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Free Film Event

There is a revolution happening in the farm fields and on the dinner tables of America -- a revolution that is transforming the very nature of the food we eat.

'The Future of Food' offers an in-depth investigation into the disturbing truth behind the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have quietly filled U.S. grocery store shelves for the past decade.

From the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada to the fields of Oaxaca, Mexico, this film gives a voice to farmers whose lives and livelihoods have been negatively impacted by this new technology. The health implications, government policies and push towards globalization are all part of the reason why many people are alarmed by the introduction of genetically altered crops into our food supply.

Shot on location in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, THE FUTURE OF FOOD examines the complex web of market and political forces that are changing what we eat as huge multinational corporations seek to control the world's food system. The film also explores alternatives to large-scale industrial agriculture, placing organic and sustainable agriculture as real solutions to the farm crisis today.

March 9, 2005 (Wednesday)
6:30pm - 8:45pm
Texas Union Theater
(Student Union, 24th & Guadalupe St., next to the Tower on UT campus)
Austin, Texas


Shopping to Avoid GMOs and Action Suggestions (PDF)

Ecopledge's GMO Food Facts (PDF)

Percy Schmeiser in The Future of Food


Tillamook Dairies Uphold Hormone Ban

By Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian
March 01, 2005

The creamery association rejects a change in bylaws supported by Posilac maker Monsanto

TILLAMOOK -- The Tillamook County Creamery Association's dairy farmers voted Monday to uphold a ban prohibiting them from vaccinating cows with an artificial growth hormone.

Monday's vote of 83-43 appears to conclude a struggle between the association's board and managers, who supported the ban, and some dairies and Monsanto Co., which opposed it. Monsanto manufactures the genetically engineered growth hormone, designed to cause cows to produce more milk, under the brand name Posilac.

The vote represents a victory for consumers concerned about new technologies used to boost food production, including the increased use of antibiotics and genetically modified organisms.

Jim McMullen, the creamery's president and chief executive officer, said Tillamook hopes that the cooperative can quickly move beyond divisions among its 147 members. Tillamook is Oregon's most productive dairy cooperative -- and one of the state's best-known brands.

"Dairymen are really strong people," McMullen said outside a hall at the county fairgrounds, where the vote took place.

The Tillamook battle over Posilac began heating up last year. The cooperative's nine-member board voted in May to phase out the hormone's use by April 1, 2005.

The board based its decision on increasing inquiries by consumers over the hormone's use. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded that milk derived from cows treated with the hormone is safe for human consumption, but some consumers worry about potential cancer risks and increased antibiotic use by dairies treating cows for udder infections.

Though studies differ, there is evidence to suggest that cows treated with Posilac run increased risks of udder infections and lameness.

Letter from Monsanto

In November, a Monsanto representative wrote a letter to the company's Tillamook customers suggesting that the board's decision was ill-advised and would reduce member dairies' profits.

The board reaffirmed its decision in January in response to a petition to reconsider by more than 80 member dairies. Just more than a week later, an attorney whose firm holds substantial ties to Monsanto delivered a letter to the creamery association office requesting Monday's vote by all members.

Although a Monsanto spokeswoman has said the attorney was not being paid by Monsanto to intervene, the creamery association labeled his involvement "audacious" in a news release.

The bylaw change voted on Monday would have amended the cooperative's bylaws to prevent its board from banning any pharmaceutical product approved by the FDA.

Other suppliers involved

McMullen said the next step by the creamery will be to ensure that its suppliers of butter, sour cream, yogurt and cream also are keeping Posilac from being used by their dairies. The ban affirmed Monday applies only to dairies supplying milk directly to the association.

He had previously said Tillamook would not change its labeling to proclaim itself free of the hormone but Monday said that was still being explored.

"There's still the issue of what's next with Monsanto," he said, adding that he is not sure what, if anything, that company will do.

On Monday, Monsanto issued a statement about the vote.

"We are pleased that the producer owners of Tillamook had the opportunity to decide this for themselves and respect the choice of the majority of the producer owners," the statement said. "For individual producers, it is unfortunate that their choice to use a product that has provided a significant economic benefit for many Tillamook family farms has been limited.

