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Whole Foods Shareholders Applaud
Company's New Policy to Label
Genetically Engineered Foods

Press Release
Shelley Alpern, Trillium Asset Management, 617.970.8944
Beth Williamson, GCCM, 617-426-2506
April 05, 2005

The shareholder proponents of a proposal at Whole Foods Markets (NASDAQ: WFMI) congratulated the company yesterday for agreeing to implement the resolution’s call for labeling of Whole Foods’ private label products with respect of genetically engineered ingredients. The change was announced at Whole Foods’ annual stockholder meeting in New York City.

"We are enormously pleased with this development and applaud Whole Foods for continuing to take leadership on the issue of genetically engineered foods," said Shelley Alpern of Social Research & Advocacy at Trillium Asset Management, the proposal’s lead proponent. "Whole Foods customers are exactly the demographic that wants to see this information on product labels, and will reward the company accordingly." The shareholder group that filed the proposal included Portfolio 21, Progressive Investments, Green Century Capital Managment, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church, and Jennifer Clark of Austin, Texas.

The shareholders initiated dialogue with Whole Foods on labeling in 2001. The following year, they withdrew a similar proposal.

In announcing the change, CEO John Mackey asked, "If we don’t do this, who will?" Noting the possibility that labeling could invite legal actions, Mackey stated that it would be a "lawsuit worth fighting." The uncertainty stems from the Food & Drug Administration’s failure to provide final guidelines for labels on genetically engineered foods. The shareholders had argued, however, that careful and accurate wording on Whole Foods’ part could insulate the company from legal action.

Indigo Teiwes of Progressive Investments stated, "Improving transparency, increasing consumer education, and realizing the full benefit of the company’s market advantage resulting from this decision is a strategic business move. Given increasing consumer concerns about genetically engineered foods, Whole Foods is taking advantage of a natural opportunity to enhance its market share."

"As an industry leader, whose growth is driven by increasing consumer concern of the purity and safety of food we celebrate Whole Foods commitment to bringing the topic of genetic engineering to the forefront," said Beth Williamson Green Century Capital Management.

Whole Foods did not specify a timeframe for the changes. The company stated that additional information and updates would be available on its web site.

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[VT] Senate Passes GMO Liability Bill

By Louis Porter
Vermont Press Bureau
April 6, 2005

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate on Tuesday gave nearly unanimous approval to a bill designed to make seed manufacturers liable for the impacts of genetically modified crops.

As many as a dozen senators were expected to oppose the bill, but the final vote was 26-1. Sen. Wendy Wilton, R-Rutland, voted against final passage.

But the political wrangling over the bill, which now goes to the House, is far from over and could end in a veto by Gov. James Douglas.

And a portion of the bill which defines the extent to which manufacturers of genetically modified seeds are liable for potential harm remains a sticking point.

Two amendments designed to strengthen the protection afforded to farmers were added to the bill almost without debate.

But the amendment which caused the most consternation and discussion in the Statehouse wasn't even offered on the floor in the end.

That change, which hung on a single word, would have removed the "strict liability" provision of the proposed legislation.

Under strict liability a seed manufacturer would not have to be proven at fault before they could be held liable for potential damages from pollen drift of genetically modified crops.

The change supported by Wilton, Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, and Sen. Harold Giard, D-Addison, who also proposed the other two amendments, would have changed the wording of the bill from "is liable" to "may be liable"."The dog in this bill is strict liability," said Starr, who vowed to work to change the language in the bill in the House, where he used to be a state representative. Strict liability is "killing a fly with a baseball bat," he said.

Wilton agreed.

"I thought long and hard about what I was going to do," she said. "It's the strict liability provision that is most damaging."

If strict liability remains in the bill, Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr said he will recommend to Douglas that he veto the bill.

"The governor shares the concerns that have been articulated by Secretary Kerr," said Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs. "The governor is hopeful we will be able to reach a compromise before the bill arrives on his desk."

Strict liability is typically used with chemicals and products which are known to be abnormally dangerous, Kerr said, and that claim has not even been discussed this year during the debate over the genetically modified seed bill.

Pesticides, which are known to be dangerous, are not governed under strict liability, he said.

Amy Shollenberger, policy director for Rural Vermont, said strict liability was the only way to ensure that seed manufactures, not farmers, were liable for the impact of genetically modified crops.

"It's the only way to get it off their backs and establish a clear cause of action," she said.

"The fundamental part of the strict liability is to have the responsibility lie where it belongs," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, D-Windsor.

Seed manufacturers who will reportedly not sell their products in Vermont if the bill passes may have been responsible for the nearly unanimous vote, senators said.

"Some of the manufacturers made threats that undermined their arguments," Welch said.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, was even more direct.

"I don't take well to threats from international companies that don't want to come into the state and compete on a level playing field," he said. "It's not acceptable."


China's Wild Card on Transgenic Tree Front

By Kris Christen American Chemical Society
April, 2005

With commercial plantings of genetically engineered (GE) poplar trees taking root in China, this could be where the grand experiment on the potential of controversial transgenic tree technology plays out, according to forestry researchers. Commercialization seems imminent in South America too, where Brazil is likely to plant transgenic eucalyptus trees for commercial purposes within the next year or so, says Roger Sedjo, director of the Forest Economics and Policy Program at Resources for the Future (RFF), an independent environmental policy think tank.

