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Canada Refuses Visa to GM Foods Expert

CBC News
May 20, 2005

OTTAWA - Africa's leading expert on genetically modified foods has been refused a visa to attend a meeting next week in Montreal at the Secretariat for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Ethiopia's chief scientist, Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, is critical of genetically modified foods, and his opinions often run counter to those of the Canadian government.

Dr.Tewolde Egziabher

He has been to Canada many times to attend meetings on biodiversity.

He is Africa's chief negotiator for the Cartagena Protocol and he was scheduled to attend meetings about the protocol, the United Nations treaty that governs the international movement of genetically modified organisms.

According to an NGO that has been in contact with Tewolde, the Canadian Embassy refused his entry visa and asked him Thursday to answer questions about his political involvement over the past 35 years.

But Pat Mooney of Etcetera Group, a non-profit organization that's trying to help Tewolde get into Canada, said Thursday it's probably Tewolde's views on genetically modified foods that has the government concerned.

Mooney said Tewolde is an outspoken critic of the "terminator seeds" that are engineered to be sterile, requiring farmers to buy new seeds each growing season. Mooney also said Tewolde was planning to call for the labelling of all genetically modified foods.

"Put these two things together, and the rather remarkable position of the embassy in blocking his visa, and we have to raise the question: is there another agenda here: Is there something going on that's blocking him from attending the negotiations?" Mooney told CBC.

Montreal could be target

He said refusing entry to the Ethiopian scientist may spark an international incident.

"We've heard today from some governments in Africa that if he's not there, if he's barred from attending, there could well be a boycott or a protest in Montreal next week. He is so much the leader that his absence would almost make it difficult to carry on any negotiations," said Mooney.

In 1995, the United Nations decided to locate the Secretariat for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal. But one of the requirements for hosting a UN agency is easy access for foreign experts to attend intergovernmental discussions.

"In barring Dr. Tewolde from participating in the Montreal meetings, Canada is jeopardizing Montreal's future as a United Nations city," Eric Darier, a campaigner with Greenpeace, said in a news release.


Africa's Top Biosafety Envoy Shut Out of Canada Talks

By Stephen Leahy
Peninsula Clarion
May 19, 2005

BROOKLIN, Canada, May 19 (IPS) - Africa's chief negotiator for the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety has been denied entry into Canada to attend meetings to finalise key provisions regarding the international movement of genetically engineered organisms.

Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the Ethiopian government's chief scientist, had his passport returned without the requested Canadian visa Wednesday despite previous visits to Canada. Tewolde is trying to attend talks starting May 30 in the Canadian city of Montreal.

''I have been to Montreal many times,'' Tewolde said in an interview from Addis Ababa. ''I have never heard of something like this happening before.''

While this may be just a case of ''exceptional bureaucratic bungling'', he said, he wonders if it's a not-so-subtle but effective way of preventing him from participating.

''I have always been on the opposite side of the Canadian delegation especially on biosafety,'' he said.

The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted the biosafety protocol in 2000 to address the safe transfer, handling, and use of living genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that could have an adverse effect on biodiversity.

A respected scientist and champion of biodiversity, Tewolde received the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the alternative Nobel prize) from the king of Sweden in 2000. He is considered by some to be the father of the Biosafety Protocol.

Unlike the U.S. and Canadian governments, he firmly believes in the need for strong international regulations for genetically engineered (GE) seeds and crops.

Tewolde had planned to go to Montreal to ensure that GE seeds and food products would be labeled under the agreement. He also wanted to see companies and governments accept liability when their seeds lead to GE contamination.

''Canada doesn't want to see any serious regulations regarding GMOs,'' Tewolde said.

''They wouldn't want me there because I have been the spokesperson for the African group and other developing countries.''

Canadian-based non-governmental organisations that support Tewolde's position blasted the visa denial.

''We're not just upset, we're pissed off about this,'' said Pat Mooney, executive director of ETC Group.

''I wouldn't have believed it was deliberate but after the CBD meeting in Bangkok I'm not so sure,'' Mooney told IPS.

In Bangkok last February, he said, the Canadian government used ''heavy-handed tactics'' to try and lift a de-facto moratorium on the so-called Terminator, a GE technology that makes seeds sterile. Only strong objections from African countries, Austria, Switzerland, Peru, and the Philippines kept the moratorium in place.

The son of a farmer, Tewolde has publicly clashed with Canadian and U.S. representatives at international meetings over issues such as patents on seeds and the risks of GE crops.

The visa denial ''is a real embarrassment for Montreal which hopes to be a U.N. city,'' said Mooney.

The CBD is based in Montreal and holds many of its meetings there.

''We've pulled as many strings as we can to get Dr. Tewolde a visa,'' said a spokesperson for the CBD Secretariat. ''We don't know why this is happening but we're doing our best to get him here.''

