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August 2007 Updates

Monsanto Appeals Roundup Ready Alfalfa Ruling

By Jim Dickrell
Dairy Today
August 14, 2007

Monsanto filed a notice of appeal in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday seeking to overturn the permanent injunction on planting Roundup Ready alfalfa. This is the second time the case has been appealed.

The injunction was issued May 3rd, when Judge Charles Breyer ordered that all sale and seeding of Roundup Ready alfalfa stop until USDA completes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIA). Judge Breyer did allow that Roundup Ready alfalfa planted prior to March 30th could be harvested, but only under special handling requirements which prevent neighboring fields from being contaminated.

Monsanto's appeal seeks to correct legal standards applied as the basis for the injunction, says Michael Doane, company spokesman. Monsanto also asserts irreparable financial harm will come to growers, seed dealers, Forage Genetics, Inc., and Monsanto while the EIS is completed.

Monsanto attorneys could not offer an estimate of when a decision on the appeal would be rendered. If the appeal is accepted, it is likely the case would go back to Judge Breyer for re-consideration.


Banned Strain of Alfalfa Planted in 43 Michigan Counties

Associated Press
August 26, 2007

BAY CITY -- A genetically engineered strain of alfalfa that was banned nationwide until the government can adequately study the crop's potential impact already has been planted in 43 Michigan counties.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in California made permanent a temporary ban he ordered in March on alfalfa with genetic material from bacteria that makes the crop resistant to the popular weed killer Roundup.

Breyer said the U.S. Department of Agriculture must conduct a detailed scientific study of Roundup Ready alfalfa's effect on the environment and other alfalfa varieties before deciding whether to approve it.

The USDA recently released a list of counties in which the alfalfa is grown that includes the Michigan counties, The Bay City Times reported.

The Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., had sued on behalf of farmers who argued that the genetically engineered seed could contaminate organic and conventional alfalfa varieties.

"There's a lot of farmers who don't want to use genetically engineered alfalfa for a variety of reasons," said Joseph Mendelson, the center's legal director. "When their fields essentially get polluted with this crop, it can have negative effects on them in the market."

Dean Kirkpatrick, a dairy farmer in Kinde, grows 150 acres of traditional alfalfa. He scoffs at worries about the Roundup Ready variety.

"I believe a lot of this stuff is blown way out of proportion," Kirkpatrick said. "The same story went around when it came to Roundup Ready corn and then ... soybeans. Every time we come around with a new technology, somebody is going to make a fuss about it."

Nationwide, about 220,000 acres of genetically engineered alfalfa were planted this year before the judge's ban went into effect. The judge ordered those farmers to ensure their crops do not contaminate adjacent fields of alfalfa.

About 2,000 acres of the seed were planted in Michigan last year, according to the Michigan Farm Bureau.


Industry Tries to Purge Rice Strains

By Nancy Cole
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
August 18, 2007

Aug. 18, 2006, is a day that many in the U. S. rice industry would like to forget.

One year ago today, the U. S. Department of Agriculture announced that traces of an unapproved, genetically engineered rice had been discovered in U. S. long-grain rice supplies.

"I wish that day would never have happened," said Keith Glover, president and chief executive officer of Producers Rice Mill Inc. in Stuttgart. "It really created a lot of hardship for a lot of people: farmers, mills, exporters, seed dealers ... everybody in the industry was impacted."

The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration said the genetically engineered rice - one of Bayer CropScience's LibertyLink varieties - posed no health, food safety or environmental risks. But many foreign countries, which buy about half of each year's U. S. rice crop, shun genetically engineered foods. As a result, sales in nearly half of all U. S. rice export markets were negatively affected. Exports to the 27 member nations of the European Union halted almost completely.

The fallout from the problem was particularly acute in Arkansas where the state's farmers produce about half of all U. S. rice. In 2006, Arkansas' rice harvest was worth $ 892 million, making it the state's single most valuable crop.

