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July 2009 Updates

"I Expected a Reaction But Not Such a Violent One"

Seeds of information
July 2009

In April 2009 Andrés Carrasco, an Argentinian embryologist, gave an interview to the leading Buenos Aires newspaper Página 12, in which he described the alarming results of a research project he is leading into the impact of the herbicide glyphosate on the foetuses of amphibians. Dr Carrasco, who works in the Ministry of Science's Conicet (National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigations), said that their results suggested that the herbicide could cause brain, intestinal and heart defects in the foetuses. Glyphosate is the herbicide used in the cultivation of Monsanto's genetically modified soya, which now covers some 18 million hectares, about half of Argentina's arable land.

Carrasco said that the doses of herbicide used in their study were "much lower than the levels used in the fumigations". Indeed, as some weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, many farmers are greatly increasing the concentration of the herbicide. According to Página 12, this means that, in practice, the herbicide applied in the fields is between 50 and 1,540 times stronger than that used by Carrasco. The results in the study are confirming what peasant and indigenous communities - the people most affected by the spraying - have been denouncing for over a decade. The study also has profound consequences for the USA's anti-narcotics strategy in Colombia, because the planes spray glyphosate, reinforced with additional chemicals, on the coca fields (and the peasants living among them).

Three days after the interview, the Association of Environmental Lawyers filed a petition with the Argentine Supreme Court, calling for a ban on the use and sale of glyphosate until its impact on health and on the environment had been investigated. Five days later the Ministry of Defence banned the planting of soya in its fields. This sparked a strong reaction from the multinational biotechnology companies and their supporters. Fearful that their most famous product, a symbol of the dominant farming model, would be banned, they mounted an unprecedented attack on Carrasco, ridiculing his research and even issuing personal threats. He was accused of inventing his whole investigation, as his results have not yet been peer-reviewed and published in a prestigious scientific journal.

Carrasco was firm in his response: "When one is dealing with a subject of limited public interest, one can keep the study secret until all the last details have been resolved. But when one uncovers facts that are important for public health, one has an obligation to make an effort to publish the results urgently and with maximum publicity." Even so, he was clearly taken aback by the strength of the reaction. "It was a violent, disproportionate, dirty reaction", he said. "I hadn't even discovered anything new, only confirmed conclusions that others had reached. One has to remember, too, that the study originated in contacts with communities that have suffered the impact of agro-chemicals. They are the undeniable proof of the impact." He is not intimidated: "If I know something, I will not shut my mouth."


Detection of Transgenic cp4 epsps Genes in the Soil Food Web

By Miranda M. Hart1, Jeff R. Powell1, Robert H. Gulden2, David J. Levy- Booth3, Kari E. Dunfield4, K. Peter Pauls2, Clarence J. Swanton2, John N. Klironomos1 and Jack T. Trevors3
Agronomy for Sustainable Development 29 (2009) 497-501
July 9, 2009


The persistence and movement of transgenic DNA in agricultural and natural systems is largely unknown. This movement poses a threat of horizontal gene transfer and possible proliferation of genetically modified DNA into the general environment. To assess the persistence of transgenic DNA in a field of Roundup Ready corn, we quantified the presence of the transgene for glyphosate tolerance within a soil food web. Using quantitative real-time PCR, we identified the cp4 epsps transgene in bulk soil microarthropods, nematodes, macroarthropods and earthworms sampled within the corn cropping system. We found evidence of the transgene at all dates and in all animal groups. Transgenic DNA concentration in animal was significantly higher than that of background soil, suggesting the animals were feeding directly on transgenic plant material. It remains to be tested whether this DNA was still within the plant residues, present as free, extracellular DNA or had already undergone genetic transformation into competent bacterial cells. These results are the first to demonstrate the persistence of transgenic crop DNA residues within a food web.

Read the study

1 Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
2 Department of Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
3 Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
4 Department of Land Resource Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada


GM Food Can Cause the Biggest Health Crisis

By Latha Jishnu
Business Standard, India
July 17, 2009

For a country that doesn't take much interest in scientists, Gilles-Eric Seralini is probably as well known as a scientist can get in India. Seralini is professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen in France, and he hit the headlines here early in 2009 when his analysis of the research data on the country's first transgenic vegetable, the Bt brinjal, was presented to the Supreme Court of India. That's when all hell broke loose. The French scientist's findings were stark: he said the tests conducted by Mahyco, the company producing the Bt brinjal, were simply not valid. To start with, and this was a point completely missed by the array of top scientists who sit as the apex regulators on the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC), he discovered that the Bt brinjal had been modified to produced an unknown chimeric (artificial) toxin. He also flagged off a number of evident and potential health hazards of the Bt Brinjal, such as its resistance to at least one - well-known antibiotic, kanamycin.

