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Bill for Labeling of Genetically Engineered Seeds Approved By Vermont Senate

GE Free VT Media Release
Contact: Amy Shollenberger, Rural Vermont 802.793.1114
Doyle Canning, GE Free VT 802.999.7502
April 16, 2004

First-in-the-Nation Bill Goes to Governor

Montpelier, VT—The Vermont Senate today gave final legislative approval for a bill to define genetically engineered (GE) seeds, mandate the labeling of all GE seeds sold in the state, and require reporting on GE seed sales by biotech corporations. The measure comes as farmers and their supporters are preparing for a major rally and march at noon tomorrow to mark the April 17th International Day of Farmers' Struggle at the US/Canada border in Derby Line, Vermont.

"Farmers and citizens around the world who are concerned about the use of genetically engineered crops have been watching the extraordinary grassroots movement in the state of Vermont" said Bill Wenzel, national director of the Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, a network of 35 farm groups across America saying no to GMOs. "I am so inspired to be here at this historic moment in the fight against the corporate takeover of our seed supply. The state of Vermont is making a big statement for family farmers everywhere and showing the world that even here in the US, farmers stand united against GMO crops that cripple our markets, threaten our environment, and only enrich the multi-national seed manufacturers like Monsanto."

At a farmer meeting at her Applecheek Farm last night in Hyde Park, Vermont, Judy Clark spoke with her neighbors about the crisis of contamination. "This seed labeling bill is a great first step, but it doesn't solve my problems as an non-GE grower: pollen drifts. Coexistence of GE and non-GE crops means contamination of the seed supply, and of my crop. Vermont lawmakers have got to join the rest of the world and call a Time-Out on GMOs to stop GMO contamination."

Clark will speak at tomorrow's rally alongside organic and conventional farmers from across Vermont and the Province of Quebec, and in concert with farmer rallies around the world. Rural Vermont, National Family Farm Coalition, and the GE Free Vermont Campaign are organizing the Derby Line farmer rally as part of the annual global day of action called by the international farmers' movement, Via Campesina ( April 17th demonstrations are planned in 15 countries including, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Bangladesh, Colombia, Italy, Mozambique, and Switzerland.

The GE Free Vermont Campaign on Genetic Engineering is a statewide coalition of public interest groups, businesses, concerned citizens and farmers, who have been organizing to oppose genetic engineering at the local, state and national level. For more information: (802) 793-1114 or GE Free VT.

Vermont governor signs nation's first GMO labeling law

by Darren M. Allen
Times Argus (Vermont)
April 27, 2004

MONTPELIER - Gov. James Douglas Monday made Vermont the first state to require manufacturers of genetically modified seeds to label and register their products.

The measure was one part of a three-pronged agricultural legislative package that also includes a bill that would make changes to water pollution rules for large farms and alter the state's right-to-farm law.

While the governor wasn't an enthusiastic supporter of the labeling legislation, he promised to sign it along with the other measures as a package.

"I've lived up to my end of the bargain," the governor said in a brief telephone interview. "I said I would support all of the elements on the table."

Under the bill, seeds that are genetically altered or engineered must be labeled as such after Oct. 1. Seed manufacturers must report their total sales in the state to the Secretary of Agriculture every Jan. 15.

The amount of genetically altered crops grown in Vermont is not precisely known, as the only data comes from seed manufacturers on a voluntary basis. Estimates last year by state officials pegged the figure at anywhere between 20 percent and 40 percent - or more or less, according to Bayard Littlefield, coordinator of the Vermont Genetic Engineering Action Network.


EU Starts Enforcing Strictest Rules On GM Food Labeling

Food Ingredients First
April 19, 2004

Few products to reach the market as companies keep in mind consumers' choices.

Countries in Europe have started enforcing the world's strictest rules on labeling genetically modified foods. However, few such products are expected to come to market as consumers continue to avoid these as "frankenfood."

Europe's biggest retailer, Paris-based Carrefour Group, said its own research shows more than 75 percent of European consumers do not want genetically modified foods.

Its own-brand products have been guaranteed biotech-free since 1999 and other companies are "doing whatever's necessary to make sure their products don't need to be labeled," a Carrefour spokeswoman said.

At the Di per Di supermarket in central Rome, manager Mario Greghi said it would be "useless" to stock such items because they wouldn't sell.

Major supermarket chains in Sweden require suppliers to provide documentation that products don't include genetically modified ingredients, and big companies generally comply.

Foods with biotech ingredients already had labeling requirements in the EU.

But the new rules are tougher because they will include ingredients like vegetable oils and other highly-refined products, such as soy lecithin, where the genetically modified DNA or resulting protein is no longer present or detectable in the final product.

The new threshold level is set at 0.9 percent, down from the current 1 percent.