The U. S. rice industry has been working to purge LibertyLink traits from the country's long-grain rice supply and restore the grain's international competitiveness and marketability. Great strides have been made, said Ray Vester, a Stuttgart rice farmer who is chairman of the USA Rice Federation's environmental regulatory subcommittee.

Arkansas took the lead by banning the 2007 planting of two rice varieties, Vester said. Cheniere and Clearfield 131 both tested positive for the "adventitious presence" or unintentional commingling of trace amounts of the protein that makes LibertyLink rice varieties resistant to the herbicide Liberty, also known as glufosinate. Farmers and millers then were urged to thoroughly clean their equipment before starting the 2007 harvest.

Whether those efforts have been successful in Arkansas will become apparent later this month, when the state's rice harvest begins, Vester said.

He and many others are confident that this year's crop is "clean."

"I really feel good about what we have in the field right now," said State Plant Board Director Darryl Little. "My biggest fear - and I suspect that of everyone in the industry - would be carryover of Cheniere and Clearfield 131 that was grown last year that might be in on-farm storage somewhere" and get mixed with the new crop, Little said.

Rice miller Glover echoes that concern.

"You're just nervous about that one kernel that might happen to show up" in a shipment to Europe, he said. "If they just happen to probe and hit that one kernel, that's all it takes to ban the whole shipment and have to ship it back."

For that reason, the U. S. rice industry is lobbying the EU to agree to "origin testing," Glover said, so that U. S. exporters can be confident their rice will be accepted for delivery before it is shipped. Alternatively, the EU's establishment of a minimum tolerance for the adventitious presence of genetically engineered traits could help to restart U. S. rice exports, he said.

USDA also could assist the rice industry by completing and releasing its long-awaited investigation into the LibertyLink case, Glover said, explaining "what happened, how it happened and what's being done to correct the problem."

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has repeatedly promised to "determine the circumstances surrounding the release [of regulated material into supplies of commercial long-grain rice ] and whether any USDA regulations were violated." But APHIS spokesman Karen Eggert said Thursday "that investigation is not yet complete, so we haven't issued any final findings."

Not surprisingly, the genetically engineered rice problem has spawned hundreds of lawsuits during the past year. Most of those cases have been brought by farmers who are suing Bayer CropScience. Some cases, however, have been brought by rice buyers and seed dealers, and several cases also name rice mills as defendants.

In December, all such rice litigation - which now numbers 184 cases - was consolidated in U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis. Judge Catherine Perry was assigned to handle all pretrial matters such as discovery, which began last month.

Most of the rice-farmer plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for their complaints, said Scott Poynter, a Little Rock attorney who serves on the plaintiffs' executive committee. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for May 1, 2008.

"I think it's more than likely, if [Perry ] does certify the class, that the class case would be tried with her," Poynter said. "Individual cases that aren't part of the class, and any individual case where the plaintiff doesn't fall within the class definition will go back to their original venue and court."

Based upon the current scheduling orders, none of the rice trials will begin before 2009.


Biotech Beets Gaining Approval

Associated Press
August 22, 2007

Sugar-beet seed that has built-in resistance to the popular Roundup herbicide is expected to be in widespread use next year, as governments and sugar processors approve the biotech beets.

In the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota, American Crystal Sugar Co. has decided to make the jump.

"It's a pretty major step," Crystal President David Berg said. "Here at American Crystal, we believe biotechnology is the current wave that will help feed the world."

The Worland, Wyo.-based Wyoming Sugar Co. planted about one-sixth of its 12,000 acres to Roundup Ready beets this year. Wahpeton, N.D.-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative has announced tentative plans to move to biotech seed.

"It's still not 100 percent," said Tom Knudsen, a co-op vice president for agriculture. "(But) the reasons for making the decision are still valid. I don't see anything that looks like it could be a cloud on the horizon."

Biotech seed harvest is beginning in Oregon, Knudsen said. Three companies are expected to handle it in 2008, and the Crystal Seed brand also will be available for American Crystal growers.

Berg said he expects farmers in the Red River Valley to have enough biotech seed to plant up to half of their acreage.