"We hope that in time Tillamook producers will reconsider this policy."

Tillamook, founded in 1909, had $262 million in sales in 2003.

Dairy members who supported the ban on Posilac said Monday that they were relieved that the vote to change the bylaws had failed.

"If we're going to market a top product, we're going to have to provide what the consumer is asking for," said Brad Cowan of Astoria.

But others who opposed the ban, including Bob Northrop of Tillamook, said they stand to lose thousands of dollars in income because their cows will produce less milk. Northrop said he believes the hormone has no ill effects on humans or cattle.

Jim Wilson of Tillamook, who also opposed the ban, said he worries that dairy farmers will face further restrictions on the products they can employ.

"What's the next thing we won't be able to use?" he asked.


Tillamook Farmers Ban Hormone Use

By William McCall
Associated Press
March 1, 2005

Dairy co-op votes to continue phasing out rBST despite pressure

PORTLAND -- Dairy farmers whose cows provide milk for the second-largest producer of chunk cheese in the nation voted Monday to ban a Monsanto hormone on schedule, rejecting pressure from the chemical company. The Tillamook County Creamery Association said its members voted 83-43 in favor of the ban on recombinant bovine somatotropin hormone, or rBST.

"I think this is a confirmation that our members believe in us," said Christie Lincoln, association spokeswoman in Tillamook. "We are a consumer-driven company, so we're keeping consumers in mind."

A Monsanto spokeswoman said the company hopes the dairy farmers will reconsider.

"For individual producers, it is unfortunate that their choice to use a product that has provided a significant economic benefit for many Tillamook family farms has been limited," said Jennifer Garrett at Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis, Mo.

The dairy association's board voted in May to phase out the hormone, sold under the brand name Posilac, following consumer complaints. It was one of the first major biotechnology-related products to enter the nation's food supply when it was approved in 1993 by the Food and Drug Administration to boost milk production in dairy cows.

Lincoln said that the dairy association had been under intense pressure recently from Monsanto to withdraw the proposed ban. She noted the company sent its attorneys to Oregon to propose an amendment to association bylaws that would have prevented the ban.

However, 126 of the 147 co-op members met in a special session Monday at the Tillamook County Fairgrounds to discuss the issue and cast their votes to reject the amendment. The ban will be fully implemented by April 1.

Rick North, spokesman for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, called the Tillamook ban a victory for consumers.

"They're not only doing the right thing, they're doing the smart thing," North said of the co-op vote. "This should be great for their business."

The medical organization estimates that as many as 15 percent of dairy farmers are using the rBST hormone on their herds in Oregon and nationally.

North noted the hormone is banned in a number of other countries as concerns have increased among doctors and scientists.

Canada rejected Monsanto attempts to win regulatory approval for Posilac after a Canadian Veterinary Medical Association panel concluded in 1998 that cows ran a 50 percent higher risk of lameness in the feet and legs using Posilac.

Tillamook, which had 2003 sales of $260 million, is the nation's second-largest maker of chunk cheese behind Kraft Foods. Tillamook makes cheese, sour cream, butter and other dairy products.


Report Slams Bt Cotton

By Ashok B Sharma
March 04, 2005

NEW DELHI: A report by an expert team led by Andhra Pradesh commissioner and director of agriculture has revealed that Bt cotton has given poor yields in Warangal district and has caused losses to farmers.

The findings have been made available just a day before the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) is slated to take a decision on whether an extension will be provided to the three varieties of Bt cotton.

Based on the report, district joint director of agriculture M Lakshman Rao has shot a letter to Mahyco Monsanto India asking the company to shell out Rs 2.49 crore (Rs 24.9 million) as compensation to farmers.

The total compensation has been worked out at the rate of Rs 1,469.25 per acre. As per the MoU signed by the company with the state, compensation should be paid on account of damages done to farmers.

The three varieties of Bt cotton developed by Mahyco Monsanto — Mech-12, Mech-162 and Mech-184 — which have completed three years of commercial cultivation will be reviewed by GEAC on Friday.

Director of Secunderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu, who conducted the study with the help of a team of scientists, has been told to present his views before committee.

