ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

2 January 2003


"The ACRE [the UK's Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment] response to the report, also released on Christmas Eve, is complacent and irresponsible that we are calling for it to be disbanded. It is now so compromised and so heavily involved in defending the GM industry that it is actually operating against the public interest."

1.Who knew about damning GM report?
3.Dow Chemical's Biotech Greenwash


1.Who knew about damning GM report?

The Western Mail: January 1, 2003

OPPONENTS of genetically modified food are demanding to know whether [Welsh] Assembly Members were kept in the dark over a damning government report on GM crops.

The report, which says that the crops are interbreeding with conventional crops and weeds, was released by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Christmas Eve, and could threaten plans to grow GM crops commercially.

Now campaigners in Wales, who led successful protests against GM crop trials in the country, want to know whether the Welsh Assembly Government knew about the re-port's findings before AMs debated the issue just a week before the report was published.

Although it is in favour of a GM-free Wales in principle, the Assembly voted to accept new regulations relating to the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms in Wales on December 18. Nineteen AMs voted against.
Anti-GM campaigners are now writing to Rural Affairs Minister Mike German to find out what he knew on December 18.

Plaid Cymru AMs will also question Mr German when the Assembly reconvenes after the holiday.

Dr Brian John, of GM Free Cymru, said yesterday, ``Defra certainly knew about the contents of this new report on December 18. We want to know whether the key findings were passed through to the Assembly Government prior to the debate in the chamber?

``If they were, who decided not to place the key facts before the AMs during the debate?

``We are quite convinced that if these findings had been placed on the table, they would have scared the living daylights out of AMs, and the draft regulations would not have been passed without considerable modification.'

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Plaid Cymru agriculture spokesman, said if the information in the report had been known to AMs, it would have been raised.

``We have been warning about cross contamination for some time,' he said. ``As opposition parties we certainly weren't made aware of it. ``If the report was issued on Christmas Eve then Defra would have known about it.

``Either they kept the administration in Cardiff in the dark or the administration decided not to pass on the information to us. ``There are some very important questions to ask Mike German on this issue.'

Evidence that GM crops are interbreeding with other crops and weeds was discovered by scientists monitoring British GM crop trials. The Defra report shows that genes from GM oil seed rape, engineered to be resistant to herbicides, contaminated conventional crops up to 200 yards away and also interbred with weeds.

Dr John said anti-GM campaigners were not surprised by the contents of the report.

``We have been warning about these possibilities for almost two years now, and there is abundant evidence from all over the world that gene flow and large-scale pollution are inevitable consequences of GM crop plantings.

``They prejudice not just organic farming but conventional farming as well.

``What is amazing is that the Government has thus far been totally complacent on the issue. The ACRE [Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment] response to the report, also released on Christmas Eve, is also so complacent and irresponsible that we are calling for it to be disbanded.

``It is now so compromised and so heavily involved in defending the GM industry that it is actually operating against the public interest.' Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said the results could cause the Government to think again about the long-term implications of the commercial growing of oil seed rape.

An Assembly spokeswoman said yesterday that they were not aware of the Defra report prior to its publication on Christmas Eve. If they had been aware, copies would have been given to Assembly members. They will be looking at the report and putting it forward to ministers and members as soon as possible.



Our rice, their profit: Public health and seed security are under attack;  procedures for approval of genetically engineered crops are secretive, and test results aren't open to public scrutiny. The proposed gift of Indian intellectual assets by the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vidyalaya is another example of how the nation's interests are thwarted routinely, says Vaijayanti Gupta.

By Dr. Vaijayanti Gupta

Rice research in India faces a new danger from a series of recent developments at the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vidyalaya (IGKV), involving the administration, the scientists, the agri-business company Syngenta and IGKV's collection of the 20,000 indigenous varieties of rice seeds that are available at the institute.

These seeds or 'germ-plasms' were painstakingly collected by the famous Indian rice researcher Dr. Richaria who documented facts about each seed variety in minute detail from the farmers. Recently, a controversy arose over an agreement between IGKV and the agribusiness multinational Syngenta at Raipur, Chattisgarh. IGKV Vice Chancellor V K Patil agreed to sell all of the valuable rice germ plasms collected by Dr. Richaria to Syngenta. A first round of informal talks took place between the IGKV scientists and Syngenta representatives on October 23rd 2002 in Aurangabad; these discussions centered on obtaining funds from Syngenta to conduct combined research in IGKV for the development of hybrid and drought resistant seeds using the Indian rice plasm varieties. These would be marketed by Syngenta and a 'fixed' proportionate royalty given to IGKV from the revenues. The logos of both the IGKV and Syngenta would appear on products.

