Betreff: WEEKLY WATCH 118
Datum: Thu, 7 Apr 2005 22:42:06 +0100

WEEKLY WATCH number 118
from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor

Are EU 'regulators', and others worldwide, taking a "don't look, don't see" attitude to Syngenta's unauthorized GM maize Bt10, which has contaminated the food supply? See our CONTAMINATION SCANDAL LATEST and decide for yourself.

One place integrity is alive and kicking is Vermont where senators, angry at bully-boy threats from the biotech industry, have voted 26-1 to approve the new GM liability bill, which would place the liability for contamination firmly on the GM seed companies. (THE AMERICAS)

Finally, watch out for the study just published by a University of Pittsburgh researcher (NEW RESEARCH) suggesting that Roundup, the herbicide most commonly used on GM crops, is extremely lethal to amphibians and may be responsible for their global decline. This follows on from other recent research suggesting the active ingredient in Roundup could have toxic effects for humans.

Claire / ------------------------------------------------------------------------- CONTENTS ------------------------------------------------------------------------- CONTAMINATION SCANDAL LATEST LOBBYWATCH ASIA AFRICA THE AMERICAS NEW RESEARCH DON'T MISS... CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK ------------------------------------------------------------ CONTAMINATION SCANDAL LATEST ------------------------------------------------------------ *Between 2001 and 2004, Syngenta produced and distributed an unapproved GM corn [maize], called Bt10, and sold it as an approved corn, Bt11* + JAPANESE DEMAND FOR US CORN SLOWS Some Japanese buyers have already halted imports of US corn to avoid importing problematic cargoes contaminated by Bt10, traders said. + JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA TRYING TO TAKE STEPS AGAINST CONTAMINATED US IMPORTS The biggest importers of sweetcorn from the US, Japan and South Korea, both appear to be trying to take steps to shut off maize supplies contaminated by Syngenta's illegal unapproved Bt10 maize at the ports. The Japanese government has said that if inspections "discover contaminated cargoes, the ministry will order importers to destroy them or ship them back to the United States." But the government also says Japanese ports would only be able to "start testing samples of corn cargoes from the United States after the ministry obtained the necessary data from Syngenta to detect Bt10." + SYNGENTA NOT MAKING INFORMATION AVAILABLE It's clear that Syngenta is delaying the release of full information on Bt10, as a damage limitation exercise. An obvious example is the way in which Syngenta initially maintained that Bt10 and Bt11 were more or less identical without disclosing that Bt10, unlike Bt11, contained a gene for Ampicillin resistance. Ampicillin is a broad spectrum antibiotic which has the ability to kill a wide range of bacterial infections in the body, including infections of the respiratory tract, the ear, and the urinary system, as well as salmonella infections and gonorrhoea. It is still widely used. + SYNGENTA HAS DONE THIS BEFORE This is not the first time that Syngenta has been reluctant to cooperate in a GM fiasco arising from its negligence. In 2000 5.6 tonnes of GM contaiminated maize seed, supplied by Syngenta, was illegally shipped to New Zealand and then planted as non-GM seed. There were subsequent allegations that the New Zealand government had been involved in a deliberate cover up, but a parliamentary committee of enquiry could never establish the truth of what had happened because, "the seed exporter, Syngenta, refused to allow the committee to talk to the Genescan laboratory which carried out the testing that identified the contamination." + Bt 10 TESTING ALREADY AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE There is concern that the European Commission, Britain's Food Standards Agency and others, are deliberately turning a blind eye to Syngenta's illegality. The EU's Health and Consumer protection Spokesman Philip Tod has claimed they can't detect Bt10 "because it is not an authorised product," but it is not clear that it's necessary for the EU to continue to wait for the necessary data to come from Syngenta in order to detect Bt10. The longest-established GM detection firm, Genetic ID, says detection of Bt10 is possible immediately: "Contrary to statements by the EU Commission, as reported in some media reports over the past few days, the detection of Bt10 maize as well as the distinction from Bt11 is possible immediately." Testing for Bt10 is also widely available, including both in the EU and in Japan and South Korea, "Genetic ID offers its test for Bt10 through its laboratories in Germany, the US, and Japan, as well as through Genetic ID's Global Laboratory Alliance members in Brazil, Britain, Italy, China, Singapore, Taiwan, India, South Korea and, again, the US." + AUTHORITIES SLAMMED FOR INCOMPETENCE AND COMPLACENCY The official response within the UK and Europe to the GM maize scandal has been "incompetent and complacent", according to GM Free Cymru. The group also claims that Europe's GM regulatory system, promoted as being the most rigorous and robust in the world, is actually a shambles. It is more than ten days since the world was alerted to the "accidental release" onto the world food market of GM maize contaminated with an unauthorized and untested Syngenta variety known as Bt10. The story was kept under wraps for almost four months by the US authorities and Syngenta, and when Nature reported the contamination incident on 22 March there was a carefully coordinated "damage limitation campaign" involving statements to the press which were extremely economical with the truth. In the UK, DEFRA put out a statement on 23 March which was evasive and dishonest. More seriously, it contained lies which have still not been officially admitted or corrected. + SCIENTISTS RUBBISH OFFICIAL CLAIMS Official claims that illegal GM maize accidentally grown in the US for the past 4 years is "safe" are being challenged by independent scientists. The scientists have backed consumer-group concerns that testing and monitoring of 'Bt10' maize-accidentally grown and marketed as 'Bt11' is inadequate and have called for publication of the data that supposedly shows the proteins from the plants to be 'identical'. The UK-based Institute of Science in Society has issued a detailed report on the Bt 10 problem which calls into question claims made by officials. Read the report at ------------------------------------------------------------ LOBBYWATCH ------------------------------------------------------------ + TAVERNE BLASTED - "A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE AND A LOT OF BOMBAST ARE DANGEROUS" Real scientist Margaret Cook demolishes pseudo-scientist and GM lobbyist Lord Dick Taverne's new book, The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism, in a scathing and brilliant review in the Guardian that takes Taverne to task for the hectoring and irksome dogma of his writing. EXCERPT: In spite of his stated commitment to evidence-based science, much of his discussion is rant rather than reason. There are regrettably a number of howlers. He attributes our health and longevity to modern medicine, whereas it owes much more to public health measures, sanitation, clean water, housing, diet. [GM WATCH comment: Here's a statistic for Taverne: "The results of seven years of research reviewing thousands of studies conducted by the NIA (Nutrition Institute of America) now show that medical errors are the number one cause of death and injury in the United States." ]

