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Global Seed Industry Concentration - 2005

ETC Group News Release
September 5, 2005

The ETC Group today releases a new Communique on seed industry consolidation that shows a recent upsurge in seed industry takeovers and a shake-up in rankings.

According to ETC Group, the top 10 multinational seed firms control half of the world's commercial seed sales. With a total worldwide market of approximately US$21,000 million per annum, the commercial seed industry is relatively small compared to the global pesticide market ($35,400 million), and it's puny compared to pharmaceutical sales ($466,000 million). But corporate control and ownership of seeds - the first link in the food chain - has far-reaching implications for global food security. A single firm, Monsanto, now controls 41% of the global market share in commercial maize seed, and one-fourth of the world market in soybean seeds. The same company's seeds and biotech traits accounted for 88% of the total area planted in genetically modified seeds worldwide in 2004.

ETC Group's report includes a table listing many of the world's top 20 seed companies and their acquisitions and/or subsidiaries.

The full text of the 12-page Communique is available free of charge for download on the ETC Group website:

IMPACT: With control of seeds and agricultural research held in fewer hands, the world's food supply is increasingly vulnerable to the whims of market maneuvers. Corporations make decisions to support the bottom line and increase shareholder returns - not to insure food security. Ultimately, seed industry oligopoly also means fewer choices for farmers. A new study by the US Department of Agriculture examines the impact of seed industry concentration on agbiotech research. The study concludes that reduced competition is associated with reduced R&D. Despite seed industry claims to the contrary, concentration in the seed industry is resulting in less innovation - not more.

PLAYERS: A fistful of transnational firms, the Gene Giants, dominates global seed sales. Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta - all among the world's top-ranking pesticide firms - lead the pack.

POLICY: Seed industry concentration is already high on the agenda of civil society and farmers' organizations that are working to support and maintain peasant and farmer-controlled seed systems and against policies and technologies that seek to further privatize seeds. The implications of seed industry consolidation for food security and biodiversity must also be urgently addressed by governments at the FAO biennial Conference in November and by the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (20-31 March 2006, Curitaba, Brazil).

World's Top 10 Seed Companies + 1

1. Monsanto (US) + Seminis pro forma $2,803
2. Dupont/Pioneer (US) $2,600
3. Syngenta (Switzerland) $1,239
4. Groupe Limagrain (France) $1,044
5. KWS AG (Germany) $622
6. Land O' Lakes (US) $538
7. Sakata (Japan) $416
8. Bayer Crop Science (Germany) $387
9. Taikii (Japan) $366
10. DLF-Trifolium (Denmark) $320
11. Delta & Pine Land (US) $315

[Based on 2004 seed sales (US) millions]


A Deadly Epidemic and the Attempt to Hide its Link to Genetic Engineering

By Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception
Spilling the Beans
Institute for Responsible Technology
September 2005

In October, 1989, 44-year old Kathy Lorio arrived in the medical office of Dr. Phil Hertzman in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Lorio, who had been healthy and active, was suddenly struck with severe pain and a host of debilitating symptoms. Blood tests revealed that her eosinophil count had skyrocketed. The normal concentration of this white blood cell is about 10 per CC. Allergies or asthma can make it rise to 500. Lorio's was over 10,000.

In a coincidence that was destined to save lives, Hertzman referred her to Santa Fe rheumatologist James Mayer, who happened to have recently seen another patient, Bonnie Bishop, with similar symptoms. Bishop was in severe pain, her arms and legs were filled with fluid, she had trouble breathing, and her muscles were so weak she couldn't even sit up. "She slumped like a rag doll."[1] And her eosinophil count was extremely high.

Patient histories revealed that both Bishop and Lorio were taking the food supplement L-tryptophan. Although it was the only supplement common to both patients, the doctors were hesitant to blame L-tryptophan for the disease. It is an essential amino acid, naturally found in turkey and milk, and in supplement form had been consumed safely for years as a treatment for stress, insomnia and depression.

