Thursday, March 31, 2011

Support Genetically Engineered Food "Right to Know" Legislation In Your State

Legislation that would require labels on genetically engineered salmon or other GE foods has been introduced in 14 states across the country. Please take action if you live in one of the following states. If your state hasn't introduced a bill yet, take action here!

Alaska - California - Connecticut - Hawaii - Iowa - Illinois - Maryland - New York - North Carolina - Oregon - Rhode Island - Tennessee - Vermont - West Virginia

More state legislation can be found here, too! GO TO:
Issue #270 3/31/11

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Millions Against Monsanto Campaign 2011

become a voice for our health

Their demands are:

1.We have the right to know and want genetically modified foods labeled.
2.We want factory farmed animal and genetically modified animal products labeled.
3.We want independent, transparent, long-term studies done on the safety of GMOs for animals/plants/humans.
4.We want the organic industry protected from cross-contamination and law suits to organic farmers.

The FDA currently considers GM foods “substantially equivalent” or GRAS (generally recognized as safe) and therefore doesn’t require labeling. There is a growing body of evidence that show health and environmental concerns, Corporate control of world food and seed supplies, monopolization through patents and government lobbying interest over human interest and safety. Monsanto is the leader in GM patents.

Visit: for more information.

Let not corporate profits short change our well being!!

~share - post - participate~

...the letter goes like this...

As a citizen concerned about the health, environmental, ethical, and socio-economic hazards of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and industrial-scale factory farms or CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), I feel strongly that consumers have an inalienable right to know whether the food we are purchasing likely contains GM ingredients or comes from animals confined in CAFOs.

Up to 90% of U.S. soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets are now genetically engineered and routinely inserted into human and animal foods with no labels or safety testing.

Approximately 80% of current grocery food items contain GMOs; while according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the majority of beef, pork, poultry, dairy, and eggs come from CAFOs.

Considering the growing concern over GMOs and CAFOs, all food packaging should clearly identify all non-organic ingredients containing soy, corn, cottonseed oil, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa or GM growth hormones with a label or shelf sign that says "May Contain GMOs" and identify all meat, dairy, and eggs that come from CAFOs with a label or shelf sign that says

Rose Marie Raccioppi

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Farmers and Consumer Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Genetically Engineered Alfalfa Approval

"Farmers and Consumer Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Genetically Engineered Alfalfa Approval

“Roundup Ready” Alfalfa Will Increase Pesticide Use and Cause Grave Harm to Environment and Organic Industry
USDA Failures Guarantee Transgenic Contamination, Creation of More Superweeds

Today, attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), arguing that the agency’s recent unrestricted approval of genetically engineered (GE), “Roundup Ready” Alfalfa was unlawful. The GE crop is engineered to be immune to the herbicide glyphosate, which Monsanto markets as Roundup. USDA data show that 93% of all the alfalfa planted by farmers in the U.S. is grown without the use of any herbicides. With the full deregulation of GE alfalfa, USDA estimates that up to 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides will be released into the environment each year.

“USDA has once again failed to provide adequate oversight of a biotech crop,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “This reckless approval flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that GE alfalfa threatens the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as significant harm to the environment. APHIS has refused to apply and enforce the law and instead has chosen to bow to the wishes of the biotech industry.”

This is the second case challenging the legality of USDA’s handling of GE alfalfa. In 2007, in another case brought by CFS, a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of the engineered crop violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of Roundup. The case resulted in USDA undertaking a court-ordered four-year study of GE alfalfa’s impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Remarkably, it marked the first time USDA had ever undertaken such a study, known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), in over 15 years of approving GE crops for commercial production. While USDA worked on the EIS, GE alfalfa remained unlawful to plant or sell, a ban that remained in place despite Monsanto appealing the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented: “We expect Monsanto to force-feed people genetically engineered crops—that’s its business model. We hoped for better from the USDA, which has much broader responsibilities. GE alfalfa will greatly increase use of toxic chemicals from coast to coast, threatens the organic dairy industry, and will have farmers going back to Monsanto every year to buy its patented seed and Roundup.”

