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September 2006 Updates

Tell USDA NOT to Approve Illegal GE Rice!

USDA to Rubber-Stamp Contamination of Food with Illegal, Genetically Engineered Rice Banned in Japan and Europe

Center for Food Safety

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has initiated fast-track market approval of an illegal, genetically-engineered (GE) rice variety that has contaminated long-grain rice throughout the South, throwing rice markets into turmoil and causing potential harm to consumers and the environment. The variety, known as LL601, was developed by Bayer CropScience. Bayer field-tested LL601 from 1998-2001, but for unknown reasons never applied to USDA for market approval.

Though it is known that LL601 is illegally present in rice supplies, U.S. authorities have failed to recall LL601-contaminated rice supplies or food products, despite a lack of information on potential health or environmental impacts. In contrast, Japan has banned U.S. long-grain rice imports, and the European Union is testing U.S. rice shipments and rejecting those that contain LL601.

Bayer is now asking USDA to grant retroactive market approval of the illegal rice, even though it remains inadequately tested, and the company gave up plans to market LL601 in 2001.

Consumers should not be asked to pay for Bayer's mistake. USDA should hold Bayer accountable: test and recall contaminated food products, make all test protocols and positive samples available to the public, destroy the contaminated rice and compensate farmers and food companies for their losses - not deregulate an illegal product after the fact. A public comment period is open now through October 10th. Tell USDA NOT to approve this illegal, inadequately tested rice, and to hold Bayer CropScience accountable!

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Doubts Over Cassava Project

By Dagi Kimani
East African Magazine
September 11, 2006

Researchers have admitted that varieties of the genetically-modified cassava that they had declared to be disease-resistant were actually vulnerable to the devastating cassava mosaic disease.

CONTROVERSY HAS deepened over a multi-million dollar USAid-supported cassava research programme, which proponents had said would help boost East Africa's food security, but which critics have dismissed as an attempt by the United States to develop alternative sources of "renewable" energy.

In the latest twist, a leading American research facility, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre, has admitted that varieties of genetically-modified cassava that it had declared to be disease-resistant are actually vulnerable to the devastating cassava mosaic disease (CMD), the leading cause of farm losses for the crop.

CMD routinely leads to losses of over 30 per cent of the cassava harvest in some farms. A statement by the centre dated May 26, 2006, says that though resistance to CMD had been established through genetic engineering seven years ago, "the resistance was subsequently lost, and [changes to] the plant's DNA had taken place."

Revelations of the resistance failure came even as plans were at an advanced stage to have the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) test the transgenic cassava plants under natural field conditions as a preamble to its release to farmers.

The GM cassava varieties were developed through the Disease-Resistant Cassava for Kenya Project, which is funded by USAid, whose stated goal was "to develop and deliver transgenic, disease-resistant cassava planting materials to farmers in Kenya to increase their harvests and improve their food security."

Critics of the cassava-research programme, however, say that the objectives of the project go beyond food security, and touch on the search by the United States of a cheap source of starch other than maize to manufacture ethanol to help wean it from oil. The development of a GM cassava would also help break down resistance to the introduction of genetically-modified crops across the region.

According to the critics, a senior scientist at Danforth Centre, Dr Claude Fauquet, admitted as such when he said in a briefing paper that the "acquisition of the cassava genome sequence will provide a platform to explore the vast biodiversity within cassava wild species. Ultimately, these activities will position cassava as a valuable source of renewable bio-energy."

Together with several other US research facilities, the Danforth Centre, has in addition to being involved in the effort to develop disease-resistant varieties of cassava been contracted by the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE-JGI) to sequence the plant's entire genome.

The DOE-JGI itself acknowledges that cassava is an excellent energy source which "is grown worldwide as a source of food for approximately one billion people, raising the possibility that it could be used globally to alleviate dependence on fossil fuels."

According to the South African-based African Centre for Biosafety, these admissions mark a "dramatic about-turn from previous commitments to address hunger and the nutritional needs of people in developing countries."

Proponents of the research programme, however, contend that its critics are opposed to it purely because of the fact that it involves genetic-modification, a controversial issue in most African countries outside South Africa.

Before the latest announcements of setbacks, the Danforth Centre had released an elaborate programme in which the disease resistant varieties would be rolled out across East Africa, starting with the distribution of the region's most popular cassava variety - Ebwanatareka - for adoption by 32,000 Kenyan farming families.

"Successful achievement of the project goal will help 200,000 Kenyan cassava farmers and their family members increase their food security by controlling CMD and increasing their cassava harvests by 50 per cent on a sustainable basis," the Danforth Centre says in its website. "A 50 per cent increase in yield for these families will generate an additional 63,000 tonnes of food each year."

The Ebwanatareka variety would then be distributed to Uganda, where it was projected to substantially raise the country's cassava out-put.

"By deploying the same transgenic variety in Uganda, annual production of cassava in that country will increase by over 600,000 tonnes, and the total number of beneficiaries in both countries will increase to over one million persons," says the Danforth Centre's statement.