Hertzman checked the literature on eosinophils. One author's name kept coming up-Dr. Gerald Gleich of the Mayo Clinic. Hertzman gave him a call. Gleich told him that two cases weren't enough to draw a conclusion about L-tryptophan. Better wait. They didn't wait long. That same day a third case, also linked to L-tryptophan, was reported in New Mexico. Gleich called the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta and told them about the cluster of patients in New Mexico and the possible link to L-tryptophan.

Within two weeks, three other patients checked into the Mayo Clinic with serious symptoms-one needed a respirator to breathe. All had taken L-tryptophan and they were from different parts of the country. Gleich called the CDC again. He told them it's not limited to New Mexico-it's out and it's deadly. An L-tryptophan alert went nationwide.

Articles began circulating about the mysterious disease. The Albuquerque Journal ran a series about it that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. The New York Times covered it. As more articles appeared, the phone calls started coming in-first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands: individuals with incurable symptoms, doctors with incurable patients, and stories of horrific symptoms. Some had coughs, rashes, physical weakness, pneumonia, breathing difficulties, hardening of the skin, mouth ulcers, nausea, shortness of breath, muscle spasms, visual problems, hair loss, difficulty with concentration or memory, and paralysis. Not everyone had all the symptoms, but everyone seemed to be in pain-greater pain than doctors had seen before. The disease was named eosinophilia myalgia syndrome, or EMS-eosinophilia because of the high cell count, myalgia because of the muscle pain. In all, about 5,000 - 10,000 people got sick; some are permanently disabled. About 100 people died.

Disease Traced to Genetic Modification

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported on July 11, 1990 that people only got EMS from pills made by Showa Denko, one of the six manufacturers whose L-tryptophan was imported into the U.S. from Japan. Showa Denko's pills had several unique contaminants that were likely to be responsible for the epidemic. Moreover, the manufacturer was genetically engineering bacteria to produce the L-tryptophan more economically. Genes had been inserted into bacteria's DNA in order to produce high concentrations of several enzymes used in its production.

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who helped track the source of the epidemic, said in a Newsday article on August 14, "This obviously leads to that whole debate about genetic engineering." Two weeks later, FDA spokesperson Sam Page was quoted in Science magazine "blasting" Osterholm for raising the issue of genetic engineering, "especially given the impact on the industry."[2]

Diverting Blame

There are numerous ways in which genetically engineered bacteria might lead to unpredicted contaminants. For example:

The process of inserting genes can create significant changes in the expression of natural genes throughout the DNA, causing changes in proteins (including enzymes) and their interactions. Genetic engineering can cause mutations and deletions in the DNA, altering its natural functioning and changing what is produced. The bacteria were engineered to produce ingredients in larger concentrations than were normally part of the process to create L-tryptophan. These higher concentrations might interact in unpredictable ways to create new compounds. The L-tryptophan is toxic to the bacteria that create it. As a means of self-preservation, the bacteria might have modified the L-tryptophan, itself, or its environment. The press reported that Showa Denko had introduced a GM strain of bacteria at Christmas time in 1988. Soon after, they also reduced the amount of carbon in the filter of the manufacturing process from 20 kilos to 10. This change in the filter was just what the young and vulnerable biotech industry needed to protect its reputation. The alternative story diverted the blame away from genetic engineering. This explanation circulated around the world. "The change in the filter was responsible for the epidemic." Or more simply put, "It was bad manufacturing-not genetic engineering."

In 1996, writer William Crist began what would become an eight-year investigation into the cause of the EMS epidemic. He contacted the FDA's biotechnology coordinator, James Maryanski, who told him "We can not rule [genetic engineering] out. . . . However, we are aware of close to two dozen cases of L-tryptophan-linked EMS that occurred before Showa Denko began using their engineered strain. So, there would have to be a cause other than just the mere engineering of the strains. Now, I can't say that definitively because we don't have a lot of information on these earlier cases." Maryanski asserted that "either L-tryptophan itself, or L-tryptophan in combination with something that was the result of the purification process, was probably the more likely cause."[3]

Crist decided to track down the EMS cases that Maryanski described-those caused by L-tryptophan produced before the genetically altered bacterium was introduced in December 1988. He quickly discovered CDC studies that identified about 100 pre-epidemic cases, not two dozen. And since reported cases of EMS were far less than actual cases, the true number, using the CDC's estimated ratio for unreported incidents, was in the hundreds-all apparently from individuals who had ingested Showa Denko's pills manufactured before December 1988. This fact clearly dismantled the change-in-the-filter theory as the cause of the disease. But it didn't explain how the contaminants got into Showa Denko's L-tryptophan.

