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Got Hormones?

By Margot Roosevelt Leeds
Time Magazine
Monday, Dec. 22, 2003

The simmering issue of milk labels boils over when an agrochemical giant sues small farmers in Maine

Down a dirt road, tucked in rolling fields, John Nutting's farm is a picture of tranquillity. A wintry breeze sighs through the forest. Black-and-white Holsteins chew their cuds in a lazy rhythm. Only the large sign hammered onto a red barn attests to the defiant mood in Maine dairy country: OUR PLEDGE - NO ARTIFICIAL HORMONES.

Hormones are a hot issue in these parts. As do at least 85% of Maine's milk producers, Nutting signs an affidavit each year vowing not to inject his cows with recombinant bovine somatotropin (RBST), a genetically engineered growth hormone. "We're proud of the way we farm," says the third-generation dairyman. "Consumers have the right to know how their milk is made."

Not necessarily. A food fight has erupted in New England between those who would label their produce as they see fit and those who argue that some of those labels give customers a false impression. Chief among the latter is Monsanto Corp., the agrochemical giant that markets RBST and is fighting a rearguard action to quell consumer resistance to its product.

The St. Louis, Mo., multinational demanded last year that Maine suspend its official Quality seal, which is granted only to milk from uninjected cows. When the state refused, Monsanto took another tack, suing one of Maine's leading dairies in federal court in Boston. The suit charged that Oakhurst Dairy, the company that buys Nutting's milk, is misleading consumers by advertising a no-artificial-hormone pledge, implying that its milk is safer and healthier. "Milk is milk," says Janice Armstrong, Monsanto's director of public affairs.

That sets the stage for the latest chapter in a battle that has raged for more than a decade. Critics claim - although studies are inconclusive - that using synthetic bovine growth hormone could lead to such health problems as premature puberty or even cancer. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) studied the issue before it approved RBST in 1993, when it reported that tests showed no significant difference between the milk from treated and untreated cows.

Several groups, including Consumers Union and the Center for Food Safety, say the tests did in fact reveal worrisome differences and that the FDA incorrectly interpreted the data. Activists campaigning against genetically modified (GM) food want the U.S. to ban RBST outright, as Europe and Canada have. As for Maine, "we would rather be safe than sorry," says assistant attorney general Francis Ackerman, who is preparing the state's brief to intervene on Oakhurst's behalf.

Today one-third of U.S. dairy herds are injected with RBST, which stimulates cows to produce as much as 15% more milk. Lawsuits over labeling have forced the repeal of a Vermont hormone-disclosure law and stopped dairies in Illinois and Texas from touting their milk as RBST-free. Earlier this year the FDA took up the fight, warning producers in Florida, New York, New Jersey and Minnesota against using labels that say "no hormones" or "hormone-free." The agency has said nothing, however, about labels like Oakhurst's that refer only to farmers avoiding "artificial" or "synthetic" hormones. Monsanto would like Oakhurst to emulate Ben & Jerry's and Stonyfield Farm, whose no-synthetic-hormone labels also carry language noting the FDA's approval of RBST. But Stanley Bennett, whose family built Oakhurst from a two-horse outfit in 1921 into an $85 million modern processor, says he won't be "bullied" by the $4.7 billion biotech behemoth. "We are in the business of marketing milk," he says, "not Monsanto's drugs."

Is the battle over the milk of Maine about free speech? Or is it about dairies using scare tactics to sell more product? "Oakhurst's marketing campaign is based more on fear than on facts," says Monsanto's Armstrong. Consumer groups say if farmers can't label their milk as coming from cows free of artificial hormones, it could set a precedent for challenging such popular labels as "MSG-free," "no artificial flavors," "free-range" and "GM-free." Maine attorney general Steven Rowe plans to ask Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to help him fight Monsanto when the suit goes to trial in January. "We in New England are into purity," he says. "The FDA may not have a problem with artificial growth hormones, but many consumers do." That's what farmers like John Nutting are counting on.


Banished Biotech Corn Not Gone Yet

San Jose Mercury News
December 01, 2003

Traces remain in food after 3 years

San Jose Mercury News via NewsEdge Corporation: Three years after a genetically engineered corn banned from human consumption turned up in taco shells and was pulled from the market, contaminated grain is still showing up in the nation's corn supply.

A federal testing program found traces of the banished grain, called StarLink, in more than 1 percent of samples submitted by growers and grain handlers in the past 12 months, government records show.

The corn variety, engineered to produce its own pesticide, was supposed to be limited to animal feed and industrial use out of fear it might cause severe allergic reactions.

