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May 2006 Updates

Governor Vetoes GE Seed Liability Bill

By Lisa Rathke
The Associated Press
May 16, 2006

FAIRFIELD - Gov. Jim Douglas on Monday vetoed a bill that would have made seed manufacturers liable for damages caused by genetically engineered seeds that drift into the fields of farms that do not want to use them.

Douglas said the measure was unnecessary and divisive and would have caused manufacturers to raise prices or restrict the seed sales in Vermont.

"It is with regret that I veto this bill," Douglas said of legislation that passed the House, 77-63, and the Senate, 19-8.

"I greatly respect how passionate the arguments are around the issue of genetically engineered crops and the work of the Legislature in attempting a compromise. However, S.18 fails to find a middle ground between the competing interests, but instead dives into new legal territory that may only promote needless litigation that pits farmer against farmer and neighbor against neighbor."

The applause from the crowd of largely conventional dairy farmers showed how passionate the debate had become. Some farmers and consumers are opposed to the use of seeds that can be scientifically altered to resist pests or disease. Others say the seeds are needed to control pests and keep food affordable.

"What irritated me the most was the organic and conventional farmer were split. We'd always gotten along before," said Bernard Dubois, who owns a 1,000-cow farm in Addison.

"With the obstacles that we face, we certainly don't need to have our feed taken away from us or sold to us at an elevated price," said Bill Rowell, a dairy farmer in Sheldon.

Margaret Laggis, a lobbyist for the biotechnology industry, which opposed the bill, said her clients had not determined whether they would change their seed sales if the bill had not been killed.

"All the companies were really looking at the issue of selling in that climate," she said.

Douglas said the discussion about the use of genetically engineered seeds in Vermont would continue. He said he'd asked the agriculture secretary to bring together conventional and organic farmers to try to resolve the issues related to the seeds' use.

"I look forward to working with the farming community in continuing this discussion," he said. Down the road following the veto, supporters of the bill gathered for their own news conference and accused the administration of bowing to pressure from manufacturers.

"Gov. Douglas has chosen hypocrisy over democracy in siding with the chemical giants and not listening to the farmers," said Rep. Dexter Randall, P-Troy, the primary sponsor of the bill and a dairy farmer.

"This is a huge insult for the farm community of Vermont, only widening the gap between conventional and organic farmers." Advocates said they would continue to push for farmer protection from contamination from genetically engineered seeds.

Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm of Westfield, who producers organic yogurt, cream and grains addressed the crowd. "Go home and keep doing our work and keep talking about it and hopefully things are going to change," he said.


US Did Not Win Transatlantic GM Trade Dispute

By Friends of the Earth, UK
May 11, 2006

WTO still wrong place to settle such rows

The United States has failed in its bid to prevent the European Union from using strict regulations to control genetically modified (GM) foods and crops. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) made a final judgement on this issue last night (May 10).

Friends of the Earth GM campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, commented: "This is no victory for the United States or the biotech companies. Countries still have the right to ban or suspend genetically modified foods and crops. Europe's only failure was the way they did it and not why they did it.

"Public opposition around the world is solid, and neither the United States or the WTO will stop countries from protecting their citizens and the environment from the risks of genetically modified crops".

The WTO last night sent its final ruling to parties involved in the dispute. Although the decision will not be made officially public until the autumn, media reports and the European Commission have confirmed that it is substantially the same as the 'draft ruling', which was leaked to Friends of the Earth Europe in February [1].

The WTO's draft ruling rejected most of the US-led coalition's complaints:

  • It refused to rule against strict EU regulations to control the use of GM food and crops;
  • It refused to rule on whether GM foods are safe or different to conventional foods;
  • It rejected US claims that moratoria are illegal and did not question the right of countries to ban GM foods or crops.

However, the WTO did rule - on technicalities - that Europe's four year GM moratorium, which ended in 2004, broke trade rules by causing "undue delays". However, the WTO did not recommend any action against the EU and stated that moratoria were acceptable under certain circumstances. The WTO said national GM bans also broke trade rules, but only because the risk assessments did not comply with the WTO requirements;

Friends of the Earth Europe also called for a fundamental overhaul of the way that trade disputes are sorted out in future. A fairer and more transparent body should be used that also takes into account international environmental treaties such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration or the International Court of Justice.

Friends of the Earth Europe's Trade Campaigner, Sonja Meister, said:

"Despite today's ruling, the WTO is the wrong body for settling trade disputes. It has a long history of putting corporate interests firmly ahead of environmental protection, public safety and democracy. It is time that environment-related disputes were taken away from the WTO."