There have not been any other visa issues for the upcoming meeting, she said.

Canadian officials responsible for issuing visas said Tewolde's statements that his visa has been denied ''conflicts with our information'' but refused to comment further.

''It's a matter of protecting the privacy of the individual involved,'' said Cara Prest, spokesperson for Canada's Citizenship and Immigration department.

Tougher rules for those requiring visas to enter Canada have been in place since June 2002. When it comes to granting visas, Prest said, ''we're also always researching new developments.''

The visa foul-up has also meant that Tewolde missed an African preparatory meeting for upcoming talks on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, he said. He also will miss inter-regional negotiations on the biosafety protocol in Oslo, Norway because the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi held on to his diplomatic passport.

''Now that I have been prevented from coming to Montreal, who knows which ones of you will be prevented next time?'' Tewolde wrote in an open letter of protest.

Now, he said, he is waiting for the Canadian government to respond.


Codex Committee Defers Decision on Biotech Labeling

Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News, Issue 90, Volume 7
May 12, 2005

The Codex Committee on Food Labeling on May 11 deferred a decision on draft guidelines for mandatory labeling of bioengineered food in response to opposition from the United States and four other countries, according to Consumers International.

CI, which sent a 12-member team to the meeting in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, to lobby for biotech labeling, reported that during debate 30 delegations spoke in favor and 18 remained silent.

"Despite the overwhelming support for labeling, the conclusion of the meeting was to defer a decision," CI said. "Discussions will continue over the year, but little other progress was made at the meeting."

The United States has kept biotech labeling bottled up in the CCFL for more than a decade. This year the U.S. argued that the committee should abandon work on the issue if it cannot make progress.

In addition to the United States, countries that tried to terminate discussion on biotech labeling guidelines included Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay and the Philippines, CI said. European Union member-states favored continuing discussion, along with Japan, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kenya, Indonesia, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, Tunisia, Senegal, Swaziland, Panama, Turkey and Ghana.

"The interests of biotech companies are being put before consumer interests," commented Samuel Ochieng, CEO of Kenya's Consumers Information Network and head of the CI lobbying team. "However, we are encouraged that many countries are beginning to recognize the need for labeling, and next time we hope to move forward."


Hidden Dangers in Kids' Meals: Genetically Engineered Foods

Press Release
Contact: Steve Cooperman 641.209-1765
May 16, 2005

Documentary Presents Health Risks for Children Eating Genetically Engineered Food

Hidden Dangers

May 16, 2005 (Iowa): A new video, entitled Hidden Dangers in Kids' Meals: Genetically Engineered Foods, raises the alarm that food containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients may result in long-term unpredictable health problems among children and urges parents and schools to remove GM foods from kids' diets. Produced by Jeffrey Smith, author of the international bestseller Seeds of Deception, the documentary highlights shocking research results, inadequate regulations, and corporate control of government.

"Evidence now suggests that genetically engineered foods are not safe and should never have been approved. Their impact on children's health could be significant," says Smith, who directs the Institute for Responsible Technology.

The documentary presents farmers who report that pigs fed GM corn became sterile, had false pregnancies, or delivered "bags of water;" describes government policies designed to give the illusion that adequate tests are conducted; and interviews scientists who were threatened, fired or "hounded out" when they expressed concerns. The few safety studies that have been conducted raised serious issues: lab animals developed stomach lesions, potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, problems in the development of blood and liver cells and with the reproductive and immune systems, smaller or damaged organs and unexplained deaths. In addition, soy allergies in the UK skyrocketed after GM soy was introduced there, and thousands fell sick and more than 100 Americans died from a GM food supplement that was sold in the 1980s.

"The only human feeding study ever conducted," says Smith, "shows that genes transferred from GM soybeans into the DNA of gut bacteria." According to Smith, FDA scientists warned in a memo that gene transfer could create "A SERIOUS HEALTH HAZARD," but were dismissed by biotech proponents who said it would never happen. Documents made public from a lawsuit also reveal that FDA scientists believed GM foods might create unpredicted allergies, toxins, antibiotic resistant diseases and nutritional problems. The political appointee in charge of FDA policy - formerly Monsanto's attorney and later their vice president - ignored the government scientists, overruled their recommendations to require long-term safety studies, and established the current policy in which GM food manufacturers are responsible to determine if their own products are safe.

The 28-minute documentary makes a strong appeal to parents and schools to remove GM foods from kids' meals, particularly because children are most at-risk from the potential dangers. As added incentive for schools to make changes in their food service, the video includes interviews with teachers and administrators of Appleton, Wisconsin schools, where a change from processed foods to fresh nutritious foods resulted in a dramatic shift in the behavior and learning ability of the students. The schools were not focused on removing GM ingredients, but happened to eliminate nearly all of them when they substituted healthier food.