While the health effects of StarLink are still unsettled, many worry that the government remains unprepared to deal with unexpected health problems from genetically engineered crops, especially those now being field-tested to mass-produce medicines, vaccines or industrial chemicals.

It is still unclear how StarLink became mixed with the vast stream of corn headed for human consumption. Some growers may have sold their corn without identifying it as StarLink. Because corn kernels move in and out of grain elevators and shipping containers like a liquid, even small amounts can contaminate large stores of grain.

As the continued StarLink contamination shows, it is very difficult to eliminate all traces of any type of grain once it's been mixed in with others.

"It's hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube," says Iowa Assistant Attorney General Steve Moline, who helped negotiate a 17-state settlement with StarLink producer Aventis CropScience.

"The StarLink lesson is that contamination is to some extent irreversible," said Doreen Stabinsky, a scientific adviser to Greenpeace, who has a Ph.D. in genetics. "Years later, you could still see it turning up in the food supply and the grain supply."

However, the biotech industry regards StarLink as a unique case. Despite dozens of claims from individuals who say they suffered allergic reactions after eating corn products, officials say the contamination caused no proven health effects. And they say this kind of contamination is unlikely to be repeated with other genetically engineered plants.

"It's been a non-trivial black eye, a self-inflicted wound we didn't need," said Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade and lobbying group. But "not only don't we have dead bodies, we don't have headaches or a single sniffle."

When StarLink seed was approved for planting in 1998, the manufacturer, a division of the company now called Aventis, agreed to have growers sign contracts requiring them to keep the grain out of the human food supply.

But in September 2000, a coalition of environmental groups announced that they had found StarLink residues in taco shells, chips and muffin mixes pulled from supermarket shelves.

"The response to StarLink in the human food supply was swift: to make sure more of it didn't get there and anything out there didn't reach consumers," recalled William Jordan, a senior policy adviser for the EPA's pesticide programs.

The company lost its approval to sell the seed, but was not fined. "If you don't pass your driver's test, you don't get a fine -- you don't get a driver's license," Jordan said.

Food manufacturers pulled their products from supermarket shelves and Aventis agreed to buy up the StarLink crop and track down any seeds still unplanted. In a settlement with attorneys general in 17 corn-growing states, the company agreed to reimburse farmers and grain handlers for their losses.

This year, Aventis agreed to pay $110 million to settle claims from corn growers who did not grow StarLink but were hurt by the declining market for U.S. corn because of the contamination.

Aventis, a French drug company that sold off its crop seed subsidiary, will not comment on how much it has spent on the StarLink recall and its aftermath. Neil E. Harl, a professor of economics at Iowa State University, estimates that the company has paid out more than $500 million to farmers, food processors and grain handlers.

Over the past three years, the amount of StarLink detected by the U.S. Agriculture Department's voluntary testing program has dropped steadily -- and so has the number of samples tested.

In the first year after the corn was withdrawn from the market, USDA reported 8.6 percent of samples tested were positive for the Starlink protein that acts like a pesticide. The contaminated proportion had dropped to 1.2 percent in the 12 months ending Sept. 30.

"We don't believe that it reflects the overall corn supply," said John B. Pitchford, director of international affairs for the USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, which runs the testing program. "We think our data is skewed on the high side."

Growers and grain handlers, however, are free to conduct their own tests without revealing their results to the government.

Following federal guidelines, the mills that process corn and other grains for cereal and other dry products test every load of corn brought to their facilities for StarLink. About one out of every thousand samples tested positive this year -- down from one out of a hundred two years ago, said Jim Bair, vice president of the North American Millers' Association.

Bair complains that the test for StarLink is so sensitive that it can detect as little as five parts per billion in a contaminated sample, an amount that is vanishingly small. That's one one-thousandth of the Food and Drug Administration standard for a peanut protein known to cause serious, sometimes deadly allergic reactions.

Bair and others, however, are troubled by an incident last year, when ProdiGene, a Texas biotech company, was found to have contaminated 500,000 bushels of soybeans with corn engineered to produce an experimental pig vaccine. The company paid a $250,000 fine and agreed to reimburse the Department of Agriculture for the $3 million cost of destroying the contaminated soybeans.

Officials with the Biotechnology Industry Organization say the incident proved that the regulatory system works and that unlike StarLink, these non-food test crops are grown on smaller acreage and are carefully monitored by regulators.

But Iowa State's Harl worries that the way farmers store, ship and handle grain makes it difficult to keep such contaminants out of the food supply. And he adds, "If there is a significant, serious health problem with one of these, this becomes a serious public health issue."


