THE WEEKLY WATCH number 26 (16/5/2003)

16 May 2003
from Andy Rees, the WEEKLY WATCH editor
Dear all

Welcome to WW26 bringing you all the latest news in brief on the GM issue in the week Uncle Sam launched his GM trade war to try and fix what food the world eats.

Andy <[email protected]>







TOPIC OF THE WEEK 1 - US declares trade war on what the world eats

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 2 - Seed patenting: Monsanto shows its true colours

ARTICLES OF THE WEEK -  The week the UK farming community woke up to the threat of multinationals.  Damning articles from Farmers' Weekly.








A remarkable cave find in New Zealand has shown that plant (and animal) DNA, far from not persisting, can survive intact in soil for *millenia*.  This raises serious new questions on the safety of genetic modification, and turns DNA theory on it's head. "We didn't expect to see DNA surviving this long.  The general idea being that DNA loose in soil would be very quickly eaten by bacteria and fungus or washed away or dissolved.  ...therefore GM DNA would survive longer and presumably get to a broader distribution than we would've expected.  How many other things don't we know at the moment?" said Professor Alan Cooper, who unearthed plant and animal DNA thousands of years old surviving intact in the soil. The GM lobby has always denied that GM DNA would persist in the soil. http://onenews.nzoom.com/onenews_detail/0,1227,189309-1-7,00.html


In Denmark they're finding that Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup, is polluting underground water far more than previously thought.  Danish drinking water resources are under attack from glyphosate, which is sieving down through the soil and polluting the ground water at a rate of 5xs the allowed level for drinking water. "This is very surprising, because we had previously believed that bacteria in the soil broke down the glyphosate before it reached the groundwater. ...unfortunately we have only seen the tip of the iceberg, because glyphosate and many other spray chemicals are on their way through the soil at this point in time," says Prof Mogens Henze.  Just imagine the impact of RR crop commercialisation. http://politiken.dk/VisArtikel.sasp?PageID=269614


Via Campesina (an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe) is issuing a call to action on the USDA/US State Department's 'Agricultural Ministerial and Expo' June 23-25 in Sacramento which will highlight the "benefits" of transnational agribiz and genetic engineering.  Via Campesina denounces the event and insists that governments do not participate in this event.  This Conference will be used by the US government to remove obstacles to US corporate interests on the road to WTO Ministerial Conference and the Summit of the Americas. E-mail: [email protected]


Protesters will descend on St. Louis on May 18, at the opening of the World Agricultural Forum's 2003 conference, which brings together agriculture industry leaders and world leaders to deal with the future of global agriculture.  Monsanto is one of the hosts of the annual event. http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/News/B346CAD3A722BE0D86256


The National Trust, which owns about 1% of Britain, is said to have banned the growing of GM crops on its land. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3018825.stm


A group of prairie farmers plans to take concerns about GM wheat to the Senate's Agriculture Committee in Ottawa. They are seeking a moratorium on the product until their concerns are met. http://sask.cbc.ca/regional/servlet/View?filename=gmwheat030512  


Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX) directors approved a rule to allow takers of spring wheat futures deliveries the choice of specifying non-GM wheat. For more information about MGEX, visit www.mgex.com


Colorado has been asked to impose a moratorium on the planting of GM biopharmaceutical corn because of the harm it could do to the state's agricultural industry. http://www.trib.com/AP/wire_detail.php?wire_num=134775

Background briefing on Farm Scale Evaluations

The Science Media Centre claims to represent the "voices" of the scientific community but it is funded by the likes of Astra Zeneca, Dupont, and Pfizer and it only ever speaks with one voice on GM crops. Within a matter of months of its launch it was being accused of operating "a sort of Mandelsonian rapid rebuttal unit" (see: Lobby group 'led GM thriller critics', The Observer Sunday June 2, 2002). Next Tuesday, May 20th, the SMC will be providing a platform for scientists working on the UK's GM Farm Scale Evaluations to defend the importance of their work to the media. The event called a BACKGROUND BRIEFING ON FARM SCALE EVALUATIONS is taking place at the Science Media Centre, 21 Albemarle St, W1S 4BS at 11.00am. No critics of the FSEs have been invited to take part.  The SMC is thought to be gunning for the report published in late-March 2003 by Friends of the Earth, 'Science as a Smokescreen':  http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/science_smokescreen.pdf  .

