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December 2006 Updates

Potato Crop Trial 'GM by Back Door'

By Duncan Sandes
The Western Morning News
December 2, 2006

Campaigners have accused the Government of trying to introduce genetically modified (GM) crops "through the back door" after approving controversial plans for two trial sites in England.

Defra yesterday granted permission for BASF Plant Science to grow GM potatoes at field sites in Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire. The crops, which will be planted next spring, will be modified to include a gene from a wild species of potato in a bid to make them resistant to blight - a disease that costs growers about £70 million a year.

BASF insists the crops will be tested under "carefully-controlled conditions", then destroyed. But Westcountry campaigners fear the tests will herald the widespread introduction of GM crops being grown throughout the country.

Andrew George, Lib-Dem MP for St Ives, said: "I have real concerns that this will be the first in a number of progressive steps by the Government to introduce GM crop growing through the back door.

"It seems the Government is being faced with political pressure to introduce these crops, irrespective of the public's concern over the matter."

The controversial trials will see BASF trying to develop potatoes resistant to phytophthora infestans, a fungal organism that produces blight.

The firm says it has found a trait in a wild potato from a remote valley in the Central American Andes, that causes resistance to the organism.

Chris Wilson, from BASF, yesterday insisted the trials would not see the imminent introduction of GM crops across the UK.

"Nothing from these trials will be eaten. The potatoes grown will be tested under carefully-controlled conditions and then destroyed.

"The possibility of a food crop from it is maybe ten years down the line."

But Robert Vint, a campaigner with Totnes-based Genetic Food Alert UK, labelled the trials "the thin end of the wedge". Mr Vint said: "There is really no reason for these trials, except political pressure placed on the Government to introduce GM crops come what may.

"There are already techniques employed by organic farmers and growers to combat blight in potatoes, so you really have to question the motivation behind this decision."

Mr Vint's views were echoed by Lavinia Halliday, an organic sheep and beef farmer from Linkinhorne, South East Cornwall, who said: "This seems to a progressive step for GM crops coming into this country - it appears they will be grown here come what may."

Ian Johnson, the National Farmers' Union spokesman for the South West, played down fears over the trials, saying he recognised the "beneficial potential" they may bring to crop production.

However, Maurice Spurway, Westcountry spokesman for Friends of the Earth, insisted the trials were "a real cause for concern".


Seed & Plant Preemption Bills Fail in 2006 Legislatures

By Britt Bailey
December, 2006

Four states faced with agribusiness-backed legislation aimed at removing local decision-making authority over seeds and plants rejected those measures in 2006. Unlike 2005 legislative sessions, which saw fifteen (15) states adopt statewide preemption bills, 2006 saw the defeat of bills to strip local decision-making concerning our foods in four states, while only a single bill passed.

A combination of champions from inside the legislatures as well as from external organizations worked effectively to defeat the bills in North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, and California. Their votes endorsed the value of local decision-making, validated the ecological and economic risks of genetically modified organisms, and confirmed the lack of current regulations and policies pertaining to them.

North Carolina, H671

North Carolina's legislature failed to resolve H671 in Committee. The bill died as the session closed on August 1st. North Carolina's Senator Janet Cowell explained key factors in the death of H671:

  1. The Senate Pro Tem believed the bill would hurt the burgeoning organic sector.
  2. North Carolina has significant problems with invasive exotic species.
  3. Senators who have previously served as county commissioners were concerned about preemption of local authority.
  4. Some rural legislators expressed concern about open-field genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and seed drift.

A coalition of organization including Southern Sustainable Forests, ETC Group, RAFI USA, and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association actively fought H671.

Missouri, SB1009

In Missouri, The Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Missourians for Local Control saw the introduction of a seed preemption bill as a direct threat to community democracy. Senate Bill 1009, commonly called "The Seed Bill" would have stripped the power of local governments AND THE STATE by giving sole decision-making power over Missouri's seed industry to the Federal Government. The successfully defeated bill would have eliminated the authority and ability of state and local elected representatives to protect the economic interests of Missouri's family farmers.

"This win for family farmers clearly demonstrates that Missourians do not want decisions that will impact our economic livelihoods being made by corporate lobbyists and bureaucrats who have no accountability to Missouri's family farmers and rural economies," said Rhonda Perry, program director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

St. Louis, Missouri is the home of Monsanto. To beat pre-emption in Monsanto's home state sends a clear message about the power of grassroots organizing and the outcomes that can prevail.