The plaintiffs include a diverse coalition of conventional and organic farmers, dairies and agricultural associations, and environmental and consumer groups: CFS, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, California Farmers Union, Dakota Resources Council, Geertson Seed Farms, National Family Farm Coalition, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Sierra Club, Trask Family Seeds and Western Organization of Resource Councils.

“We in the farm sector are dissatisfied but not surprised at the lack of courage from USDA to prohibit Roundup Ready alfalfa and defend family farmers,” said plaintiff farmer Pat Trask.

Known as the “queen of forages,” alfalfa is the key feedstock for the dairy industry. Organic dairies stand to lose their source of organic feed, a requirement for organic dairy, including milk and yogurt products. The organic sector is the most vibrant part of U.S. agriculture, now a 26 billion dollar a year industry and growing 20% annually.

“Approving the unrestricted planting of GE alfalfa is a blatant case of the USDA serving one form of agriculture at the expense of all others,” says plaintiff Ed Maltby, Executive Director of the Northeast Alliance of Organic Dairy Producers. “If this decision is not remedied, the result will be lost livelihoods for organic dairy farmers, loss of choice for farmers and consumers, and no transparency about GE contamination of our foods.”

Because alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can fly and cross-pollinate between fields and feral sources many miles apart, the engineered crop will contaminate natural alfalfa varieties. Roundup Ready alfalfa is the first engineered perennial crop, meaning it remains in the ground for 3-6 years and is widely prevalent in wild or feral form throughout America, further increasing the likelihood and extent of transgenic contamination.

“USDA’s review is inaccurate and completely failed to consider critical issues. The decision to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa opens the door to widespread transgenic contamination, costing farmers their markets, reputation and ability to grow natural varieties,” said plaintiff farmer Phil Geertson.

“We are an organic, grass-fed beef operation relying on alfalfa in pasture mix and for winter feed. GE alfalfa means contamination of all alfalfa seeds within a few years. Our options include giving up organic production at great revenue loss or finding another forage at great cost increase,” says organic beef producer Jim Munsch from Wisconsin.

Approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa will spur the glyphosate-resistant epidemic that is already regarded as one of the most serious challenges facing U.S. agriculture. Weeds evolve resistance to glyphosate just as bacteria evolve immunity to overused antibiotics. While other Roundup Ready crops spawned the epidemic, Roundup Ready alfalfa will exacerbate it by increasing the frequency and intensity of glyphosate use on millions of acres of cropland. Farmers respond to resistant weeds by applying more and more herbicides, soil-eroding tillage operations, and even hand-weeding on hundreds of thousands of acres. Such “superweeds” have expanded four-fold to infest over 10 million acres since just 2008, with some projecting 38 million acres by 2013. Alfalfa, the fourth most prevalent crop in the U.S., is grown on over 20 million acres, spanning every state.

“Alfalfa grows in dense stands that naturally suppress weeds, and so has traditionally been the one crop in farmers’ rotations that provides a much-needed break from the onslaught of toxic herbicides. Roundup Ready alfalfa will only foster still more resistant weeds, and thereby increase the pesticide dependence of U.S. agriculture beyond already unsustainable levels,” said Bill Freese, CFS Science Policy Analyst.

The latest USDA data show that less than 10 percent of alfalfa acres are sprayed with any herbicide, and consequently, GE alfalfa will dramatically increase the use of such chemicals across the country, with all of their attendant hazards to wildlife, plants, groundwater, and people."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Andrew Kimbrell: The GMO Reality Check | Organic Connections Magazine

Andrew Kimbrell: The GMO Reality Check | Organic Connections Magazine

"When GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were first promoted back in the early nineties, it sounded as if the world was about to be saved from famine. These altered crops would produce much higher yields and the hungry could finally be fed. For regions of the planet where there was little rainfall, plants could be made drought resistant. Vitamins could be introduced, making genetically modified produce more nutritious. Crops would be made resilient to pests and could grow in spite of them. And lastly—the bit of information that would ease all other worries—there would be virtually no difference between these and conventionally grown crops that came before them.

Like some experiment from a science fiction movie gone horribly wrong, we now witness the truth of GMOs. And the truth is many miles from the promises.

