ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Date:  5 December 2000


Thanks to Farmpower news for these three interesting NA items:

 1.    Wallace Center in USA Urges Caution on Biotech Crops - cites usage has
        grown much more quickly than the ability to understand or regulate.  More research
        needed.  Quotes from Panel members.  Summary Below.  81-Page Report available
        from web site (see below article) (FarmProgress, 4 December 2000).

2.    Monsanto Contract: To Sign or Not to Sign (FarmProgress, 1 December 2000)
        Contract Liabilities, Disputes, Problems, Questions, Quotes, Delta & Pine Officials, More.
        "After reviewing Monsanto's 2001 Technology Agreement, I would discourage any farmer
        from signing this document," says Dennis Howard, Oklahoma's Secretary of Agriculture.

3.    Canadian National Farmers Union Calls for Moratorium on GM Crops.

*  *  *
1.    Caution Urged on Transgenic Crops

John Vogel, Pennsylvania Farmer, a Farm Progress Publication - 4 December 2000

A new report, Transgenic Crops: An Environmental Assessment, urges a more cautious approach to approving genetically engineered (transgenic) crops.  Released last week, it was generated by sustainable ag scientists and economists from the Henry A. Wallace Center for Agricultural & Environmental Policy, Michigan State, University of Maryland and Portland State University.

While work on the report began more than a year ago, it was released less than a week after Garst Seed reported to USDA that it discovered the StarLink gene in non-StarLink corn marketed in 1998.

One of the first criticisms leveled by the report was that the uses of genetically modified or transgenic crops have grown much more rapidly than our ability to understand or appropriately regulate them.

Despite a large volume of popular literature, adequate scientific research into the benefits and risks these crops pose has not been done. The report recommends greater public research funding, revised research policies, and a better regulatory system to ensure that development and use of transgenic crops deliver public environmental benefits and avoid ecological hazards.

The report identified important gaps in research and regulation. "Although a small core of laboratory and field evidence on the most widely used crops is helping researchers identify environmental benefits and risks, comprehensive assessments that gauge the full range of
factors resulting from differences in geography, weather, pests, and management are not available." So says David Ervin, Wallace Center senior policy analyst.

In the United States, only $7 million of federal research spending has been allocated for  environmental assessment studies. That's approximately 4% of total federal ag biotechnology research funding. They contend private research cannot be expected to address many of the
environmental issues because of insufficient market incentives.

The report also urges a change in priorities giving greater attention to transgenic plant traits with potential long-term environmental benefit to the public. Examples: crops with greater tolerance for pest damage rather than tolerance to pesticides, and crops with lower water and irrigation needs.

Potential environmental benefits of these transgenic crops are substantial. They include fewer, less toxic, or less persistent pesticides; higher crop yields (which may reduce the need to convert
uncultivated land to crops, less soil tillage and lower irrigation needs.

But these researchers also contend the environmental risks are considerable as well. They include the potential for wild plants to become greater weed threats via gene flow from transgenic crops,
development of herbicide, pest, and virus resistance in wild plant relatives, reduced crop genetic diversity in fields and adverse effects on organisms that aren't pests, such as ladybird beetles.

The authors also suggests consideration of a single environmental agency to assume the lead authority on transgenic crops to ensure all environmental effects are assessed and more consideration of social values is given in setting acceptable risk thresholds.

"If poor national or international oversight leads to a human or environmental health catastrophe, it could jeopardize the future of biotechnology and the considerable potential it presents," says Ervin.
"More research and stronger regulatory regimens will help diminish serious risks and ensure a better future for developers, producers, marketers, and consumers of transgenic crops, while protecting valuable natural resources for current and future generations."

The 81-page report is available electronically at
*  *  *
2.    Monsanto Contracts: To Sign or Not to Sign.
Eva Ann Dorris, Mississippi Farmer, a Farm Progress publication - 1 December 2000

Growers who want to plant varieties containing Monsanto's biotechnology traits in 2001 have some decisions to make.

