Say No To GMOs! logo

Vermont's Conventional Dairy Farmers Pledge Not to Grow GMOs

Campaign for Moratorium on Genetically Engineered Crops Gaining Ground

For Immediate Release
January 21, 2004
Contact: Bayard Littlefield 802-272-9536
Drew Hudson 802-223-5221xt 4787

Montpelier, VT — 56 Vermont farmers urged legislators to support a "time out" on genetically engineered (GE) crops at the Vermont Statehouse today at a news conference and citizen lobby day. The Senate agriculture committee heard testimony from several conventional dairy farmers supporting a moratorium on GE crops. This grassroots advocacy effort came as today’s New York Times reported that a new study commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture says that "while there are many techniques being developed to prevent genetically engineered organisms or their genes from escaping into the wild, most techniques are still in early development and none appear to be completely effective."

70 Vermont towns have taken action at annual town meetings calling for policy at the local, state and national levels on genetically engineered agriculture to protect farmers and the environment. The Vermont Senate supported a bill last year calling for the labeling of genetically engineered seeds. Today conventional dairy farmers, citizens, environmental organizations and organic agriculture advocates gathered to again sound a warning about contamination of crops due to the use of GE varieties, and urge Vermont’s legislature to act.

"It is not just the organic farmers who are hurt by genetically engineered crops, it is the regular dairy farmer too—we want to see Vermont agriculture products stand for quality without this contamination," Dexter Randall, a 7th generation dairy farmer in Troy, Vermont said Wednesday. "Dairy farmers are coming out of the wood work to support not using GMOs across the state because they aren’t fooled by the tactics large corporations like Monsanto use to get them to buy and grow GE seed, " he added.

In 2004 alone, fifty -six conventional Vermont dairy farmers joined the growing national movement opposed to GE crops by pledging not to grow the corporate seeds. Farmers in rural Vermont, across the Midwest, and around the country are concerned about pollen drift and liability for contaminated crops.

Late last year, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) found that samples of organic corn from Vermont fields did in fact yield traces of genetically engineered material, proving that containment of these new crops is not adequate to protect farmers from contamination. Vermont Governor Jim Douglas and his administration are proposing to send a letter to farmers encouraging them to talk to their neighbors about GMOs as the state’s policy to deal with the contamination crisis. But today local farmers reiterated that what’s needed is a "Time Out on GMOs."

The GE Free Vermont Campaign on Genetic Engineering is a statewide coalition of public interest groups, businesses, concerned citizens and farmers, who are organizing to oppose genetic engineering at the local, state and national level, and calling for a "Time Out" on GMOs.

cows at fence


Schmeiser Case Heard Before Canada's Supreme Court

Paul Elias, AP Biotechnology Writer
January 20, 2004

Lawyers for agribusiness titan Monsanto Co. drew pointed questions from the Canada Supreme Court on Tuesday in a dispute with a Saskatchewan canola grower that has become a cause for biotechnology opponents and proponents around the globe.

The court could takes months to rule on the dispute, which began in 1997 when Monsanto discovered its canola plant, genetically engineered to withstand the company's popular weed killer, growing on Percy Schmeiser's farm.

The suit alleges Schmeiser obtained Monsanto seeds without paying for them. Schmeiser contends the company's canola accidentally took root on his farm, possibly falling from a passing truck or arriving with a gust from a neighboring farm.

Two lower courts found in Monsanto's favor and ordered Schmeiser to pay the company about $140,000 in damages and legal costs.

Some farmers, especially those from developing nations, fear that natural or accidental contamination of their conventional crops with biotech varieties will give biotech companies licenses to seize their crops.

"This exposes countless farmers to potential liability," argued Steven Shrybman, who is representing the Washington, D.C.-based International Center for Technology Assessment and five other activist groups who joined the Canada Supreme Court case in support of Schmeiser.

Schmeiser's lawyer argued that in light of another court ruling refusing to patent "a higher life form" -- a genetically engineered mouse created by Harvard University -- Monsanto's patent on the engineered gene in canola does not give it ownership of the entire plant.

Robert Hughes, Monsanto's lawyer, argued that the company wasn't seeking a patent on the entire canola plant, but rather an "ingredient" of the plant. He likened the company's patent to that of an inventor who develops a new kind of steel for automobiles and receives a patent for that component rather than the whole car.

"According to the Harvard Mouse ruling, I don't think the steel analogy works," countered Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.

Though the nine-judge panel's leaning was inscrutable, industry lawyers were peppered with even sharper questions than the other side.

Justice Ian Binnie appeared skeptical of the damage award, asking what additional profit Schmeiser made with Monsanto's seeds than conventional seeds if Schmeiser, as he has testified, didn't spray the company's herbicide.