Crist spoke with several attorneys who represented EMS victims. They had gathered significant evidence for their lawsuits, which were eventually settled with Showa Denko for about $2 billion. In one company memo obtained by an attorney, Crist discovered a significant fact. The bacterium introduced in December 1988 was called Strain 5. The preceding three strains, introduced starting on October 22, 1984, were all genetically modified. This was a revelation. It countered the FDA's argument that illnesses "that occurred before Showa Denko began using their engineered strain" meant that "there would have to be a cause other than [genetic engineering]." But they were all engineered!

As he looked at the memo, Crist wondered why the FDA didn't know about the earlier GM strains. They had access to a lot more information he did. Then his eyes rose to the top of the document to see a fax imprint: "FDA September 17, 1990." It had been faxed by the FDA! They knew back in 1990 that the earlier strains were modified, but in 1996, the FDA's biotech coordinator James Maryanski was still claiming ignorance.

An even greater omission occurred when Douglas Archer, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, testified before Congress in July 1991 about the epidemic. Not only did he not discuss the earlier bacterial strains, he never even mentioned genetic engineering. Instead, he blamed the disease on "the dangers inherent in the various health fraud schemes that are being perpetrated upon segments of the American public." The FDA used this logic to take all L-tryptophan, GM or not, off the market.

According to a 2000 article in the Rutgers Law Journal, "Political pressures have played a role in the FDA's decision to ban L-tryptophan as well as its desire to increase its regulatory power over dietary supplements."[4] In its FDA Dietary Supplement Task Force report on June 15, 1993, it states, "The Task Force considered various issues in its deliberations, including ... what steps are necessary to ensure that the existence of dietary supplements on the market does not act as a disincentive to drug development." According the Rutgersarticle, "This is a particularly disturbing issue," as it shows that developing FDA guidelines "has far more to do with eliminating competition in the pharmaceutical industry than preserving the public health." In the case of L-tryptophan, the FDA simultaneously protected prescription drugs for stress, insomnia and depression, as well as the entire biotech industry. In retrospect, when FDA's Sam Page told Science that it was better not to discuss genetic engineering, "especially given the impact on the industry," it turns out he was describing the motivation and strategy that would guide the agency for years.

Sobering Lessons Unheeded

Many studies have verified that the process of genetic engineering can produce unpredicted toxins or allergens. Nevertheless, the FDA does not require any additional safety testing for GM products, whether they are food crops or supplements. Thus, if that same deadly L-tryptophan were first introduced today, it would get on the market.

The EMS epidemic took years to identify and was almost missed. The only reason it was discovered was because the disease had three concurrent characteristics: it was rare, acute, and came on quickly. What would happen if all three characteristics had not been in place? What if it took 20 years for onset or only impacted the next generation? What if it produced only mild symptoms like frequent colds? What if it created serious diseases that were common, like cancer, heart-disease, obesity or diabetes? The epidemic might remain undiscovered for decades.

What then of the thousands of products currently being fed to US citizens that contain ingredients from genetic modification? Might they be creating problems that don't have all three characteristics? Are they contributing to the doubling of food-related illnesses in the United States between 1994 and 2001, corresponding to the time when many of these products were introduced? We don't know, because no one is looking. And even if we were, derivatives from the four major GM crops, soy, corn, cottonseed, and canola, are found in the majority of processed foods. Unlike L-tryptophan, if common food ingredients were creating health problems, identifying the source might be impossible.

In spite of these facts, and ignoring the thousands of victims of GM L-tryptophan, U.S. regulators continue to make the baseless statement that "millions of people have been eating genetically engineered products for years and no one has gotten hurt."

