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Biotech Revolution Costs Organic Farmers

By Paul Elias
The Associated Press
June 5, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Fig Newmans cost more today than a year ago.

That's because the organic cookie maker Newman's Own now buys its corn syrup from Austria, since it no longer trusts domestic corn syrup to be free of genetically modified organisms. The corn syrup from Austria, which bans the planting of genetically modified crops, costs the Santa Cruz, Calif., company more and has forced it to hike its prices.

It's not alone.

The biotechnology revolution has always given organic farmers and their customers pause for concern. Now, it's costing them money.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation said about 11 percent of the farmers responding to a recent survey said they have been DNA-testing crops for the presence of genetically modified organisms. Others said they've undertaken more costly planting processes or have lost sales over concerns their organic crops were corrupted by genetically modified organisms.

It's all adding up to cost increases for organic foods, which command premium prices because of their promise to be free of biotechnology, pesticides and other unnatural tinkering. Worse, some U.S. farmers are losing sales to European competitors who can better ensure their crops are free of genetically engineered organisms.

"It's the bane of the organic industry," said Nell Newman of Newman's Own.

A tiny fraction of farmers, including the Rosmann Family Farm in Harlan, Iowa, said they've discovered trace amounts of genetically modified organisms cross-pollinated or otherwise mingled with their organically grown crops. Those are potentially devastating discoveries, because organic consumers generally demand that the higher-priced food they buy be grown free of any biotechnological influence.

"We will be in trouble if we can't differentiate our product from the rest of the market," said Ron Rosmann. "It's a major concern."

Rosmann said an organic tortilla maker complained last year that about 1 percent of the farm's corn shipment was genetically modified.The tortilla maker used the corn, but wants the farm to do a better job this year of ensuring biotech-free shipments.

So Rosmann will harvest his corn later this year in hopes of avoiding cross-pollination with biotech varieties, which are being planted in increasing amounts in the United States. Last year, U.S. farmers planted genetically modified crops - mostly soy and corn - on 92 million acres.

In 1996, the first year genetically modified crops were commercially available, about 4.3 million acres were under biotechnology cultivation worldwide.

Most crops are engineered to be resistant to weed-killing chemicals. Farmers who plant genetically engineered plants argue that their crops help reduce the amount of herbicides used in their fields, saving them money and better protecting the environment.

Organic farmers and their consumers argue the long-term health and environmental risks of biotechnology haven't been properly studied. As more biotech crops get planted, more consumers are turning to organic produce.

But Mother Nature and the way food gets to market are creating fundamental problems for organic farmers.

Nearly half the organic farmers polled by the Organic Farming ResearchFoundation said they fear the seeds they are buying are tainted with genetically modified organisms. Another 42 percent of responding farmers said they fear "pollen drift" from genetically modified crops will contaminate their harvests.

Rosmann's corn contamination highlights a growing and little publicized problem for organic farmers. Some of their crops have indeed been contaminated with genetically modified organisms, something only the most savvy consumer knows.

Without genetic tests that cost more than $300 each, consumers can't be completely assured their organic products are 100 percent GMO free.

Meanwhile, the $10 billion-a-year U.S. organic food industry faces increasingly skeptical European customers who won't tolerate any percentage of genetically engineered crops.

"There's a lot of mental anguish," said Erica Walz of the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Organic Farming Research Foundation


How GMOs Are Affecting Argentina

Grupo Reflexion Rural/ Gaia Foundation
10 June 2003

Once a nation renowned for its strong agricultural sector and high quality beef, the current Argentinean reality is very different. The GM economy is not as successful as has been suggested by some GM proponents. In fact, the GM situation has served to exacerbate the damage caused by the Argentinean economic crisis of 2001, and has had many other detrimental effects throughout the country. The promised benefits of reduced hunger and herbicide use have in fact achieved the exact opposite. Hunger and herbicides are at an all-time high as a direct result of Argentina's conversion to GM soya.

Argentina started to transfer its economy to an export-led focus on soya when it became necessary to pay back foreign debt with money gained through export commodities. Soya was identified as a buoyant market, and Monsanto's offer of subsidised Roundup Ready soya seed and glyphosate in 1996 proved irresistible to Argentinean farmers. The GM crops currently under cultivation in Argentina are Roundup Ready Soya, which covers approximately 13 million hectares, Bt cotton and Bt maize, which cover another 1 million hectares between them. Monsanto is in the process of applying for a permit to distribute Roundup Ready maize.

Argentina is the second biggest producer of GM soya in the World. As a result of the free, subsidised seed handed out to farmers, the countryside has been transformed from mixed and rotation farming to almost entirely GM soya.

