Betreff: GM WEEKLY WATCH 122
Datum: Fri, 6 May 2005 23:23:36 +0100

WEEKLY WATCH number 122
from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor

At the same time that reports are hyping trials claiming to show benefits of GM rice for small-scale farmers in China, Greenpeace has revealed that the trials are probably the source of the unapproved, and therefore illegal, GM rice that is being made available commercially in China and which is thought to be contaminating Chinese rice exports (ASIA).

Don't miss a scintillating review by Craig Sams of Lord Taverne's book, The March of Unreason (LOBBYWATCH).

And there's some fantastic news from India, thanks to the tremendous work of campaigners there in support of India's farmers.

Claire / ------------------------------------------------------------------------- CONTENTS ------------------------------------------------------------------------- LOBBYWATCH AUSTRALASIA AFRICA VICTORY IN INDIA ASIA THE AMERICAS CORPORATE CRIMES BT10 SCANDAL ------------------------------------------------------------ LOBBYWATCH ------------------------------------------------------------ + DESPERATE MONSANTO HIRES BOLLYWOOD STAR AS "BRAND AMBASSADOR" Amidst all the controversy over the bitter harvest from its GM cotton in India and just prior to the banning of several of its GM cotton varieties (see VICTORY IN INDIA), Monsanto hired Bollywood style-king Nana Patekar to try and give a bit of glamour to its products. Patekar says he is supporting Monsanto's Bt cotton because of the suicides involving pesticides among cotton farmers, and because "the government has given clearance to the [GM] technology and it must have considered all angles". Which is curious when you consider (a) it was the government that gave clearance to the pesticides which are harming farmers and (b) that within days of Patekar making that claim the government's regulator's withdrew their "clearance" for serveral of Monsanto's products in parts of India. And what is the story that Indian farmers have actually been telling us with regard to Monsanto's GM cotton? According to the extensive research initiated by the Deccan Development Society, "It is a story of terrible loss, deep pain, and cold anger, leading to explosive violence and even death... Hundreds of farmers... have repeatedly told us how [Monsanto's Bt cotton] cultivation had ruined them totally." It would have been nice if, instead of taking the cash of the corporation that has brought us pesticides, dioxin, PCBs, agent orange, patents on life, corruption, child labour and GM seeds, Patekar had used his star status to endorse an initiative like that at the Andhra Pradesh village of Punukula, which has made farming for small-scale farmers pesticide-free while increasing their incomes. + CRAIG SAMS ON TAVERNE'S MARCH OF UNREASON Read a superb review of Lord Taverne's recently published book, 'The March of Unreason', at EXCERPTS: If you are partial to blind faith, then buy 'The March of Unreason' by Dick Taverne. The chairman of the pro-GM lobby group, the Association of Sense about Science, exhibits the most touching belief in a God called Science. Curiously, there is no reference in the book to the Scientific Method... If he had applied this to his own work, the book would never have been written. The most common mistake in applying the Scientific Method is the experimenter's own bias and Dick has that by the bucketful. ... Science is alive and well - what's changing is how it is harnessed, with the interests of sustainability and justice demanding an equal seat at the table with power and profitability. The most dangerous effect of Taverne's book is that it will put people off science when in fact it is blinkered authoritarianism that is his real passion. + HONOUR FOR PROFESSOR BULL***T CS Prakash is leading the celebrations on behalf of his AgBioWorld campaign over the GM crop promoters who've just been "elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (USA) which is among the highest scientific honors... AgBioWorld congratulates all the scientists and scholars for this tremendous honor." Among the newly elected foreign associates highlighted by Prakash are Calestous Juma from Harvard, and David Baulcombe, head of the Sainsbury Laboratory, and professor at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK. An article from GM Watch editor, Jonathan Matthews, gives some insight into the dubious character of Prof Baulcombe's contribution to the GM debate. It's interesting to contrast the "tremendous honor" and congratulations now heaped on Prof Baulcombe, who has made totally misleading public statements and false claims in support of GM crops, with the vilification and sacking of scientists like Dr Arpad Pusztai and Dr Ignacio Chapela for seeking through their research and public statements to expose the truth about GM crops. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- AUSTRALASIA ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + I WON'T EAT GM FOOD - MINISTER Western Australian (WA) Agriculture Minister, Kim Chance, has publicly stated he would not eat GM foods. Chance said he did not feel comfortable eating GM foods because not enough is known about the health effects. However, bizarrely, the Minister also expressed support for the trial of GM salt-tolerant wheat at Corrigan in Western Australia. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- AFRICA ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + ISAAA EXAGGERATES GM PLANTINGS - AGAIN! Research conducted by the African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa's commercial growing of GM maize, soya and cotton has been grossly exaggerated by the biotechnology industry for propaganda purposes. South Africa has been presented as one of the big cultivators of GM crops but, far from being a big producer, South Africa is actually an importer and not an exporter of these crops because it's production is so limited. Meanwhile Monsanto is doing its best to take over South Africa's seed supply in terms of both GMOs and hybrids. Behind the miselading hype is the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an industry-backed lobby group that consistently tries to inflate the figures of GM plantings around the world to support the argument that GM crops are here to stay. Despite South Africa's permissive GMO laws, Monsanto South Africa has estimated production of its GM maize (MON 810 and NK603) in South Africa to constitute no more than a total of 6-7% of the area under maize, less than the ISAAA's estimate of 15-20% during 2004. More ISAAA-generated porkies: "...somewhere in the world this week or next a farmer will plant the 1 billionth acre of genetically enhanced crops. This is a huge milestone for the world," says Dean Kleckner of Truth About Trade However, according to Val Giddings of the Biotehnology Industry Organisation (BIO), in Washington DC, ''We're approaching the 500 billionth acre of crops improved by biotechnology being grown around the world"! One billion - five hundred billion?? That's some difference! But thanks to ISAAA's inflated figures, which are used world wide as an index of GM crop cultivation, neither figure actually bears any relation to reality. For more on this including a detailed article on ISAAA hype: ------------------------------------------------------------------------- VICTORY IN INDIA ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + INDIA BANS MONSANTO GM COTTON SEEDS In the light of their poor performance India's regulatory authority, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), has banned commercial cultivation of three varieties of Mahyco-Monsanto's Bt cotton hybrids in Andhra Pradesh. These three varieties are Mech-12 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt. These varieties completed three years of commercial cultivation and were waiting renewal. One of the varieties - Mech-12 Bt - has been banned throughout southern India. Farmer and civil society groups are demanding that farmers who incurred losses from the varieties that have now been banned be compensated by the company. The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture is also demanding that stocks of the 3 varieties be seized by the government before they can enter illegal channels. + ... YET MONSANTO CLAIMED ITS BT COTTON WAS A BIG SUCCESS! It's worth contrasting the widely reported failure of Mahyco-Monsanto's Bt cotton (see above) with Mahyco-Monsanto's claims of success. Monsanto said its research showed Bt cotton produced good results in all the states in which it was grown. But a senior member of India's regulatory committee, GEAC, said that every state reported at best "mixed" results with Monsanto's Bt cotton. In Andhra Pradesh, where it has now been banned, Monsanto's research proclaimed that AP farmers had gained five-fold from its Bt cotton. The GEAC also disallowed commercial cultivation of one of Monsanto's Bt cotton varieties in the whole of south India "on receiving adverse reports about its performance in the last three years". In addition to adverse reports from about 20 farmers' organisations, these reports came from the relevant state governments. One state - Gujarat - failed to provide reports but it is known that its report for 2002 declared Monsanto's Bt cotton "unfit for cultivation"! Could it be that the states are biased against Monsanto? Far from it. The Chief Minister in Gujarat has been a rabid GM supporter, and he is not alone. In the recent BBC Bitter Harvest series, it was noted how the whole state apparatus in Punjab is working to promote Monsanto's seeds. Even in Andhra Pradesh, evidence has emerged of state manipulation of data in Monsanto's favour. While data in an original report revealed the failure of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh, a second, visibly tampered-with version exaggerated the yields in Monsanto's favour! + INDIA" COTTON GROWERS' COMPENSATION CLAIM FOR CROP LOSS JUSTIFIED A study conducted by a team of cotton experts from the Indian government has noted that Bt cotton hybrids are susceptible to diseases like bacterial blight, alternaria leaf spot and grey mildew. Bacterial blight, alternaria leaf spot and grey mildew were the major diseases on cotton identified in central and southern parts of the country in 2004 season. This report of the government body confirms the claims by different studies conducted by civil society organisations and independent scientific bodies pointing to the failure of Bt cotton in 2004 season. It also justifies the claims of Andhra Pradesh Bt cotton growers for compensation for crop loss. + SATHHESH RESPONDS TO SHANTHARAM TIRADE ON BT COTTON A terrific response from PV Satheesh to a piece - "The Brouhaha about Bt-Cotton in India" - published by former syngenta and USDA man, Dr Shanthu Shantharam, on CS Prakash's pro-GM AgBioView list - is at In his article, Dr Shantharam effectively claims that all the studies on Bt cotton are at fault except those conducted on behalf of industry! In just his opening paragraph Dr Shantharam manages to label NGOs "vigilantes" and dismiss their research as "based on either their own ideological opposition to modern biotechnology or pathological dislike for GM crops..." Dr Shantharam's posturing would be laughable if it weren't for the fact that its target audience is not his fellow scientists, but industry's friends in high places, as PV Satheesh makes clear. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- ASIA ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + NEW STUDY POINTS TO LIKELY SOURCE OF GM RICE CONTAMINATION IN CHINA Just two weeks after Greenpeace exposed the illegal selling and planting of GM rice in Hubei province, a paper published April 29 in Science magazine (see next item) describes what appear to be unregulated trials of the same GM rice (Shanyou 63) that Greenpeace researchers found being illegally sold in the open market. With rice planting due to start any day, Greenpeace said the study reveals further evidence of the failure to control GM rice trials in China. Greenpeace China's Sze Pang Cheung said, "The Science paper states that farmers cultivated the GM rice without the assistance of technicians, and that quite a number of the randomly selected participants grew both GM and conventional varieties on their small family farms... It looks like GM rice has grown out of control under the very noses of the scientists that were trusted to control it." + FARMERS SAY GM RICE CUTS PESTICIDE ILLNESS Here's how the UK Guardian glowingly reported the poorly controlled Chinese GM trials (see previous item): Small farmers in China growing GM rice reported higher yields than for conventional varieties, a lower use of pesticides, and less illness related to the use of the pesticides, Chinese and US scientists report in Science journal (April 29). GM WATCH comment: This wave of GM rice hype may produce a sense of deja vu. The American researchers Carl Pray and Scott Rozelle, who, together with Huang Jikun and another Chinese colleague, Hu Ruifa, produced this research, have previously done a similar job on GM cotton in China. Their surveys conducted in five northern provinces in China on the impact of Bt cotton pointed, in the words of Randy Hautea of the GM lobby group ISAAA, to GM cotton having "positive and significant economic and health benefits for poor, small farmers". But Bt cotton points up the danger of arriving at short-term solutions to long-term problems, particularly when there are other low-cost low-risk solutions to the problems that GM technologies seek to overcome. In fact, there have already been reports of major problems in China with GM cotton and even predictions that the technology could not only be useless within a decade but, in the words of one Chinese reseacher, "could cause a disaster". A report published in June 2002 seriously questioned the claims of success made for Bt cotton in China. The report suggested that while the widespread adoption of Bt cotton in China may have reduced pesticide consumption, it had also resulted in the evolution of Bt toxin-resistant bollworms which could make the technology "ineffective in controlling pests after eight to ten years of continuous production". The scientists also pointed to secondary pests emerging that caused equivalent damage to Bt cotton. Finally, the new study boasts that farmers growing GM rice don't suffer the acute poisonings associated with pesticide spraying. But Ewen and Pusztai's research (published in The Lancet) showed that eating GM food can cause proliferative changes in the gut which Ewen says are typical of pre-cancerous states. What's preferable - nausea and skin irritation for farmers who choose to use chemicals, or intestinal cancer for consumers given no choice about whether to eat GM foods? Naturally, the study doesn't mention that acute and chronic risks posed by pesticides and GM could be eliminated by rice produced without GM or chemicals (see next items). + GM RICE NOT BEST WAY TO REDUCE PESTICIDES IN CHINA A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) program into Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in China resulted in a reduction of pesticide use of over 45% - without any of the environmental, health or market risks of genetic engineering. Sources: A study into the adoption of GM Bt cotton in China concluded that farmers still over-used pesticides on pest-resistant crops. It found that farmers in small-scale production systems require training in identification of pests, natural predators, basic ecology and integrated pest management in order to ensure sustainable production. Sources: + THAI AG MINISTRY NOT COOPERATING IN GM PAPAYA CONTAMINATION PROBE While Thailand's Ag Ministry is relentlessly pursuing a lawsuit against the campaigners who allegedly trespassed on its Khon Kaen research station in order to prove that experimental GM papaya grown there had spread elsewhere (see next item), the Ministry is dragging its heels when it comes to investigating the illegal proliferation of the GM papaya. A panel set up by the Department has been starved of information by the Department of Agriculture, making it impossible to halt the contamination: ''We could not track and destroy them to prevent any further spread" because "we do not know where they are. The fact