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Food Supply Vulnerable to Contamination by Drugs and Plastics from Gene-Altered Crops

Union of Concerned Scientists Press Release
December 15, 2004

UCS Calls for Ban on Food Crops Genetically Engineered to Produce Pharmaceuticals, Industrial Chemicals

WASHINGTON, D.C. - For more than a decade, corn, soybeans, and other food crops genetically engineered to produce drugs, vaccines, and industrial chemicals have been grown on American farms. But a new report by six agricultural experts now warns that the food supply is vulnerable to contamination by these "pharmaceutical crops" unless substantial changes are made in the ways and places such crops are grown and managed.

Based on the experts' findings, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to immediately ban the field production of corn, soybeans, and other food crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals. UCS recommends that the USDA spearhead a major campaign to encourage and fund safer alternatives like non-food crops or growing pharmaceutical food crops indoors.

"Nobody wants drugs in their cornflakes," said Dr. Margaret Mellon, Director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS. "Consumers who discover that they have unwittingly ingested drugs in their cereal and taco shells are likely to direct their ire-and their lawsuits -against the companies that sold them the food."

UCS convened the panel of experts to determine whether it is possible to produce pharmaceuticals in familiar food crops like corn or soybean (the two plants most often used for pharmaceutical production) without contaminating human food or animal feed. The panel-acting independently of UCS-analyzed the current system for growing food- and feed-grade corn and soybeans and identified many points where drugs and plastics could pass to the food supply if pharmaceutical crops were grown under the same system. After evaluating various approaches to blocking contamination at those points, the panel concluded that the current corn and soybean production system cannot be used for pharmaceutical corn and soybean in the United States while ensuring virtually no contamination of the food and feed system.

"It is sobering that drugs and industrial chemicals could have so many routes to the food supply," said Dr. David Andow, editor of the technical report and a professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota. "Pollen can be carried to fields with food crops by the wind or insects, seeds lodged in the crevices of harvesting equipment could come loose while harvesting food, and plants can come up as volunteers in the middle of a food crop. To protect the food supply, each potential route has to be blocked."

The expert panel said it is theoretically possible for the government to create a new system that would allow corn or soybean to be safely used as pharmaceutical crops. Establishing that system, however, especially if it permits pharmaceutical crop production to continue within traditional food-crop regions, would require new management systems, new oversight, and new uses of some equipment and technologies-all built from the ground up. The expert panel strongly encouraged development of this new system.

UCS doubts the USDA could establish, monitor, and ensure the successful operation of a new system of this magnitude. Over the past few years, the federal government has put together a piecemeal system, which, while moving in the right direction, is not enough to protect the food supply. The better way to reap the benefits of pharmaceutical crops is to stop the use of food crops now and begin to explore other production methods, like non-food crops or plant cell cultures.

"Consumers and food companies alike will not accept a system that allows drugs to seep into the food supply-even at very low levels," said Dr. Jane Rissler, Deputy Director of UCS's Food and Environment Program. "But alternatives will not emerge overnight. That's why the USDA must embark immediately on a major campaign to encourage and fund alternatives to the outdoor use of food and feed crops in pharmaceutical and industrial crop production."

The technical report was written by scientists at Iowa Sate University, University of Central Florida, University of California at Davis, University of Illinois, and University of Minnesota, and an agricultural management expert based in Hudson, Iowa. An introduction to the technical report and UCS conclusions and recommendations were written by Drs. Mellon and Rissler. The technical report and UCS conclusions and recommendations are being released today as one document, A Growing Concern: Protecting the Food Supply in an Era of Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crops which can be found at


Bayer's GE Crop Herbicide, Glufosinate, Causes Brain Damage

by Yumi Wijers-Hasegawa
The Japan Times
December 7, 2004

The glufosinate herbicide, used in large quantities on Bayer's GM herbicide-resistant crops, has been found to have adverse effects on the brain.Yoichiro Kuroda, the principal investigator in a project titled the Effects of Endocrine Disrupters on the Developing Brain, under the government's CREST (Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology) program, believes polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and glufosinate can hamper the development and activity of the brain.

PCBs are "mock hormones" -- endocrine disrupters that cause neural development defects by disrupting gene functions and neural-network formation in kids -- resulting in lower IQ scores and hyperactive tendencies, he said.

Glufosinate, widely used in the U.S. as a super herbicide for herbicide-resistant genetically modified crops, is like a "mock neurotransmitter" that has an aggressive effect on brains, he said. If an embryo or a baby is exposed to the chemical, it can affect behavior, as it disturbs gene functions that regulate the developing brain, he said.

A decade ago, the late Toshiko Fujii, a one-time professor of medicine at Teikyo University, conducted research in which she found that the main component of this GMO-compatible herbicide had adverse effects on the brains of baby rats. "Male rats often fight one another, but female rats are peaceful," Kuroda said in explaining Fujii's research. "But female rats born from mothers that were given high doses of glufosinate became aggressive and started to bite each other -- in some cases until one died. That report sent a chill through me."