Andrew Kimbrell“What exactly have these crops done for us?” Andrew Kimbrell, founder and executive director of the Center for Food Safety, posed to Organic Connections. “What has this technology really given anybody? There’s not a single human being on Earth who gets up in the morning wanting to buy genetically engineered food. Somehow, in all these years, they haven’t been able to produce one single trait that actually contributes to consumers: better taste, more nutrition, lower fats—you name it; they haven’t been able to produce one.”

If anyone knows the GMO beat, it is certainly Andrew Kimbrell. He is a public interest attorney, activist and author. He has been on the front lines of public interest legal activity in technology, human health and the environment for most of his adult life. In 1997 he established the Center for Food Safety, the organization responsible for knocking down effort after effort of biotechnology giants to pollute our agriculture—and endanger our health—with GMOs. He is also a renowned speaker and has been featured in documentaries and on radio and television programs across the country, including The Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, Crossfire, Headlines on Trial and Good Morning America. He has lectured at dozens of universities throughout the country and has testified before congressional and regulatory hearings.

The Failed Promise

Despite billions of dollars spent by companies attempting to deliver on the GMO promise, over 80 percent of all genetically engineered crops in the US and around the world are only designed to withstand large applications of herbicides. One major problem with these herbicide-tolerant plants is that weeds are getting resistant to the chemicals, making them very difficult to kill. Wide swaths of American farmland are now infested with these “superweeds” on which the chemicals no longer work. As a result, companies are resorting to creating crops resistant to even more toxic herbicides. But of course eventually the weeds will become resistant to these chemicals as well, a scenario that is inherently doomed to failure.

“I don’t care what people’s view on biotechnology is,” Kimbrell said. “I can’t imagine anybody who understands anything about agriculture who would not oppose plants that are designed solely to tolerate an increase in the amount of weed-killing chemicals so that crops can be massively sprayed with herbicides. Such plants don’t increase yield; they don’t increase taste. They don’t do anything except allow farmers that convenience. And therefore you have 150 million more pounds of these weedkillers sprayed every year. Then you get superweeds—they’re resisting in millions of acres right now.

“Five to eight years hence, current herbicides will no longer work and we’ll have weeds that are resistant to them. So it’s a very cynical game for chemical companies to sell an increasing number of chemicals until they can no longer sell them.”

A similar situation exists with the only other major group of genetically engineered plants, those engineered with insecticides. “Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacterium that is used as an insecticide] can kill the corn borer in corn, when the corn is genetically modified to include it,” said Kimbrell. “In cotton we’ve seen that there’s actually not enough Bt being expressed; it basically vaccinates the pests, because they get a little Bt but not enough to kill them. But I think we are seeing, and will see, more Bt resistance; and it’s also a non-specific pesticide, so it kills butterflies, caddisflies, bees—whatever it wants to kill. This should have been understood before it was ever allowed out there. We shouldn’t have independent reports cropping up years after a crop is approved saying that butterfly larvae are dying, that there’s decimation of caddisflies in streams, and suspicion that bee colony collapse is related to Bt.”

What happened? What went so wrong between the initial promises and the actual delivery of GMOs?

Faulty Science

“There’s a very good reason we haven’t seen these promises come about,” Kimbrell explained. “The theory behind genetic engineering, which is the understanding of what a gene is and what a gene is not, has changed dramatically over the last decade. The idea that DNA—and particularly the part of DNA that we call a gene, which is a little above 1.5 percent of DNA—somehow controls traits is now not scientifically valid. Today most major scientists realize that DNA is not an actor, but is acted upon. There are millions of what are called epigenetic markers—various proteins and chemicals—that control how DNA is expressed in the cell. This idea that the DNA contains a trait such as drought resistance, size or nutrition is naive—and it was wrong. That’s the reason GMOs have been limited to herbicide resistance or tolerance, because those are relatively easy traits to develop. As a matter of fact, a number of companies have developed herbicide tolerance even without genetic engineering.

“They’ve tried over a thousand different ‘events,’ as they call them—a thousand different traits—and those are just the ones that have made the field-trial stage. We don’t know how many failures they’ve had, but they estimate 99.5 or 99.6 percent failure. So genetic engineering is not really even a technology; it’s a fiddling with nature, with one little piece of what makes cells and heredity, called DNA—and it’s a little piece of DNA.”

