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December 2006 Updates

Genetically-modified Fish Proteins in Breyer's Ice Cream

By Paris Reidhead
The Milkweed
December 7, 2006


Unilever, the British-Dutch global consumer marketing products giant, is the largest producer of ice cream and frozen novelties in the U.S. Unilever's brands sold in the U.S. include Breyer's ice cream, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Klondike ice cream bars, and Popsicle products.

Specifically: Breyer's Light Double-Churned, Extra Creamy Creamy Chocolate ice cream, as well as a Good Humor ice cream novelty bar, contain the genetically-modified fish "antifreeze" proteins.

Unilever's scientists have patented, and the company is using ice cream products sold in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, "antifreeze" protein substances from the blood of the ocean pout (a polar ocean species). That substance is produced, through genetically-modified (GM) yeast, in large vat batches. Unilever's ice cream products that contain "ice structuring protein" (ISP) contain the material at the level of .01% of finished product volume.

Human "safety" testing? Like many other genetically-modified materials in our foods, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looks like it has been asleep at the switch. Long story short on the human "safety" protocols submitted by Unilever to FDA: human allergy testing was conducted on codfish blood proteins, not on blood proteins from the ocean pout. Codfish and the ocean pout do not even belong to the same sub-class, in the "Order of Species".

In Great Britain, Unilever is seeking approval from the government food safety agency for approval to use GM-derived fish "antifreeze" proteins in ice cream products. Food safety watch-dogs in Great Britain are in an uproar over such proposals.

Unilever touts the benefits of this GM fish "antifreeze" protein as "crystallization" when ice cream products warm (above proper temperatures) and then are refrozen. In truth: the fish "antifreeze" proteins look like one more trick in the corporate bag of tricks to produce cheaper products . . . without regard to serious human safety considerations.

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Ocean Pout


The Dangers of Genetically Modified Wine Yeast

By Erica Martenson
December 12, 2006

Despite the Wine Institute's recent statement that no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be used in winemaking, the Sacramento Bee recently reported that, according to American Tartaric Products, the first wines made with a genetically modified wine yeast, ML01, will be released this year.

This yeast is available only in North America where GMOs are unregulated. It was modified by inserting two foreign genes, one from the pombe yeast, a yeast found in Africa and used to make beer, and one from the bacteria O. oeni, so that the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations, normally a two-step process, occur at the same time. While this may be a convenience to winemakers, especially those producing large quantities of wine, I am concerned for both consumers and our local economy.

The FDA's designation of this yeast as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) is questionable for a few reasons. First of all, the FDA approved the yeast based on data supplied by the developer, not based on its own study or an independent study. A developer has an interest in getting its product to market as soon as possible, whether it has been proven safe or not. Secondly, according to Professor Joseph Cummins, emeritus genetics professor at the University of Western Ontario, wine yeasts are unstable, and genetically altering them can lead to unexpected toxicity in the final product. He states that there is no evidence that the developer did any animal feeding studies to test for such toxicity and that there is no proof that the yeast and yeast DNA will not be present in the wine.

A few wineries' decision to use this yeast could affect the entire North American market. Since these wines are unlabeled, the only way people can avoid them is to avoid all wines from North America, except those labeled organic, and few wines are labeled organic, due to the addition of sulfites during the winemaking process. Consumers in Europe and Asia are very informed regarding GMOs and have resoundingly rejected them. American consumers are becoming more aware, and polls show that a majority of Americans would prefer to avoid them.

A few wineries' choice to use ML01 could also be a nuisance to other wineries, because this GM wine yeast could contaminate native and traditional wine yeasts through the air, surface waste and water runoff. Many wineries here in the Napa Valley are very particular about their choice of wine yeast, and contamination of these various yeast strains would truly be a shame.

I contacted many of the large producers of Napa Valley wine asking whether or not they have used this GM yeast or plan to in the future. All that responded stated emphatically that they have not used it and do not plan to. To help consumers who would prefer to avoid consuming genetically modified products make an informed wine choice and to provide an avenue for our local wineries to distinguish their wines from wines that may be using GM yeast, those that responded were listed, with their permission, on a "Shopper's Guide to Buying Non-GMO" at on the FAQs page.

In our society, we often talk about our rights and discuss very little our responsibilities - to our neighbors, to the environment and to the community as a whole. In considering the issue of GMOs and their use, all of these factors should be taken into account.


Rice Industry Tackles Export Problem

By Blair Fannin
December 13, 2006

COLLEGE STATION - Texas rice producers are encouraged to implement voluntary measures in 2007 in an attempt to regain valuable export markets, according to experts.

Earlier this year, samples of Cheniere variety rice contained trace amounts of genetic material from LL601, a Liberty Link genetically-modified rice that had not been approved for release. Markets reacted negatively to the discovery and led to an embargo of U.S. rice sold to the European Union and some other countries.

