THE WEEKLY WATCH Number 24 (25/4/2003)

25 April 2003
from Andy Rees, the WEEKLY WATCH editor
Dear all

Welcome to WW24 bringing you all the latest news in brief on the GM issue.

It may be of particular interest to any friends or contacts finding it hard to keep up with all the breaking news on this hot topic, so please circulate widely!

Hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think.

Andy <andy@gmwatch.org>
TOPIC OF THE WEEK: GM and organic
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK: How Greenfield got it wrong

Today April 25 a group of seven leading anti-GM campaigners and farmers' leaders entered their fourth day without food as part of an indefinite hunger strike in support of a moratorium on the field testing and commercialization of GMOs. Their main focus is Bt corn which is scheduled for commercial distribution by Monsanto in May or June this year.  

Today they will unveil a giant effigy of poisoned corn at the strike site, in front of the Department of Agriculture. Department of Agriculture officials have agreed to schedule a meeting between the hunger strikers and Agriculture Secretary Luisito Lorenzo Jr. on Monday, April 28.  

One of the hunger strikers Roberto Verzola, Secretary-general of the Philippine Greens and a former member of the country's National Committee on Biosafety, reports that, 'Expressions of support have come in from many sectors, and from abroad. The media has started to take notice, and some are taking a deeper interest in the issue. Some government officials have also expressed support.'

For a picture of some of the hunger strikers in front of the Department of Agriculture, see http://www.bwf.org


A leading DNA expert at Oxford University, Professor Alan Cooper, has warned that it may be too soon to release GM crops and animals in light of groundbreaking new DNA research that shows DNA has persisted in some soils for 400,000 years.  GM supporters have always claimed that DNA degrades rapidly.  Prof Cooper says the new evidence raises serious questions over what happens to GM crop and animal DNA in the longer-term; and indicates that it will persist in many more places than previously thought. He says he does not think the Government knows enough yet to safely lift the moratorium on commercial releases of GM organisms.   

The comments of Prof Cooper, who co-authored the paper just published in the journal Science, have been reported by New Zealand's Royal Society, prompting the country's Green Party to call on he Government to immediately review its GM strategy in light of one of some of its most basic assumptions on GM releases having now been shown to be seriously flawed http://www.rsnz.org/news/index.php?view=searchdate&day=22&month=04&year=2003
(you need to become a member!)

Environmentalists believe Kraft Food's use of GM ingredients is a financial risk to the company and its investors, because of potential product recalls, liability lawsuits, loss of competitive advantage, possible consumer backlash, and potential damage to the company's image because of the biotech controversy.  The report says that GM foods do not give Kraft any measurable financial benefits, nor do they provide any marketable benefits to consumers. http://ens-news.com/ens/apr2003/2003-04-18-09.asp#anchor5

Chevy Chase, the actor known for the "National Lampoon" movies, asked Kraft Foods executives to remove GM ingredients from the food it sells in the US, and warned of the risks to the food supply of biopharmaceutical crops.  "I don't want my family to accidentally ingest a pig vaccine when they eat an Oreo, or inadvertently eat a blood clotter (medication) when they pour a bowl of Alpha-Bits," Chase said at Kraft's annual shareholders' meeting.  In Europe, Kraft prohibits GM ingredients in the products it sells, due to consumer pressure. http://www.suntimes.com/output/business/cst-fin-kraft23.html

Opponents of Monsanto Co.'s GM crop business used the company's annual meeting on Thursday 24th April to attack Monsanto's efforts to boost sales of genetically modified crops.  "We believe the company's direction and pursuit of genetically modified agriculture is reckless," Greenpeace campaigner Jeanne Merrill told shareholders during the meeting at the company's headquarters in St. Louis.  "The potential for catastrophic problems... is very high and effectively inevitable," said Greenpeace's Lindsay Keenan, who traveled from Germany to take part in the campaign against Monsanto.

A major new survey on US consumer preference shows a 92% preference for GM food to be labelled. The survey aims to provide a resource for farmers seeking new markets, etc. http://www.foodmap.unl.edu/index.asp

The Discovery Channel recently commissioned the first global poll aiming to show how people perceive the impact of genetics on their lives, and how informed they are of current progress.  The survey was conducted in eight countries: the US, the UK, Denmark, Poland, Mexico, Brazil, Taiwan, Turkey. Overall, 58% of the respondents polled were unwilling to eat GM food. (For more details, see http://highmarkfunds.stockpoint.com/highmarkfunds/ newspaper.asp?Mode=genetics&Story=20030331/090p4727.xml.)

