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March 2009 Updates

EU Environment Ministers Vote to Uphold Ban on Biotech Crops

By James Kanter
International Herald Tribune
March 2, 2009

BRUSSELS - European Union governments delivered a blow Monday to the biotechnology industry, allowing Austria and Hungary to maintain national bans on growing genetically modified crops from Monsanto.

The vote, taken by European environment ministers, could irritate the U.S. government, which has in the past complained to the World Trade Organization about obstacles to planting bioengineered crops.

The vote also was a blow to the European Commission, the EU executive arm. The commission has sought in recent years to ease the restrictions in Europe on gene-altered crops, in part to keep down the cost of animal feed.

Member states were "firm" and the "commission should take a close reading of the result," the French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, said after the announcement in Brussels, according to Bloomberg News.

The market for genetically engineered crops is worth several billion dollars worldwide. Only one genetically altered crop is currently grown in Europe: a form of corn, called MON 810, produced by Monsanto and other companies.

In 2003, the United States, Argentina and Canada brought complaints about the EU's biotechnology policies at the WTO, which ruled in 2006 that a de facto ban on imports of genetically modified foods between 1984 and 2004 violated trade rules.

Since that ruling, the commission has required Austria to drop its ban on imports of genetically modified foods. But some other countries have maintained bans on imports and cultivation of such crops, and the United States still could impose punitive duties on the Europeans for continuing to block trade.

"The risk has increased this morning that attention now will be thrown back to the WTO," Willy De Greef, the secretary general of Europabio, a biotechnology industry organization in Brussels, said after the EU announcement.

The U.S. Mission to the European Union had no immediate comment. Officials at offices of the U.S. Trade Representative in Geneva and Washington could not be reached.

"We are looking very carefully at the implications of this decision for the WTO case," said Amadeu Altafaj, a spokesman for the European Commission.

Barbara Helfferich, a spokesperson for EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said the commission would take some time to formulate its next move.

Groups opposed to biotechnology said the vote was a signal to the commission to stop trying to win permission for the crops until it used more rigorous methods to prove that they are safe.

"The commission must now abandon its unpopular proposals once and for all and get down to the real work of making risk assessments that we can believe in," said Helen Holder, the coordinator for genetically modified organisms at Friends of the Earth Europe.


Voices from Africa

Oakland Institute
March 2, 2009

African Farmers & Environmentalists Speak Out Against a New Green Revolution in Africa

Oakland, CA - A new report from the Oakland Institute, Voices from Africa: African Farmers & Environmentalists Speak Out Against a New Green Revolution in Africa, issues a direct challenge to Western-led plans for a genetically engineered revolution in African agriculture, particularly the recent misguided philanthropic efforts of the Gates Foundation's Alliance for a New Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and presents African resistance and solutions rooted in first-hand knowledge of what Africans need.

The report finds a lack of accountability, transparency, and stakeholder involvement in philanthropic efforts such as AGRA. "Despite the Gates Foundation's rhetoric of inclusion and the claim that their investment in agricultural development benefits the growing majority of the world's poor who rely on agriculture, a leaked Gates Foundation confidential report on their Agricultural Development Strategy for 2008-2011 actually emphasizes moving people out of the agricultural sector," said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute and the editor of the report. "Their intention is to reduce dependency on agriculture, but their strategy report does not specify where or how this new 'land mobile' population is to be reemployed," she continued.

AGRA claims to be an "African-led Green Revolution," and features Kofi Annan at the helm as its chairman; however, African civil society has rejected the idea that one man can speak on behalf of over 50 countries and 680 million people. It is also not apparent from the foundation's Agricultural Development Strategy report whether--or how--the Gates Foundation consulted with African farmers before launching their multi-million dollar development strategy for the continent. Some of the foundation's external advisors have long partnered with biotech companies: for example, Ruth Oniang'o is featured on Monsanto's website claiming that there is an urgent need for food biotechnology in Africa, and Gates Foundation potential grantee Calestous Juma has urged the G8 to put biotechnology on the agenda for for Africa and discard the application of the precautionary principle because it interferes with the development of new technologies.