Managing director MMB Ltd Dr MK Sharma admitted receiving such a communication. He, however, said, “We have appealed before the state agriculture commissioner to reconsider the decision.”

Ranjana Smetacek of Monsanto India, on the other hand said, “The study on Bt cotton performance in 2004 conducted by IMRB on behalf of Monsanto will be released within a fortnight. What I can grossly is that farmers income has increased by 60% on account of Bt cotton cultivation. There is an increase in cotton yield by by 58% and costs on pesticide use has been reduced by 50%.”

Meanwhile, Vandana Shiva of Navdanya and Krishan Bir Chaudhary of Bharat Krishak Samaj along with several other NGOs met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demanded withdrawal of Bt cotton from cultivation.


Now, Bioengineered Trees Are Taking Root

By Mark Clayton
The Christian Science Monitor
March 10, 2005

Transgenic poplars could make China a big player in lumber. But some experts worry about effects on nature.

Scattered across at least seven provinces in China are more than 1 million common poplar trees with an uncommon bite. They can kill the insects that nibble their leaves. Their unusual defensive system is a genetically engineered bomb: Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a naturally occurring toxin inserted into the tree's DNA. Other such transgenic species, such as the larch and walnut, are in the works, Chinese researchers report.

Such moves are shaking up the twin worlds of forestry and environmentalism. Transgenic trees are reaching the threshold of commercialization - a point bioengineered crops reached in the 1980s, observers say. This time, though, it's not the United States leading the charge, it's China.

Though little reported in the West, China's swan dive into large-scale transgenic forestry is essentially the first commercial-scale deployment of genetically engineered (GE) trees in the world, experts say. That could one day mean a potent new competitor to the lumber and paper industries. It also may mean that cutting-edge GE tree research in the US will fall behind, hobbled by regulation and public protest. It also puts decisions about a controversial - and, some say, potentially dangerous - technology into the hands of an authoritarian government, with less oversight and fewer technical controls than in the West.

"What the Chinese have done, planting [genetically engineered] trees across hundreds, maybe thousands, of acres, hasn't been done anywhere else in the world," says Yousry El-Kassaby, a forest geneticist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "It marks a shift in the center of gravity away from the US, where there's a lot of genetic engineering tree research, but much of it is restricted to the labs or very regulated small field trials."

The case for GE trees seems straightforward. Faster-growing species can produce more lumber and paper in shorter time, which makes them a cheaper raw material. Supertree plantations could also mean less disturbance of natural forests - an environmental plus.

Scientists can "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, then US secretary of Energy, last fall.

Proponents also tout the technology as something that can be used to return vanishing species such as the American chestnut to the American landscape, by modifying its genetic makeup to defeat a devastating blight.

A problem with pollen

But there's a big catch, experts warn. Trees are perennial plants that produce large quantities of pollen released far higher into the air than ordinary crops. This "gene drift" in crops has caused problems as large seed companies have sued US and Canadian farmers for illegally using GE seeds. The farmers claimed their crops were contaminated by drifting pollen, but to no avail. A study last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that seeds of traditional varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola "are pervasively contaminated" with low levels of DNA from genetically engineered varieties of those crops.

If DNA can spread so broadly from GE crops a few feet high, there's no telling what will happen with pollen from trees 50 to 100 feet high or more, experts say. For example: Pollen from GE conifer trees can blow more than a thousand miles, new research at Duke University shows.

The potential for genetic contamination of forests - and potential rewards from using GE trees - are enormous, experts say. "For the first time, we have the ability to put a bacteria or even a fish gene into a tree," says Robert Jackson, professor of biology and director of Duke University's Center on Global Change. "Some make that a moral issue. Is it morally right? Another question is: Is it smart - or, maybe, is it dangerous?"

Indeed, the idea of releasing GE trees into the wild sends shudders through Alyx Perry of the Southern Forests Network, a coalition of loggers, landowners, and environmentalists. "Our conclusion is that the genetically engineered trees will inevitably contaminate nongenetically engineered stands of trees."

That, in turn, could lead to millions of acres of infertile private timber, possibly lacking enough lignin (a wood-strengthening substance) needed to be saw timber, Ms. Perry says. Combined with internal pesticide production in pine and poplar trees in the wild, it could lead to forests unable to reproduce, produce food for animals, or create marketable timber.