Planting varieties with Roundup Ready or Bollgard traits comes at a price and not just a price that can be paid with dollars. Under the 2001 Technology Agreement, growers have to decide if they believe strongly enough in transgenic varieties to sign away their choice of legal recourse
should the technology or the variety fail to perform.

On the heels of new seed laws enacted or in the works in some states, Monsanto has chosen to address the issue of seed and technology liability through its technology agreement rather than through the courts.

By signing the agreement, growers agree to binding arbitration as the sole method of settling any disputes that might arise involving performance of the seed or the technology traits within that seed. Taking Monsanto or the owner of the seed variety to court is no longer an option.

The American Arbitration Association (AAA), under its commercial resolution procedures, will handle the arbitration. More information on the rules and procedures of this organization can be obtained at

Under the new contract, growers have 15 days from the time any issue regarding performance or non-performance of the gene technology and/or the seed in which it is contained is first observed to contact a Monsanto representative.

Dave Rhylander, director of marketing in Monsanto’s southern region, says the time limit was included in the new contract because in past years some growers have waited until harvest to file complaints, making it difficult to determine the cause or effect of the problem.

If after field inspection the grower and Monsanto cannot reach an agreement as to the cause or fault for the problem and a settlement cannot be reached, the grower may then file a complaint with the AAA.

The AAA will notify Monsanto and/or the owner of the germplasm in question of the complaint and allow a designated time for response.  The cost to file and carry through with the arbitration process varies depending on the amount sought by the person filing the claim. Initially, the half
the cost is paid by each party—half by the grower and half by Monsanto or the company that owns the seed, depending on the whether the complaint is against the technology or the variety. However, in its final judgement, the AAA can apportion fees and arbitrator compensation in the

“This binding arbitration process will be much quicker and easier for all parties,” says Rhylander. “We want a quick resolution for farmers when there is a problem. Binding arbitration has become a common method of resolving disputes in many industries, because our legal system is just so backed up.”

Steve Hawkins, president of Delta and Pine Land Company, says he supports the new agreement and feels it allows farmers a “clear path to get their disputes taken care of. This agreement is not intended to limit their ability to dispute, but to add structure to the process.” Adds Rhylander: “We feel this process is quicker, fairer to both sides and comes to completion sooner. It is not an attempt to skirt the issues. We all want any disputes settled quickly by knowledgeable people of agriculture.”

However, Rylander admits the current resource pool from which the AAA selects arbitrators is weak on people trained in agriculture. “This is something we, as an industry, are working on and are asking ag agencies and commodity groups to help us with. The AAA will be recruiting and training arbitrators with extensive agriculture backgrounds. The entire industry needs to help identify these people,” says Rhylander.
The contract, a mere two pages in length, packs a lot of punch. By signing this contract, growers also must accept Monsanto’s Exclusive Limited Warranty, which states “that the limit of liability of Monsanto or any seller for any and all losses, injury or damages resulting from the use or handling of a product containing Monsanto’s gene technology . Shall be the price paid by the grower for the quantity of such product involved or, at the election of Monsanto or any seller, the replacement of such quantity, .  in no event shall Monsanto or any seller be liable for any incidental, consequential, special or punitive damages.”

Another issue within the contract is the acknowledged awareness by growers that grain with certain Monsanto biotechnologies is not yet approved for export and must be channeled into appropriate U.S. markets.  Also stated in the contract is the policy that Monsanto does not warrant
the performance of non-Roundup-brand herbicides on Roundup Ready crops, even though those herbicides are labeled for use on Roundup Ready crops.

Rylander says anyone wishing to purchase seed containing Monsanto’s Roundup Ready or Bollgard technologies will have to sign the new contract.  That’s a decision ag leaders say growers should not take lightly.