Monsanto Gives $15 Million to Danforth Plant Science Center

By Eric Hand
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 5, 2006

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center today announced it received a $15 million gift from Monsanto Co., one intended to boost the non-profit center's mission of bringing biotechnology to the developing world.

Half the money will bolster the center's endowment, while the other half will fuel work in Africa.

Monsanto and the Danforth Center, headquartered across the street from each other in Creve Coeur, often share expertise and technology. Monsanto was also a primary donor in establishing the center, which opened its doors in 2001. But they have different goals.

For-profit Monsanto sells genetically-engineered seeds to farmers that can pay for them. Similar to a university, the not-for-profit Danforth Center performs research on crops that may not have a market.

For instance, the center has for seven years worked on cassava. This tropical crop - a tall, leafy plant with a potato-like root - is the most important food security crop in Africa, one that keeps farmers from starvation when the main crop fails.

But in the last decade, a plant virus has swept across eastern Africa and decimated the cassava crop. Danforth Center scientists have engineered a virus-resistant cassava, but have not yet surmounted political hurdles that have kept them from field testing the engineered cassava.

Plant biotechnologist Joel Cohen said that non-profit plant science centers, also referred to as "public-sector" institutes, have been good at doing research but less adept at turning that research into humanitarian products for poor people.

"Public-sector biotechnology has been tremendously underfunded," said Cohen, a Potomac, Md.-based private consultant with a career in the public sector. "They've had a very hard time." Cohen said that the gift could help pay for regulatory costs like field tests and reviews.

Danforth Center spokesman Rob Rose said corn researchers will also get some of the gift money. Researchers are trying to make corn resistant to fungal diseases that reduce yields and produce mycotoxins, which can be a threat to human and animal health.

The gift comes from Monsanto's philanthropic foundation, the Monsanto Fund.

The $7.5 million going to the Danforth Center's endowment is part of a $100 million fundraising campaign that began in 2004. The center has raised about $60 million towards its goal, said Danforth Center spokesman Rob Rose.


GM: The Cover-up

By Geoffrey Lean
Independent, UK
September 17, 2006

Revealed: Government food watchdog gave green light to supermarkets to sell 'illegal' genetically modified rice

Britain's official food safety watchdog has privately told supermarkets that it will not stop them selling an illegal GM rice to the public.

Documents seen by this newspaper show that the Food Standards Agency assured major manufacturers and retailers 10 days ago that it would not make them withdraw the rice - at the same time as it was telling the public it should not be allowed to go on sale.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth has already found GM material in two types of own-brand rice sold in Morrisons supermarkets - in direct contravention of food safety regulations - and believes the GM rice is likely to be widespread throughout Britain.

But the agency has not carried out its own tests for modified rice in products on the market, and has not instructed retailers to do so. It says that the rice is safe, but some scientists disagree.

Last night, Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Environment Secretary, described the agency's conduct as "a massive scandal" and said it "smelt of a cover-up". He said he would be asking for an official investigation into whether the agency had broken the law.

Legally, no GM material is allowed to go on sale in Britain or any other EU country. But last month the Bush administration admitted it had found a modified material, which had not even received safety clearance in the US, in long-grain rice intended for export.

The unauthorised rice, which is listed as LLRICE601, was developed by Bayer CropScience to tolerate weedkiller, and tested on US farms between 1998 and 2001. The company decided not to market it. Nevertheless it has turned up widely in US rice, possibly because pollen from the tested rice spread to conventional crops. The European Commission says that it has been found in 33 of 162 samples of rice imported from the US.

The EC last month banned any further imports unless they could be proved to be clear of the GM rice, and instructed governments to test products already on the market to make sure that they did not contain it.

The European health and consumer protection commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, said it should not be allowed to enter the food chain "in any circumstances".

Two big Swiss supermarket chains have already banned all US long-grain rice from sale.

The Food Standards Agency publicly announced that "the presence of this GM material in rice on sale in the UK is illegal under European food law", adding: "Food retailers are responsible for ensuring the food they sell does not contain unauthorised GM material."

But on 5 September, a senior agency official, Claire Baynton, privately met major retailers and food manufacturers. According to records of the meeting seen by The Independent on Sunday, she said the agency did not expect companies to trace products and withdraw them.

The agency says it told the companies at the meeting that it was their responsibility to ensure that the food they sold did not contain GM material, but that it would not "require" them to test for it or withdraw products if found.

It says that it has "not carried out tests of products on the market" and "has not issued any instructions to retailers" to do so. The agency says that modified rice does not present a safety concern and is advising people who may have US rice at home to continue to eat it. But some scientists say it could give cause for "concern over its potential allergenicity".

Friends of the Earth has found GM material in two samples of Morrisons American long-grain rice and American long-grain brown rice, although it was not able to verify that it was LLRICE601. Morrisons accepts that selling any GM rice is illegal. It cleared its shelves of the products "as a precautionary measure" immediately after being informed of the findings.

Clare Oxborrow, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "The discovery of illegal GM ingredients is very worrying. The Food Standards Agency has failed to take action to identify and withdraw contaminated food, so it is likely that more illegal rice will reach the plates of unsuspecting customers.