Monsanto's lawyers were also rebuffed when arguing that Schmeiser's fields contained such a high percentage of genetically engineered plants -- as much as 98 percent -- that no innocent explanation could explain how Monsanto's canola ended up in the farmer's field.

"There is no evidence that Mr. Schmeiser bought the seeds," snapped Justice Louis LeBel, to the delight of Schmeiser's supporters in the packed courthouse.

Monsanto and its backers who joined the case -- an industry lobbyist and two farm groups -- argued that invalidating the company's patent could do it and the country economic harm and undermine Canada's patent system.

"Patents create a climate that favors new research," argued A. David Morrow, a lawyer for the Canadian Seed Trade Association, who said his organization "is in favor of biotechnology research and therefore in favor of strong Canadian patent protection."

Monsanto and its backers insist Schmeiser must pay every year for seed, just like 30,000 other canola farmers in Canada, where roughly half the 10 million acres of canola have been converted since 1996 to Monsanto's variety.

"This patent makes us more profitable and better farmers," argued Mona Brown, a lawyer with the Canadian Canola Growers Association.

A ruling against Monsanto could boost the anti-biotechnology movement, which is trying to stop the spread of genetically engineered plants and animals until more comprehensive scientific studies are conducted to ensure the technology is safe.

Outside court, Schmeiser said he was relieved his five-year legal battle, which has cost him more than $230,000 in legal bills, is nearly over.

"It has changed my life," he said. "But I'd do it again."


Rules on Biotech Crops to Be Revised

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 23, 2004

USDA Will Examine Environmental Impact of Genetic Engineering

Department of Agriculture officials said yesterday they will begin revising their rules governing genetically engineered crops, a process that will include for the first time a comprehensive review of the regulations' effect on the environment.

Government restrictions covering the development of gene-altered plant species have been the subject of great controversy in recent years, with environmental groups arguing that rules are not tough enough and do not properly take into account the effect of engineered species on the surrounding ecology. Agriculture officials agreed yesterday to reexamine regulations with an eye toward updating them, though that process will not necessarily result in tighter restrictions. Department officials said they simply want the rules to better reflect reality.

"As science and technology advance, we want to have a regulatory framework that keeps pace," Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said.

Among the changes proposed are an expansion of the department's regulatory authority to include certain plants and insects not previously covered, as well as an overhaul of the system for granting permits to run field tests on genetically engineered crops. The new permit system would place organisms into different tiers based on potential risk, with varying degrees of regulation applying to each tier.

In addition, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will develop a wide-ranging environmental impact statement to assess the effectiveness of existing regulations, with a draft due by the end of the year. That process begins with a public comment period that starts today and lasts until March 23.

Yesterday's announcement was met with approval from a trade group representing the biotechnology industry, which expressed hope that increased scrutiny of the rules might give consumers more confidence in genetically altered foods.

"One of the best ways to help people feel more comfortable with the newer technology is knowing that there's a strong, robust regulatory structure in place," said Lisa Dry, communications director for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "As long as regulations are grounded in science, we'll always be supportive."

Environmental and consumer groups have long pushed for environmental impact statements relating to genetically engineered organisms, and they reacted favorably yesterday to the news that the government's broad review will include one.

"They haven't done that to date, and to that extent it's a big deal," said Gregory Jaffe, director of the biotechnology project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food and nutrition-oriented consumer advocacy group.

But he noted that the process of updating regulations is a long one, and it could take several years before reforms are adopted.

Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, said he worries that the reform process may not result in tougher regulations if certain organisms are exempted from scrutiny. "The question is how responsive they will ultimately be. Will the meat be on the bones?" said Mendelson, whose group promotes organic agriculture and seeks limits on biotechnology applications that it considers potentially harmful. Veneman said any changes to the regulations will be based on the best available science and a realistic assessment of risk.

A study published earlier this month showed that 7 million farmers worldwide grow gene-altered crops, many of which have been engineered to better resist pests and weeds. The number of acres of those crops surged 15 percent last year, even as many environmental groups -- as well as several European governments -- questioned the safety and usefulness of genetically engineered organisms.

Yesterday's announcement follows the release earlier this week of a report commissioned by the Agriculture Department that concluded new techniques are needed to ensure that genetically engineered organisms don't damage the food supply or endanger existing species. The report, produced by a panel of the National Research Council, proposed an "integrated confinement system" by which potentially harmful effects from gene-altered organisms could be kept at bay. That system, the panel said, should be overseen by federal regulators.

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has been regulating biotechnology since 1987, overseeing field testing of more than 10,000 genetically engineered organisms. In that time, more than 60 gene-altered products have been deemed safe and deregulated for possible commercial use.

Environmental and industry groups alike said yesterday that while they welcome the process of reforming the rules, they reserve the right to criticize whatever reforms that process brings.


