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August 2006 Updates

Efforts to Take GMO Control Blocked

By Frank Hartzel
The Beacon
August 31 2006

Ruling first ever on controversial drug-producing GE crops manufactured by Monsanto and others

Local food safety activists have apparently successfully led efforts to defeat a proposed new state law that would prevent other counties from following the lead of Mendocino County on genetically-modified (GM) farm crop regulation.

Mendocino County was specifically exempt from the effects of Senate Bill 1056. The bill was approved last week on a 46-19 vote in the California Assembly and sent back to the Senate, where it was approved previously. While the bill needed only a simple concurrence vote in the Senate, it was apparently blocked there. State Sen. Wes Chesbro's office told pleased local activists that the bill would not get a Senate vote this week, ending its chances this year, said Els Cooperrider, a leading proponent of the controversial Mendocino county ordinance restricting GMOs. The legislative session ended Thursday, the same day this newspaper was going to press. Local activists helped lead a statewide effort to lobby Sen. Don Perata, the Senate Pro Tem. Some reports credited Perata with killing the bill.

"What I know is that a bunch of us lobbied everyone we could think of. I called Mike Thompson to call Perata as well. I figured it couldn't hurt," said Cooperrider. "We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping Chesbro was right."

If signed into law by the governor as all sides had expected, the bill would have prevented individual counties or cities from banning the use of GM crops.

Mendocino became the first county in the United States to restrict the growing of genetically-modified organisms. Currently, there are three additional California counties and nearly 100 towns in New England which restrict the growing of GMOs, said Britt Bailey, director of Environmental Commons in Gualala.

"SB1056 strips local communities of their rights to shape their food systems [so that they] reflect the unique characteristics and features of their region," Bailey said.

The effect of moratoriums like the one passed in Mendocino County is precautionary in nature, Bailey explained.

"These communities have in essence pro-actively protected their local food supplies from possible genetic contamination which occurs when an engineered gene enters another species of crop or wild plant through cross-pollination," she said.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a man-made plant or animal created in a laboratory using genes from other species and patented for use in agriculture. The bill would prevent local regulation of GM seed and nursery stock.

Trinity and Marin counties have also passed ordinances restricting GMOs and would also have been exempt from the bill. Twelve other counties, mostly in the San Joaquin Valley, have passed ordinances in support of GMOs. Santa Cruz Count yhas backpedaled on a plan passed earlier. Media reports said most of the opposition was coming from Mendocino and other areas that have already banned GMOs and would not be affected.

Supporters of SB1056 say the goal is to create guidelines for consistent statewide legislation on genetically-engineered crops.

"Agribusiness lobbyists such as Dow and Monsanto claim that this statewide preemption is necessary to create uniformity and consistent statewide regulation," Bailey said.

"However, the bill puts the state in the nonsensical position of preempting local authority and declaring that it occupies the entire field' on an issue ­ genetically modified crops ­ for which there is not one law or regulation on the books. SB1056 preempts to a statutory void," Bailey said.

After Mendocino County banned GMOs, conservative think tanks in the U.S. such as the Hoover Institution launched a large-scale effort to debunk the notion that there is any threat from so-called "Frankenfoods."

At the same time, Asian and European nations have been perplexed by the American enthusiasm for freshly created life forms and have restricted imports from the United States.

"The agricultural industry has been pushing state bills like this across the country to preempt local municipalities from having local control over food safety," said Toni Rizzo of Fort Bragg, a supporter of the Mendocino County GMO ban.

"It's another way that corporate money is used to stifle the democratic process and take away our right to control the quality of the food and environment in our communities."

The Assembly passage of SB1056 was a bi-partisan effort, which included Central Valley Democrats, who normally support environmental efforts, the publication Capitol Weekly News reported. Most of the Central Valley now grows genetically-modified foods, such as tomatoes bolstered by genes from cattle. Weeds have evolved resistance to nearly all pesticides and herbicides but when combined with animal genes, more toxic sprays can be used on weeds which then don't kill the farmed crops such as rice.

