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November 2009 Updates

GMOs Causing Massive Pesticide Pollution

By Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety
Huffington Post
November 21, 2009

There is one fact about genetically engineered foods that there is no debate about: no one wakes up in the morning eager to buy gene-altered food. There's good reason for this. Genetically modified foods do nothing for the "eating public". They provide no extra nutrition, flavor, safety or any other trait that people actually want. Instead, these food products only offer risks, which include potential toxicity, allergenecity, and lower nutritional value.

This presents a tough problem for the Monsantos of the world, who are pushing these GM foods. How can you sell something to the public that offers no benefits to them? And, because of their lobbying power, the biotech companies have ensured that their products are not labeled. So Monsanto's real request of the public is "be unknowing guinea pigs for foods that make us a lot of money and offer you nothing but risk."

Obviously this message is a PR nightmare, so Monsanto has come up with a spin that is old as public relations itself: "accept and buy our products because they will help the world." More particularly, their ads displayed in mass transit systems around the country and regularly on NPR claim that GM foods "will feed a hungry world" and "reduce the load of pesticides" used in agriculture.

Not surprisingly, both these claims turn out to be self-serving myths. Earlier this year the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a detailed report entitled "Failure to Yield". The report's findings were straightforward and incontrovertible. After 21 years of research, billions of dollars of investments in public and private funds, and more than 13 years of commercialization, GM crops have done nothing to significantly increase yield: so much for the "feeding the world's hungry" spin.

Now, a new report from The Organic Center, "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years", exposes the "less pesticide" myth. The report, which was released on Tuesday, was authored by Dr. Charles Benbrook, a leading agricultural scientist. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also mention that Center for Food Safety helped fund the report.

It turns out that far from reducing pesticides, GM crops are a major reason for the massive expansion of pesticide use in recent years. This should not be a surprise. The majority of GE crops are "Roundup Ready," designed to survive heavy and repeated spraying with Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller. Roundup Ready crops have dramatically increased Roundup use, and spawned a growing epidemic of Roundup-resistant weeds, which now infest millions of acres of American cropland. Killing resistant weeds requires more herbicides. How much more? Dr. Benbrook's study - based on official USDA data - shows that GE crops have increased the overall use of weedkillers in the U.S. by a massive 383 million pounds since 1996.

Sometimes even more chemicals won't do the trick. In the South, cotton farmers are reverting to the pre-industrial practice of "chopping cotton," or manual hoeing, to rid their fields of Roundup-resistant pigweed.

Never fear, the biotech industry has "killer" solutions to the Roundup-resistant weed epidemic - you guessed it, new crops resistant to different and multiple herbicides. Dr. Benbrook describes these "next-generation" GE crops, which are the true pesticide-promoting future of agricultural biotechnology.

For instance, Dow Agrosciences will soon bring us GE corn, resistant to 2,4-D, one of the weedkillers in Agent Orange - the dioxin-laced defoliant used during the Vietnam War. 2,4-D-resistant corn will undoubtedly increase use of this dangerous weedkiller, which has been banned in Sweden, Norway and Denmark due to its links to cancer and reproductive disorders. Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Syngenta all have their own new "herbicide-tolerant" crops in the works, some resistant to two and even three herbicides each. The inevitable result will be continuing increases in the use of toxic chemicals to kill "next-generation" weeds resistant to multiple weedkillers.

In the face of all this, many farmers are becoming disillusioned with GE crops. In many states, demand for conventional seed, especially soybeans, is outstripping supply. Among the reasons given by farmers for this historic switch are dramatic price hikes for biotech seeds, increased pesticide costs due to resistant weeds, premiums for non-GM supplies, and importantly, the ability to save and replant conventional seeds, which is illegal with Monsanto's patented GE seeds.

Thanks then to the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Organic Center for debunking the myths about GM crops and foods. In terms of timing, the two reports released this year couldn't have come at a more crucial moment. Through careful scientific analysis they expose the false advertising that biotechnology companies are using in print and on our public radio airways.

We should all know what Monsanto and other companies are selling, and its not a solution to world hunger or a cleanser for the environment. What they are really selling is what they make best: chemicals. The biotech giants - Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow - are, without exception, major pesticide manufacturers. They have each bought up sizeable chunks of the world's seed supply, and are using biotechnology to make those seeds sell their pesticides for them.

It may be good for their bottom line, but its bad for us, the safety of our food, and the health of our environment.

Read the report

FAQ about the report


Monsanto Pulls GM Corn Amid Serious Food Safety Concerns

By GM Free Cymru
Press Release
November 9, 2009

Applicant's dossiers contained wide-ranging fraudulent research

For the first time, a GM multinational has pulled two GM corn varieties from the regulatory and assessment process at the eleventh hour (1), after planning for a future income of several billion dollars per year from global sales (2). Monsanto has abandoned its ambitious plans for a so-called "second generation GM crop" rather than accede to a request from European regulators for additional research and safety data (3).