Following a huge media outcry and protests by civil society organizations across the state, Dr. Patil was summoned for explanation by the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh. He disclosed that there were disagreements on the terms and conditions of the Memorandum of Understanding initially drafted by Syngenta and rigorous revisions keeping IGKV's interests in mind were needed. However, the VC refused to make the final draft of the MoU public. The move of opening the treasure of rice seeds collection to Syngenta was opposed by a few agricultural scientists. The Director of the Hyderabad Rice Research Centre, Dr. B Mishra, was a prominent figure among those critical of the agreement.

There are serious discrepancies in the claims made by the VC of IGKV, and several logical questions are being ignored. While the VC claimed that the talks with Syngenta were preliminary, an earlier press release by IGKV had claimed that these were at an advanced state. Why were the initial talks not held in Raipur, where the IGKV is located and where the public awareness on the issue is far higher? Why is the MoU - that the VC claims has been drafted keeping the interests of the IGKV and Indian farmers forefront - not being released to the public? What is the need to share the research with Syngenta, when the same competence of research on rice is present amongst the scientists in IGKV? At other times, Dr Patil has also claimed that under no circumstance will the IPR on rice research be compromised with and sold to any company. Despite this, there have been moves to transfer Dr Richaria's collection to the International Rice Research Institute (in the Phillipines). Dr. Richaria had during his lifetime opposed this strongly, believing that the IRRI would not serve Indian interests.

Syngenta's history of controversial involvement in rice research and marketing is well documented. In recent years the much hyped "golden rice" was released, allegedly to benefit rice-eating populations of South East Asia, as the answer to the Vitamin A deficiency in nations where the staple food is rice. In countries such as India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, the lack of adequate vitamin A in a rice-based diet causes childhood blindness and up to 1 million deaths a year; genetically modified rice was offered as a plausible solution. However, on scrupulous calculations, it was revealed that to get one's required supply of Vitamin A from golden rice, a child would have to consume absurd quantities of rice each day (9 kg of cooked rice). Moreover the required dose of vitamin A can easily be fulfilled by consuming a few carrots, yams and other vitamin A enriched substitutes. Further, since vitamin A is fat soluble and requires fats and proteins in the body to metabolize it, a malnourished child would not receive the intended benefit from consuimg it. This crucial point was completely ignored by the scientists in Syngenta.

Besides this scientific inadequacy, another big controversy stems from the transfer of publicly funded knowledge to private enterprises for profit. The research leading up to golden rice was largely taxpayer-funded, but golden rice is enmeshed in nearly seventy patents owned by several private companies and institutions. Because of the complexity of licensing arrangements the inventors ceded their rights to Greenovation, a biotech spin-off company from the University of Freiburg, which then struck a deal with AstraZeneca (now Syngenta) to gain "freedom-to-operate" and speed up the transfer of the technology to developing countries. Thus Syngenta was able to acquire exclusive commercial control over a technology that was developed with public funding and purportedly pursued for the greater public good.

Worse still, Syngenta's projection of the benefits of Golden Rice was challenged even by some of the funders. Syngenta claimed that a single month of marketing delay would cause 50,000 children to go blind. The Rockefeller Foundation which funded some of the research pointed out that this claim was still quite far from established, that the research was inadequate, and that publicity and advertising had gone too far in creating hype around golden rice.

The extolling of inconclusive research and appropriation of knowledge for private profit causes great losses both to civil society and public health. Despite widespread controversies over the ill effects on the environment, farming, and health, Syngenta and other agribusiness and biopharma companies continue to develop and market genetically modified products all over the world. When agricultural communities lose ownership of their knowledge and seeds, their socio-economic balance is disturbed significantly. We must evaluate the civil and political values attached to the protection and use of resources. What are the roles of farmers, consumers, scientists, the government, and others in maintaining this balance?

These are compelling questions that need to be asked critically and repeatedly. But the records of deals between Indian administrators, the government, and agri-businesses do not suggest that this is taking place. Monsanto's "terminator technology" would dramatically have reduced farmers' rights to save their seeds, and yet it very nearly was introduced into the nation's croplands. Bt Cotton, which arrived with the promise of pest-resistance, instead generated Bt resistant pests; yet the Genetic Engineeriing Approval Committee granted permission for the widespread planting of this crop, and refused to make test results available for public scrutiny. Herbicides like Roundup (Monsanto) are sold in Indian markets despite being banned in the west for their toxicity and health hazards.