"Africa does not need dumping of food aid by rich countries that destroys local efforts to produce. Not the imposition of industrial-style agriculture based on chemicals and 'high-yielding' seeds, with the paradoxical outcome of greater production of a few food crops accompanied by even worse hunger and environmental degradation," said Diamantino Nhampossa, a contributor to the report and Executive Coordinator of the União Nacional de Camponeses (National Peasants Union) in Mozambique and member of the Via Campesina's International Coordinating Committee for the Africa Region.

The battle over genetic engineering is being fought across the world, between those who champion farmers' rights to seeds, livelihood, and land, and those who seek to privatize these. While promotional campaigns for technological solutions to hunger regularly feature a handful of African spokespeople who drown out the genuine voices of farmers, researchers, and civil society groups, there is widespread opposition to genetic engineering and plans for a New Green Revolution for Africa. Voices From Africa is based on the essays and statements of leading African farmers, environmentalists, and civil society groups, and brings to light the real African perspectives on technological solutions to hunger and poverty on the continent--and the solutions that the people on the ground believe would bring true development.

The increase in hunger resulting from 2008's steep increase in food prices has been used to make a case for increasing agricultural production through technical solutions such as genetically engineered crops. This "poor washing"--the spurious claim that technology will address the needs of the hungry--and "green washing"--the claim that this technology will help address the threat of climate change--conveys a false sense of need. Voices from Africa clarifies how solutions to hunger and environmental degradation require a paradigm shift that values local and traditional knowledge and biodiversity, opens policy space for developing countries to craft their own solutions, and allows for agriculture and trade policies that protect local and regional markets for small farmers, pastorlists, and fisherfolk. "The way to fight poverty in Africa is to embrace the proposal of food sovereignty that comes from the movement of peasants, indigenous peoples, migrants, women, and rural communities," said Mr. Nhampossa. "Food sovereignty puts those who produce, distribute, and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations."

Other voices featured in the report include: Mariam Mayet, African Center of Biodiversity, South Africa; Nnimo Bassey, Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria; David Fig, BioWatch, South Africa; Mukoma Wa Ngugi, BBC Focus on Africa Magazine; Makhathe Moahloli, Katleho Moho Association (KMA), Lesotho; Zachary Makanya, Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association (PELUM), Kenya; and Gertrude Kenyangi Kabusimbi, Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN), Uganda.

Voices from Africa:African Farmers & Environmentalists Speak Out Against a New Green Revolution in Africa is a publication of the Oakland Institute (, a think tank for research, analysis, and action whose mission is to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic, and environmental issues in both national and international forums.

Read "Voices from Africa"


USDA: "GMO Contamination Happens"

By Ken Roseboro
The Organic & Non-GMO Report, USA
March 3, 2009

Since 2000, there have been six known incidents of unapproved genetically modified corn and rice entering the US food supply or exports.

Common sense would seem to dictate that the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would want to tighten its oversight of GM crops and force biotechnology companies to make sure their unapproved GMOs stay out of Americans' corn flakes.

This is exactly what the Government Accounting Office (GAO) called for. Following the most recent contamination incident involving an unapproved GM cotton from Monsanto mixing with conventional cotton, GAO called for more oversight and coordination among federal agencies - attention USDA - to prevent unapproved GMOs from getting into the food supply.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin said, "When unapproved genetically engineered crops are detected in the food and feed supply, food safety concerns rise, markets are disrupted and consumer confidence falls."

"Lessen the regulatory burden"

Unbelievably, USDA's has been to propose less oversight, wanting to "lessen the regulatory burden" on biotechnology companies, to quote APHIS spokeswoman, Rachel Iadicicco.

Unfortunately, the government's track record of lessening the regulatory burden does not inspire much confidence, as demonstrated by the recent collapse of major Wall Street banks.

This has not dissuaded the USDA. In fact, USDA states that in some cases it doesn't want to do anything when unapproved GMOs end up in our food.

APHIS's plan states that "a low level presence of [GM] plant materials in seeds or grain may not be cause for agency remedial action," saying such incidents will be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis" and may be "non-actionable."

Basically, USDA is saying that GMO contamination happens, so we might as well let it happen.

Does that mean that when some GM corn, which contains genes from some unclassified organism found 20,000 leagues beneath the sea (see Syngenta's new GM ethanol corn), gets into someone's taco shell and causes anaphylactic shock that USDA will consider it "non-actionable?" I would hope not.