There are compelling reasons why India cannot afford to ignore what Prof Seralini says: he comes with impeccable credentials. Since 1998 he has been a member of two commissions evaluating the environmental and health risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for the French and European authorities and was among the experts used by the European Union (EU) when it clashed with the US in the World Trade Organisation over Europe's 2003 moratorium on GMOs. Prof Seralini's expertise has been sought globally as president of the Scientific Council of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN). This is how activist Aruna Rodrigues who is fighting a critical GMO case in the Supreme Court brought Seralini into the Bt brinjal debate. Mahcyo has yet to respond to Seralini's analysis.

Algeria-born Seralini, 49, is a genial man who speaks softly in halting English with a sense of humour which can be unexpected and deadly, says Latha Jishnu. Excerpts from an interview conducted last week in Delhi:

You head the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN). Is its expertise and independence recognised globally?

We have undertaken studies for the EU, the directorate of agriculture of the European Commission, Quebec's ministry of environment, the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, the Carrefour Group; we did studies on transgenic salmon for the University of Montreal, the European Spatial Agency and Greenpeace among others.

What is the biggest problem with GMOs?

You may not be aware that 99.9 per cent of edible GMOs are designed to contain toxic pesticides whose effect on the human body and the environment are not known. At CRIIGEN, we believe there should be transparency on the development of GMOs. This is the biggest problem. Everything is kept confidential by the biotech companies whose data governments accept without validation. We need many more tests on the environmental and health-safety aspects of GMOs and it should be assessed independently. We want science to be used for the benefit of people, not companies.

Are the tests on GMOs inadequate?

No government anywhere has asked a company to do more than 90-day tests on GMOs. It's unbelievable that such tests are considered adequate for food that is given to babies and old people. Most companies also keep their test data secret, especially blood analyses of animals fed on GMOs. This is not science; we are still living in the Middle Ages. No tests have ever been conducted by companies of the pesticides associated with GMOs on human cells. The blood analyses are performed only on rats and are kept unbelievably confidential.

I must congratulate India on making the Mahyco data on Bt brinjal public. (This came about as a result of the Supreme Court case and a campaign launched by Greenpeace India). I must also congratulate Mahyco for tests conducted on three mammals but it did the tests for only two doses against three mandated in the OECD protocol (India claims to be following this protocol).

What is the most dangerous finding from your analyses of the Mahyco data?

The dossiers submitted by Mahcyo raise serious concerns. They are not signed by the researchers who did the tests, which means these can be considered invalid. But most significant, Bt brinjal has been modified to produce an unknown chimeric insecticide toxin. In the toxicity tests on target and non-target insects, this chimeric toxin was not used. Instead, an improper Cry1Ac toxin was used because this control was easier. Also, Bt brinjal is resistant to antibiotics, at least the well-known kanamycin.

How serious a health risk is that?

Antibiotic resistance, you must be aware, is recognised as a major health problem because of the growing genetic resistance to antibiotics, both in the environment and humans. You simply should not consider commercialising a food item that is resistant to antibiotics. Besides, several biotechnology companies have already developed transgenic plants without this marker gene.

So why is Mahyco unable to do so with its Bt brinjal?

It is possible that Mahyco bought an old unused GMO technology from Monsanto (The US biotech giant is the parent company of Mahyco).

Are there other concerns with Bt brinjal?

Bt brinjal appears to contain 15 per cent less kcal per 100 gram. It also has a different alkaloid content and 16-17 mg per kg of Bt insecticide toxin that is poorly characterised for side-effects. Significantly, rats fed on the Bt brinjal had diarrhoea, suffered liver weight loss while other animals, too, showed significant biological changes.

Given all these risks why is it that the GEAC did not bring it to the attention of the government?

I think the GEAC has not gone through the data on Bt brinjal. I have received mails from the GEAC asking me, \u201dWhy do you call it chimeric toxin?\u201d So I had to point out the page and paragraph where it was mentioned in the Mahcyo dossiers! They should scrutinise the data carefully, go through it table by table to discover what lies hidden in these figures, and not go by the conclusions of the company.