These examples should alert us to deep flaws in the system. Without a serious regulatory environment, and without established procedures for public awareness and scrutiny, far-reaching decisions are made quietly. Dr. Richaria's seed collection could find a similar fate, as one crisis or another grips the national attention. We can ill-afford the lapses in administration or continuing indifference to outright collusion. Rice, the largest staple crop, is especially strategic; how regulatory environments respond to private attempts at monopolising its genome could determine the path taken with other crops as well. What is at stake is Indian farmers' ability to compete in the global marketplace, the food security of the nation, or the public health of the Indian people. But, more than these, such transactions strike at the very foundation of Indian rural life itself.

[Dr. Vaijayanti Gupta is a researcher at the United States National Institute of Health. She was formerly at Syngenta's Torrey Mesa Research Institute in San Diego. This article first appeared on] ---


3.Dow Chemical's Biotech Greenwash

By Tom Price | Alternet / CorpWatch  01/01/2003
Santa Fe New Mexican

Last year a Minnesota-based biotech company, Cargill Dow, unveiled their groundbreaking fleece material called Natureworks, which at first blush seemed to be the environmental wunderkind technology always promised. Rather than spinning the fuzzy fabric from oil, Natureworks uses the natural sugars in corn to create a base material similar to plastic. The result is an annually renewable "green" product, free of the taint of the pollution and controversy of the oil industry. It's also a better product: the corn fabric is as warm as regular fleece, less likely to retain odors and less likely to burn.

Even better, the technology isn't limited to apparel. Cargill Dow has plans to further "green" the marketplace with a bewildering array of corn-based products including carpeting, wall panels, upholstery, interior furnishings, outdoor fabrics, as well as plastics like film around CDs and golf ball sleeves. In June, the company announced a deal with Bed Bath and Beyond to produce a line of "Natural Balance" pillows, comforters and mattress pads filled with Natureworks, and also unveiled new packaging that would utilize Natureworks for milk cartons.

It's even solving the problem of flooding in Taiwan, and what to do with old computers and Walkmen. Just last month, a deal was announced to use Natureworks plastic bags to replace oil based ones in Taiwan. The old models were recently banned because of overflowing landfills and disposal tunnels backing up and flooding due to blockages from the some 16 million bags discarded there daily. No such worries with PLA bags; one you're finished with it, PLA can be completely recycled in commercial compost facilities. That's exactly what will happen to new Fujitsu Biblo Laptops and Sony Walkmen - their cases are set to be made from biodegradable corn based polymers sometime in 2004.

All this from an engineering process that uses half the amount of fossil fuels used in traditional oil-based technologies. In recognition of its achievements, the company received the 2002 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge, Alternative Reaction Conditions Award. The award, given by the Environmental Protection Agency, recognizes companies that reduce or eliminate the need for hazardous materials in manufacturing.

So what would cause environmentalists to raise concerns over the proliferation of these wonder products? In a word, plenty. Missing entirely from Cargill Dow's press materials is any acknowledgement of the fact that the source material for these products is genetically engineered corn, designed by one of Cargill Dow's corporate parents, Cargill Inc., a world leader in genetic engineering.

That's a potentially huge problem, since millions of consumers around the world and several governments have rejected the use of genetically engineered (GE) products, because of the unforeseen consequences of unleashing genetically altered organisms into nature. Before the development of Natureworks, GE materials have been used almost exclusively in food, which have drawn well-organized opposition campaigns; recently Zambia made headlines for turning down an offer of 10,000 pounds of rice from the United States because it was GE.

But with PLA, Cargill Dow may be able to do an end run around the global campaign to stop GE proliferation. By creating so many products with such an irresistible green appeal, voices of concern may be drowned out by the sheer weight of the marketplace. As John Ohman, Cargill Dow's Director of Sleep Products, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in an unintentional double entendre, "This is just the beachhead for a whole new way of doing things."

Of course, this isn't the story Cargill Dow wants consumers to hear. It would rather they logged on to its Web site which boasts that, "Cargill Dow is launching an industrial revolution in which petroleum-based products are replaced with annually renewable ones, in other words, unlimited resources to replace limited ones. Reducing our environmental impact while at the same time producing a superior product is why our company exists."

