ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

4 October 2002


from AGNET OCTOBER 3, 2002 -- II

U.S. consumers challenge spread of biotech food
EU to go ahead with GM food labelling - WTO papers
GM contamination no reason to lift zero-tolerance policy
S. Africa offers to mill GM food for stricken region
Make farming sustainable, equitable - Vandana Shiva
Poor farmers in a spin - Guardian article on Bt cotton and Pakistan

October 3, 2002
Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Mo.- Tomato genes crossed with fish. Vegetables that glow in the dark. Much of the modern-day lore surrounding genetic modifications to food has the ring of science fiction. But, according to this story, with real-life genetic alterations now embedded in a myriad of commonplace food products from produce to potato chips, Americans are starting to sit up and take their supper seriously. The story says that from the West Coast to the East, grass roots consumer groups are lining up alongside a mix of scientists and environmentalists, challenging corporate giants to answer questions about what is happening to the food they eat. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecology professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of a national committee of scientists studying the environmental impact of commercialized transgenic crops, was quoted as saying, "We don't necessarily know what we're doing. We're making major transformations of the environment. This simply calls for regulation." The story says that in a landmark move, Oregon citizens are seeking to do just that, placing on their November ballot a measure that would require all foods containing at least one-tenth of 1 percent of genetically modified material to be labeled as such. The measure extends to dairy and meat products derived from animals that have eaten genetically modified corn or other substances. Opponents of the measure say it would create costly and complicated red tape, and would force senseless situations such as requiring deli operators and restaurants to label the sandwiches and salads they serve up. Shannon Troughton, a spokeswoman for Monsanto Co., was quoted as saying, "It is meaningless information that would come at a high cost for consumers." The story says that the company is working with a group of other biotechnology companies and food industry giants such as General Mills Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and PepsiCo Inc. to try to stop the labeling law. Together, they have chipped in nearly $4.6 million to the "Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law." The chief supporters of the bill have raised less than $85,000. Despite the powerful opposition, several other states, including California, Colorado and Vermont, are pursuing similar initiatives. Oregon ballot organizer Katelyn Lord was cited as saying opponents was exaggerating the law's complications and that there were many reasons genetically modified food should be clearly identified, including a basic right of consumers to know what they are eating, adding, "There are as many reasons as there are people.We label sugar, salt, calories ... and I don't think anybody questions whether or not we need to know that." Jeanne Merrill, a representative of Greenpeace, an avid opponent of genetic engineering of food, was quoted as saying, "It's become a huge problem. Universities are to benefit the public interest, not corporate profits and corporate patents."

October 3, 2002
Wall Street Journal
LONDON - Europe is set to press ahead with plans to require food companies to label products containing genetically modified ingredients, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing documents filed at World Trade Organization. The US earlier this year made an informal complaint at the WTO that the planned European labeling initiative would discriminate against farmers and food processors in the US, where bioengineered crops are common. The EU indicated in these documents that it will not back down from its hard-line stance on genetically modified foods, citing "very strong evidence that European consumers are interested to know whether their food is derived from genetically modified organisms." The EU called it "totally justified for labeling to provide them with this information." The US has threatened to make its complaint formal -- launching a trade war -- if Europe does not scrap the labeling measure that has so far won preliminary approval from the European Parliament. European agriculture and environment ministers will vote on the labeling measure in two weeks, the Journal said, adding if the ministers approve it, the measure could become law next year. Details of the legislation are still under discussion and people close to the situation said it looked too close to call, it said.

October 3, 2002
ZURICH - Swiss opponents of genetically modified (GM) foods vowed on Thursday to force a referendum on banning the products after parliament turned down a five-year moratorium on outdoor tests of altered organisms. The lower house of parliament voted late on Wednesday against adopting a temporary ban when it narrowly approved draft legislation regulating the use of GM products. Opponents had pushed for a moratorium to allow more time to gauge any potential risks that scientifically engineered foods might pose to the environment or to people who eat them. A coalition of environmentalists and farmers who want Switzerland to remain GM-free said they would start early next year with the process for getting a binding referendum on a 10-year moratorium. "The main objective is to prevent the commercial application (of GM products)," the organisers said. "Swiss agriculture wants to remain free of genetic technology, and this is the wish of the large majority of its customers." The legislation is still awaiting final parliamentary approval once the upper and lower houses of parliament can iron out differences between the versions they have adopted. The law lays down criteria on when GM projects can move from the laboratory out into the field and tightens labelling of foods that contain GM ingredients. Swiss researchers and industry hailed parliament's rejection of a moratorium, which they said would have put unacceptable restrictions on their work. Basel-based Syngenta, the world's biggest provider of products that help farmers fight pests and weeds, heaved a sigh of relief at the vote after an emotional debate. "We were clearly concerned at Syngenta because we wanted good conditions in our home base, Switzerland. However, our big concern was about the effect on real research here," said Arthur Einsele, the company's point man on the issue. "A moratorium would have negatively influenced research in Switzerland and that was our main concern," he added. "It would have been the first de jure moratorium in Europe." In a 1998 referendum, Swiss voters rejected by a two-to-one margin a measure that would have outlawed production of transgenetic animals and forbidden the release of genetically altered plants and animals into the environment.

