1 December 2002
US POLICY ON AID IS 'WICKED'
1. US policy on aid is 'wicked' - Meacher
2. Another farmer in legal battle with Monsanto
3. Seeds of discontent
4. GM mutants as toxic as parent plants
5. New GM thresholds in EU worry Canadian exporters
6. ICAR, Proagro lock horns over GM mustard
7. Dow and Plant Research International form biopharming research pact
1.US policy on aid is 'wicked' - Meacher
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Independent on Sunday, 01 December 2002
Forcing starving countries to accept genetically modified (GM) food in aid is "wicked", Michael Meacher, the environment minister, said late last week. He called for "anger to be harnessed" against the policy, which is being vigorously pushed by the United States government.
Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and other southern African countries have refused to accept GM food from the US even though some 12 million people in the region are threatened with famine.
The US , for its part, refused to supply the non-GM grain they requested. Top American officials claim that Americans were eating GM food without ill-effects. One said: "Beggars can't be choosers."
But the African governments say the effects of GM food on health are unknown. They add that poor farmers would be bound to plant GM grain to grow new crops, and would no longer be able to export produce to Europe.
Mr Meacher has been told by experts that plenty of non-GM food is available. He told a meeting last week: "It is wicked, when there is such an excess of non-GM food aid available, for GM to be forced on countries for reasons of GM politics. If there is an area where anger needs to be harnessed, it is here."
Meanwhile Dr Tewolde Egziabher, the manager of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority and one of the Third World's leading authorities on GM food, accused the US of "using the famine to push" GM food. Ethiopia is also facing famine, with 14 million people at risk. He said that his country would not accept GM food aid unless it was milled to prevent it being planted.
2. Farmer says seed dealer forgery led to legal battle with Monsanto
Company forbids saving its seeds
By Beth Hundsdorfer-Gansmann
A Southern Illinois farmer discovered he was in trouble with agribusiness giant Monsanto when U.S. marshals showed up at his Metropolis farm and confiscated his soybean seeds.
That was the beginning of a two-year legal battle in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, waging technology against time-honored farming practices.
Monsanto obtained an injunction against farmer Eugene Stratemeyer after they determined he saved Roundup Ready soybeans, a genetically engineered soybean that is resistant to the herbicide Roundup, to replant the next year.
"I didn't know about this at all. I found out I couldn't replant my own seeds when the marshals showed up on my land and seized my soybeans," Stratemeyer said. "The first time I became aware of this was right then when I found out about the lawsuit."
Under a technology user's agreement farmers are supposed to sign when they purchase the seed, they are prohibited from saving seed for replanting or sale to other farmers.
But Stratemeyer, in a countersuit, claims he never signed such an agreement.
The battle ended last week when a federal jury found Stratemeyer violated such an agreement with Monsanto when he saved and sold Monsanto's soybeans.
The genetically engineered soybean, which was introduced in 1996, won't die when exposed to Roundup herbicide, allowing farmers to spray the entire field, making soybean farming cheaper and less labor-intensive.
Monsanto sued the prominent Southern Illinois farmer to protect its patent on the technology, Monsanto spokesman Janice Armstrong said, and to ensure all farmers using Monsanto seeds are playing by the same rules.
But Stratemeyer contends the contract bans a traditional farming practice of saving seeds from the harvest for replanting next year, and they singled him out because of his stature in the community.
"I definitely feel that they went after me because I was a prominent farmer. They turned me into the proverbial sacrificial lamb," Stratemeyer said. "I was just a country boy and not familiar with the court system, but I didn't feel this was right."
Jurors in East St. Louis awarded Monsanto about $16,000 in damages, plus attorneys' fees and costs. However, the damage award is subject to a federal judge's review and could go up or down.
Even though the verdict went against Stratemeyer, his lawyer, Ronald E. Osman, said it still was a victory because the damages awarded were so much less than Monsanto's request of damages in excess of $800,000.
Testimony during the trial revealed seed dealers commonly sign farmers' names to the seed contracts, or receipts.
Osman has filed a class-action suit against the seed dealers for forging farmers' names on the contracts. The suit maintains that seed dealers are agents representing the company.
"We took this thing to trial to expose the forgery on the part of Monsanto's agents," Osman said. "This is about forgery, plain and simple."
Monsanto denied the seed dealers operate as their agents -- dealers merely distribute the seed, Armstrong said.
The jury refused to award damages to Monsanto for the period before it filed suit against Stratemeyer.
