It’s embarrassing to watch UK prime minister Gordon Brown and his environment minister Phil Woolas falling into the footsteps of Tony (B-liar) Blair when it comes to GM crops. In claiming that GM crops must be looked at as a solution to the food crisis, they are, as GM Freeze points out, short on both facts and history (PUNCTURING THE HYPE).
And how ironic that on the very day Phil Woolas promoted GMOs as a magical fix for rising food prices, it emerged that a government report had found that the rush by politicians into AGROFUELS as a quick fix for climate change, directly caused the food crisis they’re now trying to fix!
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QUOTES OF THE WEEK
EXPLOITING THE FOOD CRISIS
PUNCTURING THE HYPE
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
+ THE PANIC TO GET OUT OF ONE CRISIS RISKS ANOTHER
“Aaargh, PANIC! Quick, force through some new legislation, announce some new initiatives, make it look as if we’re doing something, anything! This more or less sums up the [UK] government’s current position on the food crisis. Think Jim Hacker from Yes Minister with his eyes rolling round and round in their sockets and you’ve probably got it. The results, of course, are bad, because decisions taken under stress are so very often rubbish.”
– Bibi Van Der Zee, “GM crops: we mustn’t rush decisions: In a panic to claw our way out of one crisis, we’re in danger of creating another”, The Guardian (blogs), 19 June 2008 http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/food/2008/06/solutions_forged_in_panic_are.html
+ BEWARE THE QUICK FIX
“…beware the quick fix. H.L. Mencken famously observed that ‘for every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.’
Once considered the ‘green’ solution to foreign oil dependence, corn ethanol has morphed into a humanitarian and environmental disaster.
…two decades of costly research has not produced a single marketable GE crop with increased yield, drought-resistance, enhanced nutrition or other attractive traits touted by boosters.”
– Andy Kimbrell, “Corn as fuel has hurt world food supply”, Newsday, June 20 2008 http://www.newsday.com/news/opinion/ny-opfritop5733237jun20,0,6299589.story
+ GM: A CROP OF HYPERBOLE
“Let’s be clear. As of this year, there are no commercialized GE crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GE crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.”
– Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, formerly the EPA’s biotech specialist and an advisor on biotech to the FDA, “Genetic engineering - a crop of hyperbole”, The San Diego Union Tribune, 18 June 2008 http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080618/news_lz1e18gurian.html
+ GM: OVER-HYPED AND UNPROVEN
“While non-GM breeding techniques are making real progress in developing crops that can tolerate heat, floods and drought, claims for GM technology are over-hyped and unproven. Data also consistently show no increase in GM crops yields and often a reduction.”
– Jo Ripley, “GM crops are about making profits, not feeding the world”, The Independent (Letters), 20 June 2008 http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/letters/letters-gm-crops-850963.html
+ GM: GREAT SALES STRATEGY
“Take Monsanto, the world leader in GM products, busy marketing its herbicide-tolerant maize and soya [80% of the world's GM crops are herbicide-tolerant]. The ultra-powerful weedkiller its crops can live with, glyphosate (trade name Roundup) is made by… Monsanto, of course! And what sort of company is Monsanto, even if it presents itself as an agribusiness firm? Yes, you’ve guessed it - it’s a weedkiller company. Monsanto gave us Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the US to destroy jungles during the Vietnam War. Producing herbicide-tolerant crops is a fantastic way for it to sell vast amounts of its core products.”
Michael McCarthy, “So, what benefits do GM crops bring us?”, The Independent, 20 June 2008 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/brown-pushes-eu-to-allow-more-modified-animal-feeds-851020.html
+ DIVERSIFICATION AND ENDING AGROFUEL SUBSIDIES ARE KEY TO SOLVING FOOD
“If the current crisis has taught us one thing, it’s that food production needs to become more diversified and dispersed, not concentrated ever more tightly into fewer and fewer hands. Here’s my alternative to Monsanto’s vision: Let’s end the biofuel mandates and subsidies — currently eating up around $13 billion per year in taxpayer cash — and invest the savings in grain storage and the infrastructure required to really revive local and regional food production.”