"This is a voluntary effort the industry is putting forth," said Dr. Garry McCauley, a research scientist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. "Not planting or marketing the Cheniere variety is a very feasible way to get our rice back into those export markets again."

At the USA Rice Federation meeting recently in Las Vegas, an outline of recommendations was formulated as part of a strategy to prevent unapproved genetically modified rice from entering the marketplace. For example, seed dealers have agreed not to sell the Cheniere rice variety for planting in 2007.

Texas growers are advised to implement the following practices for the 2007 growing season:

  • Purchased rice planting seed must be dealer certified as LL601-trait free.
  • Upon first entry to the marketplace at a rice dryer/elevator, the grower must present dealer seed certification and documentation of rice acreage certified to the Farm Service Agency (including the farm serial number).

"All of these documents will be reviewed for completeness at the first place the rice enters the marketing chain," said McCauley, noting major Texas rice mills have agreed to participate in the effort by not purchasing rice that cannot be documented as being planted with LL-trait-free seed.

Growers are advised to carefully clean all planting, harvesting and storage equipment prior to starting the 2007 season, McCauley said.

"If the problem is going to go away, we need to make a good stewardship effort to clean this up," he said.

For more detailed information, rice growers should contact the Texas Cooperative Extension agent in their county, McCauley said.


Feds Combine Lawsuits by Rice Farmers

By Christopher Leonard
Associated Press
December 20, 2006

Lawsuits filed by hundreds of rice farmers in three states over genetically contaminated rice have been consolidated, creating a single legal action that is one of the largest of its kind.

The farmers claim their profits were hurt after an experimental form of genetically altered rice escaped from test plots run by Bayer CropScience AG.

The so-called Liberty Link rice wasn't approved for human consumption, and rice prices dropped after traces of it were discovered in U.S. grain elevators. It has since been approved for use.

The federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled Tuesday that all the cases should be consolidated and tried before U.S. Judge Catherine Perry in the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis. Farmers from Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri filed the suits.

The numerous lawsuits deal with the same legal issues and merging them will streamline the litigation, according to the ruling signed by U.S. Judge Terrell Hodges.

The ruling said 12 lawsuits will be consolidated and that 21 additional similar lawsuits should be considered "tag alongs" to the litigation, meaning those lawsuits could be included in the main litigation.

Bayer CropScience, a German company with U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

St. Louis is the right venue for the rice lawsuit because its judges frequently hear cases over genetically altered crops, said Don Downing, an attorney representing 283 Missouri rice farmers in the case.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. is the world's biggest developer of genetically altered seeds. The federal court in its backyard hears cases over contract disputes and other issues arising from the technology, Downing said.

"The judges are much more knowledgeable about genetically modified organisms because of Monsanto being here," said Downing, who practices in St. Louis.

Chicago-based attorney Adam Levitt said the most similar case to the Bayer lawsuit is litigation filed in 2000 over the release of genetically engineered StarLink corn. The crop was only partially approved for human consumption, he said. Levitt, who represents rice farmers in the Bayer case, said the StarLink action settled out of court for $110 million in 2003.

Companies such as Monsanto and Bayer constantly test new breeds of genetically altered crops in open fields in the United States and elsewhere. The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors the test plots to make sure the crops don't escape into mainstream supplies.

The Agriculture Department retroactively approved Liberty Link rice last month. Bayer said in a written statement that it welcomed the decision. The rice was modified to be herbicide-tolerant, and Bayer said regulators have found it poses no human health or environmental concern.


EPA Fines Syngenta $1.5 Million for Distributing Unregistered Genetically Engineered Pesticide
December 21, 2006

Washington, DC - Syngenta Seeds, Inc. Golden Valley, MN has agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for selling and distributing seed corn that contained an unregistered genetically engineered pesticide called Bt 10.

While the federal government has concluded that there are no human health or environmental concerns with Bt 10 corn, it is still illegal to distribute any pesticide not registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

"This action shows that when a company violates the law by distributing unapproved pesticides, EPA vigorously enforces the law," said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

Late in 2004, Syngenta disclosed to EPA that it may have distributed the seed corn to the United States, Europe, Japan, and South America.

Immediately following the disclosure, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and EPA began an investigation and evaluation that confirmed the distribution of unregistered seed corn on over 1,000 occasions.

A penalty was assessed by USDA, and the company destroyed all the affected seed under USDA supervision.

EPA filed today's settlement with its Environmental Appeals Board (EAB).

The EAB is the final EPA decision maker on permit, enforcement, and other administrative appeals under all major environmental statutes that the agency administers.

If approved by the board, Syngenta will pay a penalty of $1.5 million.


Tractors Begin Destroying Corn Crops

Waikato Times, New Zealand
December 14, 2006

Tractors are already at work destroying GE contaminated sweetcorn plantings on Gisborne and Hawke's Bay farms.

A Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry spokesman said the 258.4 hectares of sweetcorn - just over 201ha on 13 properties in Hawke's Bay, and 57ha on five Gisborne farms - will be harrowed.

Farmers will be able to replant as soon as the work is done, which may mean some will be able to get replacement crops in the ground before Christmas.

Syngenta, the American company that provided the GE-contaminated sweetcorn seed sown in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne, has said growers will be compensated for their losses.

A spokesman for Syngenta, John Walsh, said it appeared a reasonable amount of the land on which crops are being destroyed can be replanted - up to 80 per cent around Gisborne and about 20 per cent in Hawke's Bay.

Beyond that Syngenta would compensate farmers for their costs and loss of income, he said. "Syngenta will meet all its obligations," he said. `It sent seed that was not fit for purpose."

Syngenta executives, including Australasian managing director Peter Gerner, have met food processors in both regions.

Many of the crops were intended for food processor Cedenco, which produces 10 percent of Japan's corn powder. That market has a high threshold in terms of low chemical residues and zero tolerance for genetically engineered content.

Cedenco has previously said sweetcorn was one of its core products - alongside squash and onions - and that the ability of growers in Gisborne and northern Hawke's Bay to produce large volumes of sweetcorn gives it a competitive edge.

A Federated Farmers spokesman for graingrowers in Hawke's Bay, Hugh Ritchie, of Otane, told NZPA that if resowing the crops was not an option, growers should be covered not only for the cost of growing the corn, but for their expected net profit.


Scientists Get Go-ahead for Genetically Engineered Peanuts

By Elliott Minor
Associated Press
December 23, 2006

ALBANY, Ga. - A leading industry group has given scientists the go-ahead to build genetically engineered peanuts that could be safer, more nutritious and easier to grow than their conventional version.

The work could lead to peanuts that yield more oil for biofuel production, need less rainfall and grow more efficiently, with built-in herbicide and pest resistance - traits that have already been engineered into major crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans and canola.

For consumers, the work could lead to peanuts with enhanced flavor, more vitamins and nutrients, and possibly even nuts that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions, a life-threatening problem for a small percentage of the population and a major food-industry concern.

A few researchers have been genetically modifying peanuts for at least a decade, but their discoveries have had little impact because the industry, fearing a consumer backlash, was reluctant to support the work.

However, with the two leading peanut-producing countries, China and India, working aggressively on transgenic peanuts, the American Peanut Council and its research arm, the Peanut Foundation, this month approved a major policy change. The council represents all segments of the industry - growers, shellers, exporters and manufacturers.

The foundation urged scientists to move ahead with "due diligence" on genetically engineered peanuts.

The work is expected to cost about $9.5 million and will require university, government and industry support.

"It's a significant redirection in their thinking," said Peggy Ozias-Akins, a University of Georgia horticulture professor who has been working with genetically modified peanuts since the late 1990s.

The foundation also called for additional genome studies to learn more about the location and function of the natural peanut genes.

Because peanuts are considered a minor crop, their genetics still have not been studied as extensively as major crops such as soybeans, Ozias-Akins said.

Peanuts are believed to have originated in South America at least 3,500 years ago. Farmers in the Southern U.S. only started cultivating them in the early 1900s when the dreaded boll-weevil made it nearly impossible to grow cotton. Now they're grown in 15 states from Virginia to New Mexico.

Georgia is traditionally the nation's No. 1 producer, providing about 45 percent of the domestic supply. However, famrers seem to be opting for other, more profitable crops because of lower government subsidies under the latest farm bill and record prices for fuel, fertilizer and pesticides.

The U.S. peanut acreage dropped from nearly 1.7 million acres in 2005 to 1.2 million this year, including the loss of 175,000 acres in Georgia, while the acreage for two crops that benefit from genetic modification, cotton and soybeans, increased.

While experts say peanut acreage may drop again next year, scientists believe genetically modified peanuts could help reverse the trend.

A group of 14 university, U.S. Department of Agriculture and food-industry scientists, including Ozias-Akins, prepared a report on the benefits and issues surrounding biotech peanuts and presented it recently to the Peanut Foundation. The scientists concluded the technology could reduce growing costs, improve nutrition and overall quality for consumers and have the potential to reduce the allergy threat in peanuts.

"There is a sense in the industry that genetically modified products are becoming slightly more accepted in most of the world and that by the time we would have the first genetically modified peanut on the market - five years - that trend will have accelerated," said Howard Valentine, the Peanut Foundation's executive director.

A small amount of genetically modified sweet corn, squash and about half of Hawaii's papayas are the only U.S. crops currently grown for human consumption, said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food and nutrition consumer advocacy group. "Overall, our view is that genetic engineering is a technique that can be used to overcome grower problems, or to enhance consumer value in products," he said. "We support that as long as those products have been determined safe for human consumption.

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