"They didn't award any damages for 1999 and 2000 because of the actions of their agents, the seed dealers," Osman said.
Osman, who defended Stratemeyer for free and farms in Southern Illinois, said the case was important because it demonstrated the conflict between big corporations and farming.
"Stratemeyer didn't ask for this fight, but he's a hard-headed Dutchman who was willing to stand up against Monsanto," Osman said.
The class-action suit filed by Osman still is pending in federal court in East St. Louis.
U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan will determine final damages in the case later this year.
3.Seeds of discontent: Canada's Catholic Church is concerned that agribusiness is taking control of genetically modified crops at the cost of poor farmers around the world
By HARVEY SHEPHERD
November 30, 2002
Maxime Laplante is worried about what genetically modified foods may do to you if you eat them - but that's not his No. 1 concern about them.
As the owner of a small mixed farm in Quebec, he is even more concerned about smaller farmers losing control over their own production. He is worried that agribusiness companies will press farmers into using modified seed and other products - and then make it hard for the farmers to stop using them.
Laplante is general secretary of the Union Paysanne, founded last year to promote human-scale farming in Quebec. As such, he is sometimes consulted these days by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the international-development arm of Canada's Catholic Church, which is concerned about farming trends internationally. Laplante said in a telephone interview that even farms that concentrate on meat and animal products, like his farm near Lotbiniere, on the St. Lawrence south shore about 50 kilometres west of Quebec City, are vulnerable.
Whether it's a canola farmer prosecuted by a big company because seed from its genetically modified canola turned up on his land - this has happened on the Prairies - or the legal threats that might be posed by a patented goat, for instance, the basic dangers are the same.
Concerns like this have been the focus of a campaign this fall by Development and Peace.
Just over a week ago, as International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew toured Africa on a trade mission, 63 boxes containing 180,000 petition postcards addressed to him were delivered to Parliament Hill.
The petition urged the federal government to take a public stand against the patenting of living organisms, especially seeds.
Development and Peace staff said the patenting issue affects small-scale farmers in the African countries Pettigrew was visiting. They said these farmers' food security is threatened by World Trade Organization negotiations on intellectual-property rights that could allow the patenting of life forms, including the seeds that traditional farmers have developed over generations.
Roger Dubois of Winnipeg, president of Development and Peace, said the concept of international property rights should not apply to matters essential to humankind, like farmers' right to own the seeds they use.
Development and Peace also fears that trade negotiations conducted by some arms of the federal government could undermine efforts by others to support agriculture in developing countries.
The Catholic agency noted that Canada was one of four chief negotiators at a World Trade Organization meeting on international property rights last Monday in Geneva, where the controversial issue of TRIPS - trade-related aspects of intellectual-property rights - was on the agenda. (The other negotiators were Japan, the United States and the European Union.)
Dubois estimated that 1.4 billion people in the world depend on farm-saved seeds for their livelihoods.
"For centuries these seeds have been freely saved, exchanged and sold," he said. "The WTO's TRIPS agreement currently endangers farmers' rights to continue these practices."
He said that patents have already been taken out on five main food crops: rice, wheat, maize, soya and sorghum. Six multinational corporations control almost 70 per cent of these patents.
"Farmers who grow patented crops may have to sign contracts and pay royalties to the patent holder to use their seeds, thus jeopardizing their livelihoods," Dubois said.
Development and Peace has two big campaigns each year to raise money for international development. In leaflets distributed for this year's fall campaign, they argued that millions of families in some of the world's poorest countries survive by saving and exchanging their own seeds.
Development and Peace says farmers are often pressured to stop using traditional seeds by government programs offering free seed or advertisements promising higher yields.
However, seeds from crops grown from these seeds cannot be harvested and replanted without a fee. The crops also require costly pesticides and fertilizers.
Development and Peace cites examples from around the world, including the plans of three big companies to plant genetically modified and patented white corn in South Africa.
White corn is central to the diet of millions of Africans, Development and Peace argues, and the companies' plans have prompted fear that prices will rise, threatening families too poor to pay more.
Yet the South African government is spending millions to promote biotechnology.
"Seeds and all living organisms are our collective heritage," Dubois said. "The Earth belongs to all, and life should never be for sale."
For more information about the campaign, go to www.devp.org
4. GM mutants as toxic as parent plants
Friday, November 29, 2002
LONDON (Reuters) -- Genetically modified plants can pass on the same level of toxicity to insects even when they are cross-bred with "natural" plants, scientists in the United States have shown.
