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November 2006 Updates

USDA Gives Rubber-Stamp Market Approval to Genetically Engineered Rice Contaminating Food Supply

For Immediate Release
Joe Mendelson: 703-244-1724 and Bill Freese: 301-985-3011
November 24, 2006

'Approval-by-Contamination' Policy Puts Consumers and Environment at Risk, Erodes Trust in U.S. Food

USDA Continues to Allow Bayer to Test Experimental Genetically Engineered Crops

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today granted marketing approval of a genetically-engineered (GE) rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports, first announced three months ago. The controversial decision was taken despite the insistence of its developer, Bayer CropScience, that it dropped plans to commercialize the variety, known as LibertyLink601 (LL601), five years ago.

"With this decision, USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesn't matter if you're negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we'll bail you out," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "In effect, USDA is sanctioning an ‘approval-by-contamination' policy that can only increase the likelihood of untested genetically engineered crops entering the food supply in the future, and further erode trust in the wholesomeness of U.S. food overseas," he added.

Mendelson also noted that USDA has still not determined how LL601 entered the rice supply or the extent of the contamination, and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not undertaken a formal assessment of the rice, which is designed to survive direct spraying with the powerful herbicide glufosinate.

"Experimental, genetically engineered crops like LL601 are prohibited for a reason," said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at Center for Food Safety. "Exhaustive testing is required to determine whether or not mutagenic gene-splicing procedures create human health or environmental hazards, and no one has done that analysis on LL601 rice," he added.

In comments filed with USDA, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) opposed USDA's consideration of Bayer's petition for market approval of LL601 as an abuse of the regulatory process. CFS also blasted USDA for allowing Bayer to black out extensive portions of its petition as "confidential business information," and demanded that it be released for public scrutiny and comment before any decision was made. CFS further noted that Bayer might exploit the approval to evade liability for an estimated $150 million in market losses suffered by U.S. farmers because of the episode. The comments also spelled out the potential for LL601 to spread its herbicide-resistance trait to weedy red rice, making it more difficult for farmers to control.

LL601 is one of several ‘LibertyLink' (LL) rice varieties that have been genetically engineered by Bayer to survive application of Bayer's proprietary Liberty© herbicide. Liberty kills normal rice, but can be applied directly to LL varieties to kill surrounding weeds. This explains why Bayer had to obtain government approval to permit residues of the weedkiller on rice grains of its two approved versions of LibertyLink rice.

"Contrary to what you hear from the biotech industry, genetically engineered crops like LibertyLink rice mean more chemicals in our food, not less," said Freese.

"USDA's decision to approve genetically engineered rice that Bayer itself decided was unfit for commerce is the clearest sign yet that U.S. authorities are intent upon dismantling federal regulation of genetically engineered crops in the interests of the biotechnology industry," said Mendelson.

"Center for Food Safety will consider all legal options to put an end to USDA's 'approval-by-contamination' policy for new genetically engineered crops," he added.

Mendelson further noted that since the contamination debacle was first announced on August 18, 2006, USDA has given Bayer the green light to conduct nine more outdoor field trials of new genetically engineered crops.

For CFS's comments to USDA on Bayer's petition for approval of LL601, see


False & Destructive "Solutions" to Global Warming

Press Release
November 16, 2006

Groups Condemn Large-Scale Biofuels, Genetically Engineered Trees & Crops, Monoculture Tree Plantations

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nairobi, Kenya - The Gaia Foundation, Global Forest Coalition, Global Justice Ecology Project, Large Scale Biofuels Action Group, the STOP GE Trees Campaign and World Rainforest Movement held a press conference today during the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The event addressed the socially and environmentally devastating impacts of large-scale biofuel production, genetically engineered trees and crops, and carbon sink plantations, and explained why these schemes will not solve climate change.

The promotion of large-scale biofuel production as an alternative to fossil fuels, and of tree plantations to store carbon is becoming very popular at this year's UNFCCC. Genetically engineered (GE) [also called transgenic or genetically modified] crops and trees have also been promoted as a way to implement these co-called "solutions" to climate change.

"Not only will large-scale use of biofuels and genetic engineering technology not help to alleviate climate change, they may in fact exacerbate the problems of global warming while also causing environmental degradation, social inequality and poverty, particularly in developing countries," stated Teresa Anderson of the London-based Gaia Foundation.

Using important agricultural land and water to grow biofuels instead of food for domestic consumption will have a detrimental effect on food security, especially in poor countries. In 2006, an increase in the use of grain worldwide for conversion to biofuels led to a 60% increase in global grain prices. "Soya plantations in Latin America and palm oil plantations in Indonesia, being developed for biofuels, are driving deforestation and pushing hundreds of thousands of farmers and indigenous peoples off of their lands," stated Miguel Lovera of Global Forest Coalition. "Once again the developing countries of the South are being asked to pay the price for the unsustainable lifestyle of the North."

