Say No To GMOs! logo
February 2006 Updates

Bill Would Require Labeling of Genetically Modified Seeds

By Mark Johnson
Associated Press
February 12, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y. - Lawmakers in Albany want New Yorkers to know not just what they're eating, but what they're planting as well.

A bill introduced in the Legislature would require the labeling of all seeds that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Organic farmers fear having their crops tainted from birds, insects or wind that could transmit pollen from GMO crops while many consumers fear there isn't enough information available on the long-range consequences of eating genetically modified foods or on their environmental impacts.

"Organic food is considered healthy because it's natural. The one thing genetically modified food is not is natural," said Sarah Johnston, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, which represents 650 farms. "Farmers are in some cases purchasing genetically modified seeds unbeknownst to them. At the very least, people need to know what they are purchasing."

The measure, one of several bills around the country relating to genetically modified crops, is backed by the New York Farm Bureau and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.

Democratic Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a sponsor of the bill, said that since GMO crops are patented, farmers also fear they could be sued for patent infringement. Republican state Sen. James Seward is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

"Really there has not been enough testing done on the effects genetically modified crops have on people, the environment and animals," said Maureen Knapp, whose family owns an organic dairy farm in Preble, about 20 miles south of Syracuse. "We grow crops to feed our animals and we do have conventional farmers all around us growing (pesticide resistant) corn. It's scary."

According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, about 2 percent of the U.S. food supply is grown organically. Sales of organic products have shown an annual increase of at least 20 percent, the fastest growing sector of agriculture, the organization reported. The growth has come even though organic foods cost more to produce that conventional crops.

"The organic movement has grown tremendously because of consumer demand," said John Bunting, a grass-based dairy farmer in Delaware County. Organic farmers "want to guarantee to the consumer that they are in no way involved in GMOs."

To get their organic certification, farmers are required to use organic seed and required to make sure their vegetable crops aren't contaminated with GMOs.

Genetic technology has been widely used by major seed companies such as Monsanto Co. to promote insect resistance or herbicide tolerance in crops. About 80 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 50 percent of the corn crop is genetically modified, said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

A 2004 study by the initiative found that state legislatures are increasingly debating issues surrounding biotechnology's use in agriculture.

The number of bills and resolutions introduced by state legislators nationwide addressing biotechnology and farming rose 7 percent to 130 in 2003 from 121 in 2001, according to the study.

Rivera is also sponsoring a bill that would make manufacturers of genetically engineered plants and seeds liable for damages caused as a result of cross-contaminating crops, seeds or plants, including wild plants. A similar bill is now being considered in Vermont.

In Hawaii, the Legislature is debating a bill to require companies to make public disclosures of locations of crop fields and test sites of genetically modified crops and to specify the types of genetic tests conducted.


More Voices Joining Chorus for GMO Wheat

By Scott A. Yates
Capital Press Staff Writer
February 14, 2006

SAN ANTONIO - They may not have been singing in perfect harmony, but for the first time since the issue of biotechnology surfaced, U.S. wheat interests all appear to be reading from the same sheet of music.

The change in tune was made clear at a meeting of the industry's Joint Biotech Committee Feb. 5. Made up of representatives from the National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates and the Wheat Export Trade and Education Committee, the group's meetings are frequently acrimonious, with growers association representatives urging quick adoption of the technology and USW officials advising caution.

As recently as a year ago, Greg Daws, a wheat grower member of the committee from North Dakota, couldn't contain his anger over the USW's go-slow approach to biotechnology. He charged the two groups were so far apart that even a joint committee wouldn't work.

At the latest meeting, however, Daws didn't speak. Afterward, he said a change in personnel on the committee made an important difference in bringing a more-rational attitude to the biotech debate - that, and a realization that without the technology's adoption, fewer wheat acres would be planted, which would impact the USW's bottom line.

"Money talks," he said.

Vince Peterson, the USW's vice president of overseas operations, made it clear he did not want to be viewed as an obstructionist. Peterson is the latest of four different staff members to head up the USW's biotech committee contingent in the past six years.

During a presentation to the Joint Biotech Committee, he explained how the USW is attempting to soften up resistance to adoption of the technology around the world. Among other things, buyers are being discouraged from maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for adventitious or accidental commingling of minute quantities of GMO wheat in non-GMO cargoes. Without achievable tolerances, customers are being warned, they could cut off a major supplier and wind up backing themselves into a corner.