Loss of Markets

However, due to European and Japanese consumer rejection of GM foods, Argentina has found itself with a glut of soya and low global prices. Europe still buys some Argentinean GM soya as livestock feed, but the country has suffered from an overall loss of export markets.

Nutritional Effects

With an increase in poverty, a glut in soya, and a deficit of other agricultural products, there has been a concerted effort to promote soya as a healthy alternative to traditional foodstuffs such as meat and milk. A campaign called "Soja Solidaridad" (Soya Solidarity) has led to well-meaning soup kitchens serving soya-based meals, and cookbooks written with soya-based recipes. This has led to many people consuming soya-based foods on a daily basis.

However there is a large body of scientific evidence that shows that an imbalanced diet based on soya can have nutritionally damaging effects. Although soya-based foods are considered health foods in the West, it is not recommended for every meal, and not for pregnant women nor children under five. Even in the Far East where soya consumption is routine, it does not make up the basis of every meal, and is relatively processed. Too much soya can inhibit absorption of calcium, iron and vitamin B12, and the effects of this have already been observed by doctors. An especially worrying observation is the early onset of puberty in girls, which is suspected to be caused by the high levels of phytoestrogen in soya.

Increased Herbicide Use

Other health problems caused by the uptake of Roundup Ready soya have been caused by the now-widespread use of glyphosate (Roundup), a wide-spectrum herbicide that kills most plants apart from those with the gene for resistance. There are fears that glyphosate is entering the water supply and affecting the health of communities near to plantations. There are reports of crop sprayings by plane, dousing people and their homes. The more visible symptoms of this spraying include skin and eye irritations, and recent field research suggests that there is a higher incidence of cancer in the populations surrounding Roundup Ready soya fields.

Roundup Ready Weeds

The widespread use of glyphosate has led to weeds that are resistant to Roundup. Now some farmers need to spray new types of herbicide in addition to Roundup, so the supposed benefits of reduced sprayings have already been lost over just a matter of years. There are also reports of glyphosate-resistant fungi which are spreading and requiring additional pesticide applications.


Development of land for soya plantations has led to deforestation in Argentina. This does not only have problems for biodiversity issues, but also seriously affects water resources. In North West Argentina, uncontrolled deforestation for soya plantations is affecting water retention in the immediate zone of the river basin.

Balance of Agricultural Produce

Argentina's balance of agricultural products has been seriously affected by the focus on a soya-led export economy. Production in traditional Argentinean products such as milk, wheat and meat has gone down, and now the country imports where it used to export. Argentinean honey producers have also lost their bees due to herbicide poisoning and loss in flora diversity.

Poverty and Deruralisation

GM technology lends itself to a large-scale, industrial style of agriculture, and the case of Argentinean soya has been no exception. Small farmers have found themselves unable to compete with the larger farmers. To date, 160,000 small farmers have left the land. GM soya has thus served to exacerbate poverty and deruralisation in Argentina.

Costs for Farmers

Financial problems for farmers are about to increase with Monsanto now starting to charge royalties for their patented seeds each year, where before they were allowing "farmer saved" seeds.

Research into the effects of widespread conversion to GM soya in Argentina is still limited, but there are signs that closer examination is needed. GM soya has led to problems in the areas of pesticide use, water pollution, health and nutrition, as well as losses in small farmer and rural populations, forested areas, food security and sovereignty, export markets and agricultural diversity, and an increased, impoverished urban population. Although Argentina has been held up as a success story in favour of GM crops, this conclusion appears to be dubious. Certainly other countries such as Brazil and the UK, who are considering commercial planting of GM crops should first investigate the widespread and longer term effects of GM.

Stella Semino (45) 46 32 53 28
Lilian Joensen


Are GMOs Being Regulated or Not?

by Claire Hope Cummings, M.A., J.D.
June 11, 2003

(Wednesday, June 11, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- New genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are on the loose and they are causing trouble. These are not the GMOs most people hear about: soybeans that resist weed killers or corn that kills insects. These are experimental crops that contain pharmaceutical proteins, industrial chemicals, even human genes.

They are being grown outdoors in hundreds of secret locations all over the country, in open-pollinated plants such as corn. This powerful new use of biotechnology is called "pharming," and it poses very real threats to our personal and environmental health. Cases of pharm contamination have already occurred, raising new criticisms of the regulatory system in the United States.