is we cannot know this as we haven't received the necessary information.'' + NGOs URGE END TO TRESPASS SUIT Human rights and agricultural advocates have called on Thailand's Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to withdraw the lawsuit against Greenpeace campaigners who allegedly trespassed on its Khon Kaen research station to prove that GM papaya grown there had spread elsewhere. About 20 representatives of about 15 non-governmental organisations including Amnesty International Thailand, the Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Greenpeace submitted their request in a letter to ministry officials. They argued that the campaigners had the right to information about the state's actions and that they acted to protect the public interest. As such, they should not be subject to threats of legal action. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE AMERICAS ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + CHAPELA CASE UPDATE As previously reported, Ignacio Chapela, the scientist refused tenure by UC Berkeley after he criticised the university's deal with Novartis and published research showing GM contamination of native Mexican maize, has filed a lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California with the California Superior Court in Oakland. Chapela's supporters have now drawn attention to the story of two notorious academic freedom cases which happened at the University of Toronto under the direction of the now UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. To find out more, go to: Dr David Healy: Dr Nancy Olivieri: Support Chapela - donate to the lawsuit: + BIOTECH FIRM ON THE RUN - AGAIN! Ventria Bioscience, the company that riled Bootheel farmers and beer giant Anheuser-Busch with a plan to grow pharmaceutical rice in Missouri has given up on planting in the state this year and instead is aiming at North Carolina. This is the second time Ventria has been stopped from planting by local opposition - the first time, their GM pharma rice was stymied in California, forcing a move to the Monsanto state of Missouri. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, whose members represent $500 billion in annual sales, insists that the government lacks a way to prevent contamination of food with synthetic proteins destined for drugs. + MISSOURI FUNDS FOR AG PHARMA CENTRE DRAW FIRE Some Democrats are questioning a late addition to the state budget that would funnel more than $1 million next year toward construction of an agricultural pharmaceutical center in northwestern Missouri. A state board would issue bonds to build the $30 million Center of Excellence in Maryville, Mo. Anchoring the project would be California-based Ventria Bioscience, which has genetically engineered rice seeds to produce human proteins for use in drugs. Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis, said the bioscience center needed more scrutiny than the brief presentation that budget negotiators received. "In this budget climate, where we're making slash-and-burn cuts in Medicaid, I think we need to act cautiously before we hand out corporate subsidies," Storch said. + FDA LEAVING AMERICA "VIRTUALLY DEFENCELESS" After showing up the failings of the US FDA in the Syngenta Bt10 maize scandal, the science journal Nature has pointed to the extraordinary failings of the FDA when it comes to ensuring the safety of the drugs it allows on to the market. In the words of one of the FDA's own scientists, "The FDA as currently configured is incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx [the drug which killed tens of thousands of people in America's worst ever drug-safety catastrophe]. We are virtually defenceless." + USDA LAUNCHES INITIATIVE TO FOSTER GM FRUIT 'N' VEG Just in time for Monsanto's take-over of the fruit and vegetable seed giant Seminis, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which plays the part of both industry booster and regulator, has launched a public-private Specialty Crop Regulatory Initiative to help developers of GM fruits and vegetables "work their way through federal regulatory requirements into the marketplace." USDA has concluded that the current regulatory framework is hindering development of GM fruit and veg. It says the new initiative will "help developers, obtain regulatory clearances, and work with consumer and stakeholder interests to foster market acceptance." Here's a revealing quote from USDA: "Everything's on the table right now" to provide public research support for these crops. + EPA TURNS TO NASA FOR REGULATORY TECHNO-FIX The US's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has turned to NASA for technological help in order "to ensure appropriate management practices are used to avoid the development of resistance [to GM crops] in corn pest populations". The Institute for Technology Development at NASA's Stennis Space Center is trying to generate sophisticated new imaging equipment to visually differentiate between GM and non-GM crops and so identify pest infestation conditions. From previous reports, it seems that this technology will be utilised via satellites to monitor GM crop cultivation and pinpoint the problems the agency needs farmers to address. At the same time that this US regulatory body is having to resort to the US space programme for a sophisticated techno-fix to the regulatory complexities thrown up by GM crop management, the US administration and USAID are