Traceability rules adopted simultaneously require a paper trail "from the farm to the fork" to deter cheating.

In preparation for the law coming into force, "a lot of food companies have reformulated or found other supply chains" to avoid using the labels, said Dominique Taeymans, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at the European food and drink industry lobby, CIAA.

Food already on the shelves before today can still be sold without being relabeled.

Supporters of the biotech industry, which had fought for less stringent rules, expressed hope Friday that the implementation would clear the way -- as promised -- for the lifting of the EU's 6-year-old moratorium on approving new genetically engineered products.

But opponents pledged to keep up their campaign and were already pushing for even tougher rules to require labels on any meat or dairy products from animals that ate genetically modified feed.

The feed itself will have to be labeled under the new rules, but the EU decided not to label meat or dairy because there was no scientific proof that the altered material made it from the animal's stomach to the end product.

Farm groups in the US -- the world's leading producer of genetically engineered crops -- have opposed labeling, arguing it is unnecessary because their products have been proven safe.

In the US, about 80 percent of the soy crop, half of the canola crop and 40 percent of the corn crop comes from genetically engineered seeds. As the acreage has grown, Europe's markets have closed.


Brazil Labels GM Food

By Luisa Massarani
April 16 2004

[RIO DE JANEIRO] All human and animal food sold in Brazil that contains more than one per cent genetically modified (GM) ingredients must now be labelled under a law that came into force this month.

The law states that the packaging of GM products should be labelled with a 'T' — for 'transgenic' — no smaller than about 1 centimetre squared. It also imposes fines of between US$65 and US$1 million on producers that flout the new regulations.

Three organisations will be responsible for enforcing the law: the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Health Surveillance Agency will take care of agricultural and industry matters, respectively;

PROCONs, the state consumer-protection organisation will control commerce of GM products.

At present, it is illegal to grow GM crops for commercial purposes in Brazil. The only exception is GM soya illegally grown in 2003, which was granted special permission to be sold for both animal and human consumption.

Paradoxically, however, the new law does not require products containing the 2003 GM soya be labelled. Rather, the law states that the labels of such products should include the information: "this may contain ingredients produced by GM soya" or "this may contain GM soya".

The law has received a mixed reaction in the scientific community. Silvio Valle, a biosafety expert at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, questions why the legislation is stricter for products that are unlikely to be found on the Brazilian market, such as GM maize, than it is for illegally grown GM soya, "which is a reality in our country".

He says that the law does not make clear whether imported GM products must also be labelled. And he adds that it very unlikely that any labelled GM products will appear in Brazilian supermarkets this year.

This is not the first time that Brazil has legislated on labelling GM food. The government of ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso introduced a law that products with more than 4 per cent GM ingredients should be labelled, a limit that was reduced to one per cent in April 2003 by president Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva. However, neither of these laws was ever put into practice. e=1


Venezuela to Prohibit Transgenic Crops

By Jason Tockman
April 21, 2004

CARACAS, April 21, 2004 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias has announced that the cultivation of genetically modified crops will be prohibited on Venezuelan soil, possibly establishing the most sweeping restrictions on transgenic crops in the Western Hemisphere. Though full details of the administration s policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are still forthcoming, the statement by President Chavez will lead most immediately to the cancellation of a contract that Venezuela had negotiated with the U.S.-based Monsanto Corporation.

Before a recent international gathering of supporters in Caracas, President Chavez admonished genetically engineered crops as contrary to interests and needs of the nation s farmers and farmworkers. He then zeroed in on Monsanto s plans to plant up to 500,000 acres of transgenic soybeans in Venezuela.

I ordered an end to the project, said President Chavez, upon learning that transgenic crops were involved. This project is terminated.

President Chavez emphasized the importance of food sovereignty and security required by the Venezuelan Constitution as the basis of his decision. Instead of allowing Monsanto to grow its transgenic crops, these fields will be used to plant yuca, an indigenous crop, Chavez explained. He also announced the creation of a large seed bank facility to maintain indigenous seeds for peasants movements around the world.

The international peasants organization Via Campesina, representing more than 60 million farmers and farmworkers, had brought the issue to the attention of the Chavez Administration when it learned of the contract with Monsanto. According to Rafael Alegria, secretary for international operations of Via Campesina, both Monsanto and Cargill are seeking authorization to produce transgenic soy products in Venezuela.

The agreement was against the principles of food sovereignty that guide the agricultural policy of Venezuela, said Alegria when informed of the President s decision. This is a very important thing for the peasants and indigenous people of Latin America and the world.

Alegria has good reason to be concerned. With a long history of social and environmental problems, Monsanto won early international fame with its production of the chemical Agent Orange the Vietnam War defoliant linked to miscarriage, tremors, and memory loss, to which over a million people were exposed. More recently, the company has been criticized for side-effects that its transgenic crops and bovine growth hormone (rBGH) are believed to have on human health and the environment.