In the US, at least 69 field-test permits are in effect for three GE tree species - pine, poplar, and walnut. Most of those occupy two acres or less, says the US Department of Agriculture. Under USDA rules, such trees are closely monitored and not permitted to reach the flowering and pollination stage. So far, just one GE variety, a Hawaiian papaya, has been approved to be grown commercially. But commercialization is moving forward. In January 2004, the USDA announced its "intention to update and strengthen" biotechnology regulations for GE organisms, which some say is a key shift. And field research trials for GE trees in the US, including those conducted by ArborGen, a forestry-research firm in Summerville, S.C., have surged since 1997. ArborGen has been approved to conduct dozens of field trials with pine and poplar species genetically engineered for altered fertility, lignin levels, and other features, USDA database records show.

"We certainly see that genetic engineering in a plantation setting ... could play a big part in meeting world demand," says Les Pearson, ArborGen's director of regulatory affairs. ArborGen's first tree is at least seven years away from commercialization, he adds. Others see GE trees coming sooner.

"Government and industry are basically looking at what they can do to finalize regulations to streamline commercial release," says Neil Carman of the Sierra Club. "We're talking about potentially millions of acres of genetically engineered trees."

Insight from papaya

At least two other transgenic tree species, a plum and another papaya, are undergoing USDA review. More than 30 species of GE trees - including 20 species valuable for timber or paper and pulp - are being developed, Dr. Carman says. Ironically, Hawaiian farmers say the approved GE papaya has already contaminated groves, he adds.

"The regulation of this whole thing is lagging the technology," says Roger Sedjo, director of the forest economics and policy program at Resources for the Future, a Washington policy think tank. "A lot of countries are pursuing research in the area and some of it is coming to fruition. What we don't have is a global standard."

In Brazil, for example, researchers have embarked on large-scale research to develop a GE eucalyptus tree. The idea is to make the slow-growing Australian native mature faster and resistant to disease.

"We're certainly not ready to understand all of the risks yet," says Duke's Dr. Jackson. "There is immense commercial pressure to move ahead with this. And frankly, it's pretty easy to outline the economic benefits, but much more difficult to outline the long-term costs and what they will be - and how long they'll last if things go wrong."

A forest of facts

  • Trees are the world's largest and oldest plants. They cover nearly a third of the world's land surface (excluding Antarctica and Greenland). They blanketed two-thirds of the surface before humans began to farm.
  • The double-coconut palm in the Seychelles boasts the largest tree seed: 50 pounds.
  • California boasts the world's tallest trees, the redwoods, and the oldest, bristlecone pines. The former can grow 360 feet tall. The latter have been known to live more than 4,000 years. The average city tree lasts eight years.
  • By turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, trees replenish the atmosphere. Two mature trees can produce enough oxygen for a family of four.
  • Over one year, a tree can absorb the carbon created by a car driven 26,000 miles.

Campaign Demands USDA Halt Field Releases of Genetically Engineered Trees

Global Justice Ecology Project []
For Immediate Release
March 10, 2005

WASHINGTON: Following a national strategy meeting to address the problem of genetic engineering of trees, the Stop GE Trees Campaign reaffirmed its commitment to calling for a ban on the release of GE trees into the environment including the removal of all field releases of genetically engineered forest plants. The Stop GE Trees Campaign is an alliance of grassroots organizations and leading environmental groups in the US and Canada committed to ending the genetic engineering of trees.

"The information that has come out in the past year since our last national meeting makes the need for a ban on the release of GE trees into the environment more urgent than ever," stated Neil Carman, a plant scientist with the Sierra Club's Genetic Engineering Committee.

"Traits being engineered into trees include insect resistance, herbicide resistance, reduced lignin, sterility and faster growth, among others," stated Anne Petermann, Co-Director of the Vermont-based Global Justice Ecology Project. "When these traits escape into native forests, which they inevitably will, native forests will be irreversibly devastated," she continued.