Under conditions of great secrecy, Monsanto has informed EFSA that it no longer wishes to pursue its application for approval of GM maize LY038 and the stacked variety LY038 x MON810. Both of these varieties were designed to accelerate the growth rate of animals. Two letters were sent to EFSA from the Monsanto subsidiary company Renessen at the end of April this year confirming the withdrawal of its applications originally submitted in 2005 and 2006. The letters cite "decreased commercial value worldwide" and state that the high-lysene varieties "will no longer be a part of the Renessen business strategy in the near future." (4) There has been no announcement of these decisions on the Monsanto web site, and there are no mentions on EFSA or European Commission web sites either. In other words, there is a conspiracy of silence involving both the applicants and the regulators.

The two letters sent to EFSA in April requested the return of all dossier material (varietal characterization, experimental protocols, and test results) which was submitted with the applications for cultivation, animal feed and human food (4). EFSA acceded to this request, making it impossible for any future independent researchers to analyse the Monsanto / Renessen data. That in itself is profoundly disturbing.

Scientists who have followed these two applications are quite convinced that the "decisions to withdraw" have nothing to do with commercial considerations and everything to do with food safety. In other words, the varieties are too dangerous to be allowed onto the open market -- although they would certainly have been approved by EFSA and most other European regulatory authorities had it not been for the diligence of independent scientists in New Zealand who subjected the application dossiers to very close scrutiny (5). In the absence of such scrutiny in the United States, the varieties were approved in 2005 for cultivation, animal feed and human food use on the other side of the Atlantic (6). Consents for food and feed use were also given in Japan, Canada, the Philippines, and South Korea. In 2007 Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) approved LY038 for food and feed use in spite of strenuous objections from the Green Party and scientists at Canterbury University's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) who warned that the new corn was not safe for humans when cooked (7). They also expressed concerns about unpredictable health effects, increased levels of toxins in high-lysene corn, and possible allergies and links to cancer.

It does not appear that the varieties have been grown or "commercialized" anywhere in the world (8), although test plantings probably occurred in the United States.

Blatant scientific fraud by the applicants"

While INBI's detailed and devastating analysis of the applicant's supporting dossiers was dismissed out of hand by FSANZ, EFSA was forced to take it seriously because of concerns from a large number of European countries including Finland and Malta. The scientific bases of those concerns were highlighted by Jeffrey Smith in his book "Genetic Roulette" and by Prof Jack Heinemann in his book "Hope not Hype" (9). The Monsanto dossiers included rigged research and false assumptions in the reported experiments; a failure to offer any test results based on cooked or processed corn; a failure to test the whole GM plant in feeding trials; confusing and contradictory characterizations of the GM varieties and proteins; a fraudulent mixing of GM strains during trials; a pooling of crop data so as to mask undesirable effects in experiments; feeding trials too short to reveal true physiological changes in animal tissues; and the choice of an irrelevant, unrelated corn variety as the co! ntrol group for comparison with the GM lines, with the clear intention of hiding potentially serious differences in composition or side effects on animals(10). The Codex guidelines for the testing of GM crops were thus comprehensively broken by Monsanto's subsidiary Renessen, and were not enforced by the regulators in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (11). All in all, this amounted to blatant scientific fraud by the applicants, and a cynical failure to enforce the rules, and to protect the public, by the regulators.

During the assessments of these two varieties in Europe, many countries used the INBI peer review of the applicant's dossiers to underpin their concerns, and these widely-expressed concerns forced EFSA to ask the applicants for additional studies and for a clarification of their experimental data (12). EFSA also asked -- for the first time -- for adherence to the Codex rules relating to GM and comparator studies. In the knowledge that their dossiers were now being subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny, Monsanto / Renessen simply decided that they would not cooperate in this process for fear of what might emerge. So they wrote to EFSA in April (4) to indicate that they were abandoning all plans for the cultivation and commercialization of the two GM crops.

"EFSA has been unfit for purpose"

Commenting for GM-Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "This is the first time, to our knowledge, that EFSA has sought to enforce the Codex rules relating to the use of isolines in the testing of GM crops, and the first time that it has expressed profound dissatisfaction about the content of an applicant's dossiers. It is also the first time that a GM multinational has withdrawn a GM product (or two products) at the eleventh hour. It was insane in the first place to seek to pass GM maize crops containing Bt toxins and "growth enhancers" straight into the human food chain (13). In addition, EFSA and the other regulators have been quite irresponsible in the past in assuming that "stacked" events, hybridized from two GM lines, are harmless if the applicant says so, and if the separate lines have been independently approved. That is simply bad science, since it fails to address the likelihood of synergistic effects and even accumulating toxins in the food chain (14).