He states, "Food has never been safer or more carefully tested," when we have just had the most troubling food scare involving contamination of many different food products by the dye Sudan 1. He demolishes in scathing terms the fears linking radiation from mobile phones and masts to brain damage. Yet only two months ago, top scientists warned that children under nine should not use mobile phones as their brains absorb more radiation than adults' and the dangers are unclear.

He draws a rigid line between mainstream and alternative medicine, reluctantly admitting that an extract of St John's Wort might help depression, then countering this with a discussion of dire side effects. In fact, in a recent issue the BMJ, hypericum extract from this plant has been shown to be at least as effective as paroxetine for depression and better tolerated. The timing of these reports has not been kind to him, but they underline the hectoring dogma of his writing, which becomes increasingly irksome. + BLACKWASHING THE GM FOOD DEBATE PR watchdogs SpinWatch and PR Watch, and others, have helped draw attention to the extraordinary story broken by GM WATCH editor Jonathan Matthews in his article, "The Uncle Tom Award" of how the GM industry is recruiting black front-people to tout GM as the cure-all for Third World agriculture. "[F]rom US administration platforms to UN headquarters, from Capitol Hill to the European Parliament, we've been treated to a veritable minstrelsy of lobbying." ------------------------------------------------------------------------- ASIA ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + INDIA: MULTINATIONALS, DESIGNERS JOIN LOBBIES AGAINST GM CROPS Western multinational companies and Indian fashion designers are to join hands with environmental activists to make the country a GMO-Free Zone. The campaign for making India a GMO-free zone will begin in two months, according to Indian environmentalists. Indian activists have already asked American sports giant Nike, international lifestyle brand Espirit and several domestic fashion designers the question - "If we launch a campaign, will you refuse to procure GM products for manufacturing your products?" Says Vandana Shiva of Delhi-based environmental group Navdanya, "The answer was Yes. They will come on board when we start our campaign." + SCIENTIST CRITICISES BT COTTON IN SOUTH INDIA The performance of Bt cotton in 2004 has come under severe criticism from scientists as well as NGOs. Founder-director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, alleged that farmers in south India [the only area for which Bt cotton was approved] have suffered heavy losses on account of cultivation of Bt cotton. He also said, "There is a lack of transparency in the approval process of Bt cotton. Revelant data are not yet placed in public domain. No tests have been conducted to verify the consumption effects of Bt plants on cattle. Bt toxin may have some undesired effects on bacteria present in rumen in cattle." Dr Bhargava also pointed out that the recent amendments to the Seeds Act are designed to strengthen the monopoly of multinational seed companies in the seed sector. He argued that no multinational company should be allowed to control the country's seed sector and hence agriculture. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- AFRICA ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + TANZANIA BLITZED BY US GM LOBBY Intense lobbying is under way in Tanzania in an effort to secure a toe-hold for GM crops, with CS Prakash, Shanthu Shantharam, USAID and the US State Department all involved. As part of this effort, the head of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP II) is being brought to Tanzania byy the US State Department. ABSP is a USAID funded project. Promoting GM is an official part of USAID's remit - one of its roles being to "integrate GM into local food systems." ABSP's partners have included Asgrow, Monsanto, and Pioneer Hi-Bred. Among the advisors to USAID is CS Prakash who serves as the principal investigator of a USAID funded project "to promote biotechnology awareness in Africa". Prakash was in Tanzania in August 2002, when he "met with Tanzanian scientists, describing the potential of bio-engineered foods for the benefit of the country." Prakash was reported in the press at the time as having told his Tanzanian audience that GM "doubles production"! (The Express, Tanzania, Aug 21, 2002). This February, Dr Shanthu Shantharam, a close ally of Prakash's and a former employee of Syngenta was in Arusha, Tanzania for a seminar on GMO technology for East African plant inspectors. Like Prakash, Shanthu Shantharam appears to have a cavalier attitude towards the truth. He told India's science and environment magazine, Down to Earth, that in the Percy Schmeiser contamination case, "Court records clearly establish that Schmeiser had planted GM canola which