He said there is a considerable possibility that fetuses and babies are also affected by the substance, and since it is widely assumed that males are more aggressive to begin with, it is possible they are more affected than females. "The chemical industry has not been considering this kind of risk on the developing human brain, which is a fragile, fine chemical machine," he said.


Horse(weed) Out Of The Barn, Growers Focusing On Control

By Elton Robinson
December 13, 2004

Glyphosate-resistant horseweed has been confirmed in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama and Missouri.

Now that a biotype of glyphosate-resistant horseweed has been released into Delta cotton fields, there’s not much farmers — especially those downwind from a source of seed — can do to prevent its spread.

With resistant horseweed out of the barn, so to speak, focus shifts to control at burndown, planting and in-season, according to Robert Hayes, weed scientist at the University of Tennessee, Jackson, Tenn.

Hayes, speaking at Cotton Incorporated’s Crop Management Seminar in Tunica, Miss., noted, “Glyphosate-resistant horseweed has grown from a problem that impacted producers only in the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) area and a few counties in west Tennessee to a great concern for cotton producers through the Mid-South.”

Glyphosate-resistant horseweed has been confirmed in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama and Missouri. It thrives in an periodically undisturbed environment, which is common to the no-till or reduced tillage areas of west Tennessee. In the Mid-South, horseweed can emerge all during the year, according to Hayes.

Hayes says the problem surfaced due to repeated use of a single site of action herbicide (selection pressure) that led to escapes of the resistant biotype.

The prolific seed production of horseweed, amounting to 50,000 to 250,000 seed per plant, coupled with the ease of dissemination by wind, “lends to the widespread distribution of glyphosate-resistant horseweed,” Hayes said.

“Crop rotation and rotating herbicide site of action can, in general, help with weed resistance, but these strategies will likely be of little benefit in preventing infestations from windblown seed of horseweed,” Hayes said “There is little you can do to avoid it if you are downwind of a source of seed.”

Resistant weeds are easy to spot, according to the weed scientist. “When you see dead weeds and live weeds of the same species growing side by side, that should be a real clue that something is wrong. If you’ll investigate, it’s either an application problem or a resistance problem.”

Here an update on treatment options, from studies conducted by Hayes, Tennessee Extension weed scientist Larry Steckel and Arkansas Extension weed scientist Ken Smith.

Hayes’ most consistent preplant burndown treatment was a tank mix of Clarity at 8 ounces per acre with 22 to 32 ounces of glyphosate. The next most effective treatment was a tank mix of glyphosate at 22 to 32 ounces and 2,4-D at 16 ounces.

Valor (at 1 to 2 ounces) is also a good tool that can be used effectively in a preplant burndown program, according to Hayes, particularly in a fall application. “Valor will prevent emergence through the spring. Or you can add it as a tank mix partner for Roundup/Clarity to go out early.”

Hayes noted that Clarity, 2,4-D and Valor require minimum waiting periods of 21, 30 and 21 days, respectively, before planting cotton. To manage horseweed emerging close to or at planting may require Gramoxone WeatherMax plus a residual herbicide such as Cotoran/Meturon, Karmex/Direx or Caparol. Ignite at 32 to 40 ounces is also an option in this timeframe.

MSMA is an option to manage escaped or newly emerged horseweed after cotton emerges. Ignite can also be applied postemergence over-the-top of Liberty Link cotton, “which provides excellent horseweed control,” Hayes said. “Remember that there is a maximum use rate of 80 ounces of Ignite per season.”

Envoke postemergence after cotton reaches the fifth-leaf stage will suppress horseweed, according to Hayes. “In our research, we killed the terminal meristem of glyphosate-resistant horseweed with Envoke, but sometimes released the lateral buds for regrowth.”

Post-directed options include Cotoran/Meturon plus MSMA, Karmex/Direx plus MSMA, or Suprend. Suprend is a package mixture of the active ingredient in Envoke with prometryn, the active ingredient in Caparol.

Layby treatments effective against resistant horseweed include Karmex/Direx plus MSMA. At higher rates, Karmex/Direx will provide some residual control, but may carryover to fall-seeded small grains and cover crops.

The added chemical cost of controlling glyphosate-resistant horseweed at early burndown is $4 to $10; at planting, $9 to $10; postemergence, $6 to $10; and post-directed, $10 to $12.

“It is extremely important to scout fields, especially Roundup Ready fields, for newly emerged horseweed because it emerges throughout the growing season,” Hayes said. “Timeliness is the key to successful management. Smaller horseweeds are consistently easier to control.”


U.S. Attacks Iraqi Agriculture

by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
December 2004

Oil is not the only booty that the US is seeking to control in Iraq. Agriculture is also emerging as a factor. Critical observers in various countries around the world contend that Washington is seeking to convert the country into a captive market for US agricultural surplus, as well as for genetically-altered foods and seeds that nobody else wants.