California, SB1056

California's "seed & plant preemption" bill, SB1056, was defeated in the Senate Rules Committee. There it sat without a hearing as the session came to a close September 1st. Referring to SB1056, Senator Wesley Chesbro stated, "First and foremost, it's anti-democratic to deny local voters the right to speak." Assemblywoman Patty Berg said, "I argued against that bill and I voted against that bill because I think it's bad for California. If the counties involved in giant agribusiness want to allow GMO crops, that's their business. Bottom line: if the people don't want it, it shouldn't be forced on them."

A significant number of organizations, led by Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, and individuals from throughout the State of California actively opposed the legislation.

Nebraska, LB834

In the 2006 legislative session, the Nebraska Unicameral considered a seed and plant preemption bill that was introduced on behalf of Monsanto. Because a number of issues were raised which the Agriculture Committee was unable to resolve, the bill failed to advance and died at the end of the session. According to Nebraska Senator Don Preister, these are the primary concerns heard during hearing testimony regarding the proposed legislation:

  1. Pre-emption legislation imposed on local government strips authority from duly-elected governmental bodies to protect and uphold the rights and best interests of its citizens. When local control is taken, a democratic layer of government is removed and its people silenced. Issues, which particularly affect the agricultural economy and land use, and the health and safety of community members, are particularly important policy decisions that should allow for full decision-making and debate among the affected people in the community. The seed pre-emption bill strips local communities of this local control leaving all the decisions to policymakers at the state and federal levels.
  2. Despite the best planning, research and intentions, state and federal agricultural policies and their enforcement cannot address all issues and respond to all circumstances that may arise across diverse geographical regions throughout the state.
  3. The language in seed preemption bills is extremely broad and may have unintended consequences, which limit the ability of local policymakers to adequately protect the land and existing community values.

The Nebraska Farmers Union, the Sierra Club, and Open Harvest Co-op opposed LB834.

Michigan, SB777

Michigan became the only state in 2006 to pass a "seed preemption" bill. Despite tremendous efforts by various organizations including the Sierra Club, Michigan Environmental Council, and Michigan Townships Association, SB777 became law.

Although the bill passed, it does include language modeled after the pesticide preemption bill that allows local governments to pass ordinances if there are "unreasonable adverse effects on agriculture, the environment, or public health" but only if the Commission of Agriculture approves those ordinances. The state Agriculture Department also would have to hold a public hearing and issue an opinion on whether environmental or public health effects will occur. This is basically equivalent to preemption, since it has proven to be a prohibitively high standard where this language has been used in other laws.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that this has sparked a debate on GMOs in Michigan unlike the state has seen before. The work expended to defeat this legislation can assist in future sustainable agriculture efforts and legislation.

Preemption Background & Overview

In the spring of 2004, an ordinance prohibiting the growing of genetically modified organisms was passed in Mendocino County, CA by a large majority of the voters. The passage of this ordinance - as well as two others in California counties and a growing number of town resolutions in New England - set off a counterattack by agrochemical-backed across the country.

Worried that local regulation of genetically modified crops would hamper the consolidation and expansion of intensive agriculture; state lawmakers began introducing bills providing their respective states with sole authority of seeds and plants. In essence, lawmakers are introducing bills stripping local control of our food supply and food systems.

The origin of the "seed preemption" legislation sprang from a right-wing public policy organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which boasts hundreds of corporate sponsors, and is being carried to legislators by Agribusiness Councils and state Farm Bureaus.

Since November 2004, nineteen (19) "seed preemption" bills have been introduced. In fourteen states, the bills were passed into law quickly and with very little public input: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Michigan, and West Virginia.

Looking Ahead to 2007

All of the states that faced preemption in 2006 will likely see additional preemption attempts in 2007. In addition, it is likely that other state legislatures will have preemption bills introduced. 2007 Schedule of State Legislatures

To Stay Updated

Frequently updated information on seed preemption legislation is available on the Environmental Commons website's Seed & Plant Law Preemption Tracker


US Food Sector Wary of GMO Wheat

By Carey Gillam
Reuters December 4, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The U.S. food industry is still not ready to embrace biotech wheat because of consumer wariness of genetic tinkering -- even though wheat acres are declining, a General Mills Inc. (GIS.N: Quote, Profile , Research) executive said on Monday.

"We're going to continue to lose acres," Ron Olson, General Mills' vice president of grain operations, told Reuters in an interview.

"But the food industry is going to pay whatever it takes (for wheat)," he said before giving a presentation to the National Grain and Feed country elevator conference in Kansas City.

Olson said spring wheat imports from Canada would likely continue to grow because of U.S. acreage declines.

Still, Olson said years of work by biotech companies like St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. (MON.N: Quote, Profile , Research) and the Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta (SYNN.VX: Quote, Profile , Research) to make wheat production more attractive to farmers was facing too much consumer wariness for food companies to embrace the efforts.