"Nonetheless, we applaud the fact that EFSA has asked Monsanto some hard questions in this case, having in the past demonstrated, over and again, that its GMO Panel is simply unfit for purpose (15). This represents progress.

"We are quite convinced that Monsanto has been fully aware, from the beginning, that line LY038 and line LY038 x MON810 are both dangerous; and yet they persisted with their applications until the extent of their scientific fraud was exposed to the public. We should not be surprised by this. The corporation pushes dangerous products onto the food market all the time, and does whatever is necessary to hoodwink the regulators into the belief that all is well (16). We are convinced that Mansanto has other in-house studies which show that these varieties are unstable, unpredictable and harmful to health. Will we ever get to see these studies? No way!"


Stop Selling Out Science to Commerce

By Stuart Parkinson & Chris Langley
New Scientist
November 09, 2009

Do commercial pressures have a negative impact on science? This debate has been raging for so long that it usually raises little more than a shrug of indifference.

That is no longer a defensible response. A new report from our organisation, Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), exposes problems so serious that we can no longer afford to be indifferent to them.

The report looks at the impact of five commercial sectors on science and technology over the past 20 years. The damaging influence of two of these, pharmaceuticals and tobacco, has been noted before. But we also looked at the oil and gas, defence and biotech sectors, which have been subjected to less scrutiny.

We found a wide range of disturbing commercial influences on science, and evidence that similar problems are occurring across academic disciplines.

Over the past two decades, government policy in the US, UK and elsewhere has fundamentally altered the academic landscape in a drive for profit. Universities have been pushed to adopt a much more commercial mindset, from taking out patents to prioritising research that promises short-term economic gains. The rapid spread of partnerships between businesses and universities has led to some disciplines becoming so intertwined with industry that few academics are able to retain their independence.

Chemical engineering and geology are strongly linked to oil companies, for example, and it is hard to find an engineering department in the UK which does not receive funding from the arms industry. And many life sciences departments have extensive links with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

This creates enormous potential for conflicts of interest. The problem has long been recognised in medical research, and journals are starting to crack down on it, but in other disciplines the problems are rarely even discussed, let alone acted upon.

Such problems are a major concern because they can undermine the quality and reliability of research. This is perhaps best illustrated by "sponsorship bias", where research generates results that suit the funder (The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 290, p 921). Another well-documented problem is the failure to report results unfavourable to the funder.

Research is also undermined by misleading messages put out by industry-funded lobby groups. Again, these tactics are well known from the tobacco and oil industries, with their deliberate questioning of health research and sponsorship of climate sceptics. Less attention has been given to the funding of some patient groups by pharmaceutical companies and the (sometimes covert) use of PR companies by the biotechnology industry in the debate over genetically modified crops. This does not bode well for public discussions on the risks of synthetic biology.

Another cornerstone of science that is being eroded is the freedom to set the public research agenda so that it serves the public interest. Governments are increasingly focused on delivering competitiveness, and business interests are able to exert pressure on funding bodies through representatives on their boards. As a result, environmental and social problems and "blue-sky" research commonly lose out to short-term commercial gain.

For example, genetics now dominates agricultural science, not least because genetic technologies are highly patentable. This not only dominates privately funded research, but also steers publicly funded research away from work that takes a different approach or explores low-tech solutions.

As a result, "low-input" agriculture, which requires minimal use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and is cheaper and more useful to poorer farmers, is largely overlooked. Similarly, research on how to improve food distribution receives inadequate support.

Another example is research on security issues, which is overwhelmingly focused on new military technology. Research into understanding the roots of conflict, or to support negotiation and reconciliation programmes, receives a tiny fraction of the tens of billions of dollars spent globally on developing military hardware. And most of that is public money.

Put bluntly, much publicly funded science is no longer being done in the public interest. Despite this, policy-makers are complacent and argue that any damaging effects of commercial influence are minor.

In contrast, many scientists are noticing the effects and becoming discomfited by them. Some are starting to speak out. For example, staff at the Open University in the UK are pushing for new ethical standards for business partnerships following the university's involvement in a major military contract.

However, these campaigns are few and far between. There is a strong incentive for scientists not to make a fuss if their department receives industry funds. This is strengthened by contractual requirements for secrecy that often come with industry partnerships.

To defend independent science, reform is needed, from the level of government policy down to that of the research study. To this end, SGR is making recommendations. These include: the open publication of all funding arrangements between academia and business; ethical standards for business-university partnerships; proper handling of conflicts of interests by journals; more involvement of the public in setting research priorities; and a change in government policies which prioritise research with short-term commercial priorities above all else.

Scientists must now voice their concerns publicly in order that policy-makers hear them. They could do worse than follow the example set by campaigners at the Open University.

Stuart Parkinson and Chris Langley are authors of the SGR report Science and the Corporate Agenda, which can be downloaded from

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