Farmers who want to use the biotech seed must factor a technology fee of about $60 per acre into their plans.

"What we're asking our shareholders to do is go in with a good healthy look at their production costs," Berg said. "We have a database of what (farmers) spend, and our numbers say if you're in the middle to lower half in weed-control costs, it probably would make sense to use conventional seed and weed control."

Amenia farmer Bill Hejl, president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, said he expects to get more sugar per acre with biotech beets. "I also think I'll probably spend less on herbicides, maybe less on fertilizer next year, and less on cultivation," he said.

"It's something new, and a lot of sugar-beet growers, a lot of my neighbors are very excited, up and down the valley," Hejl said.

Sugar-beet yields are particularly susceptible to weed pressure, with some industry experts saying weeds can sap as much as 30 percent of a crop's yield. Sugar-beet fields are the only ones in the Red River Valley where people still are occasionally employed to work up and down the rows, hoeing weeds.

"Field labor will be thing of the past," said Nick Sinner, executive director of the sugar-beet group.

Biotech beets also could reduce the need for what is known as 'micro rate' herbicide applications. The process involves smaller amounts of chemical applied multiple times, to cut down on injury to the beets. That requires more passes through the field, which burns more fuel and compacts the soil, which then needs cultivation.

"Typically, a farmer might spray three or four times a year, but it can be up to five," Sinner said. "With Roundup Ready (beets), we have more of an opportunity to kill weeds without injury to the beets."

All countries that are major sugar-beet markets, including the United States, have approved the Roundup Ready beet variety. The European Union's formal approval is pending, but the European Food Safety Authority said late last year that "no risks to human and animal health were identified in studies."

Molly Cline, senior director of global industry affairs with St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., which developed Roundup Ready beets, said recently that processor acceptance was the last step to making biotech beets as widespread as genetically modified soybeans, corn and cotton.

"The sugar from genetically modified beets is chemically the same as that grown from traditional beets, leaving no DNA trace from the biotechnology process," Cline said. "As such, it requires no special labeling in North America and in Japan."


German Company Sues U.S. Rice Millers Over Modified Rice

The Associated Press
August 23, 2007

LITTLE ROCK: A German food producer has sued two Arkansas rice millers, alleging that shipments to the company contained unapproved genetically engineered rice.

Bremen-based Rickmers Reismuehle GMBH, filed separate federal complaints Tuesday against Riceland Foods cooperative and Producers Rice Mill, both based in Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Rickmers alleged the millers breached contracts by selling rice that did not meet the terms of a 2003 European Union ban on the importation and sale of genetically modified foods.

The lawsuits seek damages incurred by Rickmers in purchasing, using and recalling the rice and the food products made with it.

Keith Glover, president and chief executive officer for Producers, said Wednesday he had not seen the lawsuit but suspects it stems from the federal government's finding a year ago that the food supply contained traces of unapproved genetically engineered rice. Before that, Glover said, producers believed U.S. rice was free of the genetically modified grain.

Riceland did not immediately return a call for comment.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed over a genetically modified rice that was found in storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri. Those cases have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis.


FTC Says Milk Ads Are OK

Associated Press
August 28, 2007

WASHINGTON - Federal regulators have turned down a request from Monsanto Co. to take action against dairy companies that advertise milk as free of synthetic hormones.

The Federal Trade Commission said last week that the ads it reviewed did not make any misleading claims about the safety of recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST, a hormone that boosts milk production in cows.

St. Louis based-Monsanto, which markets the hormone under the brand name Posilac, had asked the FTC to investigate more than a half dozen companies that advertise milk products.

The company claims the ads mislead consumers into thinking that milk from cows not treated with rBST are healthier or safer than dairy products from cows treated with the hormone.

The hormone is banned in Canada and Europe, mainly due to concerns that it leaves cows more prone to illness. But the Food and Drug Administration and the company insist the hormone is safe and the FDA approved rBST to boost production in dairy cows in 1993.

