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Kinkos Policy Major Step Toward GE Tree Eradication

Press Release
March 13, 2003
Action For Social And Ecological Justice
Contact: Brad Hash or Anne Petermann
(802) 863-0571 Mobile: (802) 598-8374

Dallas, Texas--On Tuesday, March 11, Kinkos, the photocopy giant, announced that it would not align itself with suppliers using genetically engineered trees. This policy is the first of its kind regarding genetically engineered trees and is a groundbreaking step toward the elimination of the severe ecological threats posed by genetically engineered trees.

"We laud this decision by Kinkos and congratulate Rainforest Action Network and the Dogwood Alliance on this important victory," said Brad Hash, Campaigner on Genetically Engineered Trees for Action for Social & Ecological Justice. "I believe this is the beginning of a ripple effect that will be contagious throughout the industry," he continued.

Action for Social & Ecological Justice launched its campaign on genetically engineered trees in March of 2000. Since then, ASEJ has led the movement against GE trees, moving the issue out of virtual obscurity and making it a major focus of forest protection and genetic engineering groups nationwide.

Beginning in the fall of 2002, ASEJ held regional strategy sessions in the four regions of the country most heavily involved in genetically engineered tree research and development. These four meetings were followed by a national strategy session where plans were laid for a major corporate campaign against GE trees. Groups involved in this national strategy session included Rainforest Action Network, the Dogwood Alliance and Forest Ethics.

Action for Social & Ecological Justice will publicly announce its corporate target during the Latin American Solidarity Conference in Washington, DC during the second week of April. The LASC conference was chosen as the launching point due to the impending threats GE trees pose to Latin American forests and indigenous peoples. The campaign will include national days of action at key locations across the US.

The threats of Genetically engineered trees include the loss of millions of acres of native forests, disruptions of insect, bird and wildlife populations, contamination of water and soil, and increased use of herbicides and pesticides. GE trees will also lead to the inevitable and irreversible contamination of native forests with genetically engineered pollen in a perpetual domino effect.

ASEJ's 24 page peer reviewed report on the threats of genetically engineered trees is available.

POB 57
VT 05402 USA
(802) 863-0571 Fax: (802) 864-8203


US House Speaker Hastert Seeks WTO GMO Case

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, March 26 (Reuters) - Pressure on the Bush administration to challenge the EU's moratorium on new genetically modified products intensified on Wednesday, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert calling for the immediate filing of a World Trade Organization complaint.

In prepared testimony to the House Agriculture Committee, Hastert, who represents a major corn and soybean producing area in Illinois, said: "The U.S. government should immediately take a case to the WTO regarding the current EU moratorium."

Hastert was later asked by reporters whether the administration has given him any indication on when it might go ahead with a case. "I heard soon," he responded, without giving any details.

Allen Johnson, the chief agriculture negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative, said the United States was consulting with other WTO members and making sure "we have a good strong case if we go forward" with a complaint.

Briefing reporters from Geneva where he is attending WTO negotiations, Johnson added, "Obviously, the best scenario would be for the Europeans just to lift the moratorium and start following the regulatory procedures that we all are obligated to do in the WTO."

But even if the EU lifted the moratorium, Johnson said new problems would arise. He specifically mentioned the biotech labeling rules being developed for EU consumers and regulations to enable the tracing of foods from farm to market.

"We think that it's trade restrictive and frankly we think it's unworkable," Johnson said.

On Jan. 29, Hastert and other members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President George W. Bush urging a WTO challenge of the EU's four-year-old moratorium on new biotech products.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has made clear he wants a WTO panel to decide the legality of the moratorium. But the Bush administration held back as it tried to line up support at the United Nations for a coalition-backed war against Iraq.

Congressional and agriculture industry sources have speculated that now that diplomacy over Iraq is over, the Bush administration could feel freer to pursue a case against the EU in the WTO.

In his testimony Wednesday, Hastert said foreign barriers to genetically modified farm products were simply trade barriers "because we (American farmers) are technologically superior."

The EU argues that it is working to lift the moratorium, but not until rules are in place that would label biotech products for consumers and facilitate tracing their journey from farm to table.

More than 70 percent of U.S. soybeans and a third of the U.S. corn crop come from biotech seeds. Plans are also underway by Monsanto Co. to introduce biotech wheat.