Genetically-modified crops can have significant impacts on the environment, the economy, and public health, Bailey claims.

Several recent incidents highlight risks associated with inadequate control of genetically modified crops, she said. On Aug. 5, it was reported that genetically-engineered herbicide-resistant bentgras swere discovered in the wild in Oregon.

Norman Ellstrand, University of California plant geneticist, said, "Such resistance could force land managers and government agencies ... to switch to nastier herbicides to control grasses and weeds."

In another blow for GMOs, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced that U.S. supplies of long-grain rice have been contaminated with a genetically engineered variety not approved for human consumption, leading Japan, South Korea, and Europe to reject all U.S. long-grain rice, according to the Washington Post.

Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka, whose district includes the coast, said she was disappointed that her colleagues approved SB1056 by Central Valley lawmaker Dean Florez.

Berg spoke against the bill, which passed despite opposition from environmental and local government interests.

"When counties in my district voted to restrict the use of GMO crops, I supported those efforts. I still support those efforts. I believe that people have a right to say what goes on in their counties, in their fields and near their homes. I oppose this bill, and I will oppose any bill that would strip from counties the right to restrict this technology," Berg said on the Assembly floor.

Florez said that some of the demands made by environmentalists in negotiations have been unreasonable — most notably the suggestion that all fields with GM crops be covered in heavy plastic to prevent pollen from escaping. Much of Florez' district is already planted in genetically engineered crops, Capitol Weekly News reported.

"This bill may come back next year in a new suit. I'm sure it will," said Cooperrider.

For more information, see


Monsanto Whistleblower Says Genetically Engineered Crops May Cause Disease

By Jeffrey M. Smith
Spilling the Beans
August 2006

Monsanto was quite happy to recruit young Kirk Azevedo to sell their genetically engineered cotton. Kirk had grown up on a California farm and had worked in several jobs monitoring and testing pesticides and herbicides. Kirk was bright, ambitious, handsome and idealistic—the perfect candidate to project the company's "Save the world through genetic engineering" image.

It was that image, in fact, that convinced Kirk to take the job in 1996. "When I was contacted by the headhunter from Monsanto, I began to study the company, namely the work of their CEO, Robert Shapiro." Kirk was thoroughly impressed with Shapiro's promise of a golden future through genetically modified (GM) crops. "He described how we would reduce the in-process waste from manufacturing, turn our fields into factories and produce anything from lifesaving drugs to insect-resistant plants. It was fascinating to me." Kirk thought, "Here we go. I can do something to help the world and make it a better place."

He left his job and accepted a position at Monsanto, rising quickly to become the facilitator for GM cotton sales in California and Arizona. He would often repeat Shapiro's vision to customers, researchers, even fellow employees. After about three months, he visited Monsanto's St. Louis headquarters for the first time for new employee training. There too, he took the opportunity to let his colleagues know how enthusiastic he was about Monsanto's technology that was going to reduce waste, decrease poverty and help the world. Soon after the meeting, however, his world was shaken.

"A vice president pulled me aside," recalled Kirk. "He told me something like, 'Wait a second. What Robert Shapiro says is one thing. But what we do is something else. We are here to make money. He is the front man who tells a story. We don't even understand what he is saying.'"

Kirk felt let down. "I went in there with the idea of helping and healing and came out with 'Oh, I guess it is just another profit-oriented company.'" He returned to California, still holding out hopes that the new technology could make a difference.

