WEEKLY WATCH number 193 (21/9/2006)

from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor

Dear all:

The illegal GM rice contamination scandal rolls on. According to the reports of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post etc., it's creating an unprecedented economic crisis for rice farmers, a major headache for food firms and importers, and lawsuits for the polluter, Bayer. And it's just one example of what the Washington Post headlined as the "GENE-ALTERED PROFIT KILLER" (GM RICE CONTAMINATION SCANDAL).

So it's all the more tragic to see pro-GM lobbyists like the former head of the South Australian Farmers Federation doing their level best to mislead farmers into following the US down the GM toilet with spin about GM saving farmers "millions of dollars". Fortunately, the Australian states are standing firm on their GM moratoriums (AUSTRALASIA).

Look out for our LOBBYWATCH piece on how the Royal Society is blasting lobby groups for their Exxon funded climate change denial while exactly the same groups work hand in glove with the RS on promoting GMOs.

Claire [email protected]
www.gmwatch.org / www.lobbywatch.org




Washington Post (excerpts) - The disclosure last month that American long-grain rice has become widely contaminated with traces of an experimental, gene-altered rice has provoked an economic crisis for farmers and reignited a long-smoldering debate over the adequacy of U.S. oversight of biotech food.

"The damage has been done and it is still being done," said Adam J. Levitt, a partner in the Chicago office of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLC, who led a class action lawsuit that won $110 million for farmers after gene-altered and unapproved StarLink corn appeared in food in 2000. "They've really in a very substantial way poisoned the well."

Even if Bayer succeeds in deregulating LL601, farmers will still face international rejection -- a potentially major hit, since most rice profits are from overseas sales.

The painful economic impact of the illegal GM rice crisis - described by an attorney acting for rice farmers as "a catastrophe" - is only the latest instance of major economic damage being inflicted by the GM industry.

Thanks to GM, American farmers have already suffered the loss of their corn export market to the EU while US soybean exports to the EU, historically America's most lucrative overseas market, have also now "dropped to almost economically insignificant levels".

The Wall Street Journal reports that the latest GM contamination scandal is not just hitting farmers. It's also proving a major headache for importers and the food industry: "Companies are struggling to find reliable suppliers and to avoid legal suits by testing their product lines." On top of that, "food importers may face costly legal challenges..."

"The rice scare underlines problems facing food companies and biotech firms world-wide... techniques for stopping biotech crops crossing into the food chain by accident are imperfect. Companies are struggling to find reliable suppliers and to avoid legal suits by testing their product lines... Farmers, importers and biotech firms are beginning to feel the sting." - The Wall St Journal

"This is bad news for Arkansas... It is the state's main farm export, adding about $1.55 billion yearly to the economy and generating an estimated 20,000 jobs: quite a few of them at Riceland Rice, the world's largest miller and marketer of the stuff." - The Economist

"This is a catastrophe for Missouri rice farmers." - St Louis attorney Don Downing

Britain's official food safety watchdog has privately told supermarkets that it will not stop them selling an illegal GM rice to the public. Peter Ainsworth, the shadow environment secretary, described the agency's conduct as "a massive scandal" and said it "smelt of a cover-up". He said he would be asking for an official investigation into whether the agency had broken the law.

The Independent on Sunday comments as follows on the FSA's pro-GM bias: The Agency has already, in its short life, done much to undermine public confidence in its competence and impartiality, taking a seemingly uncritical approach to GM food despite evidence of cause for concern. It has lost no opportunity to attack organic produce. Even a review of its own performance last year found the "vast majority" of its stakeholders considered it biased.

There were signs that the agency might have begun to change its ways, but today's news shows that it is, in fact, worse than ever.

The FSA's failure to order the illegal rice's withdrawal has been strongly criticised by a former GM adviser to the US government's Environmental Protection Agency, Doug Gurian-Sherman. "We should be taking a more cautious approach," he said. "Risks should not be taken with public health for the convenience of companies or of government. It sets a very bad precedent to make safety assessments based on data that is incomplete."

According to Gurian-Sherman, now with the Centre for Food Safety in Washington DC, there simply was not enough evidence to judge whether the contaminated rice was safe or not. "I wouldn't eat it myself," he said.


Back to the Archive