"Instead of down-playing this contamination incident, and delaying action, the agency should be taking urgent steps to prevent illegal GM rice from being sold in our shops."


Legal Challenge Plan Over GM Rice

BBC News Online
September 17, 2006

Legal challenge plan over GM rice

Friends of the Earth has said it will start a legal challenge against the Food Standards Agency (FSA) over the sale of GM rice in UK supermarkets.

It claims the agency privately told retailers they did not need to test for contamination of rice by GM products.

GM rice is banned in the EU because of fears not enough research on possible health risks has been carried out.

The FSA said: "It is the responsibility of retailers to ensure the food they put on the market is in compliance."

EU measures

Friends of the Earth said it had sent a number of rice samples for testing after reports in the US that long-grain rice had been contaminated by a type of GM rice - Bayer CropScience's LLRICE 601 - grown in experimental trials in August.

The European Comission then introduced emergency measures to stop it entering Europe. No GM rice has yet been approved for consumption in the EU.

Friends of the Earth said a leaked memo revealed the FSA had told food retailers and manufacturers in private it did not expect them to carry out tests to see if rice was contaminated, or remove contaminated rice from sale.

GM material was found in two types of own-brand rice for sale at a leading supermarket, Friends of the Earth said.

The pressure group said the FSA had said in the memo it would only be testing for contaminated rice at mills, and any which had been sold to stores or was in warehouses would not be withdrawn. The FSA says the rice poses no threat to human health.

Friends of the Earth says it has written a formal legal letter before beginning action it hopes will lead to a judicial review.

Friends of the Earth's head of legal Phil Michaels said: "The Food Standards Agency's response to this GM contamination incident is scandalous and, we believe, unlawful.

"It has failed to act adequately to prevent illegal GM rice reaching our plates and has failed to provide accurate advice and information as it is required to do by law."

The FSA's spokesman said: "We haven't told retailers not to test, but we haven't required them to test."

She said research by the European Food Standards Authority "does not suggest it poses a risk to health".


A Fourth of Corn Seeds Contaminated by GMOs

By Mathieu Auzanneau
September 20, 2006

[Translated] In 2005, 24.2% of the imported corn seed batches tested in French harbours contained GMO traces. These data come from the « Appraisal of the 2005 control plan of imported seeds from third countries », a document not yet published by the Direction Générale de l'Alimentation (also called DGAL, a departement of the French Ministry of Agriculture). In 2004, this figure was 35% according to the previous assessments of the DGAL. In the USA, one of France's main corn seed providers, the proportion reaches 48,6% or 71 out of the 146 American batches tested over these two years. Whatever the origins, almost two thirds of the positively tested batches in 2005 (25 in 39) contained GM seeds - whose cultivation is prohibited in France - most of them developed by the American firm Monsanto. Most of the time, these are traces, since only 4 batches revealed an accidental GM presence over the detectable level of 0.1%. None of these batches was destroyed. Only one was turned back. The others received a specific labeling.

The situation may be worse. A DGAL expert assesses that American seed producers redirect or destroy a fourth of the bags stamped non-GMO corn seeds initially destined to the European Union (EU), because they contain too much GMO. Grégoire Berthe, director of institutional relations at the French seed producer Limagrain, reckons that the proportion is the same in Chile where the seed producer is settled. Each year France buys almost 30,000 tons of corn seeds outside Europe and produces no more than 2,000 tons.

In its 2004 assessment of controls, the DGAL indicates « an important increase in the number of positively tested batches » in comparison with 2003. It specifies that « this evolution has to be linked with (...) the commercial development of these GMOs in third countries and in particular in the USA ».

For Grégoire Berthe, this is « unavoidable » due to « the GMO contamination of pollens in the USA » where almost all corn crops are GM. However seed producers space out their fields by more than 200 metres so as to block the pollens of unwanted varieties. Yet it seems that their customers content themselves with 10 metres.

European divergences

In a study from AFSSA (the French Food Administration) concerning two years of crops and assessments, and which has not yet been published by the French Ministry of Agriculture, it appears that most of the bags of imported seeds with GMO traces do not have one but several transgenic varieties. Up to 4 different ones ! Joël Mathurin, the DGAL plant protection and quality assistant manager, reckons that these multiple contaminations are very frequent in strongly contaminated batches. The head of DGAL, Jean Marc Bournigal, says that these results have not been published because the French Food Administration researchers have worked on batches seized by the Ministry of Agriculture without its agreement. An assertion contested within the French Food Administration.

Whereas the European Commission tolerates up to 0.9% of GMO in its conventional crops, no threshold has been set for seed producers. Austria and Poland, in favour of a total prohibition, do not manage to get on with France, which is among the world's first seeds producers. Grégoire Berthe campaigns for a 0.7% threshold. « Less than 0.5% would be too expensive, our activity would not be profitable » he says. The wish of an impermeable non-GMO channel seems to imply the ban of the import of any seed coming from countries growing GMOs.

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