“After reviewing Monsanto’s 2001 Technology Agreement, I would discourage any farmer from signing this document,” says Dennis Howard, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Agriculture. “Not only does this contract severely limit the options of the producer, it also limits Monsanto’s liability. Marketing agreements and contracts are only effective if they serve to protect the interests of all parties involved. The protection of the Monsanto contract is strictly one-sided and I would encourage producers to carefully consider this before entering into this agreement.”

In Mississippi, where close to 50% of that state’s 1.6 million-acre soybean crop was planted to Roundup Ready soybeans in 2000, and where stricter seed quality laws were put into place this year, another warning is heard.  Alan Blaine, Mississippi State University Extension soybean specialist, says he believes this new agreement pushes growers to put a lot of faith in varieties they know little about. “Despite the growing pains of transgenic varieties, our growers have jumped right in and planted Roundup Ready soybeans,” says Blaine. “But I believe this agreement puts the seed industry and growers at a real crossroads, and I’m not so sure this agreement is going to set too well with the people who have to pay for this technology.”

Bill Hawks, a north Mississippi grower, planted 5,500 acres of Roundup Ready soybeans in 2000. However, he says he’s going to have to look “long and hard” at this agreement.

“I will have to take this to my personal attorney and let him advise me on this one,” says Hawks. “It looks like if we sign it, we are giving up a lotof our rights.” ((Developed for by Farm Progress.  Copyright 2000, Farm Progress. )
*  *  *

3.    Canadian Farm Union Calls for Moratorium on Frankenfoods.
By Kim Mannix.

Members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) are calling for a moratorium on the production, importation, distribution and sale of genetically modified (GM) food until an informed debate between citizens, farmers and government officials can occur.

The NFU released its request for a ban on GM food and a policy outlining measures it wants to see taken on the issue during its annual convention, which wrapped up this weekend in Saskatoon.
The policy outlines several concerns, including poor profits due to worldwide rejection of GM foods, corporation control over family farms, and a lack of investigation into the potential health and environmental risks of genetically modified food technologies.

“Farmers are really starting to question the profit-enhancing ability of products that seem to be shutting them out of markets worldwide, because there’s a huge proliferation of these products in the market right now that consumers haven’t been demanding,”  said NFU president Cory Ollikka.

The NFU said farmers looked to genetically modified technologies that claimed higher returns or reduced costs, but over the past few decades they have watched as their farm income fell.  As markets shrink and prices fall, any economic benefits farmers can achieve are usually outweighed by corporate control over technologies such aspatented seed production, the NFU policy states.
Ollikka said a call for a ban on GM food production would send a message to the corporations and the politicians in Ottawa, without hurting small farmers.

“The people who would be losing the most right now are the people who have the most to gain, and that’s the developers of these products,” he said.  “Forgive me if I have little sympathy for costing companies like Monsanto a little bit of money.”

The policy recommends several changes to the current system, including an end to the export of GM foods and seeds to countries that lack adequate regulations to inspect such products.
It also asks that the government hold genetic modification companies accountable for any genetic
pollution costs their products cause, and strict labelling that identifies GM food for the consumer.

It asks that all food, GM and non-GM, be adequately tested, regulated and inspected, and that prior to environmental release, GM organisms are subjected to stringent environmental assessment.
“We’re not so naive to think that we’re never going to see this again, even if the government were to turn around and follow our policy to a tee, but we’re asking for better scrutiny and regulation, especially over new technologies,” said Ollikka.

He said, in the past, politicians have been unwilling to publicly discuss or address the issue, and he is hopeful that this new, comprehensive policy will change that. “We’re very pro-public scrutiny on this issue and we’re going to continue to press politicians to take a good, hard look.”

Nadège Adam
Health Protection Campaigner
Council of Canadians
502-151 Slater Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5H3
Phone: (613) 233-4487, ext. 245, Cell:  (613) 295-0432 Toll Free:  (800) 387-7177
Fax:  (613) 233-6776


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