Closer to home in Venezuela, Monsanto manufactures the pesticide glyphosate, which is used by the neighboring Colombian government as part of its Plan Colombia offensive against coca production and rebel groups. The Colombian government aerially sprays hundreds of thousands of acres, destroying legitimate farms and natural areas like the Putomayo rainforest, and posing a direct threat to human health, including that of indigenous communities.

If we want to achieve food sovereignty, we cannot rely on transnationals like Monsanto, said Maximilien Arvelaiz, an advisor to President Chavez. We need to strengthen local production, respecting our heritage and diversity.

Alegria hopes that Venezuela s move will serve as encouragement to other nations contemplating how to address the issue of GMOs.

The people of the United States, of Latin America, and of the world need to follow the example of a Venezuela free of transgenics, he said.


Confronting Contamination: Five reasons to reject GM co-existence
April 2004

People all over the world are looking to Europe , where the hard-fought moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is about to be lifted and where the struggle is now on to determine what will take its place. Genetic contamination is at the centre of the debate and much is being said about thresholds, co-existence and preserving "consumer choice". But there's a lot that's not being said, particularly when it comes to how Europe 's decisions will affect the rest of the world. The larger issues at stake are in danger of disappearing in the minutiae of official negotiations.

Genetic contamination should be seen for what it is: an inevitable consequence of GM agriculture and the cornerstone of the biotech industry's efforts to make the global acceptance of GM crops a fait accompli. The biotech industry wants its opponents to believe that the only option left is to "manage" the co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. They want us to abandon the fight to stop genetic engineering and to turn our efforts to salvaging remnants of non-GM agriculture, in much the sam e way that they've tried to co-opt the struggle for biodiversity into a non-threatening campaign to protect global 'hot spots'. But such co-existence will inevitably lead to a two-stream system of global food and agriculture – a GM-free niche market for the very rich and a GM-polluted supply for the rest of us — with the sam e few corporations controlling both streams from seed to supermarket. In the face of this, more and more people are working courageously, with whatever means they can, to keep farms, zones, provinces, states, countries and regions GM-free.

Here are five reasons why the issue of contamination must lead to a complete rejection of GMOs:

1. The only way to prevent contamination is not to grow GMOs

Agriculture does not take place in a laboratory. Pollen travels. Seeds travel. Food travels. And they do not travel in nice, neat predictable ways. Insects can transport pollen over kilometres. So can the wind. The ability of seeds to stay in the soil for years before germinating can make things even more complicated. And there is no way to guarantee against human error and activity, whether it be scientists mistakenly sending GM seeds around the world to unsuspecting colleagues , people smuggling seeds across borders, farmers sowing the grains of GM food aid, or biotech companies frequently violating biosafety regulations. This is only logical: food and agriculture have always been about exchange, experimentation and trade and this is no different in the current context of globalisation.

Nobody is denying this basic fact in the European debate around co-existence. Study after study demonstrates the impossibility of practicing GM-free agriculture next to GM agriculture. This is why the co-existence negotiations are actually about thresholds (determining what levels of contamination are "acceptable") and liability (assigning responsibility for the inevitable contaminations that will occur). And this is why the GM industry is not serious about participating in any co-existence plans that might actually keep GM and non-GM agriculture separate and assign liability where it is due, as Bayer's recent decision to abandon the commercialisation of its GM maize in the UK goes to show. The most practical and cost-effective way to prevent GMO contamination is not to grow GM crops at all. Given that the arguments for growing GM crops are pretty weak from a farmer perspective and weaker still from a consumer perspective, there is no good justification for all the added effort and cost that it takes to bring GMOs into the agricultural system.

2. Damage control measures obstruct good farming practices

The proposed European plans for co-existence make it clear that separating GM and GM-free agriculture requires massive regulatory intervention. Crops have to be segregated by distance and barriers, seeds have to be certified as non-GM, funds need to be established to compensate non-GM farmers for contamination, post-harvest handling systems need to be developed, and so on.

The end result is far more control over farmers. They will be forced to conform to "co-existence" practices that have little to do with good farming. There will be more bureaucracy, paperwork, and pressure for certification and far less flexibility in deciding what to grow, when and how to grow it, and how to sell the harvest. Seed saving and exchanges, if they are not prohibited, will be much more complicated. The future of non-GM agriculture will be a tightly regulated system governed by onerous contracts that will leave farmers more vulnerable to the power of agribusiness. Moreover, for those countries without the resources for such regulatory intervention, there simply won't be a future for GM-free agriculture once GMOs are allowed in.