– Tom Philpott, “Our Ruined Harvest”, Grist, 13 Jun 2008 http://www.grist.org/comments/food/2008/06/13/
EXPLOITING THE FOOD CRISIS
+ “SCEPTICISM IS A COMMODITY THE WORLD CAN’T AFFORD” — MONSANTO CEO
During the recent UN summit on the food crisis, Monsanto announced that it will double the yield of corn, soy, and cotton by 2030 and help improve the lives of poor farmers by 2020. Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said that not everyone may believe the company but that given the food problems the world is facing, “scepticism is a commodity the world can’t afford right now”. Environmental journalist Claire Hope Cummings comments: “Is it common practice in business these days to roll out promises for categorical, but as yet unspecified, products that may or may not come along 12 to 22 years from now? What’s really their point? Maybe there should be a 12-step program out there for those of us who just cannot take Monsanto’s word for these things anymore…”
+ GM CROPS NEEDED IN BRITAIN, SAYS MINISTER
This week The Independent reported that Labour Ministers were preparing to open the way for GM crops to be grown in Britain on the grounds they could help combat rocketing food prices and food shortages in the world’s poorest countries. Leading the charge was the Environment Minister Phil Woolas.
+ MINISTER MET LOBBYISTS FIRST
Shortly prior to promoting the GM agenda, Environment Minister Phil Woolas held preliminary talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, a biotech industry PR group representing the likes of Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Pioneer (DuPont), and Syngenta.
GM Watch comment: This industry lobby group is run by Lexington Communications, a PR agency intimately connected to New Labour.
+ SCOTLAND WILL VETO GM CROPS
Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, has stated unequivocally that Scotland will remain GM free, and his spokesman said the Scottish government would be strongly opposed to any reconsideration of GM crops; it has a veto on them. “We would be very concerned about that. Scotland has an international reputation second to none in terms of the quality of our environment and trust in the quality of our foodstuffs. These could be jeopardised by GM,” he said.
+ BROWN CALLS FOR RELAXATION OF RULES ON GM ANIMAL FEED
Gordon Brown has called on the European Union to relax its rules on importing GM animal feed to help cut spiralling prices. Jose Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission, has also warned that European rules are driving up the cost of animal feed.
PUNCTURING THE HYPE
+ NEWSNIGHT DEBUNKS GM ANIMAL FEED CLAIMS
In a special report on GM and the food crisis for Newsnight (BBC2, 19 June), Susan Watts, the Science Editor of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, dismissed the claim that GM could reduce the cost of animal feed. Watts noted that in the 12 months from May 07 to May 08 prices rose as follows on the world market:
Feed barley (100% non-GM) - 43%
Maize gluten (about 25% GM) - 72%
Argentinian soya meal (100% GM) - 110%
Argentinian soya meal has full approval for import to the EU!
See also the analysis in the important new briefing from GM Freeze.
+ GORDON “DOES A TONY” — FALLS FOR GM HYPE
The Soil Association criticised Gordon Brown and his Environment Minister, Phil Woolas, for going against the evidence and in direct opposition to the recommendations of his chief scientist, Prof Bob Watson. It also summarised the strong body of published evidence that shows GM crops do not increase yields and could cause negative health impacts. Worth reading in detail.
+ GM CROPS WON’T FEED THE WORLD, ONLY BIG CORPORATIONS
Robin Maynard notes that in the government’s ‘GM Nation?’ debate, 85% of the British public opposed GM crops being grown in the UK, and that all African countries bar South Africa signed a declaration in 1998 condemning GM giant Monsanto’s attempts to characterise GM crops as the solution to world hunger. But unlike the people GM is supposedly intended to benefit, Gordon like Tony can’t see through the GM gloss.
+ BROWN AND WOOLAS SHORT ON GM FACTS AND HISTORY
Gordon Brown’s and Phil Woolas’s calls for a re-think on GM crops in the UK to increase yields are described by GM Freeze as “short on facts and history”. They point out that four GM crops were extensively tested in the UK and three were found to threaten long-term harm to farmland wildlife. The fourth was withdrawn by Bayer for “commercial reasons” — widely accepted to mean that the GM variety did not perform as well as non-GM strains of maize. And the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which published its 2500-page report based on peer reviewed publications, concluded that the yield gains in GM crops “were highly variable” and in some places “yields declined”. Asked at a press conference if GM crops were the answer to world hunger, IAASTD director Prof Bob Watson (now Phil Woolas’s chief scientist at Defra) said, “The simple answer is, ‘No’.” The government approved the IAASTD report on 9 June.