Possible Toxins in GM Plants

Kirk was developing the market in the West for two types of GM cotton. Bt cotton was engineered with a gene from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. Organic farmers use the natural form of the bacterium as an insecticide, spraying it occasionally during times of high pest infestation. Monsanto engineers, however, isolated and then altered the gene that produces the Bt-toxin, and inserted it into the DNA of the cotton plant. Now every cell of their Bt cotton produces a toxic protein. The other variety was Roundup Ready® cotton. It contains another bacterial gene that enables the plant to survive an otherwise toxic dose of Monsanto's Roundup® herbicide. Since the patent on Roundup's main active ingredient, glyphosate, was due to expire in 2000, the company was planning to sell Roundup Ready seeds that were bundled with their Roundup herbicide, effectively extending their brand's dominance in the herbicide market.

In the summer of 1997, Kirk spoke with a Monsanto scientist who was doing some tests on Roundup Ready cotton. Using a "Western blot" analysis, the scientist was able to identify different proteins by their molecular weight. He told Kirk that the GM cotton not only contained the intended protein produced by the Roundup Ready gene, but also extra proteins that were not normally produced in the plant. These unknown proteins had been created during the gene insertion process.

Gene insertion was done using a gene gun (particle bombardment). Kirk, who has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, understood this to be "a kind of barbaric and messy method of genetic engineering, where you use a gun-like apparatus to bombard the plant tissue with genes that are wrapped around tiny gold particles." He knew that particle bombardment can cause unpredictable changes and mutations in the DNA, which might result in new types of proteins.

The scientist dismissed these newly created proteins in the cotton plant as unimportant background noise, but Kirk wasn't convinced. Proteins can have allergenic or toxic properties, but no one at Monsanto had done a safety assessment on them. "I was afraid at that time that some of these proteins may be toxic." He was particularly concerned that the rogue proteins "might possibly lead to mad cow or some other prion-type diseases."

Kirk had just been studying mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and its human counterpart, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). These fatal diseases had been tracked to a class of proteins called prions. Short for "proteinaceous infectious particles," prions are improperly folded proteins, which cause other healthy proteins to also become misfolded. Over time, they cause holes in the brain, severe dysfunction and death. Prions survive cooking and are believed to be transmittable to humans who eat meat from infected "mad" cows. The disease may incubate undetected for about 2 to 8 years in cows and up to 30 years in humans.

When Kirk tried to share his concerns with the scientist, he realized, "He had no idea what I was talking about; he had not even heard of prions. And this was at a time when Europe had a great concern about mad cow disease and it was just before the noble prize was won by Stanley Prusiner for his discovery of prion proteins." Kirk said "These Monsanto scientists are very knowledge about traditional products, like chemicals, herbicides and pesticides, but they don't understand the possible harmful outcomes of genetic engineering, such as pathophysiology or prion proteins. So I am explaining to him about the potential untoward effects of these foreign proteins, but he just did not understand."

Endangering the Food Supply

At this time, Roundup Ready cotton varieties were just being introduced into other regions but were still being field-tested in California. California varieties had not yet been commercialized. But Kirk came to find out that Monsanto was feeding the cotton plants used in its test plots to cattle.

"I had great issue with this," he said. "I had worked for Abbot Laboratories doing research, doing test plots using Bt sprays from bacteria. We would never take a test plot and put into the food supply, even with somewhat benign chemistries. We would always destroy the test plot material and not let anything into the food supply. Now we entered into a new era of genetic engineering. The standard was not the same as with pesticides. It was much lower, even though it probably should have been much higher."

Kirk complained to the Ph.D. in charge of the test plot about feeding the experimental plants to cows. He explained that unknown proteins, including prions, might even effect humans who consume the cow's milk and meat. The scientist replied, "Well that's what we're doing everywhere else and that's what we're doing here." He refused to destroy the plants.

Kirk got a bit frantic. He started talking to others in the company. "I approached pretty much everyone on my team in Monsanto." He was unable to get anyone interested. In fact, he said, "Once they understood my perspective, I was somewhat ostracized. It seemed as if once I started questioning things, people wanted to keep their distance from me. I lost the cooperation with other team members. Anything that interfered with advancing the commercialization of this technology was going to be pushed aside."