3. Contamination increases corporate control over agriculture

It's no big secret that the GM industry's interest lies in pushing GM crops as quickly and as widely as possible across the globe. Industry has raced to get its GM crops into the fields before biosafety regulations and public opposition set in. But it would be wrong to assume that the GM industry does not want some form of regulation for its products.

Big business likes regulations that enable it to control the market, while not preventing it from selling its products. Industry's lax attitude to the 'black market' for GM crops, such as that for Bt cotton in India or Roundup Ready soybeans in Romania , is just a temporary phenomenon. It likes this initial contamination because it puts authorities in an awkward position, and puts pressure on them to approve the crops. But once they attain this initial objective, the big companies quickly move in to squash the 'black market' and take control. This is what is happening in Argentina and Brazil .

The division between the biotech seed industry and downstream agribusiness is another temporary phenomenon. Alliances and mergers between the two industries will take off if and when the European and Japanese moratoriums on GM imports come to an end, giving rise to tightly controlled "identity preservation" systems, where farmers grow particular varieties under contract to corporations dictating what inputs they must use. These identity preservation systems, whether for non-GM or "value-added" GM crops, will be based on certified seed. Meaning, in order to "guarantee" the identity of their crops, farmers will have to grow their crops from seeds purchased from the company, leaving no room for seed saving or exchange. Farmers growing farm-saved seed will have to sell their crops outside of the non-GM stream, unless they can find informal local markets.

In the end, a small set of corporations or corporate alliances will emerge with complete control over the agriculture and food system, controlling both the GM stream, whether it be bulk commodities like Roundup Ready soy or "value-added" GM crops, and the non-GM stream, turning it into an expensive niche market for the rich, much like organic agriculture has become. Just look at Romania , where the only certified non-GM seed available is seed imported by Pioneer Hi-Bred from the US !

4. Contamination is an act of aggression

Most discussions of contamination focus on the "thresholds" of GM that consumers and industry will accept in "non-GM" products. But for many people, any GM contamination is an attack on their most sacred, fundamental beliefs. The most glaring example of this is the recent contamination of maize in Mexico .

For the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Guatemala , maize is the basis of life. In the creation story of the Maya, maize was the only material into which the gods were able to incorporate the breath of life and the gods used it to make the flesh of the first four people on Earth. For other peoples of Mexico , maize itself is a goddess. Maize has been the fundamental food of Mexicans for centuries and thousands of varieties provide an amazing range of flavours, consistencies, recipes, nutrients and medicinal uses. It has kept indigenous peoples alive in the face of discrimination, poverty and plundering. It has become equally key and often equally sacred for peasant communities in Mexico and in many other parts of the world. The vast majority of Mexicans will not hesitate to tell you "we are the children of maize". So, when the people of Mexico discovered that their maize was contaminated by GMOs, they saw it as a violation of what is most sacred to them. Alvaro Salgado of the National Center to Support Indigenous Missions (CENAMI) expressed the popular sentiment: "Contamination isn't just one more problem. It's an aggression against Mexico 's identity and its original inhabitants."

5. The poor will suffer the most

There is simply no way that poor countries of the South will be able to implement the kind of co-existence measures being proposed in Europe . You only have to look at the situation with pesticides to understand the disparity in regulations and implementation between the North and the South. Whenever GMOs are introduced into Southern countries, contamination is inevitable, even if the GMOs come in as grain for food aid. But it's not just the ease with which contamination can occur that is so problematic for the South; it's also the implications.

The stakes are much higher in the South, since the poor are highly vulnerable to any disruptions in local agriculture, local food supplies, and local customs. Southern countries are also in a weak position vis-à-vis their exports. While they rely on agricultural exports for much of their foreign exchange, the export markets are controlled by Northern companies, who are free to block exports from Southern countries if they fail to meet the thresholds for contamination set by importing countries or even the companies themselves. The push for GM comes from the North, but it is the North that will end up dominating the non-GM market, if GMOs make their way into Southern countries.

The only practical option for Southern countries is to close their borders to all imports of GMOs. Such a move, however, takes a level of political courage that seems to be eluding many governments in the South. The unrelenting pressure from the biotech industry, the US government and their allies is often too much. In this context, support for "co-existence" in the North is an attack on solidarity with the people of the South. It will only encourage the spread and domination of GMOs over the South's agriculture.

Getting back to basics

There is no acceptable justification for GMOs. There is already more than enough knowledge and technology for farmers to practice agriculture in ways that will feed the world's population, look after the planet, and support the well-being of rural communities. Who cares if these practices aren't profitable for big agribusiness? GMOs are obstacles that prevent us from moving in the right direction and we need to treat them as such. The only possible position in support of pro-farmer, ecological agriculture and in solidarity with the world's peoples, is a complete rejection of GMOs.

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