In addition to their social and environmental impacts, the carbon-saving benefits of biofuel plantations are also being challenged. Biofuel studies, published in the U.S., found the fossil fuel energy required to produce and process biofuel crops like soya and maize is almost as much, or in some cases more than, the energy contained in the fuel produced.

Activists are also condemning tree plantations used to store carbon: "This Convention needs to move away from the complicated and fraudulent carbon trading schemes" stated Ana Filippini of Uruguay-based World Rainforest Movement "It should begin to address seriously the issues of how to phase out fossil fuels and how to stop deforestation".

While conventional monoculture tree plantations already have enormous documented social and ecological impacts, industry is now considering the use of genetically engineered trees in these plantations-which would greatly exacerbate these devastating impacts and also lead to new, unprecedented and unpredictable impacts.

Genetically engineered trees were approved for use in carbon sinks by the UNFCCC in 2003, despite a complete lack of research on the potential risks of these trees which may be engineered to kill insects, grow faster, be more easily pulped or be resistant to toxic herbicides.

"The release of GE trees in huge plantations to store carbon must be banned," stated Anne Petermann of Global Justice Ecology Project. "The escape of pollen or seeds from GE trees into native forests would cause severe and totally unpredictable ecological impacts that could impact the ability of forests to store carbon, worsening global warming". Andrew Boswell of the Large Scale Biofuels Action Group added " In the light of the precautionary decision on GE Trees made by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in March 2006, we urge the countries of the South to stay resolutely cautious about adopting these technologies that are not in their control, nor likely to be in their best interests."

In response to these ill-conceived schemes, organizations, indigenous peoples and others around the world have joined together to demand an end to false climate change "solutions" that include industrial tree plantations, genetically engineered crops or trees or large-scale and unsustainable production of biofuels.


Brazil: Transgenic Soybean Seeds Increase Herbicides

Valor Economico
November 17, 2006

The Brazilian environmental institute Ibama reports from 2000 - 2004 the domestic consumption of glyphosates has increased by 95% while the soybeans planted area rose 71%, showing the introduction of genetic modified soybeans Roundup Ready seeds from Monsanto, led to a larger use of agrochemicals.

Rio Grande do Sul, which hosts most of the transgenic soybeans agriculture shows a rate of 162% on glyphosate consumption and 38% in the soybeans planted area. Rio Grande shows what would happen in other states with the uses of genetic modified seeds.

There soybean farmers have increased by 106% the consumption of herbicides from 9,800 to 20,200 m tons (2000 - 2004) of which 19,300 mil tons of glyphosates used in an area of 4.1 mil ha of soybeans plantations. Consequences of the massive use of herbicides are still to be seen, but researchers from Embrapa already noticed the growing resistance of plagues [weeds?] to glyphosates.


UN Leader Urges Biotech Safeguards

November 19, 2006

ST. GALLEN, Switzerland, Nov. 18 (Reuters) — Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations warned Saturday that the potential for danger from the rapidly growing biotechnology industry was increasing exponentially and urged creating global safeguards.

Mr. Annan, in a speech in this Swiss university town, warned of "catastrophic" results if recent advances in biotechnology, including gene manipulation and work with viruses, fell into the wrong hands.

"As biological research expands, and technologies become increasingly accessible, this potential for accidental or intentional harm grows exponentially," he said, according to the text of his speech. "Even novices working in small laboratories will be able to carry out gene manipulation."

In May, Mr. Annan called for a global forum on biological terrorism, saying current treaties were too weak and governmental and commercial initiatives too scattered.

Mr. Annan likened the current consensus-building phase over rules for life sciences to the debate over nuclear technology in the 1950s that preceded the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"We lack an international system of safeguards to manage those risks," he said. "Scientists may do their best to follow rules for responsible conduct of research. But efforts to harmonize these rules on a global level are outpaced by the galloping advance of science itself."


Genetically Engineered Rice Wins USDA Approval

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post
November 25, 2006

Grain Tainted U.S. Supply This Summer

The Department of Agriculture declared safe for human consumption yesterday an experimental variety of genetically engineered rice found to have contaminated the U.S. rice supply this summer.

The move by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate the special long-grain rice, LL601, was seen as a legal boon to its creator, Bayer CropScience of Research Triangle Park, N.C. The company applied for approval shortly after the widespread contamination was disclosed in August and now faces a class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of farmers in Arkansas and Missouri.

The experimental rice, designed to resist Bayer's Liberty weedkiller, escaped from Bayer's test plots after the company dropped the project in 2001. The resulting contamination, once it became public, prompted countries around the world to block rice imports from the United States, sending rice futures plummeting and farmers into fits.