He then approached California Agriculture Commissioners. "These local Ag commissioners are traditionally responsible for test plots and to make sure test plot designs protect people and the environment." But Kirk got nowhere. "Once again, even at the Ag commissioner level, they were dealing with a new technology that was beyond their comprehension. They did not really grasp what untoward effects might be created by the genetic engineering process itself."

Kirk continued to try to blow the whistle on what he thought could be devastating to the health of consumers. "I spoke to many Ag commissioners. I spoke to people at the University of California. I found no one who would even get it, or even get the connection that proteins might be pathogenic, or that there might be untoward effects associated with these foreign proteins that we knew we were producing. They didn't even want to talk about it really. You'd kind of see a blank stare when speaking to them on this level. That led me to say I am not going to be part of this company anymore. I'm not going to be part of this disaster, from a moral perspective."

Kirk gave his two-week notice. In early January 1998, he finished his last day of work in the morning and in the afternoon started his first day at chiropractic college. He was still determined to make a positive difference for the world, but with a radically changed approach.

While in school, he continued to research prion disease and its possible connection with GM crops. What he read them and what is known now about prions has not alleviated his concerns. He says, "The protein that manifests as mad cow disease takes about five years. With humans, however, that time line is anywhere from 10-30 years. We were talking about 1997 and today is 2006. We still don't know if there is anything going to happen to us from our being used as test subjects."


It turns out that the damage done to DNA due to the process of creating a genetically modified organism is far more extensive than previously thought.[1] GM crops routinely create unintended proteins, alter existing protein levels or even change the components and shape of the protein that is created by the inserted gene. Kirk's concerns about a GM crop producing a harmful misfolded protein remain well-founded, and have been echoed by scientists as one of the many possible dangers that are not being evaluated by the biotech industry's superficial safety assessments.

GM cotton has provided ample reports of unpredicted side-effects. In April 2006, more than 70 Indian shepherds reported that 25% of their herds died within 5-7 days of continuous grazing on Bt cotton plants.[2] Hundreds of Indian agricultural laborers reported allergic reactions from Bt cotton. Some cotton harvesters have been hospitalized and many laborers in cotton gin factories take antihistamines each day before work.[3]

The cotton's agronomic performance is also erratic. When Monsanto's GM cotton varieties were first introduced in the US, tens of thousands of acres suffered deformed roots and other unexpected problems. Monsanto paid out millions in settlements.[4] When Bt cotton was tested in Indonesia, widespread pest infestation and drought damage forced withdrawal of the crop, despite the fact that Monsanto had been bribing at least 140 individuals for years, trying to gain approval.[5] In India, inconsistent performance has resulted in more than $80 million dollars in losses in each of two states.[6] Thousands of indebted Bt cotton farmers have committed suicide. In Vidarbha, in north east Maharashtra, from June through August 2006, farmers committed suicide at a rate of about one every eight hours.[7] (The list of adverse reactions reported from other GM crops, in lab animals, livestock and humans, is considerably longer.)

Kirk's concern about GM crop test plots also continues to remain valid. The industry has been consistently inept at controlling the spread of unapproved varieties. On August 18, 2006, for example, the USDA announced that unapproved GM long grain rice, which was last field tested by Bayer CropScience in 2001, had contaminated the US rice crop[8] (probably for the past 5 years). Japan responded by suspending long grain rice imports and the EU will now only accept shipments that are tested and certified GM-free. Similarly, in March 2005, the US government admitted that an unapproved corn variety had escaped from Syngenta's field trials four years earlier and had contaminated US corn.[9] By year's end, Japan had rejected at least 14 shipments containing the illegal corn. Other field trialed crops have been mixed with commercial varieties, consumed by farmers, stolen, even given away by government agencies and universities who had accidentally mixed seed varieties.