EU officials have asked the Bush administration to be patient in the run-up to the implementation of the new rules, probably sometime this year. A WTO complaint by the United States, they have argued, would only harden European consumers' opposition to biotech foods.

U.S. officials have responded that their patience had run out and that the moratorium was costing farmers hundreds of millions of dollars a year and was encouraging other countries to erect unfair barriers to biotech goods.

Zambia's refusal to accept biotech food donations, despite widespread hunger, further inflamed the debate.

The House Agriculture Committee hearing brought several U.S. farm industry groups together to cheer for a WTO complaint.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, went so far as to say that biotechnology can "improve the...taste of some foods," in addition to increasing its resistance to pests and disease and boosting nutritional values of some foods.


Hastert's House Agriculture Committee Testimony

WASHINGTON, March 26 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) today delivered the following testimony before the House Agriculture Committee:

"Thank you Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to appear before the Committee today to comment on the artificial barriers to U.S. agriculture trade. I appreciate your Committee's leadership on this important issue, and thank you for holding this hearing.

"Mr. Chairman, protectionism has a new guise. As we speak, the WTO is discussing a framework for negotiations in the Doha round of trade talks with the objective of reducing worldwide tariffs on agriculture products. As you know, world agricultural tariffs today average about 62 percent, while U.S. agricultural tariffs average 12 percent. While these negotiations represent an important step towards the free exchange of farm goods, there is a more imminent threat to the cause of free trade -- the use of non-tariff barriers. Over the last few years, we have seen country after country implementing protectionist, discriminatory trade policies under the cloak of food safety -- each one brought on by emotion, culture, or their own poor history with food safety regulation.

"We have seen discriminatory policies such as those imposed by the European Union and other countries on agricultural biotechnology; the use of geographical indications to protect agricultural goods; and the taxation of goods that include agricultural products, such as the tax on soft drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup in Mexico.

"Simply put, non-tariff protectionism is discriminatory and detrimental to the free movement of goods and services across borders. We all know that free trade benefits all countries. However, free trade will be rendered meaningless if it is short-circuited by non-tariff barriers that are based on fear and conjecture -- not science.

"One particular issue I would like to focus on today is the use of non-tariff barriers to limit the trade and use of genetically-modified products.

"As the Representative of the 14th District in Illinois, my district currently covers portions of eight counties, including four of the top 25 corn-producing counties, and three of the top 50 soybean-producing counties in the nation. The State of Illinois is the second-largest producing state of both corn and soybeans in the country. Forty percent of this production currently goes to exports, valued at approximately $2.7 billion per year.

"U.S. agriculture ranks among the top U.S industries in export sales. In fact, the industry generated a $12 billion trade surplus in 2001, helping mitigate the growing merchandise trade deficit. It is important to realize that 34 percent of all corn acres and 75 percent of all soybean acres are genetically modified.

"And what exactly are we talking about when we say genetically modified? The EU and other countries would have you believe this is a new and special type of food, questionable for human consumption. In fact, since the dawn of time, farmers have been modifying plants to improve yields and create new varieties resistant to pests and diseases. Why would we want to snuff out human ingenuity that benefits farmers and consumers alike?

"Such advancements have been achieved by taking plants with desirable traits and crossbreeding them. In fact, almost all of today's commercial crops are now distant cousins from the plants that first appeared in this country. Biotechnology is merely the next stage of development in this age-old process.

"As this Committee is well aware, the European Union has had an indefensible moratorium on genetically-modified products in place for over four years with no end in sight. This is a non-tariff barrier based simply on prejudice and misinformation, not sound science. In fact, their own scientists agree that genetically modified foods are safe.

"We should all be concerned that this irrational and discriminatory policy is spreading. China, for example, has developed new rules for the approval and labeling of biotech products. An overwhelming portion of the entire $1 billion U.S. soybean export crop is genetically modified. Although implementation has been delayed, such a labeling program would certainly result in higher food costs for consumers and higher production costs for farmers.

"And what exactly are we labeling? There is general consensus among the scientific community that genetically modified food is no different from conventional food. What's different is not the content of the food, but the process by which it is made. Labeling genetically modified products would only mislead consumers and create an atmosphere of fear.

"It's important for the public to know that the U.S. government has safely regulated biotechnology since its inception over 30 years ago. And with the rapid evolution of plant biotechnology in the early 1980s, additional regulation was added. Ask any American farmer about government regulation and not one will tell you that they are under-regulated.