Declaration of Victory

NO! GMO Campaign Japan - Press Information
December 1, 2003

"Citizens succeed in stopping Iwate prefecture's GM rice!"

On November 28, more than 450 people from all over Japan gathered in Morioka city, Iwate, to participate in a gathering "No to GMO National Assembly in Iwate".

At the Assembly more than 407,000 signatures were collated of people from all over Japan who had expressed support for a petition demanding a stop to the GM rice(*) research taking place in Iwate.

All the participants then set off down the street in the cold to take the petition to the Iwate prefectural government. It was taken into the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department.

After receiving the 407,212 signatures from 20 representatives from the Assembly, Mr. Masakatsu Sasaki, the Director of the Agriculture Department, publicly stated that Iwate has decided to abandon its GM rice research. Iwate conducted an outdoor GM rice experiment this year, which had been due to continue for a further year.

The Director also stated that Iwate will not conduct any further outdoor experiments involving GM rice or any other GM crops.

This is yet another victory for the citizens of Japan and follows on from last year's success in halting Monsanto's GM rice in Aichi prefecture.

As a result of that successful citizens' campaign to stop the Monsanto-Aichi GM rice, Japanese private sector corporations completely abandoned GM rice R&D. However the research facility of the former Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) - now an independent administrative corporation - together with the Iwate Biotechnology Research Centre, maintained their strong commitment to develop GM rice. Despite which, people power has now succeeded in halting this GM rice research programme in Iwate.

MAFF is currently discussing how to tighten the regulation of outdoor experimental releases of GM crops at research centres, in order to accord with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which will enter into force in Japan from 19 February 2004. Iwate's decision is bound to have a strong influence on MAFF's review.

It is now no longer at all easy to work on GM rice R&D in Japan. The same applies to other GM foods as well.

"We do not want GM food! We do not eat GM food! We will not let GM food be produced!". These are the words that are being repeated again and again by the Citizens of Japan and their efforts look set to bring some big results very soon.

In terms of a global perspective on GM farming, the US company Monsanto's attempt to rest control over global food production has not diminished, and the GM farming area is enlarging. In addition, commercialisation for GM wheat is being sought in the US and Canada.

NO! GMO Campaign's next step is to increase its cooperation with other citizens from all over the world in order to bring a halt to GM food.

NO! GMO Campaign Keisuke Amagasa

For more information please contact:
Keisuke Amagasa (Mr)
Masako Koga (Ms)
NO! GMO Campaign
75-2F, Wasedamachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0042 Japan
TEL: +81-3-5155-4756 FAX: +81-3-5155-4767

(*) The Iwate Biotechnology Research Center was established in April 1992 with 100% funding from Iwate Prefecture. On 3 April 2003, the MAFF approved outdoor trials for a low-temperature resistant rice variety "Sub29" developed by the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center. This GM rice variety (Sasanishiki) contains the glutathione-S-transferase gene, which imparts multiple functions such as herbicide resistance and cold resistance. The problem with this rice variety is that it produces enzymes with multiple functions, and thus contains many uncertain factors. Simply anything could happen, and it is possible that previously unknown problems will arise with this variety in the future. (Source: Citizens' Biotechnology Information Center -CBIC)


California Blocks Sales of Glowing Zebra Fish, Nation's First Genetically Altered Pet

Don Thompson, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2003 (AP)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Citing ethical concerns, state regulators Wednesday refused to allow sales of the first bio-engineered household pet, a zebra fish that glows fluorescent. GloFish are expected to go on sale everywhere else next month.

California is the only state with a ban on genetically engineered species, and the Fish and Game Commission said it would not exempt the zebra fish from the law even if escaped fish would not pose a threat to the state's waterways.

"For me it's a question of values, it's not a question of science," said commissioner Sam Schuchat. "I think selling genetically modified fish as pets is wrong."

The 3-1 vote came moments after commissioners approved the state's 14th license for research into genetically modified fish. But commissioners drew the line on permitting widespread sales of a biotech fish for pure visual pleasure.

The normally black-and-silver zebra fish were inserted with genes from sea anemones or jellyfish to turn them red or green, and glow under black or ultraviolet lights.

Federal agencies have decided they have no jurisdiction over a bio-engineered household pet that is not intended for consumption.

Given California's extensive review, proponents had looked to its approval to dampen any concerns from other states or consumers that the fish might be harmful to the environment or if consumed by wayward pets or children.

Opponents view the decision as precedent-setting as they lobby for regulation on the national level.