GMO Dangers Ignored

Many countries, including those within the European Union, require strict labeling and testing of GMOs. As a result of this labeling, GMO products simply do not sell in most of the world. Here in the United States we do not require labeling or testing of GMOs. How is it that in the US GMOs seem to have had free rein?

“Unlike our European allies, unlike Australia, Japan, much of Africa and others, we have failed in the United States, for 25 years now, to pass a single law on addressing and assessing the environmental or health consequences of GMOs,” Kimbrell pointed out. “Every effort has been defeated by the biotechnology industry.

“What we have in this country is a complete regulatory failure with GMOs. We have no mandatory labeling, no mandatory testing. The USDA to this day has never come up with an environmental impact statement on a single GMO plant, though they’ve promised it over and over again, and court after court has demanded they do so.

“The USDA has illegally approved one GMO after the other and has been disciplined by the courts, by the General Accounting Office, and by the Inspector General.

“The problem is that the USDA has pretty much become a rogue agency and a wholly owned subsidiary of the biotechnology industry, and that’s really sad. Former Iowa governor, now US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, was the biotechnology industrial organizations’ ‘Governor of the Year’ in 2001. He brought his current general counsel, Ramona Romero, directly from DuPont this year. The law firm that Vilsack worked for fought us on GMO cases after he wasn’t governor anymore.”

Another problem is a combination of outdated legislation and agency disparity when it comes to attempts to enforce it. “You have a brand-new technology without any congressional guidance, which then goes down to the agency level,” Kimbrell continued. “If you’re EPA, FDA or USDA, you are trying to regulate biotechnology in agriculture under laws that were passed 15 years before anyone knew this technology existed. Here you have corn engineered to contain Bt and they try to regulate it under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. That means they’re trying to treat the plant as a pesticide—the whole plant. When they passed that law in 1972 on pesticides, they thought they were regulating chemicals; they didn’t think they were regulating plants. In another example, we’re now seeing GMO salmon, and the FDA is treating it as an animal drug—the salmon. So what happens here is that because of the failure of Congress to withstand the lobbying of the industry, the entire technology has been shoved down to the agency level. We have about seven different agencies under about twelve different laws that are trying to regulate biotechnology, with laws that were passed long before biotechnology came on line. So it’s a system that’s built for failure."

“Because of this inefficiency at federal level, it is forced down into the state and local levels. And we’ve definitely seen some very courageous counties go GMO free. We’ve seen states pass laws to protect farmers, and laws to stop GMO agriculture in their states. It’s actually good and valid legislation, but obviously not enough to effectively regulate the whole technology.”


However, it’s not just the crops the biotech companies are after; they are attempting to own the seed market as well. The biotech industry is on the verge of incorporating what is known as terminator technology into seeds—a method that causes the second generation of seeds from genetically modified crops to be sterile. This of course results in farmers having to purchase seeds for their next planting of the crop.

“For 10,000 or so years of agriculture, the whole idea has been to have seeds that were more resilient, seeds that were more adaptive, seeds that provided a more and more robust future for the farmer,” said Kimbrell. “Now, we’re actually breeding seeds for planned obsolescence. We’re saying that we want a seed that only performs for one season, and we then force you to get another one. It’s a silly way to try and do things. What is really needed now are seeds that will provide the most food and will be the most robust, the most resilient, under changing climate conditions. Instead we’re looking at seeds that are actually built not to produce over a series of seasons, because that’s how the biotech industry can make money. The seed becomes a commodity versus being seen as it should be seen—as a common heritage.

“The major biotech companies currently own 50 percent of the world’s commercial seeds, and we certainly don’t want to get into a situation where a few chemical companies own all our commercial seeds. The anti-GMO movement has gotten strong; we’ve turned the tide in the United States, and of course in Europe and elsewhere even more so, with our work and all the work of our allies. But I think it would be a shame if we were to turn back GMO technology only to see these companies cry all the way to the seed bank, where they would be able to own, engineer and ultimately maybe even use terminator technology on the seeds of Earth.