75% of Canadians want GM foods labelled as a warning to consumers, says a soon-to-be-released University of Alberta study.  Alberta crop producers are worried. They are adamantly opposed to mandatory labelling as they fear plummeting sales if forced to identify their products as GM foods. There is currently no law requiring labelling of GM foods, in Canada or the US.

Provincial government funding is waning for Saskatchewan's agriculture biotechnology sector.  Four years ago the province contributed $5.4 million to Saskatchewan's top four biotechnology firms, while last year it spent a little over half that amount. http://www.producer.com/articles/20030424/news/20030424news02.html

According to the Washington Post, a new report from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, which includes such figues as former US Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, has infuriated the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

The report concludes that the U.S. government has no effective system of overseeing GM crops after they go to market - 'a regulatory gap that could pose acute problems'. Two government agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, the report notes, make no attempt to enforce rules on GM crops after they're commercialized, and may lack sufficient legal authority to do so. The third U.S. agency that regulates such crops, the Environmental Protection Agency, has legal authority to set rules that apply after commercialization, but has established no effective means of enforcing them, the report found. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34921-2003Apr24.html Post Market Oversight of Biotech Foods: Is the System Prepared? http://www.pewagbiotech.org/research/postmarket/

For the first time in its 10 year push to win acceptance of GM crops, Monsanto faces big opposition from farmers.  Across the northern Great Plains, and neighbouring Canada, skepticism towards Monsanto's Roundup Ready wheat has solidified into a political movement.  Some farmers are so worried, they want their state governments to wrest authority from federal regulators and adopt formal moratoriums on the crop. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7480-2003Apr21.html

Researchers have found the pink bollworm has three genetic mutations that confer resistance to GM, or biotech, cotton. http://ens-news.com/ens/apr2003/2003-04-21-09.asp#anchor8

An unapproved GM corn crop, made by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a unit of DuPont Co, accidentally contaminated a number of nearby crops, the EPA said.  The EPA said it fined Pioneer $72,000 for not immediately notifying the agency when preliminary tests indicated traces of an unapproved crop.  Consumer advocates welcomed the EPA's actions, but said future fines should be much higher.  "Neither the industry nor the government is doing enough to contain biotech field trials," said Gregory Jaffe, biotech director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

China is moving forward with plans to have the world's largest area of non-GM soybeans, within five years in the north east.  Soyabean land is expected to expand from 9 to 13 million ha, with China producing at least 36 million tons of soybeans by 2006, thus satisfying domestic demand. Currently, China imports more than 10 million tons of soybean a year; the largest supplier is the US. For more information and to contact AFX: www.afxnews.com and www.afxpress.com

Bayer and three US companies may face a US lawsuit in the next two to three months for allegedly supplying defoliants for military uses to the former South African apartheid regime, US lawyer Ed Fagan told the Financial Times Deutschland.


Cargill's Amstutz is "Our Man in Bagdhad"
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman has named Daniel Amstutz to lead the U.S. Government's agriculture reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Amstutz will serve as senior ministry advisor for agriculture in the rebuilding effort and will coordinate the U.S. Government activities in the sector.  

"We are extremely pleased to be able to draw upon someone with Dan Amstutz's background and experience for this extremely important task," said Veneman. "He will help us achieve our national objective of creating a democratic and prosperous Iraq while at the same time best utilize the resources of our [ie U.S.] farmers and food industry in the effort, both in the interim and for the longer term."

Dan Amstutz's background is at Cargill's - the grain multibational which has a history of Joint Ventures and Strategic Alliances with Monsanto.

U.S. disapproves Right to Food and UN's Special Rapporteur
A UN resolution on the right to food has been passed in a vote of 51 in favor and one against - the one against being the US who used it as an opportunity to attack the UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Zeigler.  A Representative of the United States said his delegation could not support the resolution or in any way endorse the work of the Special Rapporteur.  Instead, the US representative said he should be reprimanded for his irresponsible statements and for abusing his mandate. The U.S. hostility arises from Zeigler having questioned the safety of GM food and his suggesting that big corporations have more to gain from its use than poor countries fighting starvation, "There is absolutely no justification to produce genetically modified food except the profit motive and the domination of the multinational corporations." U.N. food envoy questions safety of gene crops (Reuters, 15 Oct 2002) http://ngin.tripod.com/151002c.htm

Farmer protests after peasant leader abducted and killed
Hundreds of farmers in the Philippines have held a protest rally to condemn the abduction and murder of peasant leader Eduardo Gumanoy and human rights activist Eden Marcellana.  Eddie Gumanoy's KMP organisation has strongly opposed the introduction of GM crops into the Philippines.