Dissatisfied with the way that the FDA is protecting their health, more and more people have chosen to protect themselves by avoiding GM foods altogether. Here too, the FDA stands in the way. More than 90 percent of Americans want GM foods labeled. Most industrialized nations require labeling. But the FDA has an official mandate to promote biotechnology. They know that more than half of those surveyed say they would avoid GM foods if they were labeled. To protect industry profits, the FDA ignores the desires of nine out of ten Americans.

There is no indication that another EMS epidemic will emerge from another GM food or supplement. But with obesity, diabetes, migraines, allergies, and many other ailments skyrocketing in the U.S., there is no guarantee that another GM-related epidemic is not already upon us.


  1. Barbara Deane, "Anatomy of an Epidemic," Reader's Digest, April 1991

  2. P. Raphals, "Does medical mystery threaten biotech?" Science, vol. 249, no. 619, 1990

  3. William E. Crist, The Toxic L-Tryptophan Epidemic, see

  4. Joshua H. Beisler, L-tryptophan Section from "Dietary Supplements and Their Discontents: FDA Regulation and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, Rutgers Law Journal, Winter 2000, see

In my book Seeds of Deception, I bring out new information about the genetically engineered food supplement L-tryptophan, which was responsible for a deadly epidemic in the United States in the 1980s. Much of the research for the chapter came from the work of investigator William Crist. The book cited Crist's report, which was expected to have been posted on a website well in advance of my book's publication. Unfortunately, Crist was unable to update his report at that time. It is now available at and provides important new evidence, including ways in which the U.S. government apparently hid information in order to protect the biotech industry.


Open Letter From Dr. Takahiro Kanagawa on GM Rice Containing Defensin

September 6, 2005

I am writing this letter as a microbiologist.

Many scientists appear to consider that they should be allowed to carry out any experiments they like unless those experiments can be shown to be dangerous. I have found, by chance, that a very dangerous experiment on an anti-microbial peptide, defensin, is being undertaken in Japan. Defensins are made by plants and animals, and are very important in providing them with protection against pathogens.

Zhang et al. (2002) have reported that long-term nonprogressors with HIV-1 infection secreted alpha-defensins, and that the alpha-defensins inhibited HIV-1 replication. If human defensins were effective in killing HIV-1, and were used as a specific medicine for HIV-1, defensin-resistant HIV-1 would then appear, and those infected with this virus would develop symptoms more rapidly and die more quickly. Thus, defensin-resistant pathogens would enhance their pathogenicity and infectivity, and cause far more terrible problems than antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

We already know that the abuse of antibiotics has induced the spread of resistant pathogens, and that as a result we have to use anti-microbial substances very carefully. The defensins in plants and animals are regulated so that they are produced in response to pathogen attack, and resistant pathogens will not easily appear or spread in natural conditions.

However, in Japan this June, genetically modified rice that constantly produces a large amount of a defensin from mustard (Brassica sp.) was planted in an isolated paddy field. The developers of this modified rice have stated that they introduced a promoter to strongly express the inserted defensin gene, and that this transgenic rice was resistant to pathogens such as rice blast and white leaf blight. They made sure the gene was expressed in every sample they tested by western blotting method.

Thevissen et al. (2000) have reported that by cultivating yeast with the defensin from dahlia for 2 days, they got resistant strains. From this finding, we can assume that defensin-resistant microbes are likely to soon appear in the paddy field where this transgenic rice is being cultivated.

It is true that the plant defensins are different from animal defensins in their structure, but microbes can obtain the resistance to both defensins if the mechanism of the action is the same. Therefore, the resistant microbes may be dangerous to human beings. Although studies on the mechanism of action have been intensively carried out by many researchers, it still has not been fully understood.

I have asked the developers to stop this experiment until the knowledge of the mechanism of action is sufficiently developed to discuss the potential danger of resistant microbes. However, the developers denied the possibility of resistant microbes emerging, and they are continuing to grow the rice without any care as regards microbes. The water in the paddy field is being discharged into the surrounding area without any sterilization. They will harvest the seeds of the rice in late September, and plant the seeds again next April.

Microbiologists are able to recognise the danger of resistant microbes more readily than researchers in other fields. This means that some researchers will not be alert to the danger. I think microbiologists should discuss the danger of the abuse of antimicrobial peptides, and give a warning to the scientists who make use of antimicrobial peptides in their research.