“So at the Center for Food Safety, we’re starting an SOS program: Save Our Seeds. It has four prongs: one is to stop the acquisition of seed companies by these chemical companies; two is to stop the patenting of seeds; three is to look at the Technology Use Agreements that imprison farmers and stop them from seed saving; and four, of course, would be an international ban on this terminator technology that would make crops sterile after one growing season.

“We need to understand that seeds really are our future. Food security is our security, much more than any national security. As we fight the GMO battle, I’m afraid there’s another one on the horizon, and that is to save the fate and the future of these seeds that are so beautiful and that we all love so much.”

How Should GMOs Be Regulated?

“I don’t think GMOs should be regulated at all; I think they should be eliminated,” Kimbrell stated. “I see no excuse whatsoever for anyone to support a technology whose sole aim is to increase the amount of chemicals that we’re putting on our crops and our cropland, destroying the insects and life in those crops because of this massive dose of killing, of poison. It is totally antithetical, exactly opposite, to the organic ethic. We’re trying to eliminate chemicals, and just as we’re trying to do that, biotech is pouring 150 million more pounds of them out there. We’re in a direct opposition. So I think herbicide-tolerant crops should be eliminated, because I don’t consider there is any room in our society for those. They are against our vision.”

Fighting the Tough Fight

Stepping back, we can see that the fight against GMOs is a tough battle for us all. Someone like Andrew Kimbrell, “taking point”* in such a conflict, might be thought to cringe every day at the odds he’s up against. But he doesn’t. And the philosophy which motivates him can be a lesson to us all.

“Years ago, people may remember Bovine Growth Hormone, Monsanto’s flagship product. Originally I litigated the case to try and halt the approval of it; the FDA under Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto attorney, had approved that animal drug. We won some preliminary motions, but we ended up losing the case at the time.

“I was very, very depressed. I called my brother, who’s also my best friend, and was bemoaning this loss. My brother said, ‘Sounded like you really wanted to win.’ And I said, ‘You bet I wanted to win!’ He replied, ‘You have to remember: you’re not required to be successful, but you are required to be faithful.’

“You know, no one is required to be successful. I am not required to defeat Monsanto, or to single-handedly save the organic standards or create an ‘Organic and Beyond’ future. That’s way beyond anything that any of us can do. But what we are required to do is be faithful, to have a vision, to understand what we want, what we see as the future of food, and how we want our relationship with nature and our relationship with food to be. And I need to try and live personally, as well as work professionally, in faithfulness to that vision.

“I’ve been working in Washington for 25 years. We’ve been in litigation against every major biotech company and many others, not to mention government agencies. I’m not stressed and I’m not burned out, because that mantra has always stayed with me. If you put the burden of success on yourself, then you’re just as stressed as somebody who is trying to make a successful business deal or be a successful politician—but that’s not our job. Our job is to be faithful to this vision that we share, and do everything each of us can individually do, within reason and professionally, to make that happen—just to be faithful. If you do that, then be at peace. Act faithfully to that and let the rest take care of itself.

“Another thing that people often ask me is, ‘Why do you fight? Were you born to fight?’ Actually, no. I was a musician and concert pianist, and I taught music for years before I became a lawyer. I’ve always loved Lincoln’s adage that I was born a lover but I was forced to become a fighter. And I think that the best fighters are basically lovers, because when they see that that which they love is being attacked, then they fight. They don’t fight for the purpose of just taking on a corporation or just for the joy of the battle. For those of us who have a true sense of wonder and love for the natural world, and a vision of a new relationship with it, that’s what we love. And when we see the kind of horrific technological manipulation represented by biotechnology; when we see what it does to the bodies of salmon or the bodies of animals, or when we understand that they’ve somehow turned a corn plant into a poison for butterflies and caddisflies and potentially for bees; when we realize that they’ve actually changed the heredity of corn and soy so they can withstand ever more and more chemicals; when we see all that, it’s an assault on something that we love. So we respond, not for the sake of attack, but because things that we value and love are being attacked. Anybody would feel that way with their child or pet or anything they care about.