Some contamination from field trials may last for centuries. That may be the fate of a variety of unapproved Roundup Ready grass which, according to reports made public in August 2006, had escaped into the wild from an Oregon test plot years earlier. Pollen had crossed with other varieties and wind had dispersed seeds. Scientists believe that the variety will cross pollinate with other grass varieties and may contaminate the commercial grass seed supply—70 percent of which is grown in Oregon.

Even GM crops with known poisons are being grown outdoors without adequate safeguards for health and the environment. A corn engineered to produce pharmaceutical medicines, for example, contaminated corn and soybean fields in Iowa and Nebraska in 2002.[10] On August 10, 2006, a federal judge ruled that the drug-producing GM crops grown in Hawaii violated both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.[11]

A December 29, 2005 report by the USDA office of Inspector General, blasted the agriculture department for its abysmal oversight of GM field trials, particularly for the high risk drug producing crops.[12] And a January 2004 report by the National Research Council also called upon the government to strengthen its oversight, but acknowledged that there is no way to guarantee that field trialed crops will not pollute the environment.[13]

With the US government failing to prevent GM contamination, and with state governments and agriculture commissioners unwilling to challenge the dictates of the biotech industry, some California counties decided to enact regulations of their own. California's diverse agriculture is particularly vulnerable and thousands of field trials on not-yet-approved GM crops have already taken place there. If contamination were discovered, it could easily devastate an industry. Four counties have enacted moratoria or bans on the planting of GM crops, including both approved and unapproved varieties. This follows the actions of more than 4500 jurisdictions in Europe and dozens of nations, states and regions on all continents, which have sought to restrict planting of GM crops to protect their health, environment and agriculture.

Ironically, California's assembly, which has done nothing to protect the state from possible losses due to GM crop contamination, passed a bill on August 24, 2006 that prohibits other counties and cities from creating GM free zones. The senate is expected to vote on the issue by the end of their session on August 31st. (see It is yet another example of how the biotech industry has been able to push their agenda onto US consumers, without regard to health and environmental safeguards. No doubt that their lobbyists, anxious to have this bill pass, told legislators that GM crops are needed to stop poverty and feed a hungry world.

References available on request.

Jeffrey Smith's forthcoming book, Genetic Roulette, documents more than 60 health risks of GM foods in easy-to-read two-page spreads, and demonstrates how current safety assessments are not competent to protect consumers from the dangers. His previous book, Seeds of Deception (, is the world's bestselling book on the subject. He is available for media at Dr. Kirk Azevedo has a chiropractic office in Cambria, California. Press may reach him at (805) 927-1055 or at drkirk(at)


Biotech Firm, Government Hid Rice Contamination from Public

By Megan Tady

August 24, 2006

The recently revealed spread of genetically modified rice has critics alarmed on two levels: the problem itself and the fact that authorities suppressed the news.

Last week, the US Department of Agriculture announced that US commercial long-grain rice supplies are contaminated with "trace amounts" of genetically engineered rice unapproved for human consumption.

The genetically engineered (GE) rice is known as Liberty Link (LL) 601. Its genetic code has been modified to provide resistance to herbicides and is illegal for marketing to humans because it has not undergone environmental and health impact reviews by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). LL601 was field-tested from 1998 to 2001 under permits granted by the USDA, but Bayer Corp Science, the developer of the experimental rice, did not seek commercial approval for it.

The contamination was only disclosed after Bayer notified the USDA itself. Currently, the government relies on self-reporting from food companies to determine genetically engineered (GE) contamination, rather than a federal testing system. The USDA dismissed concerns that companies may not always "self-report" or even be aware of their mistakes, which would lead to further undetected contamination of unapproved GE food.

It appears a separate company first detected the contamination in January of this year and that Bayer may have known about the contamination since May. But the government was not notified until July 31. It took another 18 days for the USDA to tell the public.