"Serious abdication of responsibility"

The Union of Concerned Scientists lambasted the USDA's proposed rulemaking as "a serious abdication of its responsibility."

Biotechnology companies are obviously pleased that USDA wants to lessen their regulatory burden, allowing them to avoid responsibility for contaminating the food supply. Monsanto, whose unapproved GM cotton recently got mixed with conventional cotton, expressed its full support of the new rules. A spokesman for Syngenta, which in March 2005 revealed that it had "inadvertently" sold an unapproved GM corn for three years, said that it was "appropriate to establish science-based criteria by which regulated material would be considered 'not-actionable' by the agency."

APHIS's new GMO regulations were proposed in the waning days of the Bush Administration. Hopefully, the Obama Administration will ditch these proposals and tighten the "regulatory burden" on companies who should be held accountable if their GMOs contaminate the food supply.


GM Maize Fails to Produce

By Bobby Jordan
The Times (South Africa )
March 22, 2009

A mysterious maize crop flop in three provinces has sparked a fresh row over the government\u2019s backing of genetically modified agriculture.

Three varieties of genetically modified maize did not pollinate properly this season.

Worst affected are farms in the Free State and North West.

GM maize is touted by the government as an effective way to boost production.

Biotech giant Monsanto will compensate farmers who suffered losses due to the failure of their GM maize varieties, but the company denied the problem was related to genetic modification.

Grain SA this week estimated the failed harvest at between 80000 and 150000 tons. About 280 farmers were affected, out of 1003 who bought the maize.

Grain SA spokesman Nico Hawkins said despite the losses, most farmers were happy with higher yields from GM maize seed.

But the anti-GM lobby warned that the losses may be a sign of worse to come. "We regularly come across unintended side effects from plants that have been genetically engineered," said spokesman Andrew Taynton.


Lawsuit Ends Genetically Engineered Crops on Wildlife Refuge

Press Release
Widener Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, Delaware Audubon, Center for Food Safety, PEER
March 24, 2009

Ruling on Delaware's Prime Hook May Affect Farming on Scores of Other Refuges

Washington, DC - A federal court has ordered the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to stop planting genetically engineered (GE) crops on its Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. While the ruling is limited to Prime Hook, the lawsuit may serve as a model for similar litigation at more than 80 other national wildlife refuges now growing GE crops across the country.

Filed in April 2006 by the Widener Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic on behalf of Delaware Audubon Society, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Food Safety, the federal suit charged that the Fish & Wildlife Service had illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements with private parties, allowing hundreds of acres to be plowed over without required environmental review and contrary to the Service's own policy prohibiting GE crops.

"It is unfortunate that we had to file suit against the Service to get it to comply with its own policies," commented Nicholas DiPasquale, Conservation Chair for Delaware Audubon. "It is clear that this Refuge Manager had abdicated control over farming operations at Prime Hook just as it is also clear that farming practices have been extremely destructive to the forested uplands at the refuge."

The groups filed suit after discovering that a top Bush administration political appointee overruled the wildlife refuge manager in allowing the gene altered crops. Three months after the groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Delaware, the Fish & Wildlife Service loosened its policies to facilitate greater use of GM crops on all refuges.

"These farming programs chew up the habitat that is supposed to provide refuge for wildlife," stated Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. "Genetically modified crops serve no legitimate refuge purpose and have no business being grown there."

Farming within wildlife refuges often interferes with the protection of the wildlife and the native grasses that the national refuge system is designed to protect. Scientists also warn the use of genetically engineered crops can lead to increased pesticide use on refuges and can have additional negative effects on birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife. In this case, Federal District Court Chief Judge Gregory Sleet concluded that "it is undisputed that farming with genetically modified crops at Prime Hook poses significant environmental risks."

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife should not be planting genetically engineered crops on National Wildlife Refuges," said Kevin Golden, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "Prime Hook is the tip of the iceberg of a nation-wide problem which needs to be addressed at refuges around the country."

The court ruling blocks future agricultural operations on Prime Hook until compatibility determinations required by the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and environmental assessments required by the National Environmental Policy Act have been completed.

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