A study by researchers at the University of North Carolina will concern environmentalists who say planted GM crops have cross-pollinated with normal plants to create "superweeds" that are resistant to insect attack and could spread rapidly.
"It shows that GM crops can irreversibly pass on their genes to wild plants and contaminate our natural heritage," Greenpeace spokesman, Ben Alyffe told Reuters.
"Once we release GM crops there's no going back. The genie is out of the bottle."
The lab experiment cross-pollinated oilseed rape (canola) containing an anti-pest gene with its natural relative, birdseed rape.
Five of the 11 resulting hybrids "expressed the insecticide produced by the gene at levels similar to the GM parent and were highly toxic to insects," the New Scientist said.
Alyffe said oilseed rape was a particular problem because it pollinated so widely. Earlier this year Canada's expert panel on biotechnology was reported as saying that GM superweeds had invaded Canadian farms.
5. New GM thresholds in EU worry Canadian exporters
CANADA: December 2, 2002
WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Canadian shippers will find it difficult to meet new tolerance levels proposed for genetically modified (GM) grain in the European Union, industry sources said.
EU farm ministers agreed last week to require food and feed containing 0.9 percent or more GM grain to be labeled as such, starting next year. Accidental traces of unauthorized GM grain would be allowed up to a 0.5 percent level for the first three years.
The draft agreement will now return for approval to the European Parliament, where some legislators are calling for stricter tolerances.
The draft rules also apply to labeling of foods produced from GM crops. This means Canadian canola oil, which is produced from GM crops but does not contain the DNA nor protein of GM origin, would have to be labeled, a move that the president of the Canola Council of Canada called disappointing.
"This is not a health and safety issue for food: this is purely political," Barb Isman said.
Currently, Canadian farmers grow GM canola, soybeans and corn, none of which is approved by Europe. Small amounts of non-GM soybeans are shipped from Canada to Europe.
But Canadian canola has been effectively shut out of European markets since 1997, when GM canola was first grown on Canadian farms.
Because of the bulk-handling system for canola - in which GM and non-GM varieties are mixed together at grain elevators and terminals - it's not economically practical to separate the two.
The proposed European rule of 0.5 percent for unauthorized GM grain would make it virtually impossible for any shipper to try exporting non-GM canola to Europe, said Isman.
The draft rules could also hold implications for a debate over whether GM wheat should be commercialized in Canada.
Monsanto Canada is developing a hard red spring wheat that withstands its popular glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup. But many grain industry players worry the wheat will also kill Canadian markets.
More than 80 percent of customers of the Canadian Wheat Board, which has a monopoly on wheat exports, have said they do not want to buy GM wheat. Chief among these are European customers, who on average buy more than 1 million tonnes of Canadian wheat per year.
"The European market is very important to us and if we saw that there were unreasonable tolerance levels there ... we just would not allow GM wheat to go on the market," said Patty Rosher, who manages GM issues at the Canadian Wheat Board.
"It would just be too much of a negative impact on farmers' income," she said.
Monsanto Canada has promised to wait to commercialize the wheat until major markets have established reasonable tolerances, said spokeswoman Trish Jordan.
The company plans to produce the wheat only under tightly controlled contracts outside the bulk-grain-handling system, Jordan said.
"GM wheat is a research project that's a long way away from commercialization," Jordan said. "It's our ability to meet our commitments that will determine when we launch."
But even if GM wheat production is segregated, Rosher said small amounts of seed inevitably would slip into the bulk grain handling system.
Canada could meet tolerance levels of 5 percent, although even those levels would be "difficult and risky," she said.
Rosher said the EU's proposed tolerance levels of 0.5 percent are unreasonable.
"Those are incredibly difficult for a bulk handling industry like the world grain bulk-handling-industry to meet," Rosher said.
That's why the United States is threatening to launch a World Trade Organization action against the EU, Rosher said.
"This is very clearly a trade barrier," she said.
6. ICAR, Proagro lock horns over clearance for GM mustard
The Hindu Business Line
NEW DELHI, Dec. 1
THE controversy over Proagro's genetically modified (GM) mustard is set to intensify, with the company questioning the need to conduct fresh open field trials of the hybrids under the direct supervision of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
``The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, is the final authority to decide on allowing commercial cultivation of our GM mustard hybrids. And as far as we know, the GEAC is only concerned with the food safety and toxicity aspects, and not agronomic performance evaluation, of the hybrids'', said Mr Clive J. Pegg, Managing Director, Proagro Seed Company Private Ltd.