Africa: Dumping Ground For Rejected GE Wheat

By Mariam Mayet
African Centre For Biosafety
January 21, 2004

As Monsanto Corporation battles declining profits, worldwide rejection of its genetically engineered (GE) products, and revelations over conflicts of interests in US courts, the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) revealed that the giant transnational which is headquartered in the U.S plans to “dump” in South Africa what no one else wants - GE wheat.

On the 19th January 2004, Monsanto announced that it had approached the South African government for permission to import its GE wheat, known as Roundup Ready wheat from the US or Canada, (1) in an obvious pre-emptive bid to create a much needed market for its GE wheat, because none exists anywhere in the world.

GE wheat is not grown commercially anywhere in the world, including the U.S and Canada. This hugely disingenuous move by Monsanto belies the fact that Monsanto is in fact struggling to obtain commercial approval in the US and Canada, because of the technical difficulties in the genetic transformation of wheat (2) and in the face of massive rejection by consumers and farmers in the US and Canada. In May 2003, the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), a farmer-controlled grain marketing agency, called on Monsanto Canada to withdraw its application for an environmental safety assessment and put the interests of consumers first.

Monsanto’s application also comes at a time of widespread rejection by the major wheat importers throughout the world, including in Africa. Importers from Algeria, Egypt, the European Union, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have unequivocally and repeated stated that they would not accept GE wheat. The senior managing director of the Japanese Flour Millers Association comprising 36 large flour millers who have more than 90% of the total wheat market in Japan stated his position clearly “ Under the circumstances, I strongly doubt that any bakery and noodle products made from genetically modified wheat or even conventional wheat that may contain genetically modified wheat will be accepted in the Japanese market. World wheat supply has been abundant in recent years, and I don’t see why we have to deal with modified wheat…I believe the production of modified wheat at this time will be a very risky challenge for US producers.”(3)

Wheat forms an important part of people’s diet in South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa, and represents an important source of carbohydrates. Monsanto proposes to mill the GE wheat for human consumption. However, the milling of the GE wheat will not break down DNA. Intact transgenic DNA may be present in food, thus gene transfer to microorganisms in the human digestive process is possible. In many GE wheat varieties being tested, genes conferring resistance to the antibiotics neomycin and kanamycin are present. If these genes are transferred to disease causing organisms they may compromise antibiotic treatment given to people.

"South Africa’s regulatory system is not capable of assessing the health impacts of GMOs introduced into the food chain. Its safety assumptions are based on scientifically flawed concepts such as substantial squivalence (4) which leads necessarily to seriously flawed procedures and protocols for assessing health risks,” said Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety.

The import of GE wheat into South Africa, and thereafter, to other parts of Africa is unnecessary, dangerous and should be rejected out of hand by the South African government. “Why should Africans be the dumping grounds for risky food made in a laboratory that no one else in the world wants to eat?” asks Mayet.


  1. Monsanto has used the same genetic systems it uses in many of its other GE Roundup Ready crops to develop Roundup Ready wheat. Glysophate acts by inhibiting a key enzyme in plant metabolism, 3-enolpyruvylshikimate-5-phosphate synthase (EPSPS). To make glysophate resistant wheat, Monsanto have used both a glysophate—tolerant EPSPS gene (CP4) from an Agrobacterium and another bacterial gene which codes for glysophate reductase (GOX), which breaks down glysophate.

  2. For instance, the genome of wheat is some 10-20 times larger than that of cotton or rice, making it much more difficult for reliable genetic modification. Transgene silencing, instability and rearrangements are common problems with GE wheat. See further, Patnai, D. & Khuruna, P. (2001) Wheat biotechnology: a mini-review. EJB Electronic Journal of Biotechnology 4(2): 1-29 available at and Repellin, A. et al (2001) Genetic Enrichment of cereal crops via alien gene transfer: New Challenges. Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture 64: 159-183.

  3. Tsutoma Shigota, senior managing director of the Japanese Flour Millers Association, Cropchoice News, 2 February 2001.

  4. Substantial equivalence’ absolves biotechnology companies from carrying out necessary nutritional and toxicological animal tests to establish whether the biological effect of GE crop-foodstuff is substantially equivalent to that of its non-GE counterpart. This leads to the presumption that GE foods would be accepted as being similar to the non- GE counterparts. All that the biotechnology companies are required to do is refrain from introducing GE foods that do not have grossly different chemical compositions from those of foods already on the market.


Lawmaker To Propose Bill To Regulate Genetically Modified Crops

January 27, 2004

MONTROSE, Colo. (AP) - Companies testing genetically modified crops in Colorado could have to pay for state oversight under pending regulations to protect existing farmers.

Republican state Rep. Ray Rose said the state Agriculture Department has drafted regulations for crops that are genetically modified to yield industrial or pharmaceutical products. A bill he said he plans to introduce soon would allow the department to implement the regulations and impose fees on the industry to pay for an oversight program.