At a press conference, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns would not divulge how the contamination had happened, or how far it had spread. It was unclear whether he even knew. Jim Rogers, a USDA spokesperson, told The NewStandard the contaminated rice was detected in barrels sent to Missouri and Arizona.

"But the rice could have come from anywhere [in the US]," Rogers said.

Riceland, a farmer-owned cooperative that markets rice produced by Southern farmers, issued a press release on August 18, saying it first discovered the contamination in January. Riceland conducted its own tests from several grain-storage locations and found: "A significant number tested positive for the Bayer trait. The positive results were geographically dispersed and random throughout the rice-growing area."

Riceland notified Bayer of the contamination in May, but did not notify the public or the government.

Johanns indicated that an economic motive was behind the government’s delay of nearly three weeks before informing the public about the contamination, as the government anticipated foreign rice importers might reject the product. The Secretary said the USDA spent the time preparing tests for rice importers to check the product for contamination. The US constitutes about 12 percent of the world’s rice trade.

There are currently no plans to destroy or recall the rice, and Rogers is unsure if Bayer will be fined. While the government "validates" its tests for the rice, Johanns directed people to Bayer’s website, saying the company "has made arrangements with private laboratories to run tests" on the rice.

Although the field tests for LL601 ended in 2001, the contamination appeared in a 2005 harvest, leaving some food-safety advocates to worry that the contamination has been present for several years and suggesting that genetically modified strains can persist in the environment well after they have been discontinued in experiments.

Two other varieties of rice with the same gene and from the same company have already been approved for human consumption, though never marketed. There is currently no known, intentional commercial US production of genetically engineered rice.

Johanns said that based on "available scientific data" provided by Bayer, the USDA and the FDA have concluded "that there are no human-health, food-safety or environmental concerns associated with this GE rice."

When pressed about the health implications of the contaminated rice, Rogers noted that foods from pesticide- and herbicide-resistant crops are already on the market. In fact, according to the USDA, 70 percent of processed foods on grocery store shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Rogers dismissed concern that, because the government relies on companies’ self-reporting, there could be widespread contamination of unapproved GE ingredients in the US food supply. He said the government did not have plans to begin testing food itself.

But this is not the first time unapproved genetic material has escaped detection in the food supply. In 2004, the company Syngenta admitted that for four years, it had sold unapproved GE maize in the US.

In response to the Bayer revelation, Greenpeace has called for a worldwide ban on imports of US rice. Already, Japan has suspended US rice imports.

The Center for Food Safety, a public-interest organization, is also calling for a moratorium on all new permits for open-air field testing of GE crops. The Center is concerned that open-air testing allows GE crops to cross pollinate with neighboring non-GE crops.

"We see this as an opportunity to get out the message that this is a radically new technology," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center. "These foods have not been tested, and we don’t know if they’re safe."

Johnsongrass Resistance to Glyphosate Confirmed in Argentina

By Harry Cline
Western Farm Press
August 29, 2006

Monsanto has confirmed that a Johnsongrass biotype has become resistant to glyphosate in Northeastern Argentina.

The findings were announced recently by companies represented by two of the major fertilizer and agrochemical trade organizations in Argentina and by Monsanto.

No Johnsongrass resistance has been identified in the United States Monsanto took the initiative in researching reports in 2004 of resistance and has worked with the industry to develop recommendations to mitigate the resistance.

A preliminary assessment of the affected area identified the problem on 17,000 to 25,000 acres.

Monsanto and the agricultural organizations have developed recommendations to mitigate the documented resistance.

Several weed species have been identified as resistant to glyphosate in the U.S. and Monsanto has developed aggressive vegetation management plans to mitigate those situation as well. Among them is an online weed resistance management continuing education course for California and Arizona pest control advisors on the Western Farm Press website. Monsanto also sponsors a major online resistance course for Midwest and Southern corn producers.

Information in these courses includes recommendation for chemical control with herbicides other than glyphosate as well as recommendations for mechanical and non-chemical control.

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