IMPORTANT NEW BRIEFING: GM Freeze’s new analysis examining claims that GM crops will increase yields http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/89D_yields_briefing%5B1%5D.pdf
+ GM WON’T YIELD A HARVEST FOR THE WORLD
The government is keen to reassess GM crops in light of the food crisis - but running to profit-seeking companies is not the answer, writes Mark Lynas in The Guardian.
+ GM DOESN’T DELIVER
Nlpwessex notes that for the last decade or so GM soya, the world’s largest GM crop, has been producing lower yields than comparable conventional varieties.
+ CONTACT YOUR MP
If you’re in the UK, please write to your Member of Parliament and explain why New Labour’s heirs to Blair need to finally stop cosying up to the biotech industry and promoting its spin despite the lack of credible evidence that GM is a solution to the global food crisis. Tell your MP not to fall for the GM hype.
+ OFFICIAL REVIEW ADMITS AGROFUELS’ ROLE IN FOOD CRISIS
In a front page article The Guardian reported how Britain and Europe will be forced to fundamentally rethink a central part of their environment strategy after a UK government report found that the rush to develop “biofuels” has played a “significant” role in the dramatic rise in global food prices, which has left 100 million more people without enough to eat, and even their environmental benefits are in question.
+ U.S. AGROFUEL IMPORTS IGNITE EU INQUIRY
The massive increase in “biofuel” imports to Europe from the US will become the subject of formal anti-subsidy and anti-dumping investigations by the European Commission.
+ CORN AS FUEL HAS HURT WORLD FOOD SUPPLY
In a telling article for Newsday on the “biofuels” debacle, Andy Kimbrell writes, “If you thought corn ethanol was at least lessening our dependence on foreign oil, think again: Ethanol displaces only 3 percent of our oil use. Additionally, the journal ‘Science’ recently published research suggesting that biofuels are worsening global warming as well as hunger. High demand for energy crops is driving deforestation, which in turn releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases that far exceed minor reductions provided by the energy crops themselves.”
+ AFRICA DOES NOT NEED GM FOR FOOD SECURITY
The need to triple or quadruple the domestic food production in African countries does not call for GM seeds, says United Nations food expert, Mafa Chipeta. He says that the African countries wishing to boost food production should be able to fulfill their needs through simple changes to agricultural practices which will cost them less than GM seeds.
+ UGANDA: GM BANANA FAILS TO DEFEAT DISEASES
A GM banana being trialed in Uganda has failed to defeat the banana disease it was designed to be resistant to. The variety was attacked by Black Sigatoka disease.
+ EGYPTIAN CORN PIRATED BY MONSANTO
Following Egypt’s recent approval of the cultivation and commercialisation of a GM pest-resistant corn variety that marks the first legal introduction of GM crops into the Arab world, Nagib Nassar, Egyptian professor of genetics and plant breeding at University of Brazil, said, “At the end of the day what was originally an Egyptian variety will become not only registered in Egypt but owned by Monsanto.” Tarek Saif, biotechnologist at Egypt’s National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, said Egypt’s collaboration with Monsanto started with the word “partnership” to pave the way for public acceptance of GM plant and ended with “ownership” for Monsanto. “How did an Egyptian variety become owned by Monsanto just as a result of crossing it with its line?” Saif asked.
+ INDIA: NEW REGULATORY AUTHORITY MEANT TO SPEED UP GM APPROVALS
Two years ago, the Supreme Court raised a conflict of interest objection to the power assumed by the department of biotechnology (DBT) to regulate the environmental release of GMOs. In a bid to reclaim that power from the environment ministry, DBT has now come up with a draft law to set up the national biotechnology regulatory authority (NBRA). Proposed as a statutory body that will provide “a single window mechanism for bio-safety clearance” of GM products and processes, NBRA is clearly meant to shift the regulatory power from the environment ministry to DBT, despite its being a body dedicated to promoting biotechnology.
+ GM SEED FIRMS RULE INDIA — JUDGE
Following in the steps of the East India Company, it is now the multinational companies producing GM crops who rule post-independence India, according to Madras High Court judge, Justice Ramasubramanian, speaking at a conference on GM.
+ HARYANA, INDIA: PEST PROBLEMS SPREADING WITH BT COTTON
The cotton crop in Haryana, especially Bt cotton, is under threat from mealy bug, which may cause extensive damage to the crop if not controlled in time, said sources in the Haryana agriculture department.