October 3, 2002
Associated Press
Ray Lilley
WELLINGTON, New Zealand - NZ deputy director general of agriculture, Larry Fergusson, was cited as saying Thursday that New Zealand unwittingly grew hundreds of banned genetically engineered maize plants early this year, and that tests have confirmed about 800 genetically engineered, or GE, maize plants were grown from batches of seed contaminated with some GE seed imported from the United States. Fergusson said the estimated 800 plants were among a total 1.8 million maize plants grown from the imported seed, and that maize is used to feed cattle in New Zealand. The seeds that produced the contaminated crop were imported from the St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto Co. and from the Iowa-based Garst Seed Co, officials said earlier. Fergusson said it was likely the GE seed was missed in seed companies' testing because of the "relatively small" amounts of contaminated seed present. It was unlikely that the affected crops pollinated nearby fields containing similar crops, he added. Fergusson was further cited as saying the tests have shown one seed sample contained the GE variety Yieldgard and probably Bt176.  Another imported strain contained the GE variety Libertylink.

October 3, 2002
New Zealand Herald
Simon Terry, executive director of the Sustainability Council, writes that the federal Government is, according to this story, expected to confirm today that a crop of East Coast maize was GM contaminated. If so, what does this mean? It means that the stricter seed import requirements now in place for maize should have been there at least two years ago. It does not mean New Zealand has lost the option to be a GM-free food producer. Nor does it mean GM contamination must be accepted as routine. And it does not mean that we need contamination "thresholds". Contaminated seed imports are a biosecurity issue. Seed imports were identified early as a significant risk and, in the absence of strong border controls, accidental contamination was likely to occur sooner or later. At the national level, the "GM-Free New Zealand" food brand is largely unaffected by a contamination incident if the standard is no contamination, there is meaningful enforcement and there is a serious effort to clean up once any contamination is detected. Terry says that when individual food producers label their goods GM-free, that is a claim about the purity of a particular product. These claims can be individually tested and some major food companies do, in fact, test every batch of ingredients for GM content. Consumer resistance to GM content is so strong in Europe and parts of Asia that even companies which sell GM seeds and also manufacture food, will produce GM-free lines. So if major food companies do not accept that GM contamination is routine, and many actively source product to avoid this, a nation that positions itself as a premium food producer would surely not accept contamination as routine. Yet that is what some GM agriculture proponents are suggesting. The favoured reform is "thresholds" - the setting of allowed contamination limits. Terry says that by implication this is an argument for contamination thresholds on food as well as seeds. You cannot have legal seeds and an illegal crop. Making contamination legal would require a law change. This was the policy switch considered nearly two years ago when it was suspected that Gisborne sweetcorn was contaminated. However, shortly after this time, the Government ruled out the idea of setting thresholds. Instead, it developed new regulations based on zero tolerance that require testing every seed shipment originating from countries judged to be higher risk. It announced these new requirements for maize just days before the first indications of maize contamination were reported in early August. Essentially, the requirements apply only to those countries where there is commercial production of GM crops. Just four countries - the United States, Canada, Argentina and China - account for over 98 per cent of all commercial Terry goes on to say that Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton last month told South Canterbury Federated Farmers the nature of the challenge as he saw it: "If you want to use this method, then you have to convince the 80 per cent of New Zealanders who are willing to consider GM but who have concerns about issues raised, and, in the absence of good answers about those questions, see no reason to have GM here." This is the frontier in the GM debate - not the call to make contamination legal.

October 3, 2002
LUANDA - South Africa was cited as offering on Thursday to mill 600,000 tonnes of genetically modified grains sitting at its ports while hunger-stricken countries in the region decide whether or not to accept the gene-altered foods. Regional leaders said in a communique at the end of a two-day annual summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that they had allowed individual countries to make the choice of accepting or rejecting GM food aid.