What should India do?

It should seek absolute transparency on GMO testing. GEAC and Mahyco must respond to the concerns raised on the side effects of Bt brinjal and the results should be available for public scrutiny. Also, GEAC should compel Mahyco to compare Bt brinjal with the same variety of brinjal, and not any variety that the company finds appropriate as it has done so far. This is not proper science because it masks the real effects of the Bt toxin. Most important, the regulators must insist on full transparency in the blood analyses of animals fed on Bt brinjal. The best way would be to set up an independent testing facility. This way India will become the symbol of not only good science but also the source of good food for the rest of the world.

Should GMOs be banned altogether?

GMOs should be tested like drugs. This means full life-cycle tests on rats and other mammals. That's the only way one can assess their safety for human consumption. As for the environment, remember that once it is out in the open, you cannot confine it. In India, it will be the end of your rich biodiversity. I understand that there are 2,000 varieties of brinjals in this country. You risk contaminating all of these. Let me give you an example: A tiny quantity of sterile GM maize producing a vaccine for pigs in the US has contaminated 500,000 tons of soya.

Even Europe is under US pressure on GMOs

In spite of that, GM crops account for only 0.05 per cent of the acreage in Europe (100,000 hectares in Spain), while it is 18 per cent of US agriculture which produces 96 per cent of the world's edible GMOs. The European approach is that we don't know enough about this technology so long-term assessments must be made of the environmental and health impact. The EU also stands for transparency and counter expertise, meaning independent scientific tests. I believe that the world is headed for the biggest health crisis ever because of the lack of transparency. It will make the financial crisis seem like a blip.


Monsanto's New GM Wheat Campaign

By Alex Jack
July 18, 2009

Obama Expands Bush Biotech Agenda

For the first time in five years, GMO wheat is front and center on the world stage, as Monsanto announced and major trade associations in Australia, Canada, and the United States launched a new campaign to genetically engineer the world's leading food crop.

In 2004, Monsanto abandoned efforts to commercialize Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant wheat following a prairie storm of protest by farmers, consumers, and health and environmental groups, including Amberwaves. But now, as crises related to world hunger, energy, and climate change heat up, there is a concerted effort by the biotech industry to capture the world's foremost commodity market. In a rapidly developing situation this spring and summer:

  • Major wheat associations in North America and Australia called for new varieties of GM wheat to improve nutrition and fight disease, drought, and insects as part of the campaign against world hunger and global warming. Signatories included The National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates, the North American Millers' Association, Grain Growers of Canada, and the Grains Council of Australia
  • A coalition of farmers, consumers, and health and environmental groups in Canada, the U.S., and Australia issued a joint statement confirming their commitment to stop the commercialization of GM wheat. These included the national Farmers Union, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Organic Federation of Australia, and Amberwaves. The Canadian Wheat Board, a major trade group, also came out against GM wheat unless consumer reluctance changed
  • Dow AgroSciences announced that it had teamed up with World Wide Wheat (W3) to develop new wheat traits to improve productivity and quality of crops without using GM. Dow is one of the world's leading GM seeds companies, while W3 works to develop new traits for wheat, barley, and oats without biotechnology
  • Syngenta, the Swiss biotech giant and principal global rival to Monsanto and Dow, reported that GM wheat is not a priority. "With regard to GM wheat, we assume that a lack of consumer acceptance remains," a spokesperson noted. However, within 10 years, new strains of GM wheat could be developed with traits that gained consumer acceptance, the representative added.
  • After several months' silence on the issue, Monsanto announced in mid-July that it would reenter the GM wheat arena. Rather than herbicide-resistance, it said it would focus its efforts on developing new engineered varieties that give higher yields, better nutrition, and greater resistance to drought, disease, and other aspects of climate change.

"The U.S. wheat industry has come together to call for new technology investment, and we believe we have game-changing technologies, like our drought=tolerance and improved-yield traits, that can meaningfully address major challenges wheat growers face each season," Monsanto executive vice present Carl Casale stated.