“So the great thing about the work you do, and the work a lot of us do, is if we can get people to fall in love with the organic vision and with the farm communities, and fall in love with this new relationship with food, they’ll fight for it. We’re not passive consumers; we’re creators, and that creative process is very exciting. And when we see that attacked, yes, we’ll defend it and we’ll defend it vigorously. But we don’t do it out of a sense of simple aggression; we do it because we’re defending something we love. So beware of the lover, because when you attack that which a person loves, you’re going to have a pretty vigorous fight on your hands. And that is, I think, what all of us do.”

For the latest update on the Center for Food Safety and their many activities, visit

* take point: Military to assume the first and most exposed position in a combat formation, that is, the lead soldier/unit advancing through hostile or unsecured territory. (

Friday, March 4, 2011

OK USA -take heed from your Canadian Neighbors


Moratorium on Genetically Modified Alfalfa Proposed:
Liberals Step Up to Protect Farmers

Friday March 4, 2011. Ottawa.

Yesterday, Liberal members of the House of Commons Agriculture Committee tabled a motion calling for a moratorium on the approval of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa in Canada.

“I’m pleased to see Members of Parliament have listened and are prepared to take action to protect farmers” said Arnold Taylor, a Saskatchewan organic grain farmer who spoke before the Committee on February 17th on behalf of the Canadian Organic Growers. “I hope that the Committee will vote for this moratorium and make it a reality so we don’t end up with the same kind of contamination in alfalfa that hit organic canola farmers and damaged Canadian flax export markets.“

Maggie Mumm, an organic alfalfa seed producer and co-owner of Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds said, “Farmers don’t want or need Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant alfalfa. Conventional and organic alfalfa growers agree that GM alfalfa would be a disaster for our markets.”

In addition to export markets for processed alfalfa products, alfalfa is used as a forage crop in pastures and as hay for high-protein feed for dairy cows, beef cattle, lambs, and pigs. It is also a natural source of nitrogen to fertilize the soil, making it particularly important for organic farming. Alfalfa is pollinated by bees and other insects, making it easy for contamination to spread. Alfalfa is also a perennial which means that each new GM alfalfa plant can grow and produce viable seed for several years.

The motion before the Agriculture Committee asks the government to place a moratorium on approving the herbicide tolerant Roundup Ready alfalfa until the Government completes public research: “(a) into Canada’s ability to ensure the genetic integrity, production and preservation of a diversity of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), non-GMO and organic alfalfa production; (b) the ability of Canada’s handling and transportation system to ensure segregation of forage seeds and detection of genetic co-mingling in alfalfa seeds and hay; (c) the development of industry-led, third party audit and verification systems;” The Agriculture Committee should vote on the motion Thursday March 10th and if passed, it will be referred to the House of Commons for a vote.

“There are no benefits to genetically modified alfalfa, only risks,” said Benoit Girouard, President of the Quebec farmer association Union Paysanne. “Its time our politicians started working for farmers, not Monsanto.”

“This is a good first step to protecting the organic industry in Canada. The motion shows a real recognition that farmers face critical challenges from genetically modified alfalfa,” said Ann Slater of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario. “The motion shows that some MPs are listening to what the people want. In a time when democracy is at the top of people’s minds around the world, it provides hope that our actions can bring results,”

“We urge the Agriculture Committee to support this motion so it can be voted on in the House of Commons as soon as possible. The moratorium is urgently needed,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

On January 27th, the US Department of Agriculture approved plantings of GM alfalfa despite widespread opposition from farmers and consumers, and after protracted legal cases. Without the proposed moratorium, Canada is only one step away from allowing GE alfalfa to be planted here.

For more information: Arnold Taylor, Canadian Organic Growers, 306 252 2783; Maggie Mumm, Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, 306 747 2935: Benoit Girouard, Union Paysanne, 450 495 1910: Ann Slater, 519 349 2448, Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 263 9511.

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
431 Gilmour Street, Second Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 0R5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext. 25
Fax: 613 241 2506

Support the Moratorium on GM Alfalfa! Take action by March 10, 2011 at

Donate today to support the campaign!