+ MEALY BUG INTRODUCED INTO VIDARBHA BY BT COTTON
A farmer based in Yavatmal, Maharashtra sent photographs of mealy-bug infested cotton in Vidarbha to Science in Society magazine. All the infested cotton plots were labeled as Bollgard, Monsanto’s Bt cotton. He writes, “These mealy bugs have never been in our region on any plants before Bt cotton was introduced.”
+ KERALA GOVT STILL OPPOSES GM SEED TRIALS
Kerala agriculture minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran has reiterated the state government’s stand against field trials of GM seeds. He said the claims that Bt cotton had led to increase in productivity was debatable, considering the high farmer suicide rates in the cotton belt of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
+ MINISTER CALLS FOR DETAILED STUDY ON GM CROP IMPACT IN INDIA
India’s central government’s minister for overseas Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi has called for a detailed study on the impact of GM crops on farmers and consumers.
+ CLAIMS OF GM GAINS NOT OBJECTIVE - PROFESSOR
A recent study by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) argues that Australia would be about $7 billion better off over 10 years, if five types of GM crops were introduced as soon as possible. In claiming big economic benefits from GM crops the ABARE study cites a range of Australian and overseas research, but fails to clarify which was carried out by independent scientific institutions and which by agrichemical companies or the scientists they fund, says Prof Julian Cribb, adjunct professor of science communication at the University of Technology Sydney: “It acknowledges much of the data is corporate in origin. Such a failure can only sow further doubt in the public mind about the objectivity of the claims.”
+ GM WHEAT NO SOLUTION TO DROUGHT
Reacting to the Victorian Premier John Brumby’s statement championing GM wheat as a solution to drought, Louise Sales of Greenpeace pointed out, “Genetically engineered wheat is not grown commercially anywhere in the world nor accepted by any market, which is why even major GM crop producers such as the US and Canada have rejected it. Consumers simply do not want GM in their daily bread — and with good reason — there is growing evidence that GM crops are harmful to the environment and may be harmful to human health.”
+ PRO-GM LOBBYIST MISLEADS PARLIAMENT
A recent Farming Today programme on BBC Radio 4 was supposedly about the 60% decline in UK biodiversity reported by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but Farming Today chose to headline the suggestion that GM crops would “help Nature” given the “significant environmental benefits of the GM field trials”. This was based on no more than the pro-GM vice president of the NFU, Paul Temple, telling a parliamentary committee about “the significant environmental benefits” offered in his experience by GM oilseed rape (canola) during the UK’s farmscale trials. This was outrageously misleading from someone who claims to be science-led, because the results of the very trials that Temple was referring to showed that it was the GM oilseed rape he was growing that was worse for biodiversity!
+ NON-GM CROPS DOMINATE WORLD AGRICULTURE IN SPITE OF FALSE REPORTS
Non-GM crops still provide most of the food and animal feed in the world, covering more than 97% of agricultural land, compared with only 2.4% growing GM crops. The new analysis was carried out by GM Freeze after Giles Oldroyd of the pro-GM John Innes Centre claimed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 25% of global arable land was under GM crops - a figure obtained from the National Environmental Research Council’s website. The GM Freeze analysis shows that in fact over 90% of global arable land is used to cultivate non-GM crops. Even in the USA, where GM crops have been widely adopted, over 85% of agricultural land is growing non-GM crops and two thirds of arable land grew non-GM crops in 2007.
+ GM CROPS RESTRAIN FOOD PRICES, SAYS ECONOMIST
The present food supply crisis would be worse if it were not for commercial cultivation of GM crops over the last 12 years, claims a new report by PG Economics. The report was funded by the biotech industry, but Graham Brookes, the company’s director and the report’s co-author, said that in order to counter allegations of self-interest, the researchers insisted on publication in a peer-reviewed journal… AgBioForum.
GM Watch comment: AgBioForum is funded by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance whose purpose has been stated as: “to fund biotechnology research… directed at expanding the volume of profitable businesses in the US food and agricultural sector”.
For more on PG Economics
QUESTION: What do you do when the take-up of your product depends massively on hype about productivity gains that’s not supported by the analysis of the US Dept of Agriculture, etc.?
ANSWER: You order up a report from PG Economics.