Although the biotech industry split this year on whether to press ahead again for GM wheat (with Dow and Syngenta dropping out for the moment), Monsanto signaled that it will wage an all out campaign to develop new transgenic lines. Over the next several years, this promises to be a battle for the soul of America and the world's food supply. Not only is wheat the world's chief whole grain, consumed by billions of people daily, 85 percent of the annual wheat harvest in this country is exported to Asia and Africa. Organic and conventional wheat in America will inevitably become contaminated and threatened as organic soy and corn are now endangered species (up to 80% of all organic soy products in the U.S. are contaminated with GMOs, according to independent scientific tests). Obama Administration's GM Agenda

Meanwhile, the introduction of other GM foods and products is moving full steam ahead. President Obama and his administration, led by Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture and a veteran supporter of biotechnology, have not only continued the pro-GM policies of the Bush Administration but have taken genetic engineering to new heights. In developments this spring:

  • The FDA approved a drug made from the milk of goats carrying a human gene that protects against blood clots. It is the first medication made from gene-altered animals and paves the way for a new class of medical therapies at the USDA.
  • The U.S. government approved a request from ArborGen to plant 260,000 GM cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees in 29 "field trials" across seven southern states. The STOP GE Trees Campaign, an international alliance, says that the trees would be allowed to flower and produce seeds, potentially escaping into native ecosystems and forests. The Sierra Club accused the Obama administration of circumventing a legally mandated Environmental Impact Statement by planting whole forests under the guise of "field trials." Environmental groups have taken the agency to court to require testing of Roundup Ready sugarbeets. GM sugar beets were commercialized last year for the first time and already have created widespread contamination of ordinary non-GM and organic sugarbeets and chard (a closely related species) in the Willamette Valley, the nation's main seed growing region in northwest Oregon
  • The USDA approved the first GM sterile insects, a fruit fly and pink bollworm, over protests by the Sierra Club which says genetic defects and mutations will inevitably result in DNA contamination of natural insects and the rise of new artificial species that will interbreed, give rise to new predators, and upset fragile ecosystems
  • President Obama named Rajiv Shah, the director of agricultural development for the Gates Foundation, as Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics. The Gates Foundation's agricultural projects have been led by a former Monsanto vice president and emphasize development of new strains of GM rice and other staples
  • The USDA signaled it will approve the use of GM corn for use in ethanol production for the first time. It would be the first industrial crop to be planted on millions of acres annually. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, GM ethanol would inevitably contaminate the food and feed supply and endanger wildlife
  • The Obama administration criticized the draft law on GMOs that Poland submitted to the European Commission establishing GM-free zones and other restrictions

Despite well-publicized organic gardens at the White House and USDA headquarters, it is clear that the Obama administration is committed to escalating the genetic engineering of the food system, developing new GM biomedicines and biofuels, and even redesigning the landscape with new artificial species of plants, animals, and insects. Those who supported the new president on the basis of his campaign pledges to label GM products and require strict testing on the long term health and environmental effects of new altered seeds, foods, and organisms have been deeply disappointed. With Monsanto declaring war on nature and a popular chief executive touting biotech solutions over the next four to eight years, the campaign to preserve amber waves of grain and keep America and the planet beautiful will be more challenging than ever.

Alex Jack is president of Amberwaves, a grassroots organization founded in 2001 to help protect rice, wheat, and other essential foods from genetic engineering, climate change, and other threats. His books include Saving Organic Rice, Imagine a World Without Monarch Butterflies, and The Cancer Prevention Diet.


Quick, Quiet Genetic Corn Approval Questioned

By Michelle Lalonde
Canwest News Service
July 25, 2009

MONTREAL - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has quietly approved a new genetically engineered corn with eight different insect- and weed-fighting traits, but farmer and environmental groups in Canada say the approval was rushed and environmental risks ignored.

Developed through a research agreement between Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, SmartStax corn is unique in that it "stacks" eight different genetically engineered traits that will allow corn to tolerate certain weed- and insect-killing products made by the two companies.

Each of the eight traits has been individually approved by the CFIA, but opponents are concerned there might be unintended consequences when the traits are combined.

"You'd think that a combination of eight GE traits would trigger an environmental assessment, but the CFIA has (provided) no public record of their evaluation," said Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

The CFIA has also conditionally authorized for SmartStax a reduction in the size of the buffer zone, or "refuge," normally required around genetically engineered corn.

Farmers who grow insect-resistant corn have to plant regular corn around it in an area equal to 20 per cent of the GE cornfield. This is to delay the evolution of insect resistance to the toxins in the GE corn, which would then necessitate the use of stronger pesticides.