The Appleton phenomenon is the subject of its own 15-minute documentary that appears on Smith's DVD and VHS. There is also an hour-long presentation called The Health Dangers of Genetically Engineered Foods and Their Cover-up, in which Smith describes how biotech companies have rigged research, covered up health dangers and pressured government regulators.

You're earting what cover

The Institute has also released an audio CD entitled You're eating WHAT? Stop eating genetically engineered foods and please copy this for your friends, available for a free download at The site also offers a 5-minute preview of the video, a free monthly syndicated column, and support and advice for local communities seeking to develop GM-free school campaigns. The Institute for Responsible Technology receives support from numerous individuals and organizations, including the Sierra Club.

Comments about 'Hidden Dangers in Kids' Meals"

"Hidden Dangers pierces the myth that our government is protecting our food supply and charges parents and schools with the job of protecting children from this dangerous uncontrolled experiment with genetically engineered foods. The long-term health-of our kids, of the planet, of our selves-is at stake. Watch this video, pass it onto others, and make the needed changes in your diet."
John Robbins - Author, 'Diet for a New America', 'The Food Revolution'

"Watching Jeffrey Smith's new DVD Hidden Dangers will change the way you look at food forever. No one will ever again take food safety for granted. The Hidden Dangers DVD will lift the veil of ignorance and empower you to take charge of your food choices."
Howard F. Lyman - Author, 'Mad Cowboy'

"The revelations in Hidden Dangers make our choice clear-take needless risks with genetically engineered food or just say no to this madness. Let's raise our voices on this one! The risk of silence is too great."
Frances Moore Lappé - Author, 'Diet for a Small Planet', 'Hopes Edge'


Agency Weighs Genetically Modified Grass

By Erin Madison
Gazette-Times May 19, 2005

Corvallis forum, one of only two in nation, reviews genetic engineering arguments

While government officials heard comments on the deregulation of a variety of herbicide-resistant grass Wednesday, a small group of demonstrators performed a skit in opposition outside.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service hosted the forum at CH2M Hill Alumni Center at Oregon State University. Visitors were given the chance to ask questions, look at displays and write comments related to the deregulation of genetically engineered creeping bent grass.

Members of the protest group, Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering, stood outside the center, handing out information on the issue.

The group's skit included a hiker, a farmer, a grass expert and a representative of Monsanto - a major producer of genetically modified seed - laughing as he spread his seeds and counted his money. The farmer is having problems getting rid of bent grass, and the hiker keeps finding grass she's never seen before. The grass expert then comes on the scene and informs the hiker and farmer that the grass is a genetically engineered type of bent grass. All three characters demand that Monsanto clean up the grass.

The demonstrators argued that the genetically engineered bent grass that was planted in a controlled test area near Madras has already spread more than 13 miles farther than scientists expected and cross-pollinated with wild grasses in the region.

The pollen also drifted into the Crooked River National Grassland and has the potential to permanently damage that public land ecosystem, said Jim Felderman, a volunteer with the resistance organization.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will prepare an environmental impact statement after it received a petition from the Monsanto Co. and Scott's Co. to grant non-regulated status to a new variety of genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant, creeping bent grass.

The government inspection service is in the public comment stage of the environmental impact statement and will continue to accept comment until June 1.

"This is part of our scoping effort," said Craig Roseland with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "Our job is to say, 'What is the potential impact?'"

After the comment period, officials will review feedback and look into any issues or questions people have.

"All subjects brought up, however varied they are, will all be addressed," said Larry Hawkins, regional public affairs officer for the inspection service.

At this time, they are collecting information before a decision is made, he said.

"APHIS is neutral on this issue," Hawkins said.

So far, most of the comments received are in favor of the deregulation from certain parts of the grass industry. Others, though, have been made by people who are concerned about having a strain of grass that is resistant to weed-control, Hawkins said.

"Some people would consider bent grass a good thing and some people would consider it a weed," he said.

This type of bent grass would be used mainly for golf courses and is not intended for use on home lawns, according to an information sheet prepared by the OSU Outreach in Resource Biotechnology Program. The grass is not yet available for commercial use and awaits government approval.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regulates all bio-engineered products, Hawkins said.

A similar forum was held earlier this month near Washington, D.C. The Corvallis forum was the only other forum scheduled. Corvallis was an obvious choice, Hawkins said because of the area's large turf grass and seed industry.

"We felt like this particular issue is one that could have a direct impact here," he said.

Completing the environmental impact statement depends on the public comments received and what issues are brought up, he said.

Ryan Lins, an OSU graduate student who attended the forum, speculated that the deregulation of the grass is completely market-driven. He has no idea whether it will go through.

"I keep hearing different rumors that it is and then that it isn't," Lins said.

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