In fact, Cargill Dow exists to create new markets for the products of its parent companies. Cargill Dow is a stand-alone company created by two leaders in bioengineering, Cargill Inc. and Dow Chemical. Cargill is both the world's largest privately held company and the planet's largest producer of corn. Already Cargill controls about 60 percent of the corn market in India, despite higher prices for its GE corn seed. A study by the Dutch banking conglomerate Rabobank estimates the global market for hybridized and genetically engineered crops at $30 billion and anticipates that it will grow to $90 billion.

Cargill and Dow spun off the new company to take advantage of the strategic strengths of each, namely biotechnology and advanced chemical processes. The first outlet for Cargill/Dow's products was the environmentally friendly, health-oriented, outdoor clothing industry.

Unfortunately for Cargill Dow, it stumbled twice right out of the gate in its promotion of PLA as a "green" alternative to oil-based products. Its first slip-up was when it tried to partner with a "green" leader in the outdoor industry, Patagonia, based in Ventura, Calif.

It seemed a natural fit: Patagonia is well known for its commitment to environmental sustainability and a developer of green technologies. The company jumped at the new technology and spent years working with Cargill Dow on its development. But the relationship eventually soured. As Jil Zillegen, Patagonia Vice President for Environmental Affairs later wrote in the company catalogue, "At first, we could barely contain our excitement about the promise of PLA, it seemed almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was."

Patagonia bailed out of the project when executives discovered that Cargill Dow couldn't - or wouldn't - guarantee a GE-free source of corn for the new fabrics. Currently about 30 percent of domestic corn is genetically engineered. But as Dan Dye, vice president of the North American Grain Group, for Cargill says, keeping the two types of corn separate is "neither practical nor economically viable."

Dye's point is a valid one: the market for non-GE corn is so tiny, and the general market so massive, separating them in just one factory would be prohibitively expensive. Further, since the goal of Cargill Dow is to make PLA cost competitive with petroleum-based materials, any additional costs might price the products out of the market.

So despite the obvious production and marketing benefits of using PLA, Patagonia passed. "We have invested a significant amount of time, research, and even hope in PLA," explained Zillegen. "After many difficult discussions," the company decided, "using inadequately tested, genetically engineered organisms is not a solution to the environmental crisis."

Unfortunately for Cargill Dow, the clothing company didn't slip away quietly. At the trade show where PLA was unveiled, Patagonia devoted two full pages of its catalogue and put up large billboards explaining why it wasn't using the product.

At the same show, Cargill Dow was forced into an embarrassing about-face after it was caught implying it had an endorsement for its products from eco-group Greenpeace. In the weeks leading up to the unveiling, Cargill Dow PR executive Vicki Bausman brandished an article published in Greenpeace UK by Cargill Dow VP for Technology Dr. Pat Gruber in front of the media. After repeated questioning, she admitted that Gruber never told Greenpeace, a long-time opponent of genetically engineered crops, that Cargill Dow intended to use GE corn as their source material.

Not surprisingly, when Greenpeace activists caught wind of Cargill Dow's plans, they were furious. "The proliferation of genetic pollution through these GE crops has the potential to be the greatest environmental disaster in history, and it is highly disingenuous to claim this is green when it uses GE corn," said Craig Culp of Greenpeace USA.

For anti-GE activists, it's an open question whether enough concern will be raised about PLA products to limit their spread before they are so deeply entrenched in the marketplace that removing them becomes impossible. Cargill Dow isn't waiting around to find out. In April of this year, it announced the opening of a new $750 million factory, the largest producer of polylactic acid on the planet. Sprawling over 16 acres of former cornfields in Blair, Neb., the massive facility can generate more than 300 million pounds of Natureworks PLA per year, using some 40,000 bushels of Cargill corn daily. Like it, love it, or hate it, "green" fleece, and just about everything else, is coming soon to a store near you.

Which raises the question of how will consumers react faced with a choice between drilling for oil or dividing DNA? Is oil-free the way to be, or is genetic engineering the greatest concern? They may not have to decide: Cargill Dow says they're working on plans to create processes for using non-GE sources for PLA, such as straw. But until they do, critics of bio-engineered crops see no difference between PLA and the GE corn Kellogg's uses in its cereal. "Kellogg's has Franken-food," quipped Culp, "and Cargill Dow is now making Franken-fleece."

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