"Biotechnology products are screened by at least one, and often by as many as three, federal agencies. From conception to commercial introduction, it can take up to 10 years to bring a biotech variety to market. Throughout the process, the public has ample opportunity for participation and comment, and data on which regulatory decisions are based are readily available. Still, regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, bans on genetically modified products continue to persist and multiply. The worldwide impact has been staggering.

"The current EU moratorium on genetically-modified products has translated into an annual loss of over $300 million in corn exports for U.S. farmers. More disturbing is the recent trend in Africa, where several nations have rejected U.S. food aid because the shipments contained biotech corn. This based solely on the fear that EU countries will not accept their food exports if genetically modified seeds spread to domestic crops.

"Clearly, the long-term impact of these prohibitive policies could be disastrous for U.S. farmers in terms of competitiveness and the ability to provide food for the world's population. Addressing world hunger is particularly critical when approximately 800 million people are malnourished in the developing world, and another 100 million go hungry each day. Biotechnology is the answer to this pressing problem. Farmers can produce better yields through drought-tolerant varieties, which are rich in nutrients and more resistant to insects and weeds, while those in need reap the benefits.

"It is my opinion that official WTO action is the only course that would send a clear and convincing message to the world that discriminatory policies on biotechnology, which are not based on sound science, are illegal. In fact, I would like to thank the members of this Committee who recently joined me in sending a letter to the President in support of WTO action -- these are policies which simply must not be allowed to persist.

"I greatly appreciate the chance to offer my thoughts on this important issue. It is my opinion that the U.S. Government should immediately take a case to the WTO regarding the current EU moratorium. After all, the price of inaction is one we can no longer afford to pay. With that said, I look forward to continue working with my colleagues, the Administration and the Committee to eliminate all barriers to free trade."

Contact: John Feehery or Pete Jeffries, 202-225-2800
both of the Office of Speaker of the House Hastert


Insects Thrive On GM 'Pest-Killing' Crops

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
The Independent (UK)
30 March 2003

Genetically modified crops specially engineered to kill pests in fact nourish them, startling new research has revealed.

The research - which has taken even the most ardent opponents of GM crops by surprise - radically undermines one of the key benefits claimed for them. And it suggests that they may be an even greater threat to organic farming than has been envisaged.

It strikes at the heart of one of the main lines of current genetic engineering in agriculture: breeding crops that come equipped with their own pesticide.

Biotech companies have added genes from a naturally occurring poison, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is widely used as a pesticide by organic farmers. The engineered crops have spread fast. The amount of land planted with them worldwide grew more than 25-fold - from four million acres in 1996 to well over 100 million acres (44.2m hectares) in 2000 - and the global market is expected to be worth $25bn (£16bn) by 2010.

Drawbacks have already emerged, with pests becoming resistant to the toxin. Environmentalists say that resistance develops all the faster because the insects are constantly exposed to it in the plants, rather than being subject to occasional spraying.

But the new research - by scientists at Imperial College London and the Universidad Simon Rodrigues in Caracas, Venezuela - adds an alarming new twist, suggesting that pests can actually use the poison as a food and that the crops, rather than automatically controlling them, can actually help them to thrive.

They fed resistant larvae of the diamondback moth - an increasingly troublesome pest in the southern US and in the tropics - on normal cabbage leaves and ones that had been treated with a Bt toxin. The larvae eating the treated leaves grew much faster and bigger - with a 56 per cent higher growth rate.

They found that the larvae "are able to digest and utilise" the toxin and may be using it as a "supplementary food", adding that the presence of the poison "could have modified the nutritional balance in plants" for them.

And they conclude: "Bt transgenic crops could therefore have unanticipated nutritionally favourable effects, increasing the fitness of resistant populations."

Pete Riley, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said last night: "This is just another example of the unexpected harmful effects of GM crops.

"If Friends of the Earth had come up with the suggestion that crops engineered to kill pests could make them bigger and healthier instead, we would have been laughed out of court.

"It destroys the industry's entire case that insect-resistant GM crops can have anything to do with sustainable farming."

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said it showed that GM crops posed an even "worse threat to organic farming than had previously been imagined". Breeding resistance to the Bt insecticide sometimes used by organic farmers was bad enough, but problems would become even greater if pests treated it as "a high-protein diet".

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