ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

31 October 2002


1. Puerto Rico: host for 'pharm crop' experiments
2. President Lula's victory could keep Brazil GM-free
3. p v satheesh on UK government's economic review

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1. Puerto Rico: Host for 'pharm crop' experiments

San Juan, 29 Oct (IPS/Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero) -- Puerto Rico is host to open air field experiments with genetically modified (GM) plants unfit for human consumption as food, according to a recent report by Genetically Engineered (GE) Food Alert, a US-based coalition of environmental and consumer advocacy groups.

The GM plants in question, commonly called 'pharm crops', are produced by introducing mammalian genes into plants like corn, soya, rice and tobacco. They secrete industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals in their tissues, and are therefore not edible.

The tests are part of an ongoing attempt to 'grow' drugs, with the hope that the process will be cheaper than manufacturing.

The chemicals these plants produce include vaccines, growth hormones, clotting agents, industrial enzymes, human antibodies, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

The report, titled Manufacturing Drugs and Chemicals in Crops, points out that Puerto Rico is one of four main centres in the US for these tests. The other three are the states of Nebraska, Wisconsin and Hawaii.

According to GE Food Alert, the US Department of Agriculture has approved over 300 pharm crop field tests since 1991, in secrecy and with no public debate.

These plants are by no means the only experimental GM crops grown in Puerto Rico. This Caribbean island has been host to 2,296 USDA-approved GM open-air field tests as of January 2001, according to 'Raising Risk', a report by the US Public Interest Research Group and GE Food Alert.

This makes Puerto Rico host to more GM food experiments per square mile than any US state, except Hawaii.

Puerto Rico is not a state. Its residents are US citizens but have no voice or vote in the US Congress or in the UN.

Environmental activists, consumer advocates and organic farmers warn that GM crops are risky, but that the risks of pharm crops are exponentially bigger.

"Just one mistake by a biotech company and we'll be eating other people's prescription drugs in our corn flakes", warned Larry Bohlen, director of health and environment programs at Friends of the Earth, in a press release.

"How will crops that are engineered to produce industrial chemicals or drugs affect soil micro organisms or beneficial insects?" asks the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, a Canada-based think-tank.

"Will pharmaceutical proteins be altered in unforeseen ways? Could they cause allergies? What if biopharmaceutical crops end up in animal feeds?"

Fears of unapproved GM products accidentally entering the human food supply are not unfounded. In late 2000, traces of Starlink, a variety of GM corn not approved for human consumption, were found in supermarket products in the US.

No less than 143 million tons of corn were contaminated with Starlink, according to its creator, the Europe-based Aventis corporation. Seed companies, farmers, processors and food makers spent over $1 billion and six months trying to get rid of this unwanted GM corn.

Critics also point out that GM crops can pollinate wild relatives and non-GM fields, with unforeseeable consequences. The presence of GM corn has already been documented in rural communities in Mexico, even though genetically modified crops are prohibited there.

When asked about genetic engineering in agriculture, Puerto Rico agriculture secretary Luis Rivero-Cubano said that the only such crops in the Caribbean island are experimental.

But Puerto Rico Farmers Association president Ramon Gonzalez has revealed that he plants GM crops in his farm in the town of Salinas. He said that genetically modified crops in Puerto Rico are commercial and include a herbicide-resistant soya plant made by Monsanto and a variety of corn that produces its own bio-pesticide, known as Bt corn.

The soya in question, known as Roundup-ready, can resist repeated applications of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

According to Gonzalez, the harvested GM crops planted here are sold as seed to be planted elsewhere. "Puerto Rico is the preferred place to make seed because our weather permits us to have up to four harvests a year."

A phone call to the local offices of the US Department of Agriculture proved fruitless, as none of the employees seemed to know anything about genetically engineered crops.

The local office of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was no more helpful. Its spokesman Jose Font stated that agriculture does not concern the EPA unless toxic pesticides are involved.

Local regulatory agencies seem to be unaware of the issue.

A spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board told IPS that since Puerto Rico has no laws or regulations for GM crops, it has no mandate to intervene or investigate.
2. President Lula's victory could keep Brazil GM-free
From: "NLP Wessex" <>

This week Luiz Lula has been successful in his bid for the Presidency of Brazil.

A week is a long time in politics, especially in Latin America, but on the face of it his election could be a major victory in the battle to restore the gm-free status of the global food supply (see earlier Reuters report below).

Brazil is the largest grower of soya outside the US and its previous policy of prohibiting GMOs has meant that it has been gaining markets at the expense of the United States and Argentina (the world's second largest grower of GM soya).