When GMOs were first introduced into agriculture, farmers and consumer groups questioned the lack of basic protections. Since then, GMO contamination has spread from the corn fields in the Midwest to the birthplace of corn in the remote mountains of Mexico. Farmers have not been able to protect themselves from this genetic trespass. Instead of holding GMO manufacturers liable, the courts are upholding the patent rights of seed companies and making the farmers pay. Taxpayers are subsidizing the costs of GMO food recalls. While national polls show that well over 90% of U.S. consumers want GMO food labeled, government regulators still refuse to consider it.

By almost any measure, regulatory oversight of agricultural biotechnology is failing to protect the public interest. The reason is, it was designed that way. Long before there were any products ready for market, the GMO manufacturers were in Washington, D.C. taking pre-emptive action to ensure that the regulatory climate would favor their interests. The industry wanted to leave just enough regulation in place to give the public a sense of assurance, while leaving the manufacturers free of any real restraint.

In 1986, then Vice-President George Bush hosted Monsanto executives at the White House to discuss the "deregulation" of biotechnology. Then, after he became President, the framework that had been constructed during years of behind-the-scenes negotiations was announced by his Vice- President, Dan Quayle. Brushing aside the concerns voiced by independent scientists, farmers and consumer groups, Quayle said that "biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products" and not be "hampered by unnecessary regulation."

The system that was created then is still in force today, with only a few minor exceptions. Basically, it was decided that there would be no new laws passed governing biotechnology. As a result, federal agencies are still struggling to evaluate and approve a plethora of new and potentially dangerous products, using laws designed to deal with chemicals and pathogens, not genetics. And they continue to be constrained by concepts developed with the best science available in the 1960s.

The reporting system is essentially voluntary and industry is trusted to inform the government of any problems that arise. It's sort of a "don't tell, don't ask" arrangement. If industry does not tell government what it knows or suspects about its GMOs, the government does not ask. Once crops are released, there is no monitoring or follow-up. Agencies are free to ignore significant findings from independent sources, including reports about the nutritional deficits in food made from GMO crops, how genes wander when GMO crops cross with other plants, about recombinant viruses on the loose, and the growing problems of resistance and tolerance, to name just a few. As a result, evidence of emerging human health and ecological problems are routinely disregarded.

The federal government says that its processes are rigorous. It says that the lack of any reported human health problems associated with GMOs is evidence of its effectiveness. The biotech industry claims that their products are "the most studied" on the market. But the industry is simply referring to the studies they have done as they develop the product. They are not referring to any post-market evaluation. Underneath the government 's claims of safety lies a little known but fundamentally flawed idea that undermines the whole system.

The governing principle behind the regulation of GMO food and agriculture is a concept called "substantial equivalence." It means that a GMO crop can be considered to be just the same as a conventional crop. Unfortunately there is no scientific justification for this idea. According to an article in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, the concept of substantial equivalence is "pseudo-scientific." The article calls this idea a "commercial and political judgment masquerading as if it were scientific" and it was "created primarily to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical or toxicological tests." Legislators have never agreed on the meaning of substantial equivalence. This ambiguity, according to the article, "acts as a barrier to further research into the possible risks of eating GMOs."

As applied, substantial equivalence means that regulators only look at a GMO product itself. They do not take the process used to manufacture it into consideration. This is a crucial mistake, because it is the process that makes GMOs unique. GMOs are organisms that can not be created using traditional breeding methods. The process is imprecise and unpredictable and more often than not, it results in failure. Getting a useful product out of that process depends on the use of viral vectors, anti-bacterial markers, promoters, switches and other genetically altered molecules to succeed. And it is these process-related molecules that should trouble us. They are the basis for some of the safety concerns of other countries and international biosafety protocols.

It is also revealing to take a look at how the three executive agencies that are primarily responsible for GMOs operate. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, oversees GMO foods. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deals with GMO pesticides. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), administers GMO plant testing in the field. All three operate only under their own legislation and none of their efforts are coordinated. The USDA relies on the Plant Pest Act, which narrowly defines plant pests and does not include all the processes or organisms currently used in genetic engineering. Permits for field tests are obtained from APHIS through a simple notification process, after which they are deregulated. There are only bare standards for biological containment of the field test and no provisions for evaluating certain ecological risks. APHIS can require an environmental assessment if the applicant indicates one might be required. A study of over 8,000 field test results submitted to the USDA showed that not one resulted in an environmental assessment.