When L. Paul Bremer, provisional president of Iraq, stepped down from his post in the supposed transition to sovereignty at the end of June, he left in effect some 100 orders that continue have force of law today. One of these, number 81, prohibits Iraqi farmers from saving seeds. This means they cannot use the seeds from one harvest to plant the following season; they have to buy seeds each year from the agribusiness transnationals. In fact, the world commerce in seeds is actually dominated by five firms: Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical.

Order 81 caused a furor among defenders of farmers' rights and agricultural biodiversity. The international groups GRAIN and Focus on the Global South, respectively based in Barcelona and Thailand, published a joint statement affirming that Iraq is one of various important scenarios in an effort by transnational corporations to impose global monopolies over seeds and thereby control human food and agriculture on a global level.

From time immemorial, Iraqi farmers--like those throughout the word--have saved, exchanged and shared their seeds freely, without interference from the state or powerful economic interests. But this is now changing thanks to the concept of intellectual property rights (IPR), one of the most important elements of neoliberal globalization. Intellectual properties are intangible possessions that are the product of human ingenuity, such as books, songs, movies, medicines, software programs and agricultural seeds. In the post-Cold War world, the tendency has been to extend IPRs to products of nature, allowing the patenting and privatization of medicinal plants, proteins, genes y even human cells.

The agro-industrial corporations are seeking to use IPRs to take over global seed stock so that nobody on earth can plant a seed without paying royalties to its corporate "owner." Anyone who doesn't pay is considered a pirate who is illegally copying a patented product, and can be sanctioned under the law--just as the authorities are doing with people who copy movies on DVD, music CDs or Microsoft programs, or those who download songs from the Internet.

The traditional way, which farmers have practiced since the dawn of agriculture, is now a crime in Iraq. Ironically, Iraq is considered a cradle of agriculture, since the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom was found there. And agriculture began precisely when people began saving and selecting seeds.

While it is clear the privatization of seed is occurring all over the world, Iraq is a special case, according to GRAIN and Focus on the Global South. Order 81 was not the product of bilateral or multilateral trade negotiations, as is usually the case with IPR laws. It was not approved by the legislature of a sovereign country; much less was it the result of a democratic consultation with the affected farmers. It was imposed by a foreign government--the United States--which exercised sovereignty over Iraq following a military invasion.

Global Repudiation

Various organizations have also accused the United States and the agribusiness transnationals of using Iraq as a captive market for genetically modified foods--transgenics--which have been rejected by the European Union, and even by the poorest countries in southern Africa.

Argentina's Rural Reflection Group (GRR) maintains that the conflict between the United States and the European Union over transgenics is part of a world struggle for access to oversea markets, and is related to the invasion of Iraq. "Biotechnology is fundamental to the interests of empire, and the transnationals of the genetic-industrial complex support the war effort in the context of the world food market," declared the GRR en a February 2003 statement.

"After the war, amidst devastation and hunger, food aid can be sent consisting of trasngenic grains, not only to subsidize North American producers but to demonstrate the public assertion, repeated in ape-like fashion by academics and journalists, that genetic engineering is the solution to global hunger."

The group UBINIG, which promotes ecological agriculture and community development in Bangladesh, also sounds an alarm about the use of Iraq as a market for transgenics. "We urge upon the World Food Programme and other UN humanitarian bodies not to use any Genetically Modified food (GM) as food aid to the war-affected people in Iraq," the group says in a recent statement.

UBINIG writes that "the beleaguered GM food industry [is] trying to move in to distribute the untested and unwanted genetically-modified food as part of the 'humanitarian aid'" to Iraq. "America is getting ready to solve so many of its economic problems over the dead and the injured in Iraq. They have already tried to use their 'junk' GM food to feed the famine affected people in Africa."

Peter Rosset, co-director of the California-based Food First, also links the war against Iraq with neoliberal policies he says are disastrous for agriculture. "With the war against Iraq, and with the new military bases throughout the South, the US is seeking an opening against its competitors in the new war for colonization of the Third World," he declared in an economic analysis of the war.

Rosset wrote in 2003 that this is "a military war for free trade... 'Free' trade has already nearly eliminated family agriculture from the North American countryside, has generated unemployment and social desperation in the US. With cuts in social spending that will be needed to cover the immediate costs of the war against Iraq, these problems will intensify."

Rosset concludes: "Because of all this, at this historic moment it is essential to link the movements against the war in the North and the South with each other, and with the global movement against neoliberal globalization that the free trade agreements represent. 'Free trade' is nothing more than war by other means, war against all the peoples of both the North and the South."

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is director of the Proyecto de Bioseguridad Puerto Rico (, a research associate at the Institute for Social Ecology ( and a senior fellow at the Environmental Leadership Program ( His blog is on-line at:

This story originally appeared in the Puerto Rican weekly Claridad, Nov. 25. Reprinted and translated by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT

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