Have your say in the GM debate - 10 Downing Street Press Release

People in the UK can have their say on GM crops at 6 regional conferences (see below) between 3 and 13 June. The conferences will launch the national debate on GM issues - called 'GM Nation?' - and there will also be discussions in towns and villages around the country.  People keen to hold their own event can get a debate toolkit, including a film, booklets and even helpers for large meetings. http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3658.asp

GeneWatch and the Public Debate

GeneWatch has put together some materials around the UK's public debate.  There are 6 double sided A4 information sheets that outline the most important issues. Their titles are:

1) GM Crops: Environmental Saviour or New Form of Pollution?
2) GM Crops and Food: Good for Your Health?
3) GM Food: Your Right to Choose?
4) GM Crops: Bringing Hope to the Starving?
5) Can GM and Non-GM Farming Co-exist in the UK?
6) Who Should Pay if Things Go Wrong with GM Crops and Food?

They are all available as word documents at: http://www.genewatch.org/debate/debate.htm, alternatively they can post copies. (Tel: 01298 871898).  On their website they also have a news section, covering the main developments in the debate and a how to (and why) get involved section (see below).

GeneWatch feels it is very important that people try to become involved in the process and this can be done in a number of ways:

3rd June: NEC, Birmingham - 3.00pm
5th June: Brangwyn Hall, Swansea - 6.00pm
7th June: Holiday Inn, Taunton - 2.00pm
9th June: Kings Hall, Belfast - 2.00pm
11th June: Quality Hotel, Glasgow 6.00pm
13th June: Pavilions, Harrogate (Yorkshire Showground) 2.00pm
To book tickets and for more information about the debate, contact Lee Hancock at the Central Office of Information (COI) on 020 7261 8528.

2) Find out where local meetings are taking place in your area and attend them. GeneWatch has asked the Central Office of Information (COI) to place a list of local meetings on its public debate website at www.gmpublicdebate.org.  However, if they don't do this or you don't have access to the Internet, you can ring Lee Hancock as above.

3) Organise your own meeting.

4) If you can't attend or organise a meeting, you will be able to use the public debate website (www.gmpublicdebate.org).

FSA hides findings of Citizens Jury

GeneWatch UK has written to Dr John Bell, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency, asking why it has failed to reveal the unanimous finding of its Citizens Jury that: "More time is needed to understand the long-term environmental implications of GM crops before farmers start to grow them in the UK - growing GM crops in the UK would be irreversible and might eventually reduce choice."  This was excluded from the FSA's Press Release on 7th April. "I gave evidence to the Citizens' Jury in good faith and am disturbed that the findings are being distorted.  ...The Jury was unanimous that GM crops should not be grown in the UK at present," said Dr Mayer, GeneWatch's Director. For more information contact Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 http://ens-news.com/ens/may2003/2003-05-15-09.asp#anchor1

GM products 'slip into foods'

Millions of Britons are eating GM ingredients every day without realising it, according to an article in the Daily Mail.  Many products and stores which claim to be GM-free are not.  For example, scientists found that a Cow & Gate's "GM-free" baby food - a dried vegetable casserole - contained low levels of GM soya.  But critics said this was evidence of how difficult it is to hold back the GM tide once crops are grown commercially.  The use of impure seed overseas, particularly in the US and Canada, cross-pollination in the fields, and contamination of GM-free ingredients during shipping all create problems. http://www.femail.co.uk/pages/standard/article.html?in_article_id=180537&in_page_id=169