Yorktown Technologies of Texas, which has the license to market the fish, and the state of Florida, in which the fish are grown, argued before the commission that the altered fish tolerate cold less than natural zebra fish, and they could not survive in California waters.

Environmental and public interest groups and commercial fishermen argued that the fish have been found to survive outside their native waters.

California residents buy 25 million ornamental fish a year, an eighth of the 200 million sold across the nation, Yorktown President Alan Blake said. He estimated that Californians might have bought two million of the genetically altered fish each year.

California adopted its regulations for fear genetically modified farmed fish, such as salmon, could get loose and devastate the state's wild populations.

Commissioners balked Wednesday even after acknowledging Californians could readily buy the fish in any neighboring state and bring them home.

"Welcome to the future. Here we are, playing around with the genetic bases of life," Schumchat said. "At the end of the day, I just don't think it's right to produce a new organism just to be a pet.

"To me, this seems like an abuse of the power we have over life, and I'm not prepared to go there today."


Tomato Seed from Seed Bank Found to be Genetically Modified

University of Calfornia, Davis
December 18, 2003

The University of California, Davis, is recalling about 30 tomato seed samples, distributed during the past seven years to research colleagues in the United States and abroad, after recent tests showed that the seed was not the intended variety, but rather a very similar variety developed through biotechnology.

The seed contains a commercially approved biotech trait, referred to as the PG trait. That trait, which improves the thickness of tomato paste, had been approved in 1994 for use in human food. A similar tomato variety with the PG trait had previously been planted commercially in California, and tomato paste with the trait had been sold to consumers, primarily in the United Kingdom.

The Seed and Its Distribution

Since 1996, small quantities of seed of the processing-tomato variety known as UC-82B were provided, upon request, by UC Davis to researchers at 12 institutions in the United States and to researchers in 14 other countries. Each sample included about 25 seeds to be used in research projects at those institutions. Two samples were also sent abroad for demonstration gardens in England and Ethiopia. UC Davis and the recipients were unaware that these particular UC-82B seeds carried the PG trait.

UC Davis officials have determined that the seeds carrying the PG trait originated from a 20-gram seed sample donated to UC Davis in 1996 by Petoseed Company, which has since been acquired by Seminis Vegetable Seeds. It is unclear when or where the seeds were mislabeled.

The seed mix-up came to light when the Charles M. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center at UC Davis sent samples of what was thought to be unmodified UC-82B to the UC Davis Plant Transformation Facility. This research service unit genetically modifies small numbers of plants for use in campus research projects. In working with the seeds, staff scientists detected the unexpected presence of a commonly used "marker" gene, NPT II, and notified the Rick center. The protein derived from the NPT II gene has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a food additive. Subsequent testing also revealed the presence of the PG gene.

A similar tomato variety with the same combination of PG gene and NPT II was commercialized in 1996 through a collaboration between Petoseed Company and Zeneca Plant Science. That variety was approved for food and tomato production in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1995. It also was approved for food consumption by the government of the United Kingdom in 1995 and in Canada by Health Canada in 1996. That variety also passed scientific review in the European Union. It was grown commercially in California and sold as tomato paste product in the United Kingdom between 1996 and 1999.

Response by UC Davis and Seminis

Upon learning of the apparent mix-up, the Rick tomato center curator reviewed records and found that the UC-82B seed had been obtained in 1996 from Petoseed. Although that seed variety had been developed in 1976 by a UC Davis plant breeder, the campus supply had run low and Petoseed had replenished it.

"We immediately tested our seed and informed both Seminis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture," said Neal Van Alfen, dean of UC Davis' College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "DNA sequencing conducted at UC Davis has confirmed the presence of the PG trait.

"We have notified the individuals or research units that received the seed," Van Alfen added. "We are asking the recipients to let us know how they used or disposed of the seed, and to send any seeds remaining from the original sample to an independent laboratory for DNA testing."

Ed Green, senior vice president of research and development at Seminis, said: "We will continue to work closely with the university to determine how this error occurred. We have offered the full analytical resources of Seminis and have made our records available to university officials.

"While current regulatory controls and technological advances would make this type of mix-up highly unlikely today, we also feel it's prudent to review our seed handling, storage and sharing protocols to look for improvements, " Green said.

Green added that only a small fraction of Seminis' current research involves biotechnology because the company's focus is on traditional plant breeding. Seminis does not sell any tomatoes developed with biotechnology.