he had purchased illegally." This is completely untrue - the records establish the exact opposite! In Tanzania, Shantharam apparently told his audience that GM had the "potential of alleviating hunger in Third World countries". What adds to the irony of the lobby attack on Tanzania, is that while it has apparently led to GM cotton being lapped up as a 'liberator' of Tanzania's cotton farmers, Devlin Kujek of GRAIN explains that it is almost impossible to imagine how farmers could derive any benefit at all from the GM seed. Tanzania's cotton farmers are suffering from miserably low global cotton prices at the same time as they are successfully increasing production without GM. America's huge contribution to low cotton prices through its massive subsidies has, of course, got it into trouble even with the WTO. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE AMERICAS ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + BIOTECH INDUSTRY THREATS BACKFIRE IN VERMONT The Vermont Senate on Tuesday gave nearly unanimous approval to a bill designed to make seed manufacturers liable for the impacts of GM crops. As many as a dozen senators were expected to oppose the bill, but the final vote was 26-1. Seed manufacturers who will reportedly not sell their products in Vermont if the bill passes may have been responsible for the nearly unanimous vote, senators said. "Some of the manufacturers made threats that undermined their arguments," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, D-Windsor. Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, was even more direct. "I don't take well to threats from international companies that don't want to come into the state and compete on a level playing field," he said. "It's not acceptable." + US RICE PRODUCERS OPPOSE PHARMA RICE Ventria Bioscience's plan to grow GM pharmaceutical-containing rice in Missouri has been attacked by rice producers worried about rattling already unstable markets. "I've followed rice marketing and trade issues for years," said Bob Papanos, vice president of international programs for the US Rice Producers Association. "Rice farmers are right to be worried. I'm sure farmers recall StarLink and Prodigy in Nebraska [previous contamination incidents]. If there's even a hint that Ventria's pharm-rice has contaminated food-grade rice, we're in serious trouble. Actually, foreign trade negotiators can use this against us whether there's contamination or not." + CONTAMINATION OF FOOD BY EXPERIMENTAL GM CROPS SHOULD NOT BE "FOUND ACCEPTABLE" The current Syngenta rogue corn fiasco (see CONTAMINATION SCANDAL LATEST, above) throws new light on US plans to routinely allow unapproved experimental GM proteins to contaminate US food crops and exports. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued draft guidelines which say that "intermittent, low levels of biotechnology-derived genes and gene products from such field tests could be found acceptable". As Third World Network's Lim Li Ching notes, "Short of FDA specifically notifying importing countries of the presence of unapproved genetically engineered proteins in US food exports and providing the necessary reference materials to facilitate detection and identification, the only way other countries can determine if there is presence of unapproved genetically engineered material is to randomly test for their presence." But even countries as rich and technologically advanced as Japan and the EU are currently claiming not to be able to, in the words of the Japanese government, "start testing samples of corn cargoes from the United States" until they have "obtained the necessary data from Syngenta to detect Bt10 [the unapproved maize]." Syngenta's foot-dragging suggests that the industry will do everything it can not to facilitate that process. The US is taking the world along a trajectory where the food supply may not only be be modified at a molecular level in any number of ways but where it has moved beyond all meaningful regulatory control. + SOUTH AMERICAN MINISTERS REFUSE MONSANTO ROYALTY PLAN Farm ministers from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay -- the world's top soybean exporters behind the US - have shunned a bid by Monsanto to charge royalties on GM soybeans when they are harvested. Royalties "should only be charged when farmers buy seeds," said a statement issued by Argentina after a special meeting of the Southern Agricultural Council in Cartagena, Colombia at the request of Argentine Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos. + GENETIC COLONIALISM AND MEXICO'S "MONSANTO LAW" Two useful articles explains why Mexico's new 'biosafety' law is so unpopular outside the biotech industry/government circle. EXCERPTS: The opponents had wanted the new law to set out penalties for transgenics producers who "contaminate" farmers' crops without their permission. They also wanted the law to demand that all transgenic products be labeled for consumers. As is, the law requires only some labeling. The law's proponents argued that the approval process made it unnecessary and that it would unfairly mark the products while increasing the price for consumers. ... After several years of study, a panel of international experts... recommended that Mexico reduce corn imports, clearly label transgenic corn and mill any genetically modified corn as soon as it enters the country to prevent local farmers from planting it. In the end, the Mexican government set aside the milling recommendation as too expensive but required provisions for labeling that remain unclear. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEW RESEARCH ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + ROUNDUP KILLS FROGS, MAY EXPLAIN GLOBAL DECLINE A study published by a University of Pittsburgh researcher finds that Roundup, the herbicide most commonly used on GM crops, may be eradicating much more than weeds. Pitt assistant professor of biology Rick Relyea found that Roundup is extremely lethal to amphibians. This field experiment is one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, and the results may provide a key link to global amphibian declines. Relyea examined how a pond's entire community--25 species, including crustaceans, insects, snails, and tadpoles--responded to the addition of the manufacturers' recommended doses of two insecticides--Sevin (carbaryl) and malathion--and two herbicides--Roundup; (glyphosate) and 2,4-D. Relyea found that Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were completely eliminated and wood frog tadpoles and toad tadpoles were nearly eliminated. One species of frog, spring peepers, was unaffected. "The most shocking insight coming out of this was that Roundup, something designed to kill plants, was extremely lethal to amphibians," said Relyea, who conducted the research at Pitt's Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. "We added Roundup, and the next day we looked in the tanks and there were dead tadpoles all over the bottom." The paper, "The Impact of Insecticides and Herbicides on the Biodiversity and Productivity of Aquatic Communities", is published in the journal Ecological Applications. Needless to say, Monsanto has been working hard to rubbish the research but Dr Relyea has effectively rebutted them here: In another study, a group of scientists led by Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France has found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than the agricultural use. This, they suggest, could explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among women farmers in the US using glyphosate. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- DON'T MISS... ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + NEW DOCUMENTARY: 'ALIENS IN THE FIELD' Here are transmission times for 'ALIENS IN THE FIELD', the Earth Report documentary on GM crops in developing countries that many of you helped create. The film will be shown on BBC World on Saturday the 9 April at the following times (find other country times at
India -- 14.00 and 19.00
Zambia -- 10.30, 15.30 and 22.30
Argentina -- 05.30, 10.30 and 17.30
Paraguay -- 09.30 and 16.30
USA Central Zone -- 08.30 and 15.30
UK -- 09.30 and 21.30 + BURN YOUR OWN CDs South African campaigner Andrew Taynton writes: This could be a cost effective method of getting our message out to hundreds of government officials, media people, farmers, consumers, religious leaders, educators, friends and relatives. It could also be useful at workshops. Seeds of Deception author Jeffrey Smith invites everyone to download his hour-long lecture, "You're Eating What?" on GM foods, to burn your own CD's and distibute them as widely as possible. Visit: Listen to this one-hour lecture online or download it. We recommend that you burn CDs to give away, and you can use our labels and jewel case artwork as well. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK ------------------------------------------------------------------------- + STOP SMALLPOX GENETIC ENGINEERING! Please take action now to stop smallpox genetic engineering! Visit to send a letter to the WHO Director General, urging the World Health Assembly to reject a proposal that would permit the genetic engineering of smallpox, and to instead ensure that all remaining stocks of the virus are destroyed within two years.

The proposal to genetically engineer smallpox, which would also permit smallpox genes to be inserted into related poxviruses and the unlimited distribution of small segments of smallpox DNA, poses a large number of public health, biosafety, and biological weapons risks.

The World Health Assembly will discuss the proposal when it meets in Geneva, Switzerland from 16-25 May 2005. Every letter counts, so please send one today. It's quick and easy to do at