CFIA officials were not available for comment Friday. A short statement on its website said "the CFIA has evaluated the potential impact on and risk to the environment of using a 5 per cent non-Bt refuge strategy for this product, and has concluded that a conditional authorization until Dec. 31, 2012, of the use of this refuge poses minimal risk to the environment."

"Not only did the CFIA neglect to do a risk evaluation for SmartStax corn, but it has also seriously reduced one of the only precautions imposed on farmers," said Benoit Girouard of Quebec's Union Paysanne, a farmers' group.

Between now and December 2012, the CFIA statement said, Monsanto and Dow are required to evaluate how insects like corn rootworm are adapting to the product.

"It's like putting the wolf in charge of the sheep's welfare," said Eric Darier, director of Greenpeace Quebec.

In May, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for an immediate moratorium on genetically modified foods, saying they pose a "serious health risk."


Industry Asks USDA to Clarify Broad Power to Regulate GE Crops

Inside EPA
July 31, 2009

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to clarify its authority to regulate genetically engineered (GE) corn and other biotech crops due to widespread confusion prompted by recent suggestions from USDAs Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that it lacks authority to regulate at least one variety.

The groups call is also aimed at ensuring the department continues to play the lead role regulating the plants in the wake of suggestions from some activists that EPA should oversee the issue if APHIS would not.

At issue is a June 4 notice APHIS published in the Federal Register seeking additional comment on an application by Syngenta Seeds Inc. to deregulate, and thus commercialize, a GE corn, known as Event 3272, that is designed to ease ethanol production.

In the notice, APHIS said it had determined that it lacks regulatory and statutory authority under the Plant Protection Act (PPA) to regulate the corn, agreeing with Syngenta that neither the enzyme injected into the corn nor the corn itself are living organisms subject to PPA oversight.

That assertion prompted broad concern among environmentalists that APHIS was dramatically ceding its authority to regulate many GE crops entirely, and they suggested that EPA may need to step in and regulate under the Toxic Substances Control Act (Inside EPA, June 19).

Now BIO -- the main trade association for the biotech industry -- is also urging APHIS to clarify its earlier statement. In July 6 comments, BIO tells APHIS that its notice has resulted in considerable confusion amongst stakeholders regarding the scope of APHIS authority and BIO urges the agency to clarify that issue at the earliest possible time. Relevant documents are available on

BIO says the PPA provides expansive authority for the regulation of plant pests and potential plant pests, including [GE] plants.

The group adds that clarification of APHIS authority would help preserve its designation as the lead agency for regulation of biotechnology-derived plants under a framework that dates back to 1986.

Environmentalists are also formally raising their concerns about the APHIS shift in their formal comments. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists in July 6 comments says APHIS rationale offered a new interpretation of PPA authority that excludes practically all GE plants from PPA jurisdiction. . . . The agencys argument that GE ethanol corn is not a plant pest because it is not a parasitic plant applies to most, if not all, GE plants.

If APHIS decides to proceed with this application under PPA authority, the agency should withdraw its new interpretation of GE crop jurisdiction and return to the interpretation established more than two decades ago. The agencys shift in position on such a weighty matter throws the industry into chaos and undermined confidence in the oversight of GE crops.

However, Syngenta in its own supplemental July 6 comments strongly agrees with APHIS conclusion, noting the APHIS notice fully responds to comments made by corn refiners arguing that the alpha-amylase enzyme is . . . a plant pest if misdirected to corn wet milling production facilities. . . . Both the legal and factual analyses conclude that the alpha-amylase enzyme is not a plant pest within the meaning of the statute. We agree. . . . The injury that commenters allege may result indirectly from deregulation of Event 3272 corn is simply not a plant pest injury and therefore provides no basis for continued regulation.

In a statement to Inside EPA, APHIS defends its broad PPA authority to regulate GE crops and study the safety of their introduction into the market. APHIS says during the initial public comment period on the Syngenta application, the agency received substantive comments questioning whether Event 3272 met the standard of the plant pest. . . . In response, APHIS reopened the public comment period in June . . . and concluded that Syngenta-developed GE corn is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk. APHIS will review all of these comments before making a determination in response to Syngentas request. . . . Even if APHIS deregulates a particular biotechnology product, the company must still comply with applicable [Food & Drug Administration] or EPA requirements.

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