EU awaits heated debate on GM crop mix
Europe's biotech industry clashed with farm and environment groups on Thursday in a debate over whether GM crops can co-exist with traditional varieties.  The European Commission, which hosted Thursday's debate, supports the biotech industry's line.  While the Commission says co-existence is not linked to restarting EU authorisations of GM products, some nine EU states led by Italy say it is essential to resolve the issue sooner rather than later. http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/20574/story.htm Read Susan George's piece in Le Monde diplomatique: Europe's harvest of contamination GROWING GM CROPS IS AN IRREVERSIBLE ACT OF ECOLOGICAL FOLLY http://mondediplo.com/2003/04/14gmo

Sugar industry threatens to scupper WHO

In a fine example of how the corporate-takeover-of-the-world works, the US sugar industry is threatening to bring the World Health Organisation (WHO) to its knees by demanding that Congress end its $406m a year funding, unless the WHO scraps guidelines on healthy eating, soon to be published.  Needless to say, healthy eating means a big cut back on sugar consumption and thus in sugar industry profits.  The Sugar association, together with six other big food industry groups, has also written to the US health secretary, Tommy Thompson, asking him to use his influence to get the WHO report withdrawn.  The coalition includes the US Council for International Business, comprising more than 300 companies, including Coca-Cola and Pepsico. THIS ARTICLE IS A MUST-READ: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,940287,00.html

More dodgy tactics to promote GMO sales in Africa
A new organization, called the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), will work with governments, companies, NGOs, and research centers to negotiate the sales rights of GM crops and bring new agricultural technologies to the African market.  The AATF will operate as a non-profit organization but will receive support from  biotech companies including Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Agro Sciences LLC, and Syngenta. http://oryza.com/news/index.shtml#1050608308

Sudden generosity of the multinationals is unconvincing
Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences have agreed to share their technology free with African scientists in a broad new attempt to increase food production on that continent, where mass starvation is a recurring threat.  They have pledged to donate patent rights, seed varieties, laboratory know-how and other aid to help African agricultural scientists through a new organisation, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) based in Kenya.  Consumers International is sceptical about their motives.  The companies themselves acknowledge they hope to **create new  markets in Africa.** The world GM food market is oversupplied.  As potential markets in other continents are disappearing, GM multinationals are having to move fast to find new markets for their surpluses.  Africa is the next stop. Sharing patents and seeds is the perfect way to force GM on the continent through the back door; contamination of non-GM varieties will mean a fait accompli before anyone knows it's happened.  The strategy of the GM multinationals seems to be: "Contaminate then Regulate". http://www.consumersinternational.org/roaf

Are Brazil's illegal GM seed plantings a deliberate contamination strategy?

A good summary of GM in Brazil where in thee south, farmers have been illegally cultivating cheap GM soy seed, which some see as part of a deliberate Monsanto strategy to destroy Brazil's conventional soy market - Brazil being the world's largest exporter of conventional soy.  In addition, Brazilians have been left without measures to identify GMO's in food products.  Brazil should be encouraged in their current efforts to deal with the problems of illegal GM seed. http://www.brazzil.com/p134apr03.htm

NZ govt 'spin' on damning GM report is 'outrageous'

The Green Party is outraged by the NZ Government's reaction to a report released on the economic impacts of releasing GMOs in NZ.  "The report actually shows that there are more likely to be negative effects on the economy from GE release than positive effects, under realistic conditions," Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said.  "The Government has chosen to ignore the parts of the report that show that demand for New Zealand products will dramatically decrease if GE is released here.  A 20% decrease in demand for dairy, meat and fruit as a result of GE release in New Zealand could lead to a 40% reduction in producer returns. This is extremely bad news for farmers and growers." http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyID=3401700&thesection=news&thesubsection=general&reportid=53009

The Sustainability Council of NZ's media statement on the economics report said the overall picture is one of demonstrable costs (loss of GM-free exports) versus highly speculative benefits.  The study neither asks nor answers the real question: is there good reason for NZ to allow the release of GMOs now?  NZ can decide to allow a GM release at any time in the future.  So why make a decision before it's needed, especially if there is no going back?  Why pave the way for GM release now in the face of the market resistance recorded by the study.  New Zealand depends on primary production for half its export income.  The study reports that 20% to 30% of overseas buyers would cease to buy NZ goods if GMOs were released. www.sustainabilitynz.org