In approving the rice, the USDA allowed Bayer to take a regulatory shortcut and skip many of the usual safety tests by declaring that the new variety is similar to ones already approved, in this case two varieties of biotech rice that Bayer never commercialized because farmers did not want them in their fields. The department gave its preliminary approval Sept. 8.

"The protein in the company's herbicide-tolerant rice varieties . . . is well known to regulators, who have affirmed the rice poses no human health or environmental concern," said Greg Coffey, a Bayer spokesman.

Coffey said the company has no plans to sell the newly approved variety.

Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, said the quick approval shows that the USDA is more concerned about the fortunes of the biotechnology industry than about consumers' health.

"USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesn't matter if you're negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we'll bail you out," Mendelson said in a statement.

"In effect, USDA is sanctioning an 'approval-by-contamination' policy that can only increase the likelihood of untested genetically engineered crops entering the food supply in the future," he said.

Most critics agree that the new rice is safe to eat. The bacterial gene that is in LL601 is also in several approved varieties of engineered corn, canola and cotton. Experts say the key gene in the new rice is sure to move via pollen into red rice, a weedy relative of white rice and the No. 1 plant pest for rice farmers in the South.

By September, rice prices had slumped about 10 percent and experts predicted that market losses would reach $150 million.

Adam Levitt, an attorney for about 300 farmers suing Bayer, said yesterday's approval does nothing to change that outlook. Officials in Europe, where genetically altered rice is derisively dubbed "Frankenfood," made clear as recently as last week that European countries will not accept any U.S. rice, he said.

"Unless the U.S. export countries change their view and begin to regain a sense of confidence in U.S. rice, the U.S. rice farmers are still hurt and this whole ruling is illusory in its effect," Levitt said. "It's not a victory at all, because at the end of the day people are not purchasing U.S. rice and the exports markets are absolutely closed still." While Bayer may have received some legal help -- it can no longer be said to be responsible for introducing an illegal variety of gene-altered rice into the U.S. rice supply -- the USDA is still investigating how the variety escaped from test plots into farmers' fields, where it was quietly amplified for years until its discovery.

USDA officials said yesterday that the decision to deregulate the rice is separate from the question of whether Bayer complied with federal regulations in its handling the gene-altered rice.

"The deregulation doesn't preclude any legal action against the company for violation of APHIS regulations," said Rachel Iadicicco, a USDA spokeswoman. "Violators of APHIS regulations can face criminal penalties, civil penalties and remediation costs."


EU to Debate Approving First "Live" GMO in 8 Years

By Jeremy Smith
November 27, 2006

Brussels (Reuters) - The European Union will venture into the sensitive area of "live" genetically modified (GMO) crops next month, for the first time in eight years, when EU experts debate whether to let farmers grow biotech potatoes.

EU countries have been divided for years over GMO policy and even the idea of how biotech crops should be separated from traditional and organic varieties has proved controversial. So to approve another "live" GMO will be difficult, diplomats say.

The EU's last approval of a GMO product for cultivation was in 1998. Shortly after, the bloc started its de facto moratorium on new biotech authorisations that ended in 2004. Still, no more "live" GMOs have gained EU approval since that time.

That may all change in December, when EU environment experts will discuss an application by German chemicals group BASF to grow a potato -- known as Amylogene -- that is genetically engineered to yield high amounts of starch.

BASF's application only relates to industrial processing, so the potatoes would not be consumed either by humans or animals.

However, the company has submitted a separate application -- no date is yet set for an EU discussion -- where the waste from processing would be incorporated into animal feed. "It's the first proposal that we'll be putting forward for cultivation since before the moratorium," an European Commission official said. The experts' debate is scheduled for Dec. 4.

Greens outraged

Europe has long been split on genetically modified policy and the EU's 25 countries consistently clash over whether to approve new varieties for import. The Commission usually ends up issuing a rubberstamp approval, which it may do under EU law.

Green groups were outraged by the idea of the EU authorising the cultivation of more GMO crops. At present, only a handful may be grown, with approvals dating back to 1998 and earlier.

"For many the people the potato is almost sacred. Allowing genetically modified potatoes to be grown in Europe will be a disaster," said Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

"There will always be contamination if GM crops are grown outdoors and sooner or later these GM potatoes will end up in the food chain," he said.

Later in December, EU environment ministers are expected to discuss Commission proposals ordering both Austria and Hungary to lift their bans on certain GMO products after an expert committee failed to reach a consensus agreement in September.

They are also likely to debate an application for EU imports of a carnation whose colour has been genetically modified to produce blue pigment and also carry a herbicide-resistant gene.

Ironically, carnations were the EU's last two GMO plant authorisations before the unofficial moratorium began. The application, lodged by Florigene -- one of Australia's first biotech companies -- does not include cultivation.

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