October 3, 2002
The Hindu
Vandana Shiva, Director, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi, writes that there are two paradigms in a contest for the future of food and farming. One is based on non-sustainable production on large scale industrial farms with costly hybrid/GM seed and agrichemical inputs monopolised by a handful of biotech/agrichemical giants, such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and Dupont, and globalised trade controlled by a handful of agribusiness corporations, such as Cargill, ADM and Pepsico. Corporate profits and global trade gains while millions go hungry. The other is based on small farms, ecological/organic internal inputs/systems, which are low cost and accessible to poor producers. Localisation, not globalisation, as the principle for trade and distribution and building food security upwards and outwards from the household to the community to regional, national and global levels. The industrial, large scale, globalised food system is non-sustainable and a source of economic inequality and food insecurity. It is also based on a false economy - both at the production and distribution level. Shiva says that the false economy of the industrialised, globalised system is based on pseudo productivity at the level of production. While "high efficiency" and "high productivity" are the most common justifications for the spread of industrial techniques in agriculture, these systems have low productivity in the context of total resource use and total output. Small biodiverse farms have much higher productivity both in terms of resource use efficiency and higher production of biomass and nutrition per acre. The artificially constructed "efficiency" of industrial farms is based on excluding the high resource inputs (and focussing only on labour as an input) and focussing only on "yields" of single commodities while ignoring the diverse outputs of biodiverse farms. This false productivity calculus has then been used to claim that without industrial agriculture, pesticides and GMOs the world cannot be fed. The solution to hunger and poverty is, however, the promotion of ecological, organic, biodiverse, small farms, which conserve resources by using less energy and natural resources, reduce costs on inputs and produce more nutritional output per unit acre. Shiva adds that the shift from open pollinated farm saved seeds to non-renewable hybrids and GM seeds has led to high levels of crop failure, farm indebtedness and farmers' suicides. Not only are the seeds costly, they have to be bought every season and with them have to be bought costly pesticides and herbicides. Indian peasants are spending more than Rs. 1.32 trillion on seeds and chemicals under the globalisation regime. These costs are sure to rise as `super weeds' and GM seeds and the failure of ecological narcotics create `super pests'. In addition, the claims of yields by seed/biotech corporations are usually false and inflated. Shiva goes on to conclude that it is time for citizens worldwide to insist that taxes and public money be used for enhancing public good, not for subsidising global corporations and private profits.

October 2, 2002
The Guardian
Shahid Husain,7843,802582,00.html
Monsanto, having made inroads into India, the world's largest cotton producer, is, according to this story, trying to break into the Pakistan market to sell GM cotton seeds, despite the reservations of scientists and lack of biosafety laws. The story says that in a country short of water, Monsanto is making much of the fact that Bt (bioinsecticide) cotton needs less water than the staple food crop of rice. The story adds that Monsanto is lobbying to persuade Pakistani society to introduce Bt cotton and other GMOs, but so far, despite the urging of Pakistan's department of trade and industry, the department of environment has refused to introduce the required legislation. Guidelines were passed to environment ministers 21 months ago, but they are not prepared to be interviewed about the delay. Cotton is vital for Pakistan's economy. According to official statistics, a shift has occurred from rice to cotton.  The area under rice - a more water intensive crop - during 2001 fell by 369,000 hectares to 2.01m hectares, while the area under cotton increased by 234,000 hectares to 3.16m hectares. Poor farmers in Pakistan live under an exploitative feudal system of giving part of their crop to landlords as a form of rent. As many as 41.2% of the 140 million people in Pakistan live below the poverty line. Anwar Nasim, chairman of the national commission on biotechnology, was cited as saying there should be a "balanced approach" towards Bt cotton. He rejects the idea that Monsanto will acquire a monopoly on the seed business, arguing that this could happen only if Pakistani scientists were prohibited from undertaking research. Amir A Mirza, a manager at Monsanto, based in Lahore, was quoted as saying, "All countries using Bt cotton have reported a significant drop in the use of insecticide sprays. In China and Mexico, total insecticide use has fallen by 60-80% following the introduction of Bt cotton. In India, cotton farmers account for the sale of nearly 50% of broad-spectrum insecticides. They have found that, in the case of pest attacks on conventional crops, even 12 to 14 sprayings with insecticides could not save the crop. Since insecticides are costly, it may not make much economic sense for farmers to spray their fields when the level of infestation is low. Therefore, they may tend to write off small swathes of infected crop. With the use of Bt seeds, plants are protected all the time, so farmers don't need to forgo even small portions of the crop.  Overall yield thus improves significantly."

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