Still, many dairy farmers concerned about possible safety risks refuse to use the product and a growing number of retailers, including grocery chains Safeway and Kroger Co., have switched to milk free of synthetic hormones.

The national milk brand Borden, for example, advertises that "we work exclusively with farmers that supply 100 percent of our milk from cows that haven't been treated with artificial hormones. So, who do you trust when it comes to your family's milk?"

The FTC declined to launch a formal investigation or take enforcement action against any company. But FTC associate director Mary Engle said a few small businesses were warned about making unfounded claims about rBST on their Web sites and told to revise those claims.

The Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based nonprofit that opposes use of Posilac, applauded the FTC decision.

"Since more and more companies are rejecting this drug and letting consumers know it, Monsanto is getting desperate," said Charles Margulis, spokesman for the Center for Food Safety in Oakland, Calif.

Monsanto alleges that misleading advertising has created an artificial demand and higher consumer prices for milk from cows that have not been injected with the growth hormone.

Mike Lormore, dairy industry affairs director for Monsanto in St. Louis, said the issue is "accuracy in labeling" He said moves by retailers could limit long term demand for the hormone, but has not had a "significant impact" on current sales.

Under FDA policy, food companies are allowed to make claims on labels that they do not use rBST, as long they do not "mislead consumers" to believe milk from cows without rBST is safer or of higher quality.


Rice Farmer Claims Research Contaminated Crop

By Hattie Sherrick-Burton
Beauregard Daily News
August 29, 2007

A Beauregard Parish rice farmer is suing the board of supervisors of Louisiana State University and Bayer CropScience, the developer of genetically modified rice, for allegedly contaminating the U.S. rice crop and causing harm to his farm.

Farmer Kenneth Habetz is seeking compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

Habetz filed his suit in 36th Judicial District Court on Aug. 17. It claims negligence, nuisance and trespassing following the contamination of the U.S. rice supply by the genetically modified, long-grain "LLRICE" or Liberty Rice.

According to the suit, the board of supervisors contracted with Bayer to field test the rice, which is grown to be resistant to the active ingredient in the Bayer product Liberty@Herbicide, at an LSU-operated Rice Research Station two miles east of Crowley.

The suit alleges that during field-testing from 1998 through 2001, LSU and Bayer failed to take action to prevent the contamination of conventional rice with "LLRICE" through cross-pollination or commingling during planting, harvesting, handling, storage, transportation and disposal, resulting in the contamination of the entire U.S. supply.

Genetically engineered rice has been modified so that it is resistant to herbicide. On Aug. 18, 2006, an announcement was made to U.S. rice farmers that trace amounts of genetically engineered rice had been found throughout the Southern U.S.

It was concluded at the time, however, that there was no health, food safety or environmental concerns associated with the U.S. rice.

According to the suit, while all biotechnology products in the country are required to undergo testing by the USDA and other food safety agencies, such approval was not sought by Bayer until more than one strain of the rice was confirmed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to be found in rice supplies destined for human consumption and export.

Habetz claims that his farming operation suffered as a result of the contamination.

He alleges that he and other farmers were faced with increased costs due to the need to maintain the integrity of their rice supply, and for their efforts to keep "LLRICE" from further entering supplies.

According to USDA estimates for the 2006 crop year, rice production in the U.S. was valued at $1.88 billion, approximately half of which was expected to be exported.

The U.S. also provides about 12 percent of the world rice trade.

Habetz grew rice on approximately 600 acres of Beauregard Parish farmland during the relevant time periods and, according to the suit, has never knowingly grown "LLRICE".

According to the USDA, Louisiana has the second largest area devoted to long-grain rice production, accounting for about 20 percent of the acreage devoted to long-grain rice production, as well as 16 percent of the long-grain production in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Rice Federation, Bayer CropScience has developed many genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant products with the protein called "Liberty Link", including corn, soybeans, canola and cotton, some of which are grown in the U.S. Bayer has developed three rice products, two of which have been thoroughly evaluated and declared safe for use in food, safe in the environment and approved for production. Neither of these rice products have been commercialized.

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