According to Dr Paresh Verma, Director (Research) at Proagro, the company has, on its own, conducted detailed agronomic evaluation of the mustard hybrids. ``We started off with small-scale replicated field trials, including an initial hybrid trial in four locations during the 1997 planting season and two advanced hybrid trials in nine locations each during the 1998 and 2000 seasons. This was followed by large-scale field trials in the 2001 season across nine locations each in Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh and 10 locations each in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat'', he noted.
Dr Verma claimed that in all these 69 trials conducted in five States, ``we have employed the same protocols that ICAR uses to evaluate yield, quality, maturity period, oil content and other agronomic parameters of its own test entries''. Moreover, the agronomic performance of the GM mustard hybrids has been evaluated vis-a-vis the best performing publicly bred national check varieties such as `Kranti' and `Varuna'. Under these circumstances, there was no need to conduct fresh trials under ICAR aegis, he added.
Incidentally, Proagro had made available seeds of its mustard hybrids - MT95003 and MT95005 - for testing under ICAR's multi-locational Advanced Varietal Trials (AVT) during the 2001 rabi season, as part of its All-India Coordinated Research Project on Rapeseed-Mustard (AICRPRM). However, since these trials could be carried out only in four locations - two in UP and one each in Rajasthan and Gujarat - these could not be described as `multi-locational'.
While the ICAR has maintained that trials in four locations were not good enough to generate reliable data on yields or net agronomic advantage of the GM hybrids, Proagro has contended that there was no need to conduct these trials in the first place.
``Such trials are done only for publicly bred varieties or hybrids that are certified by the Central Varietal Release Committee (CVRC). On the other hand, none of the hybrids bred by private seed companies go through the CVRC. And the fact that the hybrids of private breeders, despite not being officially certified, are doing much better compared to the hybrids bred by State-owned seed companies only shows that our trial systems are good enough'', Mr Pegg asserted.
But this is a point that ICAR is unlikely to concede, more so when the hybrids concerned here happen to be genetically engineered. In the case of Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company's (Mahyco's) Bt cotton, the GEAC had directed the company to supply its seeds to ICAR for conducting multi-locational AVTs under the latter's All-India Coordinated Cotton Improvement Project. In fact, these trials were conducted during kharif 2001 in as many as 11 locations in Central and South India and it was only on the basis of these that the GM cotton hybrids were cleared for commercial cultivation in the current season.
``How can a different yardstick be used for GM mustard? Besides, even for credibility sake, it is better for a hybrid, especially a transgenic, to be released based on the agronomic evaluation conducted by an independent body such as ICAR rather than the company's own data. Who will believe Proagro's data?'' a senior ICAR official quipped.
Critics of GM mustard extend this argument to even question Proagro's decision to conduct food safety and toxicology studies of its products (including seeds, leaves, oil and meal) through private bodies such as the Delhi-based Shriram Institute for Industrial Research and Frederick Institute of Plant Protection and Toxicology, Chennai, instead of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) or public institutions as the Indian Toxicology Research Institute, Lucknow and the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition.
7. Dow and Plant Research International form biopharming research pact
Date Posted: 11/29/2002
Chemical Market Reporter via NewsEdge Corporation : Chemical Market Reporter, Nov 11 2002
DOW CHEMICAL Company has further expanded its capabilities in the development and manufacture of plant-based biopharmaceuticals with its recent collaboration with Wageningen, the Netherlands-based Plant Research International BV (PRI). The alliance will focus on the optimization of therapeutic glycoprotein production in plants.
The companies will share their intellectual property portfolios in the area of glycosylated protein production in transgenic plants, including Dow's recently secured patents on the technology to enable glycan production in plants. Dow and Pifi have also initiated a multiyear research collaboration to optimize glycolysation in such systems.
Dow has existing development agreements in the area of transgenic plants with Epicyte Pharmaceutical Inc. and Centocor Inc., under which Dow carries out contract development work on the proprietary monoclonal antibodies in those companies' pipelines. Dow performs all aspects of manufacture from the gene to the purified protein or bulk substance.
The arrangement with PRI differs in that Dow serves as a codeveloper of "technologies that enhance the performance of therapeutic glycoproteins,"says a Dow spokesperson. Dow will then be responsible for bringing the results of the collaboration to market.
Dow points to transgenics as a possible solution to the anticipated capacity crunch in the area of protein-based drugs. The company cites a US Bancorp Piper Jaffray Inc. report estimating 100 therapeutic proteins in the mid-to-late stage pipeline, but a possible shortage in manufacturing capacity.
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