The FDA uses the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to review GMOs. The substantial equivalence doctrine fits nicely with FDA logic. It goes like this: any "novel" substances in food must be tested and perhaps labeled. However, if something can be "generally regarded as safe" (GRAS), as most conventional foods are, then they are exempt. Since GMOs are "substantially equivalent" to conventional food, they are considered GRAS and thus they do not require testing or labels. The EPA makes some effort to deal with the environmental impacts of GMOs. It regulates GMO pesticides (primarily the Bt crops) under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA operates under the assumption that Bt is safe, even though GMO Bt has been shown to have detrimental impacts on soil micro-organisms and beneficial insect populations. The EPA recommendations and permit requirements, such as its Insect Resistance Management Plans for farmers, which are supposed to slow down the development of resistance to Bt, are not adequate to the task.

Here is an example of how this regulatory patchwork plays out in the field: In April 2003, the EPA announced that a company growing experimental GMO corn in Hawaii had finally satisfied the agency's regulatory requirements. The company, Pioneer Hi-Bred, had been fined for permit violations in 2002 and was ordered to test and report its findings to the EPA to ensure that their experimental corn did not contaminate nearby fields. When the company failed to report on its testing, in direct violation of its agreement with EPA, it was fined again. Later, after acquiring and reviewing the test findings, the EPA said it was satisfied that the company was in compliance. But did that mean there was no contamination? No, there was. But it involved fields that were regulated by the USDA, so the EPA was not concerned about that. For their part, the USDA had no comment, saying it was investigating. Meanwhile, the company has asked neighboring farmers on the island not to plant any of the crops that Pioneer is using in its experiments, as a way of avoiding cross-contamination.

About The Author

Claire Hope Cummings was a lawyer for the USDA during the Carter Administration. She has farmed in California and in Vietnam where she had an organic farm along the Mekong River. As a print and broadcast journalist, she covers the environmental and cultural costs of industrial agriculture and follows the progress of the sustainable agriculture movement. Her latest work on agricultural biotechnology "Risking Corn, Risking Culture" was published in World Watch Magazine in December, 2002, and she has written A Farmer's Guide to GMOs for Farm Aid and The National Family Farm Coalition, and the Environmental Media Services Reporter's and Editor's Guide to Genetic Engineering in Agriculture. She is a 2001 Food and Society Policy Fellow.


GM Potato Hoax

RFSTE Release
June 11, 2003

Future of GM Foods Rests on Lies Lies about GM Potato to solve 3rd World Hunger

New Delhi:  The BBC reported today that, "the commercial growing of a genetically modified potato is expected to be approved in India within six months. The protein-rich genetically modified potato could help combat malnutrition in India. Its developers say the "potato" could help tackle nutrition problems amongst the country's poorest children".

First it was the "Golden Rice Hoax" to sell genetically engineered foods as a solution to hunger and poverty and blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency. We showed that greens and fruits and vegetables that could be grown in every backyard provided hundreds of times more Vitamin A than "golden rice". Now we are being sold a "Protein Potato" hoax as part of anti-hunger plan formulated in collaboration with government institutes, scientists, industry and charities. The potato is claimed to contain a third more protein than normal, including essential high-quality nutrients, and has been created by adding a gene from the protein-rich amaranth plant.

However the claims of the developers of GM potato are laced with lies and is suspected to be violative of the biosafety regulations in India.

Lies about solving Problem of Hunger and Malnutrition

BBC reported Dr. Manju Sharma, Head of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), saying that "the GM potato . . . reduce the problem of malnutrition in the country". She plans to incorporate it into the government's free midday meal programme in schools.

However, inserting genetically engineering genes for proteins from amaranth into potatoes, and promoting potato as a staple for mid-day meals for children is a decision not to promote amaranth and pulses (the most important source of protein in the Indian diet). Amaranth contains 14.7 gms of protein per 100 gm of grain, compared to 6.8 gm/100gm in milled rice and 11 gm/100gm in wheat flour and 1.6 gm/100 gm in potato.

When compared to bringing nutrition through grains like amaranth, genetically engineered potatoes will in fact create malnutrition because it will deny to vulnerable children the other nutrients available in grain amaranth and not available in potato.

The table below gives the comparative nutrition from amaranth and potatoes.

Iron Amaranth
11mg/ 100gm
0.7mg/ 100gm
Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth protein genes compared to amaranth - 10.3 mg/100gm

Calcium Amaranth
510mg/ 100gm
10mg/ 100gm
Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth protein genes compared to amaranth - 500mg/100gm

Protein Amaranth
14.7gm/ 100gm
Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth protein genes compared to amaranth Assume same

Thus genetically engineered potato will in fact spread iron deficiency and calcium deficiency in children. The ancient people of the Andes treated amaranth as sacred. In India it is called "Ramdana" or God's own grain. The root word "amara", in both Greek and Sanskrit means eternal or deathless. A much smarter option is to spread the cultivation and use of amazing grains like amaranth.