Organic farmers hurt by GM contamination

SANTA CRUZ, California, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - Certified organic farmers have reported direct financial and operational impacts associated with the threat of contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a nationwide survey conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF).  One-third of the survey respondents rated the risk of exposure and possible contamination of their organic farm products by GMOs as high or very high. http://ens-news.com/ens/may2003/2003-05-15-09.asp#anchor1

Brazil's rules for GM food alarms Argentina

Brazil's decision to postpone the application of new rules requiring that labels identify GM goods failed to calm nervous exporters in Argentina, where use of the products is extensive. http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/20762/story.htm

EU parliament breakthrough on environmental liability

The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament celebrated a strongly improved proposal for a directive on environmental liability, which was adopted in the first reading in the Strasbourg plenary.

Biodefense could pose bigger safety threat than bioterrorism

Communities across the US are confronting bioweapons in their backyard. But these are not bioweapons from Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. They are part of the a massive expansion of the US biodefense program and their critics say that the US weapons lab plans are neither safe for the environment nor creating peace.  The labs will store and grow the world's most dangerous organisms and create genetically engineered diseases. They will train hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in the perverse science of making biological  weapons.  A UN inspection system for biological weapons, that would have helped protect US citizens, has been sabotaged by the Bush administration. Gateway Green Alliance:  [email protected]   www.gatewaygreens.org

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 1 - GMO trade war: US trying to force-feed the world


The US has decided to challenge the European Union's de facto moratorium on GM foods in the World Trade Organization (WTO).  A case is expected to be filed by "mid-June" at the latest, but "sooner is probably more likely". Nine other countries, mostly "clients" of the US - Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay - are supporing the US complaint.

You can see a video of the entire press conference organised to announce this and accompanying documents here: http://www.ustr.gov/new/biotech.htm

As you will see, in pride of place amongst the US's special guests at the press conference was CS Prakash.  Also present was Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute who co-founded Prakash's AgBioWorld campaign. Prakash's campaign has been driven by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Monsanto and its PR operatives - see Corporate Ghosts:  http://ngin.tripod.com/deceit7.html.

Another contributor was South African GM farmer, T. J. Buthelezi. Buthelezi also has a long established relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry.  With their assistance he has been brought to Washington, Brussels, Pretoria, St Louis, London, Johannesburg, and Philadelphia to help promote GM foods. GM crops are clearly something special when a man advertised as a small farmer has that much time to spend away from his fields! http://ngin.tripod.com/070203d.htm

According to Friends of the Earth, "The Bush White House and American business interests should not have the right to make decisions about what people in Europe get to eat."  But let's not lose sight of the fact that they don't only want to determine what Europeans eat.  By taking the EU to the WTO they hope to scare the bejeezuz out of every country around the world, not least those in the Global South, that might have the audacity to want to make that choice for themselves.  This is a war to decide what the world eats, triggered by the growing global rejection of GM foods.  


Friends of the Earth has urged the EU to staunchly defend the public's right to exercise choice over GM-food.  If the UK Government does not strongly defend the EU case, it will render the UK's own public debate on the future of the GM food meaningless.   The process for dealing with WTO disputes is complex and slow.  It is also secretive, which will mean that public concerns will not be voiced and cannot even be considered. Friends of the Earth Liana Stupples said: "The United States has become the bully in the world playground, forcing through the big business agenda at the expense of democracy and people power.  This action against the EU could be just the first assault on consumer rights." http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/gm_trade_war_who_decides_w.html


The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) denounced the US, Argentina, Canada and Egypt decision to challenge the EU's authorization system on approval of GM foods and crops at the WTO.  "USDA [US Department of Agriculture] Secretary Ann Veneman claims she's fighting for the interests of 'American Agriculture,'" said NFFC President George Naylor. "She must be fighting for the corporate agribusiness agenda because she is definitely not fighting for the interests of the family farmer." Missouri farmer Bill Christison added, "We have suffered a great deal of damage to our trade markets because agribusiness pushed a product on US farmers that people of the world rightfully refused to accept".


Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy denounces desperate efforts by the US to force-feed Europeans with biotech crops by bringing a suit in the WTO.  "This is one more instance of the WTO being used to advance corporate interests at the expense of the public interest," said Anuradha Mittal, co-director of Food First. "As biotech crops and food were snuck onto our supermarket shelves, our regulatory agencies failed to inform Americans, turning us into guinea pigs in the largest field test in history.  To date, no scientist can say with certainty that GE crops are safe." http://www.foodfirst.org/media/press/2003/useuropebiotech.html


Helen Clark's remarkable one woman mission to destroy New Zealand's green and clean image took a dramatic step forward when she signed up to the US's cynical attempt to force feed the world on its GMOs.  The NZ government's decision to join with the US in taking the EU to the WTO is a misguided step that will unravel the high-standing of the NZ Brand internationally.  "This is not just about hurting the feelings of countries across the world who want to control the spread of GE foods. This is about denying people their basic human right to choose what they eat, and about undermining New Zealand's standing with the international community," says Jon Carapiet, from GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

GMO TRADE WAR - TAKE ACTION: see Campaign of the Week

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 2 - Seed patenting: Monsanto shows its true character


Monsanto forbids those using its GM seeds from the age-old practice of saving seeds from one crop to plant the next - and many farmers resent this. The licensing agreement says they must buy new seed each year. Monsanto's tactics are turning many once passive farmers into activists.  

A large-scale Mississippi farmer, Scruggs, helped form Save Our Seed, a farmers' rights group that advocates seed recovery as it has been done for generations.

"I'm opposed to what Monsanto's about," Scruggs said. "They're raping farm communities and breaking farmers, because farmers do not have any other place to go to get this planting seed."

More and more, their differences are ending up in court.  Scruggs is among 73 farmers sued by Monsanto in the past five years on civil claims of patent violations. He countersued, saying that the patents are invalid and that Monsanto enforces a monopoly over the seed industry. He denies that he saved Monsanto seed. The case is pending in US District Court in Tupelo.

The company touts a string of victories in the courts, including a $2.5 million settlement with an Arkansas farmer.  Monsanto has not yet lost a single fight.  Which is hardly surprising, given that it has assembled a staff of 75 and a budget of $10 million a year to win the battle with farmers.  A "Seed Piracy Update" brochure published by the company proudly lists their victories.  But some farmers are battling on, filing class-action lawsuits asserting Monsanto is violating anti-trust laws by gaining control of seed markets.

Further weapons in its arsenal to charm and nurture its customers are: a free and anonymous hot line, so farmers can snitch on their neighbours; a posse of Monsanto spies scouring the countryside; and an unpleasant habit of going out of its way to make examples out of growers it catches violating patents.  Sometimes that means jail http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/News/67C595757A19890886256


A Tennessee farmer, Kem Ralph, who was opposed to Monsanto's GM seed licensing practices, was sentenced in St Louis federal court to eight months in prison and was fined nearly $2 million.  Ralph's attorney, D'Agrossa, said: "As far as I'm concerned, it's a pound of flesh Monsanto has been after for a long time." Missouri state Rep. Wes Shoemyer, a Democrat, complained that the company's commercials encourage farmers to inform anonymously on each other.  "They put a rift in the social fabric of America that I absolutely abhor: Look at your neighbor as someone to turn in."


Percy Schmeiser, another farmer victim of Monsanto, has won the right to take the case to the Canadian Supreme Court to challenge the patent rights of Monsanto.

ARTICLES OF THE WEEK - The week the UK farming community woke up to the threat of multinationals.  Damning articles from the Farmers' Weekly.
The second week in May 2003 may go down in history as a watershed moment in British agriculture's awakening to the threat of multinationals. Farmers Weekly,  9 May, produced a sleuth of aggressively condemnatory articles attacking the increasingly predatory nature of ag-biotech and other food chain multi-national conglomerates. Part of this is the control that biotech companies are gaining over the seed supply, particularly (though not exclusively) related to patentable GM crops.