With best wishes,

Dr. Takahiro Kanagawa
Senior Research Scientist


Thevissen et al. (2000) Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, 13: 54-61. Zhang et al. (2002) Science, 298: 995-1000

Quasi Government Agency Forced Outdoor Cultivation Experiment of GM Rice Disregarding Prohibition Lawsuit

By Japan Consumer Press online
July 12, 2005

Farmers and consumers in local worry about adverse effect on human, environment

Producers and consumers in local brought a case to the Niigata district court Takada branch on June 24 over the field experiment of the genetically modified (GM) rice plant that the Hokuriku research center had been scheduling in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture, for the discontinuance of the cultivation experiment.

Niigata Prefecture is eminent production ground of rice in Japan . This prefecture has been initiating the rice farming culture of Japan since the great antiquity.

However, the defendant, a quasi government agency "Hokuriku Research Center of National Agricultural Research Center" forced planting rice of GM rice plant in the experiment field with a strong backup of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on June 29.

The Center is explaining, "Because the court had not put out the instruction of the discontinuance of the cultivation experiment by questioning the day before, we executed planting rice according to schedule". Farmers and consumers are emphasizing, "The Hokuriku Center is not securing the safety of the experiment" and "The risk of the experiment on the producer and the consumer is large. There is not a necessity of the experiment either".

Because the environmental impact by GM crops is not clarified, the introduction of the precautionary principle is requested internationally.

Producers and consumers criticized severely to forcing the cultivation experiment by the Hokuriku Center , saying that "The Center forced the experiment disregarding an international request".

The Center planted GM rice plant that built in the gene of "Mustard" in the rice field in the isolation experiment place. This GM rice plant has the resistance power in a peculiar ill to the rice plant.


GM Rape Approved for Import into EU

By Ahmed ElAmin
September 9, 2005

The European Commission yesterday authorised the import of genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape for use in animal feed, the third such product to be approved after current regulations came into force last year.

While the approvals may provide processors and farmers with more choices in their food and feed supply chain, they should not hold their breath in anticipation. While the Commission has approved products in the past, the bloc's parliament and individual member countries have frequently blocked products from being put on the market.

For example Syngenta's Bt176 maize, Monsanto's MON810 maize, Bayer's T25 maize and MS1xRF1 oilseed rape, and Topas' 19/2 oilseed rape are approved at the European level for use as crops. However farmers are banned from growing the crops in at least five national states.

From 1998 to 2004 the EU imposed a ban on approving any new GM crops. Tough new rules on GM ingredient food labelling imposed last year have since cleared a way to end the ban. EU law allows members to ban a GMO within their borders if a government can justify the prohibition.

Monsanto's oilseed rape, known as GT73, is authorised for import and processing in the EU as animal feed, but not for cultivation or for food uses.

The current authorisation is valid for 10 years. GT73 is tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate and is already widely used in North America with no reports of any adverse effects on health or the environment, the Commission stated.

"The authorisation today, which is backed by science, covers the specific use for imports of the GM oilseed rape and processing for use in animal feed or for industrial purposes," the Commission stated.

Under the authorisation Monsanto has agreed to take measures to prevent any damage to human health and the environment in the event of any accidental spillage of GT73.

The decision was based on a risk assessment by the European Food Safety Authority, which stated that GT73 was as safe as any conventional oilseed rape.

GT73 will be covered by the new EU labelling and traceability rules which came into force in April 2004. When put on the market, it will need to be clearly labelled as containing genetically modified oilseed rape.

Post-marketing monitoring will be done through a unique identifier assigned to the oilseed rape to enable traceability.

Under the regulations, business operators must transmit and retain information about products that contain or are produced from genetically modified organisms at each stage of the placing on the market.

"Clear labelling provides farmers and consumers with the information they need to decide whether to buy the product or not," the Commission stated. "And robust post-marketing rules will ensure that the product can be traced and monitored when put on the market."

The first GM product approved under the EU's rules was was NK603 maize, followed by MON 863 maize.

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Genetically engineered food is corporate bioterrorism