That sort of language was unheard of five years ago when several overseas surveys indicated customers would refuse to buy any wheat from the United States if a GMO trait was even approved, let alone grown commercially. A "customer is always right" mentality dominated the USW's actions.

Wheat growers, however, have said the downward trend in U.S. wheat acres was fueled by biotech advances in corn and soybeans. They argue the only way to compete is through adoption of the technology that allows scientists to "engineer" a plant's genetic code.

USW's change in attitude can partly be traced to the fact that Roundup-ready wheat, poised to be the first biotech trait in wheat released to growers, was mothballed by Monsanto in May 2004. The technology, which would have allowed farmers to apply glyphosate over a growing crop to kill weeds, did not provide any advantage to grain companies or consumers.

A biotech trait from Syngenta, which provides resistance to fusarium head blight or scab, is next in line for approval. Because vomitoxin associated with fusarium head blight is important to food companies as well as consumers, Peterson said, it is a much better lead-off.

"Fusarium tolerance is a trait we have a much better opportunity to work with overseas countries' concerns about food safety. They all have vomitoxin specifications. If we can say something is healthier, this is much easier to work with than Roundup-ready wheat was," he said.

For Peterson, the only thing better than having a defensible biotech trait introduced in the United States would be if another country comes out with a GMO trait of its own and "beats us to the punch." Many other countries are working on GMO wheat, including Egypt, China and India.

But Al Skogins, who represents NAWG on the joint panel, disagreed. He said U.S. competitiveness is dependent on farmers' ability to adapt the latest technology. Starting out in the lead makes it much easier to hang on.

"It is a race. I would like to be the first to have (a biotech trait) as soon as we have enough consumer acceptance," he said.


Groups Challenge USDA Approval of First Perennial Gene Altered Crop

For Immediate Release
Center for Food Safety, WORC and others
February 16, 2006

Lawsuit Calls genetically engineered alfalfa a risk to farmers and the environment

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. - Shortly after a government report cited problems with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) oversight of genetically engineered (GE) crops, a coalition of farmers, farm groups, consumers, and environmentalists filed a lawsuit today calling the department's approval of GE alfalfa a threat to farmers' livelihoods and a risk to the environment.

The suit contends that the USDA improperly allowed the commercial release of GE alfalfa, the first commercial release of a GE perennial crop, and failed to analyze the public health, environmental, and economic consequences of the release.

The suit also asserts that the GE alfalfa will likely contaminate natural alfalfa and ultimately prevent farmers from producing natural, non-GE alfalfa for markets that demand it.

"I'm outraged that a genetically engineered alfalfa will contaminate the South Dakota alfalfa seed that has been developed over generations," said Pat Trask, an alfalfa seed farmer from South Dakota and plaintiff in the suit. "Bees pollinate alfalfa, and we know that bees can forage for miles. The introduction of genetically engineered alfalfa practically guarantees that there will be no genetically engineered-free seed in a matter of a few years."

The suit cites the concerns of farmers with export markets. Buyers in Japan and South Korea, America's major alfalfa export customers, have strongly stated that concerns about genetic contamination will lead them to avoid U.S. alfalfa if a GE variety is grown in this country. U.S. alfalfa exports total nearly $480 million per year, with about 75% of exports going to Japan.

In addition to genetic contamination, the lawsuit says GE alfalfa poses unique risks to the environment. The GE alfalfa is designed to tolerate high doses of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. But 83% of U.S. alfalfa is grown without any herbicides, and many experts note that GE alfalfa could lead to massive increases in herbicide use on alfalfa and more chemical pollution in the environment. A study of GE soy has already shown that farmers growing the GE variety use two to five times more herbicides than farmers who plant natural soy varieties.

"Gene altered alfalfa poses special environmental, agricultural, and economic risks for many different locations in the U.S.," said Will Rostov, Senior Attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), which filed the suit. "Given the potential significant and large-scale environmental effects, USDA must retract its approval and conduct a thorough Environmental Impact Statement."

Joining CFS in the suit are Sierra Club, Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, and two individual alfalfa seed producers.