Background on the Rick Center and Seminis

UC Davis' Charles M. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center is associated with the National Plant Germplasm System. Upon request, the center provides seed samples to scientists and educators worldwide. The center houses seeds of more than 3,600 wild species and domesticated varieties, and is considered the most diverse collection of its kind in the world.

Seminis markets more than 4,000 vegetable and fruit varieties. Its products reduce the need for chemical pest controls, improve grower yields and offer improved nutrition, flavor and convenience, according to Seminis officials.

Media contact(s):
* Gary Koppenjan, Seminis, Oxnard, Calif., (805) 918-2220,
* Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843,
* Lisa Lapin, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9842,


Biotech and Agri-Business Industry Giants Target a GMO-Free Mendocino

Press Release
Contact: Laura Hamburg/cell phone: 707 621-0906
December 22, 2003

Lobbying group behind lawsuit challenging ballot-pamphlet language on Measure H

California's largest consortium of biotechnology and agri-chemical corporations has launched a lawsuit against the local effort to make Mendocino County the first county in the nation to ban the growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The group behind the lawsuit -- filed Friday, Dec. 19 -- is the California Plant Health Association (CPHA). It represents some of the biggest names in GMO production and the world's leading producers of herbicides and pesticides including Monsanto Corporation, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer Corporation, Helena Chemical Company and DuPont.

'These are some of the same industry giants, armed with high-powered law firms and vast resources, that have successfully squelched recent grassroots attempts around the nation aimed at resisting the spread of GMO crops and food products,' said Els Cooperrider, a former university scientist and a local owner of the Ukiah Brewing Co. & Restaurant. "This is Mendocino County vs. hundreds of corporations."

Last year, Monsanto Corporation and its biotech allies pumped more than $6 million into a campaign to defeat an Oregon ballot measure to label genetically modified foods.

Now Monsanto and dozens of other agri-business and biotech corporations belonging to the CPHA are targeting Mendocino County. Pest management consultant Peter Chevalier, a member of the industry group and a local pear farmer, is named as the lawsuit plaintiff. Chevalier referred all questions regarding the lawsuit to the Sacramento-based industry lobbying group.

The CPHA umbrella group is suing to prevent key arguments in favor of a local ban on the growing of GMOs from being printed in the Mendocino County election ballot pamphlet. The ballot was scheduled to go to press as early as this week in preparation for the March election on Measure H - the voter-led initiative for a "GMO Free Mendocino."

Named in the lawsuit are Mendocino County Clerk Marsha Wharff and the three County residents who signed on as proponents of the Measure H ballot language: Els Cooperrider, Janie Sheppard, a local attorney and Dr. Ron Epstein, a research professor.

"This is the first salvo in a David and Goliath struggle, in which Measure H - which will benefit the people and the environment of Mendocino County - is under attack by unprincipled multinational corporations that care only fortheir own profits," Epstein said. "They have no qualms about subverting the democratic process."

A court hearing is scheduled Wednesday, Dec. 24th at 11:15 a.m. in courtroom E of the Mendocino County Court House. The hearing will determine whether the consortium of biotech and agri-business corporations can legally prevent Mendocino County voters from reading the full, proposed ballot language in support of Measure H.

"Regardless of how you feel about GMOs, this is a local issue that should be decided by local people," said Redwood Valley farmer Tim Buckner. "And not by a national lobbying organization representing the likes of Monsanto and DuPont. If they want to start suing people, then they are going to have to sue all 4,000 residents who signed the initiative and all the people who will vote for this," Buckner said.

If approved by voters, Measure H will prohibit the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County." It is not a labeling law. And Measure H does not affect food products found in the aisles of grocery stores or livestock feed.

The initiative has drawn the support of local farmers, physicians such as Dr. Marvin Trotter, and families concerned about the unknown health risks of GMOs.

In addition, some of the County's leading grape growers - both organic and conventional, endorse the measure including Dan Fetzer, Frey Vineyards and Roederer Estates. Among their concerns is the likelihood that the introduction of GMOs will contaminate local crops making them unmarketable in the many countries now rejecting GMOs.

"The decision to ban [the growing of] GMOs in our County will put us on the world map as a place where our representatives are responsible, prudent, wise and truly care for the people," said Hubert Germain-Robin, of Redwood Valley's Germain-Robin, producers of world-renowned brandy and cognac.

This is exactly why the biotech industry wants to preemptively undermine Measure H before it even gets on the ballot, according to its local proponents.

Concerned citizens in Sonoma, Marin, Humboldt, Placer and San Bernardino Counties are already mounting campaigns modeled on Mendocino County's Measure H to ban the growing of GMOs.

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