Subscribe to the CBAN News and Action Listserve

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Seeds in need of independent research - Other Views -

Seeds in need of independent research

MCT Information Services
Published in: Other Views

Seeds in need of independent research - Other Views -

Soybeans, corn, cotton and canola - most of the acres planted in these crops in the United States are genetically altered. "Transgenic" seeds can save farmers time and reduce the use of some insecticides, but herbicide use is higher, and respected experts argue that some genetically engineered crops may also pose serious health and environmental risks. Also, the benefits of genetically engineered crops may be overstated.

We don't have the complete picture. That's no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically engineered crops. They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they've set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.

This is legal. Under U.S. law, genetically engineered crops are patentable inventions. Companies have broad power over the use of any patented product, including who can study it and how.

Agricultural companies defend their stonewalling by saying that unrestricted research could make them vulnerable to lawsuits if an experiment somehow leads to harm, or that it could give competitors unfair insight into their products. But it's likely that the companies fear something else too: An experiment could reveal that a genetically engineered product is hazardous or doesn't perform as well as promised.

Whatever the reasons, the results are clear: Public sector research has been blocked. In 2009, 26 university entomologists - bug scientists - wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency protesting restricted access to seeds. The letter went public, but not most of the writers' identities. They were afraid of retaliation from the companies that might further hamper their research.

"No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops," they wrote. Christian Krupke, a Purdue University entomologist who signed the letter, put it more succinctly to a reporter for a scientific journal. "Industry is completely driving the bus," he said.

Beyond patent law, agricultural companies hold a pocketbook advantage in terms of research. For example, they fund much of the agricultural safety research done in this country. And when deciding whether to allow a genetically engineered crop onto the market, the Department of Agriculture and other regulatory agencies do not perform their own experiments on the performance and safety of the product; instead, they rely largely on studies submitted by the companies themselves.

The dangers ought to be clear. In 2001, the seed company Pioneer, owned by Dow Chemical, was developing a strain of genetically engineered corn that contained a toxin to help it resist corn rootworm, an insect pest. A group of university scientists, working at Pioneer's request, found that the corn also appeared to kill a species of beneficial ladybug, which indicated that other helpful insects might also be harmed.

But, according to a report in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Dow said its own research showed no ladybug problems, and it prohibited the scientists from making the research public. Nor was it submitted to the EPA. In 2003, the EPA approved a version of the corn, known as Herculex.

Now, we may find out who was right in the field, possibly at the expense of a beneficial bug.

Research restrictions also hamper scientists' ability to assess how genetically engineered crops perform against other modified crops, traditional crops, approaches such as organic farming and the seed companies' promises. There's reason to be suspicious. Using USDA and peer-reviewed data, the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed corn and soybean yields since new seeds were introduced. We found increases due to genetically engineered traits that were marginal - not a result promoted by the industry.

Monsanto, in its defense, will point to an agreement with the USDA that gives the agency's agricultural scientists access to its genetically engineered seeds for a wide range of research, and the company has also had limited agreements with some universities. Several other seed companies are said to be negotiating voluntary deals with universities in the wake of the entomologists' letter to the EPA, and the American Seed Trade Association, a trade group, is also developing guidelines to improve access to the new seeds.

These are positive steps, but they don't go far enough. For one thing, the deals and the trade association rules are not binding. The companies can back out of them. They are also opaque; the public really has no idea how far these deals go or how common they are. And what about scientists at the universities and research institutions that aren't party to one of the voluntary agreements? They're still out in the cold.

Moreover, few if any of the agreements guarantee opportunities for every kind of independent research. The Monsanto agreement with the USDA covers research into crop production practices, for example, not research into issues such as the health effects of genetically engineered crops.

This is not how science should operate. Agricultural companies are still the gatekeepers, choosing who gets to do research and what topics are studied. To ensure that agricultural science serves the public, Congress should change patent law and create a clear exemption for agricultural research.

The companies that produce the seeds claim that genetically engineered crops are safe and are better than traditional crops in a range of ways. It's time for these companies to back up their rhetoric. The only way to test their grand assertions is to let independent science take its course.

Doug Gurian-Sherman is a plant pathologist and senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.