"The genetic engineering of annual crops has rapidly led to the widespread contamination of non-engineered crops with GE traits like insect resistance," said Brian Tokar, Director of the Biotechnology Project at the Institute for Social Ecology. "GE trees can live for decades, are very closely related to their wild relatives and can spread their pollen for hundreds of miles. The potential for global contamination of native forests by GE trees is extremely dangerous. They must not be allowed into the environment," he continued.

"Most of the current field tests of GE trees in the U.S. are occurring in the South, which is where we expect future production efforts to be focused. Forestland owners and our solid wood products industry will be the big losers when genetically engineered trees contaminate woodlots. Because GE trees are being specifically engineered for low lignin content, they are useless for saw timber. Once those genetic characteristics spread, the South will lose its edge as the world's largest timber producing region, and the destructive trend of increasing pulpwood production will continue to plague forestry in the South," said Alyx Perry, Coordinator of the Southern Forests Network.

There are currently hundreds of open-air field trials of GE trees around the United States, mainly in the Southeast, Northwest, and upper Midwest. Because the research is focused on native tree species, any of these field trials may lead to the contamination of native forests, which will themselves become contaminants in a never-ending cycle.

Members of the Campaign agree that a ban on the release of GE trees into the environment--including test plots--is the only way to ensure that this endless cycle of contamination can be prevented.

The Stop GE Trees Campaign includes the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Dogwood Alliance, Polaris Institute, Global Justice Ecology Project, WildLaw, Southern Forests Network, Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project, ForestEthics, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Forest Stewards Guild, Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering and GE Free Maine.

Facts About GE Trees

  • Corporations and scientists are engineering trees with no regard to the dramatic impacts that they will have on ecosystems, society, and private landowners.
  • There has been an unscientific lack of rational debate about the fundamental questions involved in engineering organisms. Scientists have not made a case that there is a pressing need for this technology.
  • Gene drift in agriculture has occurred rapidly. A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that seeds of traditional varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola are pervasively contaminated with low levels of DNA sequences derived from transgenic varieties. Transgenically derived DNA was detected in 50 percent of the corn, 50 percent of the soybean, and 83 percent of the canola varieties tested. These crops have been in production for less than a decade.
  • Gene drift in forests can be expected to occur more rapidly because tree pollen travels on a much larger scale and trees permeate the landscape at higher frequency than farm crops. Modeling done by Duke University has indicated that pollen from trees can be expected to travel up to 1,000 kilometers. As soon as these trees start producing pollen, there's no way to stop gene drift from occurring.
  • Engineered traits such as sterility, lack of lignin, and pesticide production in pine and poplar trees will result in long-term impacts in the wild. Gene drift will lead to irreversible changes in forest ecosystems and will affect forests ability to support wildlife, provide clean air and water, and produce valuable forest products.
  • There have been cases in which GE plants still in trial stage have caused contamination.
  • U.S. courts have decided that when a landowner's property is contaminated by GE seed or pollen that the affected crop becomes the property of the corporation that developed the crop
  • Contamination of forests will have extreme consequences for forest land owners because it will lead to the violation of property rights and economic losses.
  • GE in native tree species is focused on reducing the production of lignin (the material that makes timber strong and rigid). This makes GE trees easier to use for papermaking, but useless as sawtimber, which provides the most profitable market for landowners. Genetic contamination will make some forests incapable of producing marketable timber, while impairing trees' natural defenses against insects and disease.
  • Farmers of GE crops (or anyone whose land has become contaminated) cannot save seed for next year's planting. Will corporations seek to own the processes of natural regeneration in the forest?
  • GE trees will result in increased corporate control and concentration in the forest products industry, and will add to the decline in the economic and social benefits that landowners, workers, and communities reap from our forest industry.
  • The industry argues that we will and should be increasing consumption of paper
  • There is a lack if scientific honesty about the unavoidable occurrence of gene drift, the true impacts of GE in agriculture, and the impossibility of assessing the long-term impacts of gene drift. In fact, there has been only negligible effort to even begin documenting the risks associated with this technology.
  • The public's interest is last on the agenda for the industry. GE trees are already growing in the field, and the industry has now arrived at the question of how to "sell" this technology to the public and landowners. There has been no genuine effort to address what is best for society as a whole.

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