Netherlands, a 'soft touch' on GMOs?  FoE calls for legal investigation

Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) have today called on the European Commission to fully investigate the actions of the Dutch Government, regarding a favourable opinion on Monsanto's application in January for a new GM oilseed rape.  FoE claims that Monsanto's scientific assessment of the GM crop was so poor that it is questionable whether it meets basic legal requirements.  Even the UK government strongly criticised Monsanto's application.  In the light of this, FoE is concerned that eight out of ten GM food applications since 1998 have been made through the Netherlands, suggesting that biotech companies may be considering the Netherlands as a "soft touch". http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2003/GR_18_April_Netherlands.htm

Broken promise - Monsanto promotes Terminator seed technology

Despite its 1999 pledge not to commercialize Terminator technology (or GURTs - genetic use restriction technology - its scientific name), Monsanto has recently adopted a positive stance on genetic seed sterilization, a technology that has been condemned by civil society and some governments as an immoral application of genetic engineering.  "If Monsanto is reversing its public pledge on Terminator, it will be perceived as a colossal corporate betrayal of the public good - just one more example of corporate greed and fickle governance," explains Hope Shand, Research Director of ETC Group.  "Market confidence in biotech is already low - it could evaporate if Monsanto violates its public pledge on Terminator seeds."  Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group explains, "Seed sterility is the ultimate monopoly-maker. With sterile seeds, the Gene Giants have limitless control over plant germplasm, with no expiration date, without patents or lawyers." http://www.etcgroup.org


Don't Be Fooled By Corporate Greenwashing
The "Don't be Fooled" greenwashing awards, including Kraft and Cargill.
Vietnam urges US aid for Agent Orange victims
Reuters, April 22, 2003

TOPIC OF THE WEEK - GM crop commercialisation will destroy the organic sector and much more

Environmentalist and scientist David Suzuki spoke out on the effects of GMOs on the organic-food industry, at an April 24th lecture sponsored by the Canadian Food Association.  Suzuki says that unless the government slams the brakes on GM food, organic-loving Vancouverites will have no guarantee organic food is untainted.  Paddy Doherty, who heads up the Certified Organic Associations of BC, representing 500 organic growers, producers and distributors across the province, was cited as saying the canola gene pool is so contaminated, it's almost impossible to grow organic canola, adding, "And now these biotech companies are trying to do the same with wheat and the federal government is supporting them." April 20, 2003, Vancouver Courier

The UK Government has come under fire from West country campaigners after a scientific commission revealed that cultivating GM crops could wipe out all the UK's 4000 organic farmers, as well as the UK organic manufacturing and export sector.  Documents from the Agriculture, Environment and Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) suggest that the spread of pollen from GM crops means that certified produce would be forever tainted.   www.westernmorningnews.co.uk

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. GM contamination threatens the whole UK food and farming industry.  In response to consistent consumer demand, virtually all UK food producers have phased out GM ingredients over the last three years. Most supermarkets - Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Safeway and Sainsburys - have a strict policy to avoid all GM ingredients, including the oils, starches and sugars that don't yet have to be labelled - and they are well on the way to ensuring that their meat, eggs and dairy products come from animals fed a non-GM diet.  The UK wholefood trade maintains a strict "no GM" policy in its 1,500 shops. UK food manufacturers who sell to other EU countries also have to have a strict non-GM policy because of consumer demand across Europe.  GM contamination of imported ingredients has been a problem for a few years but is still fairly easy to manage.

But once GM crops are grown in the UK, contamination becomes a nightmare that can occur at every point in the food chain from field to fork. Contamination can spread by wind, bees and farm machinery. Non-GM farmers can be contaminated by pollen from neighbouring GM farms - making their crop unsaleable or greatly reducing its sale price. At every point, costly precautions will have to be taken to avoid contamination. Virtually every farmer and food producer in the UK will be hit financially in three ways:

* First, they will have to pay to prevent GM contamination through land segregation, GM testing and machinery and vehicle cleaning.

* Second, they will incur costs when contamination does occur - through lost sales and the need to dump or withdraw contaminated products from supermarket shelves.

* Finally, by far the greatest cost will be that buyers and customers know their products have been contaminated.  UK food exports will fall, UK domestic food sales will fall as consumers buy imported GM-free food.  In short, farmers and manufacturers will lose their jobs; food prices in the shops will increase.

Beekeepers will lose their jobs because they will not be able to stop their bees from collecting pollen from GM farms up to six miles from their hives.

Wholesalers and retailers will switch to buying honey from other countries. As bees are essential for pollinating many crops, as well as orchards, the decline of UK beekeeping could help reduce agricultural yields across the country.

