WEEKLY WATCH 105 (31/12/2004)

from Jonathan Matthews, guest editor

Dear Weekly Watchers,

If you're just logging back on from your hols -- KEEP THIS - DON'T DELETE! There's lots of good stuff to catch up on.

Why? Well, it may be the holiday season for many but that has only encouraged the biotech industry and its lobbyists to pump out an even greater slew of lies, misinformation, and awkward admissions, in the hope of avoiding critical scrutiny amidst the seasonal distractions -- check out LOBBYWATCH, FOCUS ON ASIA, and EUROPE.

*NUTSHELL OF THE WEEK* goes to an Irish farmers' leader, "GM production methods make farmers dependent on big business, and result in food production that consumers don't want." And an Irish doctors' group pointed out this week that, "These foods have never been tested for adverse health impacts on humans, and animal tests have given rise to concern." They want a complete ban.

By contrast, the European Commission is financing a PR scam to use industry-determined safety approvals to "facilitate market introduction of GMOs in Europe". (see EUROPE)

In the U.S., campaigners are gearing up for important new challenges to the biotech industry in 2005. Over the past two years 79 Vermont towns have voiced support for a GM moratorium, and Sen. Jeanette White says she plans to draft or support legislation in the coming year to halt the cultivation of GM crops on all Vermont farmland. And moves are afoot in other U.S. States to block GM pharma crops. We've got links to some great articles on this. (THE AMERICAS)

One Vermont campaigner commented this week, "The rest of the world is way ahead of us in scrutinizing this technology, and voters are facing a federal government that is actively fostering the technology -- one of the few in the world that's doing so. We are not alone. Vermont is simply leading in the United States, but the United States is not leading in the world."

What the biotech industry and the U.S. administration are actually doing is promoting a radical and uncontrollable alteration in the molecular base of the world's food supply. This ultimately self-destructive assault on our agriculture and environment requires global defiance. (see COMMENTARIES OF THE WEEK)

Finally, let's hope the devastating consequences for much of South and South-East Asia of the recent earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, do not lead to the kind of exploitation that sub-Saharan Africa has suffered during times of crisis (see AFRICA).

Warm wishes for a peaceful New Year
www.gmwatch.org / www.lobbywatch.org

*LOBBYWATCH: lobbyists' falsies!
*RADIO WATCH: WW hits the airwaves
*COMMENTARIES: U.S. at war with itself
*ASIA: bumper crop of GM hype
*THE AMERICAS: growing resistance
*AFRICA: Africa's hungry fed bad policies
*EUROPE: GM foods should be banned say doctors
*AUSTRALASIA: pro-GM propaganda challenged
*CAMPAIGN: support needed for Japan


Pro-GM lobbyist and former Syngenta man, Dr Shantu Shantharam, told India's science and environment magazine, 'Down to Earth', that "gene contamination is a bogus issue" and that it is irrelevant to the case of the Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser, who was sued by Monsanto. Shantharam told the magazine's readers this was because, "Court records clearly establish that Schmeiser had planted gm canola which he had purchased illegally."

The trial court records, in fact, establish the exact opposite of what Shantharam claims. Aaron Mitchell, the lead investigator for Monsanto in the Schmeiser case, told the trial court under oath that, "We have no proof that anyone sold seed to Mr Schmeiser." (June 8, 2000, p.87)

When the case later came to the Supreme Court, no suggestion of any illegal purchase of GM seed by Percy Schmeiser was even made. In a letter to Down to Earth, Prof Phil Bereano and GM Watch editor, Jonathan Matthews, suggest the reason that Shantharam is so anxious to explain away the GM seed found on Percy Schmeiser's farm as the result of deliberate purchase is because the only credible alternative explanation of its origin is gene contamination - the very thing Shantharam claims is a bogus "concoction of the anti-gm lobby".

Shantharam's account of the Schmeiser case is not just misleading but demonstrably false. This makes it particularly ironic that in his frequent contributions to the Indian media, this US-based lobbyist likes to characterise resistance to GM crops as a product of people being 'fed' bogus, concocted and otherwise inaccurate information by the 'anti biotech lobby'!

More news emerged this week about the controversial ENTRANSFOOD project, which has now made way for a successor European Commission-sponsored project, SAFEFOODS.

One of the aims of ENTRANSFOOD has been agreeing safety assessment and communication procedures that will "facilitate market introduction of GMO's in Europe, and therefore bring the European industry in a competitive position."

Disturbingly, a recent report by Friends of the Earth on the work of the GMO Panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) revealed that several members of this key advisory panel have also been part of the ENTRANSFOOD project. (see 'Throwing Caution to the Wind' - http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/publications/EFSAreport.pdf )

The ENTRANSFOOD project claims it has "brought together representatives from academia, regulatory agencies, food manufacturers, retailers and consumer groups from across Europe." But there has just been one solitary representative of Europe's "consumer groups" involved and there is no consumer representation at all on the key ENTRANSFOOD working group looking at the critical issue of "Safety Testing". There are plenty of experts sympathetic to industry, though - indeed some are actually employed by the biotech industry

Serving alongside employees of Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta on the food safety Working Party has been Dutch scientist, Dr. Harry Kuiper. Kuiper is both the Chair of the the European Food Safety Authority's GMO panel and the overall co-ordinator of ENTRANSFOOD. He also coordinates the successor project SAFEFOODS with his colleague Hans Marvin.

If it seems disturbing that the head of the key EU food safety panel on GMOs also coordinates a project which has the aim of facilitating their market introduction, equally worrying is Kuiper's involvement in the attacks on Dr Arpad Pusztai and his GM research. Kuiper has been accused of dragging "Pusztai through the dirt" while avoiding public debate with Pusztai.

Although the industry-aligned ENTRANSFOOD project offers little more than a PR gloss on GM foods, the Friends of the Earth report exposes how key statements of the the European Food Safety Authority's GMO panel, regurgitate almost word for word ENTRANSFOOD's position statements - statements arrived at only with the help of employees of the GM corporations.
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