proliferation of GE crops, it's good for all of us,” she added.

The NGO Genewatch UK is warning that as a result of Monsanto's decision and other companies' withdrawal of other GE crops from Europe, the developing world will likely become the focus of the biotechnology industry's market aspirations.

India is being used as a bridgehead into the vast cotton markets of Asia while South Africa is being used as an entry into the African continent, Genewatch Director Sue Mayer wrote in the 'Guardian' newspaper Tuesday.

"While supporters of biotechnology make claims for its ability to provide solutions to world hunger, those at the sharp end have a different perspective. Monsanto and the rest of the biotechnology industry may see these largely disempowered communities as easier to overcome than the consumers of the developed world," she added.

In 2002, two farmers in Canada's Saskatchewan province filed a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto to prevent the sale of GE wheat. They feared that seeds and pollen from neighbouring farms would blow onto their fields and contaminate their organic crops.

That lawsuit was part of a larger effort to get compensation from Monsanto over the loss of the organic oilseed rape market. Contamination from widely grown GE oilseed made it impossible to grow GE-free rape in Western Canada the farmers alleged, and cost organic growers 14 million dollars (10 million U.S. dollars) in lost sales.

”The lawsuit will continue despite the announcement,” says Loiselle, who represents organic grain growers at the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD).

However, an injunction to prevent Monsanto from planting more GE wheat in open field test plots will likely be dropped, he said.

After such a long, intense battle against GE wheat, Loiselle remains wary about the company's aims.

”It doesn't look like Monsanto (has) officially withdrawn their application for commercialisation to the Canadian government,” he points out.

Despite this week's announcement, the biotech juggernaut continues to roll, according to BIO, the industry association. Eighteen countries are now growing 67 million hectares (165 million acres) of GM crops, chiefly cotton, maize and soya. The area planted with GM strains rose 15 percent in 2003, it adds.

Harry cautions that corporations, partnered with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will continue to do whatever they can to prevent opposition to and increase the spread of GE crops.

”It will take continued activism to stop all of the other GE food sources, she predicts.

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