There is some irony that the current theatre of action is shifting away from the United States, given that UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics indicate that nearly two-thirds of all research activities on genetic modification in forest trees have taken place in that country. However, these have involved only heavily restricted experimental field tests. The one exception is the papaya orchard tree genetically engineered to resist the insect-borne ring spot virus devastating the industry in Hawaii. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has approved this tree for commercial use.

Environmental concerns, similar to those that have roiled the planting of GE agricultural crops, have stymied the commercial development of transgenic trees in North America and Europe (next page). But countries like China are moving forward aggressively because "they actually need this technology," said Alvin Yanchuk, forest genetics program manager for the British Columbia Ministry of Forests in Canada, at a forum sponsored by Duke University's School of Environment and Earth Sciences in November. This "may be the new arena where the rest of the world watches and determines how risky this technology may be for their own publicly owned forests."

Indeed, disastrous floods in the mid-1990s led China to ban all logging in the headwater regions of major rivers, which immediately eliminated a significant portion of their wood supply, explains Al Sample, president of the Pinchot Institute, a nonprofit sustainable forestry think tank. Consequently, China is now a net importer of wood, "which is a big problem as they're just hitting their stride in terms of [economic] growth," he notes. "Without biotechnology applications, which don't necessarily need to include genetic engineering, they're likely to become a significant drain on world resources and stimulate illegal logging throughout Asia, which is already happening."

Sedjo agrees, adding that China has been establishing tree plantations for more than 20 years, some for environmental purposes. China's "Great Green Wall", for example, was launched in 2001 as part of a government-sponsored reforestation project that aims to plant a 2800-mile-long shelterbelt of trees across China's northwest rim, skirting the Gobi Desert.

With insects now devastating wide swaths of the country's remaining forestlands, the Chinese are believed to have planted 300–500 hectares of hybrid poplar trees engineered with the Bt gene to confer resistance, according to Yousry El-Kassaby, a forest geneticist at the University of British Columbia (Canada). He bases this figure on exchanges with Chinese researchers at a November 2003 FAO meeting on forest gene resources. However, there seems to be no official documentation of the planting.

The release of these commercial Bt poplar trees was made possible through China's regulatory system for transgenics, which is somewhat looser than those in North America and Europe. In China, transgenics fall into one of four risk categories: zero, low, medium, or high, Sedjo explains. If researchers find a zero or low risk inherent in a release, then deregulation is almost automatic, although some post-deregulation monitoring can still occur. "Bt poplar was perceived as having no or low risk to the environment and hence was released," he notes.

Europe, on the other hand, will tolerate no risk-if any risk of harm is associated with a release, it's automatically vetoed, Sedjo says. By contrast, in the United States and Canada the notion is that the risk can be no greater than the risk that would be involved with the release of a traditionally modified crop. "If it's not any greater, we're able to accept that amount of risk," Sedjo explains. And once deregulation occurs, no follow-up monitoring is required, although that could change under a regulatory overhaul being conducted by APHIS on GE plants and likely to be proposed this spring, says Michael Wach, an environmental protection specialist with APHIS.

Overall, transgenic tree research promises widespread payoffs in the environmental arena, and the field got a big shot in the arm this fall with the sequencing of the Populus genome, the first tree to be completely sequenced. The sequence data collected by an international team of scientists "will provide researchers with a critical resource to develop faster growing trees, trees that produce more biomass that can be converted to fuels, and trees that can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere or be used to clean up waste sites," said Spencer Abraham, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.

As of 2000, 124 field tests of genetically altered trees had been authorized in the United States, including transgenic spruce, pine, poplar, walnut, citrus, cherry, apple, pear, plum, papaya, and persimmon, Sedjo reports in an RFF paper that was released in November. Other countries undertaking field trials include Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Copyright © 2005 American Chemical Society


Genetically-modified Bt Cotton a Cropper:
Study from R Akhileshwari

Deccan Herald News Service, Hyderabad
April 13, 2005

Despite claims that Bt cotton provides socio-economic benefits, the study reveals that it infected soil and no other crop could grow after the Bt cotton crop was harvested.

A study that tracked genetically modified Bt cotton crop for three years in Andhra Pradesh has proved conclusively that it has failed on all fronts including yield, cost of cultivation, returns to farmers and resistance to pests. On the other hand, the non-Bt cotton performed better on all counts.

"There are negative returns on every count other than pesticide use in Bt cotton crop, said Mr P V Satheesh, convener of AP Coalition on Defence of Diversity and Director of Deccan Development Society, which sponsored the study.

Incidentally, this is the first-ever independent scientific study on Bt cotton done on season-long basis continuously for three years in 87 villages of Warangal, Nalgonda, Adilabad and Kurnool districts, which are the major cotton growing districts of the State.