+ OVER A DOZEN FEEDING TRIALS SHOW REASON FOR CONCERN
A Soil Association press release this week included the following evidence that despite GM industry claims, over a dozen GM feeding trials (12 animal, 1 human) show negative health impacts of GM:
*Russian rat trial of GM soya: high mortality and stunted growth in offspring (Ermakova, 2005)
*Italian mice trial of GM soya: metabolic effects on body organs (Malatesta et al, 2002 and 2003; Vecchio et al, 2004)
*FSA-commissioned human trial of GM soya by Newcastle University: GM DNA transfers out of food into the body’s gut bacteria (Netherwood et al, 2004)
*Monsanto rat trial of GM maize: changes in body organs indicating toxic effects (report by Monsanto, 2002; review by Dr Pusztai, 2004; Seralini et al, 2007)
*Aventis chicken trial of GM maize: mortality doubled and significant change in composition of meat (reports for the Chardon LL hearing, 2002; review in Food safety – contaminants and toxins, CABI publishing, 2003)
*Aventis rat trial of the novel protein of GM maize: reduced body weight and metabolic effects (same references as for Aventis chicken trial)
*UK study on sheep: in a few minutes, the genes in the GM maize move into the bacteria in the mouth, changing their characteristics (Duggan et al, 2003)
*Monsanto rat trials of GM oilseed rape: reduction in body weight and increased liver weight (significant as the liver is the organ of detoxification) (US FDA, 2002; Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms, 2004)
*Australian mice trial of GM peas: allergic reactions, including inflammation of lungs (Prescott et al, 2005) Calgene mice trials of GM tomatoes: gut lesions and 7 of 40 died within two weeks (review in Food safety – contaminants and toxins, CABI publishing, 2003)
*UK Government-commissioned rat trial of GM potatoes by Rowett Research Institute: gut lesions (Ewen and Pusztai, 1999)
NB: These studies were all designed to identify health impacts; the animal trials often referred to by the GM companies as ’showing no negative impacts’ are largely irrelevant as proof of safety, because they are mostly studies carried out for commercial purposes on the efficacy of the feed, rather than ‘toxicological’ studies involving tissue analysis.
+ BAYER PESTICIDES ARE MOST DAMAGING — GREENPEACE
Pesticides manufactured by Bayer pose the biggest threat to human health and the environment, Greenpeace says in a new report, “The Dirty Portfolios of the Pesticides Industry”. Syngenta, Monsanto, BASF and Dow Chemical are the next to follow on the company blacklist. Monsanto has the portfolio with the highest proportion (60 per cent) of pesticides that are particularly toxic to humans and the environment, but loses out in the rankings due to lower quantities sold worldwide than Bayer.
News and Views from the Center for Genetics and Society
+ KIWIS CONSIDER SEX SELECTION
by Jesse Reynolds, Biopolitical Times
The New Zealand Bioethics Council recommended allowing prospective parents to use sex selection through PGD for family balancing.
+ GENE OF THE WEEK: AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM
by Jesse Reynolds, Biopolitical Times
Conservative pundit Michael Medved recently offered a genetic antidote to white guilt.
+ AUSTRALIA EXPANDS STEM CELL RESEARCH TO CLONING AND REPROGRAMMING
by Jesse Reynolds, Biopolitical Times
Scientists in Australia may become the next to try obtaining stem cells from clonal human embryos. The big question remains vague: How will the researchers obtain the human eggs?
+ KLEINER PERKINS MAKES BET ON ADULT STEM CELLS
The veteran Silicon Valley venture capital firm that helped found the biotechnology industry is now laying a bet on a breakthrough technology surrounding stem cells derived from adult humans through “reprogramming.”
+ IVF 30 YEARS ON
When the first test-tube baby was born, it wasn’t just the beginning of a new life but of a whole new approach to infertility. But what few women realise is that IVF treatment has become increasingly aggressive: so much so that there are very real risks involved.
+ LOOPHOLE IN EMBRYOLOGY BILL COULD ALLOW CLONING WITHOUT NEW
A loophole in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill could permit some reproductive cloning without the need for fresh primary legislation, the Government has admitted.
+ CALIFORNIA CRACKS DOWN ON GENETIC TESTING STARTUPS
California health regulators have demanded that 13 direct-to-consumer genetic testing startups halt sales in the state until they prove they meet state standards
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