[see also: GM-free soybeans help boost Brazil‚s economy
Brazil GM-free corn exports seen at record high]




October 3, 2002
By Reese Ewing (Via Agnet)

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Should leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva win Brazil's presidential election this month, biotech companies such as Monsanto Co. can, according to this story, expect his government to uphold the country's ban on genetically modified food crops.

Lula's agricultural policy advisor, Jose Graziano da Silva, was quoted as saying (with a straight face -- dp),, "We want to establish a reputation as GM-free. We get premium prices on specialty markets that our competitors - the U.S. and Argentina - don't because they plant GM."

The story says that selling Brazil as GM-free is part of Lula's broader agricultural policy that expects to boost trade revenue from farm goods by exploring value added and niche markets abroad.

Lula of the left-wing Workers' Party (PT) is far ahead of other candidates in the polls just three days before the first round of voting this Sunday. Although the PT has distanced itself recently from militant small farmer and rural landless workers, they are still a rural pillar of its political base and strongly oppose GM crops as deleterious to small farms.

In this agricultural Goliath of Brazil, the potential market for gene-altered crops - such as soy designed to survive a strong glyphosate weed killer or corn that secretes a natural bug repellent - has the biotech sector salivating.

However, Monsanto and the current government have failed over the last four years to end Brazil's ban on GM sales. Consumer and environmental watchdogs have succeeded in using local courts to block any commercial use of the crops, despite most farmers' preference for the cost-saving technology. The Brazilian Association of Seed Producers (Abrasem) was cited as saying the ban is ruining their industry as farmers facing stiff competition abroad turn to the black market to buy the technology, which promises to reduce costs and raise yields.

Official state-registered seed producers, who are only allowed by law to sell conventional soybean seed, say they are watching their orders plummet. Over half of the soy crops in the No. 2 and No. 3 producing states in Brazil's South are believed to be planted from illegal GM seeds smuggled in from across the Argentine border where they are widely planted and sold, said Abrasem.


3. P V Satheesh on UK government's economic review

from SATHEESH <>
Dear Prime Minister

We feel quite alarmed that UK which was in the vanguard of sensible, farmer-oriented agriculture is suddenly tilting towards corporate-controlled, profit-motivated GM agriculture which as our own discussions with the small and family farmers of UK has revealed is sure to sound the deathknell of what is left of the farming community in UK.

In fact we do not understand the very rationale for UK to go for GM crops. As our own experiences in this country have told us, the much publicised Bt cotton has either suffered multiple problems or the farmers are spraying as much pesticides on it as they would on conventional cotton. On the other hand, the yield levels have not been appreciably different between conventional cotton and the Bt Cotton. What is certain is that seed costs have been multiplied several times making farming so much more expensive for farmers without any guarantee that the returns would offset their expenses. These are real life experiences of thousands of farmers with whom we work on a day to day basis. They tell us a very different story from that told in the glossy publicity brochures or the doctored researches of the GM Industry.

When we were in Oxfordshire early this year with a group of small women farmers, it was very sad for us to witness how eroded the knowledge and confidence of farmers was in that region. We assume that this is not very different from the situation prevailing in other parts of UK. In spite of this severe loss of knowledge and confidence, the farmers were presenting a picture of hopelessness and helplessness. Compared to them the very marginal women farmers whom I accompanied, women were growing their traditional landraces employing their traditional organic methods in their biodiverse farming systems were constantly talking a language of confidence. This sets apart people who are rooted in their agriculture and those who are uprooted from their agriculture.

When you start looking at the Cost and Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops, I hope you will also start looking at the social costs and benefits of your agriculture. those of us who have from the beginning looking at it from varied perspectives that farmers look at their agriculture, already see the way they can put a final nail on the coffin of farming communities in UK.

That the Scoping Note does not seem to have offered a non-GM option appears to be a major setback for an impartial enquiry into the costs and benefits. The second flaw is to treat GM as an upgradation of agriculture in business and economic terms. Any reality check tells you that the economic benefits from GM are a stock market mirage held out by the biotech industry and is not grounded in reality.

We hope that UK learns from Third World countries like Ethiopia and India where a large majority of farmers have rejected GM and are looking for options which are closer to their own visions of agriculture.

Please stay away from this misadventure.

p v satheesh

Director, Deccan Development Society, #101, Kishan Residency, Begumpet, Hyderabad 500 016, Andhra Pradesh, India
India Coordinator, SANFEC [South Asia Network for Food, Ecology and Culture, a network of over 200 civil society groups in South Asia
Convenor, AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity, a coalition of 142 civil society groups in Andhra Pradesh, India

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