The United States, Argentina and Canada filed a trade dispute in the WTO in May 2003 against Europe's reluctance to accept genetically modified foods or crops. Europe argued that many GM crops should not be grown because of their unknown effects on the environment and that it was not yet known whether eating GM foods would cause cancer, allergies or other health effects [2].

Friends of the Earth Europe believes that the WTO is the wrong forum for dealing with environment-related trade disputes due to its long history of bias towards industry, its pro-trade agenda and its lack of transparency.

In this particular case the WTO failed to consider other international environmental laws such as the Convention on Biodiversity and the Biosafety Protocol. In addition it refused to consider all submissions made by the public and held all meetings in secret. In sending the draft final ruling only to the dispute countries, it allowed the US to tell the media in February that it had won the dispute when the real result was quite different [3]. The environment group has called for such disputes to be dealt with away from the industry-friendly WTO.


  1. The 1000 page interim report and a shorter analysis by Friends of the Earth can be downloaded from:

    The interim report showed:

    Europe's four-year moratorium on GM Organisms (GMOs) only broke trade rules because it caused "undue delay" in the approval of new GM foods. The WTO dismissed eight other complaints in relation to the moratorium, and did not recommend any further action, since the moratorium ended in 2004 There was also an "undue delay" in the EU's approval procedures for over 20 specified biotech products. However, eleven other claims of the complainants related to the product-specific EU measures were dismissed by the WTO Panel.

    National bans by EU member states broke trade rules only because the risk assessments used by the countries in question did not comply with the WTO requirements;

  2. Europe's scientific case has been summarised in a report by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. The report, Hidden Uncertainties, can be downloaded for free from

  3. FOE Europe has assessed the relative merits of a range of intergovernmental institutions, in relation to their capacity to deal equitably with trade and environment disputes. The conclusion is that the WTO is in fact the least suitable of all institutions considered, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration or the International Court of Justice would be the most appropriate venue. "Is the WTO the only way?", which can be downloaded from


GM Debate: Coexistence Made to Measure for EU

By Richard Waddington
May 11, 2006

GENEVA - The World Trade Organization (WTO) has confirmed in a final ruling that a European Union moratorium on genetically-modified (GMO) foods was illegal, but Brussels said on Thursday the finding would not affect policy.

The verdict, which was widely expected, also condemned six member states -- Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg -- for applying their own bans on a number of GMO products previously approved by the European Commission.

"The substance of the ruling has not changed," said one diplomat with knowledge of the finding, which was issued late on Wednesday but not made public.

The WTO made a preliminary ruling in February.

The decision, in a case brought by the United States, Canada and Argentina, the world's biggest GMO producers, did not touch on the sensitive issue of whether GMOs are safe or whether they can be considered comparable to conventional products.

The EU, where consumers are suspicious of what are often called "Frankenfoods," said there was no need for a rule change because the six-year moratorium on approving GMOs ended in 2004.

Manufacturers have also withdrawn virtually all products covered by the individual state bans with the exception of a couple in Austria.

"The U.S. and other complainants did not challenge the EU's regulatory framework on GMOs, which is rooted in science-based risk assessment. Nothing in this panel report will compel us to change that framework," a Commission spokesman said in Brussels.

"Europe will continue to set its own rules on the import and sale of GMO foods," spokesman Peter Power told a news briefing, adding it was not the case that the EU operated a moratorium on GM foods, noting it had approved nine products since last May.

Bully Other Countries

A spokesman for the United States Trade Representative said that he could not comment because the report was confidential.

"When the report is made public, we expect WTO members to come into compliance and honor the rules-based trading system," said spokesman Stephen Norton.

But anti-GMO activists were adamant nothing had changed.

"It is clear that the U.S., Canada and Argentina will not be able to use this ruling to bully other countries to accept GMOs," said Eric Gall, political adviser to environmentalist group Greenpeace in Brussels.

The 1,000-page report, which will not be officially released for some six weeks, found that by not approving GMO products between 1998 and 2004, the EU was applying an effective moratorium. This constituted "undue delay" and therefore violated trade rules.

In addition it said the six countries had given no scientific evidence to justify their banning GMO products -- mainly maize and rapeseed -- which the EU had declared safe.

GMO-making companies such as Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research), applauded the February ruling because they said it underlined the need for decisions affecting trade to be based on science.