In any case, amaranth is not the only source of protein in India's rich biodiversity and cuisine. Our "dals", pulses, legumes that are a staple with rice as dal-chawal and with wheat as dal-roti are also very rich in protein. The consumption of dals & pulses provides much higher levels of proteins than GM potatoes can.

The poor Indian children would get full balanced diet in dals, pulses and amaranth instead of getting malnourished by consuming "protein rich" GM potatoes.

Proteins in Different Pulses
Pulses Protein per 100 gm
Bengal gram (whole) 17.1 gm
Horse gram 22.0 gm
Bengal gram roasted 22.5 gm
Lentil 25.1 gm
Black gram 24.0 gm
Moth bean 23.6 gm
Cow pea 24.1 gm
Peas dry 19.7 gm
Field Bean 24.9 gm
Rajma 22.9 gm
Green gram dal 24.5 gm
Redgram 22.3 gm

Not yet cleared by GEAC: BBC reported that the GM potato would be cleared for commercial cultivation in next six months. It also reported Dr. Manju Sharma, saying, "the potato is in its final stages of regulatory approval which she was very confident of getting". However in response to our phone call, GEAC authorities said that till today Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has not received any request for large-scale field trials of GM potato from DBT or developers of the GM Potato. It is under the jurisdiction of GEAC to clear large-scale commercial trials of GM crops.

In India potato is a winter crop and the winter season starts around November. Since there is no application in GEAC till today, it is almost clear that DBT and the developers of GM potato have bypassed GEAC for regulatory trials and would straight get clearance for commercial planting. In that case DBT through its agency Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) would repeat the blunder committed in the case of Bt. cotton when it cleared large scale open field trials of Bt. cotton usurping the jurisdiction of GEAC. In violation of the biosafety regulation and the EPA Rules of 1989 on GMOs, the RFTSE went to the Supreme Court of India against RCGM and DBT as well as other regulatory agencies.

So far India has not cleared any GM food. Early this year India sent back a consignment of two shiploads of 10,000 tons of GM corn soya blend imported by CARE-India and Catholic Relief Services. This was made possible because of a major mobilisation of women's groups against the GM import, organized as the National Alliance of Women for Food Rights under the movement of Diverse Women for Diversity. Like the two charity organisations tried to force feed the GM corn soya blend to poor Indian children on the name of relief programme, Head of the DBT as well as developers of GM potato plans to force feed the poor school children with GM potato and subsidizing the biotech industry and thus treating poor Indian children as guinea pig.

GM Potato, Death Trap for Indian Farmers: This year several potato growers of Uttar Pradesh and other parts of country committed suicides because of over production and no buyers. While the farmers are spending Rs. 255/quintal on production, potatoes are being sold for Rs. 40/quintal, leaving farmers at a loss of Rs. 200 for every quintal produced. Per hectare the costs of production are between Rs. 55,000/ha to Rs. 65,000/ha, of which Rs. 40,000 is the cost of seed alone.

The crisis for potato growers, like the crisis for producers of tomatoes, cotton and oil seeds and other crops is directly related to World Bank and W.T.O. driven trade liberalisation policies, of which the new Agricultural policies is a direct outcome. The policies of globalisation and trade liberalisation have created a potato crisis, in particular, because of the shift from diversity and multifunctionality of agriculture to monocultures and standardisation, chemical and capital intensification of production, and deregulation of the input sector, especially seeds leading to rising costs of production.

The impact of the new agriculture policy has been to promote a shift from food grains to vegetables and perishable commodities. While grains can be stored and consumed locally, potatoes and tomatoes must be sold immediately. A vegetable centred policy thus decreases food security and increases farmers vulnerability to the market.

The genetic uniformity and monoculture of potato through introduction of GM potato would be disastrous for Indian farmers and could lead to more suicides due to increased cost of production and vulnerable market due to withdrawal of state from effective price regulation leading to collapse in prices of farm commodities.

Genetically engineered potatoes is not the solution for malnutrition and hunger in the country which is mainly created because of monocultures & industrial agriculture. The protein solution for India's poor lies in rejuvenating our rich biodiversity and food culture. India is nutritionally better off without the pseudo solution to hunger offered Dr. Manju Sharma and the developers of the GM potato.

For any further information please contact:

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE)
A - 60, Hauz Khas, New Delhi - 110016 - INDIA;
Tel: 0091-11-2656-1868, 2696-8077;
Fax: 0091-11-2656-2093 ;

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