The AP Coalition, which comprises 140 civil society groups across the State, demanded that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Government of India should withhold the three-year license to the Bollgard Bt hybrids of Mahyco-Monsanto.

Monsanto Corporation, that markets Bollgard variety of Bt Cotton in India through Mahyco, asserts that it returns huge socio-economic benefits to farmers. It also claims that Bt cotton contributes to a healthier environment, as it involves lesser use of pesticide. However, the study shows that it infected the soil and no other crop could grow after the Bt Cotton crop was harvested.

As against this, the soil of the non-Bt cotton was friendly to other crops like chilly. "This is an early warning and needs to be researched by soil scientists and plant pathologists,"said Satheesh.

Hybrids, a failure

The study conducted by Dr Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari, agricultural scientists, found that the three-year average yield of Bt cotton was 649 kg per acre while that of non-Bt cotton was 708 kg per acre. The costs of cultivation for Bt cotton was 12 per cent higher than that of non-Bt cotton. The three-year average returns on Bt cotton was 60 per cent less than that for non-Bt cotton. "On all accounts, the Mahyco-Monsanto Bt hybrids failed the farming community in Andhra Pradesh," said Mr Satheesh.

He recalled that Mahyco-Monsanto had commissioned studies by market research agencies rather that scientists, which claimed that AP farmers had gained five-fold gain from Bollgard compared to non-BT hybrids. "Hundreds of farmers, who have testified in the study have told us how Bollgard cultivation has ruined them totally. In the face of reality, this claim by Mahyco-Monsanto is an example of dark humour," he said.

The Coalition demanded that the AP government immediately take steps to prevent the sale of Bollgard seeds for the present season, which is already going on. It also demanded that the government order a judicial enquiry into the incidents where the official agencies have either suppressed the truth or manipulated it to favour the Mahyco-Monsanto corporation. Demanding that Mahyco-Monsanto compensate the small farmers, the Coalition said, "Mahyco-Monsanto should be held responsible for spreading impossible dreams that are ruining the farmers lives."

It also demanded that a five-year moratorium be imposed on genetically engineered crops until the issue is debated widely. national1554182005412.asp


Illegal GE Rice Contaminates Food Chain in China

Beijing, China
April 13, 2005

Greenpeace is calling for an urgent, international product recall after uncovering the illegal release of a variety of genetically engineered (GE) rice in China. The GE rice has not been approved for human consumption and may have contaminated Chinese rice exports.

"The GE industry is out of control," said Greenpeace GE campaigner Sze Pang Cheung. "A small group of rogue scientists have taken the world’s most important staple food crop into their own hands and are subjecting the Chinese public to a totally unacceptable experiment."

"We’re calling on the Chinese Government to take urgent action to recall the unapproved GE rice from the fields and from the food chain, and to conduct an immediate inquiry into the source of the contamination."

A Greenpeace research team discovered unapproved GE rice being sold and grown illegally in the Chinese province of Hubei. Interviews with seed providers and farmers indicate that GE rice seeds have been sold over the past two years. Samples of rice seed, unmilled and milled rice have been collected from seed companies, farmers and rice millers. Testing by the international laboratory Genescan has confirmed the presence of GE DNA in 19 samples.

The evidence from the lab, combined with field reports, confirms that some of the illegal GE varieties are Bt Rice – which is genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide. Greenpeace estimates that at least 950 to 1200 tons of GE rice entered the food chain after last year's harvest, and that up to 13,500 tons may enter the food chain after this year unless urgent action is taken.

According to Greenpeace International Scientist, Dr Janet Cotter, this is a very serious problem requiring urgent Government action: "There are strong warning signs that this GE Bt rice could cause allergenic reactions in humans. It has been shown that the protein produced in Bt rice (called Cry1Ac) may have induced allergenic-type responses in mice (1). To date, there has been no human food safety testing of Bt rice."

China is a major exporter of rice and it is expected that the contamination scandal may have significant trade and market impacts, particularly in countries like Japan and Korea where consumer rejection of GE foods is very high. A similar case in the USA in 2000 resulted in a $1 billion product recall amid concerns of potential allergenic reactions after GE corn (Starlink) illegally entered the human food chain.

"This will have a major impact on the Chinese as well as international rice markets," said Sze. "China is one of the world’s major rice exporters and our customers in Japan, Korea, Russia and Europe are strongly opposed to GE foods."

Consumer concern over GE foods in China is also rising. In an opinion poll released by Greenpeace in March, 73% of the respondents said they would choose non-GE rice over GE rice.

China is considering commercialization of GE rice and officials have indicated a decision may be made this year. The contamination scandal raises the question of whether the government could regulate GE rice. "The government has not controlled GE rice in the research stage, how will it regulate large scale commercialization?" Sze said.

(1) Moreno-Fierros, L., García, N., Gutiérrez, R., López-Revilla, R. & Vázquez- Padrón, R.I.2000. Intranasal, rectal and intraperitoneal immunization with protoxin Cry1Ac from Bacillus thuringiensis induces compartmentalized serum, intestinal, vaginal and pulmonary immune responses in Balb/c mice. Microbes and Infectection 2: 885-890 and references therein.

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