"My goal is to ensure that it's done safely and properly," Rose said.

The regulations have not eased the fears of critics about potential genetic contamination of food crops.

"We're still very concerned that it will not stay confined, even with regulation," said Betsy Austin, an organic farmer south of Montrose.

She said organic farms risk losing their markets if their crops or seed stock are contaminated by genetically modified plants.

Meristem Therapeutics received a permit last year to plant modified corn on 30 acres near Holyoke, and it wants to use greenhouses in Rifle for test plots, Rose said.

Critics fear genetic material from modified crops could drift into neighboring fields and enter the food chain through cross-pollination or accidental seed dispersal.

The U.S. Agriculture Department in 2002 condemned 150 acres of Iowa crop land that was contaminated by pharmaceutical corn.

Rose said the state's draft regulations would allow the state to evaluate each permit application and apply specific requirements for growing and processing based on factors including the type of genetic modification.


Big Donation to Critics of Mendocino Measure H

By Mike Geniella
The Press Democrat
January 31, 2004

UKIAH -- A consortium of the world's largest producers of genetically engineered crop products has pumped $150,000 into a campaign to defeat a Mendocino County ballot measure that would be the first in the nation to ban such products.

It is the largest contribution ever funneled into a Mendocino County campaign, county election officials said.

"We just don't see contributions of this magnitude,'' County Clerk Marsha Wharff said.

The donation by CropLife America, a Washington-based industry lobbying group representing Monsanto, Dow and DuPont corporations among others, so far is the only financial support reported by a citizen committee opposing Measure H on the March 2 ballot.

The committee, set up by the Sacramento-based California Plant Health Association, has hired the former manager of the Ukiah Valley Chamber of Commerce to orchestrate the anti-Measure H drive.

Until now, the largest contribution ever made in a local election was $80,000 in 1994 by former timber giant Louisiana-Pacific Corp. to bankroll a committee supporting two candidates for the county Board of Supervisors.

CropLife's $150,000 contribution dwarfs the $18,000 raised so far by local supporters of Measure H. With a month left before the election, the anti-Measure H group is positioned to spend at least $3 per registered voter on direct mail and local radio and newspaper ads to convince them the ballot initiative is a ``dangerous precedent.'' As of Jan. 2, there were 46,480 registered voters in Mendocino County.

In 2002, CropLife contributed $3.7 million to a successful statewide campaign in Oregon to defeat a measure that would have required the labeling of foods produced from genetically engineered crops. Mendocino's Measure H does not require labeling.

More funds possible

CropLife spokesman Allen Noe said Friday the organization is prepared to pump more money into the anti-Measure H campaign if necessary.

"Measure H in our view is a dangerous precedent. It's poor public policy to let a political subdivision like a county dictate standards for the industry,'' Noe said.

Measure H backers cried foul.

"There's no way we can match dollar-for-dollar the huge amount of money these multinational corporations are going to put into this campaign,'' said Els Cooperrider, co-owner of a Ukiah organic brew pub and key organizer of the Measure H campaign.

Cooperrider said she's convinced, however, that Measure H will win despite the campaign war chest being assembled by critics.

"They're underestimating the intelligence of Mendocino residents, who know corporate bullying when they see it,'' she said.

Measure H, if approved in the March 2 election, would ban the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing'' of genetically engineered crops.

For decades, growers, seed companies and researchers largely relied on cross-breeding of closely related plants to develop new agricultural products and to enhance old favorites.

But since the 1970s, a fast-emerging biotechnology that allows genes to be taken from anywhere and inserted into another plant or animal species has eclipsed traditional breeding practices and forever altered certain species.

96.3 million acres

Since 1996, farm land in the United States devoted to genetically engineered food crops, such as corn, wheat, tomatoes and soybeans, has grown from 3.7 million acres to 96.3 million today, according to the Pew Initiative on food and biotechnology. The nonprofit research organization is funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and administered by the University of Richmond in Virginia.

Researchers today are exploring a variety of new genetically altered crops, including developing wine grape plants that would be resistant to troublesome diseases, such as Pierce's disease.

Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroScience, DuPont and other agricultural biotechnology companies contend that genetically engineered crops are safe and subject to adequate regulatory review.

Cautionary report

Critics, however, cite a report released Jan. 20 by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences that found it may be difficult to completely prevent genetically engineered plants and animals from having unintended environmental and public health effects.

On Jan. 22, the U.S. Agriculture Department announced it will consider regulatory changes to keep up with rapidly changing technology.

Noe said that is why Measure H isn't needed. "There's already a coordinated framework in place to address the concerns,'' Noe said.

Cooperrider said Mendocino County is currently free of genetically engineered agricultural crops.

"That's the way we want it to stay. As a former scientist, I know these companies can't adequately protect our food chain from errant genes,'' said Cooperrider, a retired medical research scientist.

top of page