pushing this technology as appropriate to the developing world! + BREACHES IN BIOSAFETY AT MAJOR RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES Major US universities involved in recombinant-DNA research into diseases like anthrax and plague are failing to comply with the National Institutes of Health biosafety guidelines, says Edward Hammond, director of the Sunshine Project, which seeks controls on biological weapons. Elisa D. Harris, a senior research scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, says it is time to replace the guidelines with a comprehensive laboratory-safety law that would cover all research institutions. Philip Chandler, of the biosafety committee at the Medical College of Georgia, agrees, saying the guidelines have given colleges too much "poetic license". + LOOKING FOR LEADS ON AN ENVIRONMENTAL STORY Here's your chance to help with an important journalistic investigation. Former New York Times reporter Philip Shabecoff and his wife Alice are doing research about the links between environmental toxins and the epidemic of children's chronic illnesses in the US, and they're looking for leads. Beyond documenting evidence arising from the new sciences, the Shabecoffs intend to tell stories about families and communities affected by corporate behaviour. The Shabecoffs will "follow the money" to explain government laxity. + BRAZIL: ALTERNATIVES TO FAILING INDUSTRIAL AG SYSTEMS NEEDED NOW Opponents of Brazil's biosecurity law, which legalizes the planting and commercialization of GM seeds, have only one option left, says Friar Sergio Antonio Gorgen, state congressman of the Workers' Party from Rio Grande do Sul. They must present a case to the Federal Supreme Court to show that the law is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, argues Fr Gorgen, now is the time to move into place alternative systems of agriculture to that being pushed by the multinationals: EXCERPT: The multinationals have succeeded in imposing their new form of domination at the worst possible moment for them: agribusiness controlled by multinationals is sinking in a severe crisis with the increase in the costs of agricultural production, the fall of international prices, and the devaluing of the dollar. As transgenics are part of this model, if the model enters into crisis, it also affects the strategy of implantation. It is in this crisis that we need to prepare ourselves and advance in the construction and consolidation of our own alternative projects. It is up to us to move forward with new models of agriculture, with new land reforms, technology with ecological bases, and agricultural production controlled by small farmers, organized in cooperatives under their own control, and producing varied foods to feed, before all else, the Brazilian people. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- CORPORATE CRIMES ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + THE LEGACY OF AGENT ORANGE A recent BBC report on the massively high instances of genetic defects in areas where Agent Orange was sprayed is commendably clear. It is also accompanied by some memorable images. Monsanto's part in the production of this dioxin contaminated herbicide is well known. + LAWSUITS OVER PESTICIDES ALLOWED The makers of pesticides and weedkillers can be sued and forced to pay damages if their products cause harm, the Supreme Court ruled on 27 April, rejecting the view of the Bush administration. The 7-2 ruling permits lawsuits by farmers whose crops are damaged by pesticides, as well as suits by consumers who are hurt by bug sprays. Patti Goldman, a lawyer in Seattle for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the ruling would help consumers and workers harmed by pesticides. She and other lawyers cited cases of children sickened by pesticides that had drifted from fields into residential areas and that of a young man who died after riding a horse that had been sprayed with a pesticide. Recently, such lawsuits had been dismissed prior to a trial. Attempts were made to undermine the judgment by Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who dissented in part, criticizing the court for "tipping the scales in favor of the states and against the federal government" by allowing lawsuits in state courts. Clarence Thomas was formerly Monsanto's corporate lawyer. Scalia was formerly a Resident Scholar at the far-right American Enterprise Institute: With Clarence Thomas, Scalia co-wrote the landmark 2001 majority opinion of the Supreme Court which upheld the viability of Pioneer Hi-Bred's seed patents.
For more on Scalia's interesting views: For a fun piece of satire against chemical companies' use of "acceptable risk" calculations to justify corporate murder, see ------------------------------------------------------------------------- BT10 CONTAMINATION SCANDAL ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + PUBLIC IN THE DARK AS ILLEGAL BT10 CORN ENTERS FOOD CHAIN A useful summary of the Bt10 corn contamination scandal from PANUPS is at The summary includes the following: "EU Commissioner Markos Kyprianou also announced that the EU's Joint Research Centre was building a database of detection methods for all genetically modified organisms, 'be they authorized in the EU or not' in order to prevent future release of unlicensed GE strains. He also urged the US to follow the lead of the EU and establish labeling and tracing systems for GE crops and food."