Recent scientific findings link the advent of GE crops to weeds developing resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. In turn, this weed resistance has led to increased herbicide use and forced farmers to turn to more toxic herbicides. According to the suit, USDA failed to address the potential impacts of the increased use of Roundup on alfalfa and failed to address issues relating to cross-pollination of wild relatives of alfalfa.

In a report critical of USDA's oversight of GE crops released in late December, the USDA's Inspector General said, "Current [USDA] regulations, policies and procedures do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology."

The suit says organic farmers could lose their livelihoods when organic alfalfa is contaminated by the GE variety. In its assessment of GE alfalfa, USDA acknowledges that bees can pollinate alfalfa two miles away, but states that organic growers should manage the problem with buffer zones. The USDA failed to analyze the significant financial loss that its decision will cause seed and organic dairy and beef farmers.

"USDA is forcing organic farmers to subsidize the biotech industry's drive for profits," said Jim Munsch, an organically certified beef producer from Southwest Wisconsin. "By USDA's determination all alfalfa seed available on the market will become contaminated with GE alfalfa. Without alfalfa our costs go up."

Alfalfa is grown on over 21 million acres, and is worth $8 billion per year (not including the value of final products, such as dairy products), making it the country's third most valuable and fourth most widely grown crop. Alfalfa is primarily used in feed for dairy cows and beef cattle, and it also greatly contributes to pork, lamb, sheep, and honey production. Consumers also eat alfalfa as sprouts in salads and other foods.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in the Northern District of California calls on the court to rescind the deregulated status of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa, calling USDA's decision to approve the crop arbitrary and capricious. The lawsuit also challenges USDA for its inadequate environmental review of the crop and calls for a full environmental impact statement.


Farmers, Others Sue USDA over Monsanto GMO Alfalfa

By Carey Gillam
February 16, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Missouri - A coalition of farmers, consumers and environmental activists on Thursday sued the U.S. government over its approval of a biotech alfalfa that critics say will spell havoc for farmers and the environment."

Opening another front in the battle over genetically modified crops, the lawsuit contends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture improperly is allowing Monsanto Co. to sell an herbicide-resistant alfalfa seed while failing to analyze the public health, environmental, and economic consequences of that action.

"The USDA failed to do a full environmental review when they deregulated this genetically engineered alfalfa," said Will Rastov, an attorney for Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs. "They're going to wreak untold dangers into the environment."

The lawsuit asks the federal court in San Francisco to rescind the USDA's decision until a full environmental review has been completed.

The suit asserts that the genetically modified alfalfa will probably contaminate conventionally grown alfalfa at a fast pace, ultimately forcing farmers to pay for Monsanto's patented gene technology whether they want the technology or not.

The group says biotech alfalfa would also hurt production of organic dairy and beef products as alfalfa is a key cattle feed. And the suit claims farmers could lose export business, valued at an estimated $480 million per year, because buyers in Japan and South Korea, major importers of U.S. alfalfa, have indicated they would avoid buying U.S. alfalfa once the genetically engineered variety is released.

Plaintiffs also said Monsanto is marketing the herbicide-tolerant crop in a way that encourages far greater applications of chemicals than alfalfa typically requires.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States, behind corn, soybeans, and wheat.

South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the plaintiffs, said Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his conventional alfalfa seed business because it was certain his 9,000 acres would be contaminated by the biotech genes.

Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by wind. The plant is also perennial, meaning GMO plants could live on for years.

"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate the conventional alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will own the entire alfalfa industry."

Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other legal actions against farmers who harvest crops that show the presence of the company's patented gene technology. It has sued farmers even when they have tried to keep their own fields free from contamination by biotech plants on neighboring farms.

"It's the desire of Monsanto to pursue global control and total control over the American alfalfa seed industry," said Trask.

Monsanto spokeswoman Mica DeLong said the company had no comment on the issue and referred inquires to USDA. Monsanto received regulatory clearance to begin selling the biotech alfalfa last summer.

The suit names Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Ron Dehaven and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Steve Johnson as defendants.

APHIS spokeswoman Karen Eggert said the agency had no immediate comment. EPA also declined to comment and a spokeswoman for USDA could not be reached immediately.

In addition to the Center for Food Safety and the Trask family, the plaintiffs include the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Dakota Resources Council, and other farm, environmental and consumer groups.

top of page