"The food market is not ready for that," he said. "Our stock would get killed."

Monsanto shelved its development of herbicide-tolerant wheat in 2004. Syngenta has quietly been pursuing a genetically modified, disease-resistant spring wheat, but said earlier this year that it would not proceed with its biotech wheat project without the support of major food companies.

Olson said biotech agronomic traits like Syngenta's need to come second to traits that enhance nutrition or offer some other consumer appeal in order to overcome market opposition.

Currently there are no transgenic wheat varieties planted commercially anywhere in the world. But U.S. wheat farmers have been increasingly vocal in asking for technological advancements to help them grow wheat more profitably.


Patent Abuse: Monsanto Intimidates American Farmers

The Progress Report
December 7, 2006

Many years ago, patents were used as a way of encouraging invention. Nowadays they are used as a way of halting, chilling, stalling and crushing invention.

Patent Office Finds "Substantial Questions" Regarding the Validity of Each of Monsanto's Four Widely Asserted Patents

In response to requests filed earlier this year by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), the United States Patent and Trademark Office will undertake a comprehensive review of four patents related to genetically modified crops held by Monsanto Company that the agricultural giant is using to harass, intimidate, sue -- and in some cases literally bankrupt -- American farmers. In its Orders granting the four requested reexaminations, the USPTO found that PUBPAT had submitted new evidence that raised "substantial questions of patentability" for every single claim of each of the four patents.

Monsanto has filed dozens of patent infringement lawsuits asserting the four challenged patents against American farmers, many of whom are unable to hire adequate representation to defend themselves in court. The crime these farmers are accused of is nothing more than saving seed from one year's crop to replant the following year, something farmers have done since the beginning of time.

Now that PUBPAT's requests for reexamination proceedings have been granted, Monsanto has the opportunity to make opening statements to the Patent Office, to which PUBPAT has the right to respond. After opening statements, if any, the Patent Office will proceed to determine whether the four patents (U.S. Patents Nos. 5,164,316, 5,196,525, 5,322,938 and 5,352,605) are indeed invalid in light of the new evidence presented by PUBPAT in its requests. Third party requests for reexamination, like the ones filed by PUBPAT, are successful in having the challenged patent either changed or completely revoked roughly 70% of the time.

"We are extremely pleased with the Patent Office's decision to grant our requests to reexamine the patents Monsanto is using to bully American farmers," said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director. "This is the first step towards ending the harm being caused to the public by Monsanto's aggressive assertion of these patents, none of which would ever have been issued by the Patent Office had they known of the prior art that we uncovered and submitted as part of our reexamination requests."


MRTPC Issues Notice to Monsanto

By Ashok B Sharma
Financial Express
December 09, 2006

NEW DELHI - The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) has asked Monsanto, US seed multinational to respond within four weeks to the Andhra Pradesh government's contention that it was liable to pay compensation to the farmers for selling Bt cottonseeds at exorbitant prices.

In response, Monsanto said that its Indian subsidiary Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (MMB) was responsible for operations in the country. Opposing Monsanto's contention, the state government had said the US company has been controlling stake in its sister concern and demanded refund of the excessive money paid by cotton growers on the company's Bt cotton seeds.

In reply Monsanto said the state government had no right to seek compensation from it, as it was not a direct consumer.

But MRTPC chairman Justice OP Dwivedi on Thursday did not accepted Monsanto's argument that it was not responsible for the situation and its name should be deleted as a party to the case.

Navadanya Trust, an NGO headed by Vandana Shiva, has filed an impleadment application seeking to be a party in the case along with the state government.

According to Navdanya, "Monsanto was trying to "bypass Indian laws" and establish a claim to trait values in Bt cotton seeds which was specifically excluded under the Patents Act, 1970. Since the Act excludes patents on seeds and plants, collection of royalty from years of seed production and trait embodied in the genetic material was illegal under Indian laws."

Describing it as the "worst monopoly conceivable", Navdanya said that Monsanto was merely providing seed material, and collecting unreasonable "rent" in the form of "trait fee" in addition to upfront Rs 5 million royalty.

The MRTPC's directions follow after Monsanto contended on November 14 that the state government had not demanded any action against the company in its reply filed in response to the petition submitted by the US-based firm seeking deletion of its name from the case.

The MRTPC had also sought clarification from the state government on whether it was seeking any relief from Monsanto or not and directed to file amendment petition.

"Compensation could be demanded only by a consumer and not by a state government," its counsel said.

The Commission had in May this year ruled that MMB must reduce the trait value, a fee that it charges on its Bt cotton seeds. The company had later challenged the ruling in Supreme Court, which has so far refused to grant a stay.

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