"We are encouraged by the international trading community's support for science-based regulatory approvals," said Christian Verschueren, director-general of CropLife International, a global federation representing manufacturers.

The United States, which said its farmers lost $300 million a year because of the EU action, also welcomed it. Washington says it could help overcome reservations about GMO crops in other parts of the world.

Both sides can appeal and it could be six months or more before the case is settled.


Frightened Rice Industry Wants Tiny Firm to 'Go Away'

By Paul Elias, Associated Press
The Philadelphia Inquirer
May 15, 2006

In its quest to genetically engineer rice with human genes to produce a treatment for childhood diarrhea, tiny Ventria Bioscience has made an astonishing number of powerful enemies spanning the political spectrum.

Environmental groups, corporate food interests, and thousands of farmers across the country have succeeded in chasing the company's rice farms out of two states. And critics continue to complain that Ventria is recklessly plowing ahead with a mostly untested technology that threatens the safety of conventional crops grown for the food supply.

"We just want them to go away," said Bob Papanos of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. "This little company could cause major problems."

Ventria, with 16 employees, practices "biopharming," the most contentious segment of agricultural biotechnology because its adherents essentially operate open-air drug factories by splicing human genes into crops to produce proteins that can be turned into medicines.

Ventria's rice produces two human proteins found in mother's milk, saliva and tears, which help people hydrate and lessen the severity and duration of diarrhea attacks, a top killer of children in developing countries.

But farmers, environmentalists and others fear that such medicinal crops will mix with conventional crops, making them unsafe to eat.

The company says the chance of its genetically engineered rice ending up in the food supply is remote because the company grinds the rice and extracts the protein before shipping. What's more, rice is "self-pollinating," and it's virtually impossible for genetically engineered rice to accidentally cross-breed with conventional crops.

"We use a contained system," Ventria chief executive officer Scott Deeter said. Regardless, U.S. rice farmers in particular fear that important overseas customers in lucrative, biotechnology-averse countries such as Japan will shun U.S. crops if biopharming is allowed to proliferate. Exports account for half of the rice industry's $1.18 billion in annual sales.

Rice interests in California drove Ventria's experimental work out of the state in 2004 after Japanese customers said they wouldn't buy the rice if Ventria were allowed to set up shop.

But Ventria was undeterred. The company, which has its headquarters in Sacramento, finally landed near Greenville, N.C. In March, it received U.S. Department of Agriculture clearance to expand its operation there from 70 acres to 335. Ventria is hoping to get regulatory clearance this year to market its diarrhea-fighting protein powder.

There has been little resistance from corporate and farming interests in eastern North Carolina. But the company's work has raised the hackles of environmentalists there.

"The issue is the growing of pharmaceutical products in food crops grown outdoors," said Hope Shand of the environmental nonprofit ETC Group in Carrboro, N.C. "The chance this will contaminate traditionally grown crops is great. This is a very risky business."

Deeter points out that there aren't any commercial rice growers in North Carolina, although the USDA did allow Ventria to grow its controversial crop about a half-mile from a government "rice station," where new strains are tested. The USDA has since moved that station to Beltsville, Md., though an agency spokeswoman said the relocation had nothing to do with Ventria.

The company, meanwhile, has applied to the Food and Drug Administration to approve the protein powder as a "medical food" rather than a drug. That means Ventria would not have to conduct long and costly human tests. Instead, it submitted data from scientific experts attesting that the company's powder is "generally regarded as safe."

Earlier this month, a Peruvian scientist sponsored by Ventria presented data at the Pediatric Academics Societies meeting in San Francisco. It showed that children hospitalized in Peru with serious diarrhea attacks recovered more quickly - 3.67 days compared with 5.21 days - if the dehydration solution they were fed contained the powder.

Ventria's chief executive said he hopes to have an approval this year and envisions a $100 million annual market in the United States. Deeter forecasts a $500 million market overseas, especially in developing countries, where diarrhea is a top killer of children under the age of 5. The World Health Organization reports that nearly two million children succumb to diarrhea each year.

But overcoming consumer skepticism and regulatory concerns about feeding babies with products derived from genetic engineering is a tall order. This is especially true in the face of continued opposition to biopharming from the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America, which represents food, beverage and consumer-products companies with combined U.S. sales of $460 billion.

Ventria hopes to add its protein powder to existing infant products. There is no requirement to label any food products in the United States as containing genetically engineered ingredients.

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