There are no meaningful Government or EU plans to prevent this inevitable contamination. The EU proposals to allow "co-existence" of GM and non-GM crops and to prevent cross-contamination are farcical in the extreme. Normally, the victims of pollution are entitled to compensation, but the Government has decided in the case of GM contamination the polluters will not be liable and there will be no compensation.  The insurance industry is refusing to provide cover to farmers because the financial risks are "inestimable".  The GM and nuclear industry are the only areas the insurance industry refuses to get involved in.

Then there's the consumer.  There is, remarkably, no independent, published scientific research into the long-term effects of GM foods. The British Medical Association, Royal Society of Canada, Consumers International and other organisations have likewise complained about the absence of this information.

Faced with risks and a total lack of legal and financial protection, there is only one option left for Britain's farmers, food manufacturers and consumers - and that is to make absolutely sure that GM crops are never planted in the UK.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK - How Greenfield got it wrong

Science communication expert Jon Turney responds to a recent article by the Baroness Susan Greenfield, Director of the Royal Institution (Ri) about how the 'widening gulf between the science cognoscenti and Everyone Else' needs to be tackled through the public achieving a far higher level of scientific literacy.

Greenfield, a close ally of the Blair government, has been at the heart of efforts to control how controversial scientific issues, like GM crops and cloning, are communicated to the public - most notably, via the Science Media Centre project housed within the Ri, and her work with the largely industry-backed Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), whom Greenfield advises.

Turney takes Greenfield to task for her own scientific "illiteracy" - her failure to pay heed to the actual research evidence on these issues. Turney writes, "if large numbers of people fail to achieve some ideal of scientific literacy this may be because they have got the message that they have no real purchase on scientific decision making, not because they are incapable of mastering technicalities."  He argues we need to empower the public by giving them a genuine say in decision making, because the evidence is that they will then "find the motivation to become as scientifically literate as you, or rather they, please."

The one problem Turney fails to address, in an otherwise excellent article, is attempts by groups with strong vested interests and agendas, like the RS and the FSA, to manipulate public involvement in order to promote their own agenda, through skewing information and question-setting etc, ie precisely the type of issue that has arisen with the FSA's recent contributions to the UK's public debate. READ THE FULL ARTICLE: http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/opinion/story/0,12981,933082,00.html


Farmers, according to one U.S. farmer, tend to live year to year... and follow what's working around them.  If one farmer's neighbours and friends all using glyphosate and plant seeds designed to live with it [Roundup Ready crops], he's likely to follow.  He acknowledges, "We probably are creating a monster, long term". http://www.nwanews.com/adg/story_Business.php?storyid=27802


In Third World countries,agriculture typically employs at least half the total workforce: in Angola, roughly 70%, in Rwanda, roughly 90%. New Statesman April 21, 2003

During the seven-year period from 1996 to 2002, global acreage of transgenic crops increased 35-fold, from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, to 58.7 million hectares in 2002.  However, contrary to the biotech line that GM is a run-away success around the world, only four principal countries grew 99% of the global transgenic crop acreage in 2002.  The US grew 39.0 million hectares, (66% of global total), followed by Argentina with 13.5 million hectares, Canada 3.5 million hectares and China 2.1 million hectares. And only four major transnationals, the so-called 'Gene giants', are collectively responsible for virtually 95% of the global acreage in transgenic crops: Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer.  Most of these large transnational seed corporations are the result of mergers and some of them also have pesticide or pharmaceutical interests.  http://www.isaaa.org/

Monsanto's annual sales dropped 15% - nearly a billion dollars - last year www.etcgroup.org


Monsanto stooge Chengal Reddy is doing their bidding again.  According to an article this week in the Indian press, Reddy's Indian Farmers and Industry Alliance claims Bt cotton has been a big success in India, especially in Andhra Pradesh, with farmers reporting higher incomes. All of which is pretty remarkable when, according to the State government in Andhra Pradesh, it is having to consider a compensation package because farmers using Bt cotton 'aren't getting the yields they were promised and the poor quality of the crop also fetches a lower price in the market'. See: Bt cotton proves a failure in Andhra Pradesh

Sun Network, Hyderabad, Mar 03

For more on 'farmer' Reddy and his lobby work for Monsanto, see The Fake Parade:  http://ngin.tripod.com/041202d.htm


Please send your letters in support of the hunger strikers in the Philippines to the Secretary of Agriculture Luis "Cito" Lorenzo, (email: seclorenzo@da.gov.ph, fax 6302 929 8183). Please cc: <searice@searice.org.ph> and "'No-GMO Yahoo Group'"
<no-gmophils@yahoogroups.com> for compiling and circulation.


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