Here are summaries of three articles:

* "Freedom To Farm - Or Freedom to Follow Suppliers's Orders" - this is the main editorial of the week, an attack on biotech company Syngenta.  This follows the extraordinary announcement that it intends to sell its new hybrid barley only in a package with its own pesticides.  If farmers want the new seed variety they will be obliged also to buy Syngenta's chemical products. Farmers Weekly condemns the decision, stating that "it could be the first step towards a future when every input and production method is rigidly controlled from beyond the farm gate.  That would reduce farmers to operatives working to the rules of multi-nationals.... if the critics are correct freedom to farm could become freedom to follow orders"

* "Will market brawn be enough to make GM wheat a success?" - another condemnatory article on Monsanto's decision to press ahead with the commercialisation of GM wheat, written by Farmers Weekly's US correspondent, a resident American.  Whilst the article claims that the new wheat will lead to higher yields (not the experience of other GM crops), it ridicules the logic of North America introducing a product which is almost guaranteed to destroy its export markets in this crucial crop category.  According to grain marketing experts cited in the article it will be impossible to stop GM varieties getting into other wheat consignments and tainting the marketability of the entirety of the country's wheat production.

   * "In defending farmers against the might of the multinationals, we find ourselves allied to some unlikely fellow travellers" - this is an article by David Richardson who has a weekly column in Farmers Weekly. Mr Richardson is both a long-time farming magazine and TV journalist with an OBE, and just as significantly is a farmer from East Anglia highly regarded in UK farming establishment circles.  Over the last couple of years, however, Mr Richardson's articles have begun to attack the increasing control of the food chain by multinationals and the iron grip that they are gaining over farmers. His latest article is the most remarkable yet. ..."incredibly, according to Mary Hendrickson [a Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Associate from the University of Missouri], there are only five main seed breeders left in the world and not many more producing plant protection products. So, the future of the world's food supplies might be at the whim of a handful of people who will determine which research programmes to follow..." from NLP Wessex: <[email protected]>


An African-American civil rights group recently held a protest against Greenpeace, alleging that the environmental group has committed "eco-manslaughter" through its support of international policies limiting development and the expansion of technology to the developing world's poor.  Greenpeace's "opposition to genetically modified foods" is listed by the civil rights group as among the ways by which "these zealots" cause "misery and death".

The African American civil rights group referred to in the article is CORE - the Congress of Racial Equality.  And although CORE played a leading role in the US civil rights movement from 1942, it has done an about turn and now has a right-wing agenda, playing off its name and its venerable past.  For an article about the protest: http://www.townhall.com/news/politics/200305/NAT20030509d.shtml

For more on the true character of CORE, see:

"Biotechnology is helping farmers increase yields, lower pesticide use, improve soil conservation and water pollution and help reduce hunger and poverty around the world," Ann Veneman, US Department of Agriculture Secretary, claimed. Compare this to the experiences of Missouri farmer Bill Christison: "Where we applied chemicals on our farm [to non-GM crops], we used from 10-15 ounces of chemicals," he said. "If I were using the round-up system [GM Roundup Ready crops], we would probably be using from 60-75 ounces to achieve the same goal. And you know, massive uses of round-up facilitates a fungus which triggers sudden death syndrome in soybeans, greatly reducing yields."

"Justifying its action at the WTO, the U.S. falsely asserts that GE crops will alleviate hunger. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, claims that "biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population." In fact, most GE crops are used as cattle feed to produce meat for consumers in wealthy countries. Furthermore, the increased costs and risks associated with GE crops destroy livelihoods of poor farmers in the Third World." - Food First Denounces U.S. Suit in the World Trade Organization



Friends of the Earth believes this is just the latest Bush government-led attempt to bulldoze the rights of countries in the North and South to protect their people and the environment.  Bush isn't likely to take notice of us alone - but perhaps he'll listen to his own people.  Email your US Ambassador now.  Simply click on the link below and automatically email the US Ambassador in your country. http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/global_trade/press_for_change/email_us_embassy

For more information see: http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/global_trade/news/index.html

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