July 8, 2010
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Monsanto Company Inc., of St. Louis, Missouri, has agreed to pay a $2.5 million penalty to resolve misbranding violations related to the sale and distribution of cotton seed products containing genetically engineered pesticides. This is the largest civil administrative penalty settlement ever received under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
"This agreement shows that when a company violates the law by distributing misbranded pesticides, EPA will take action," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The regulated community should understand that we take these violations seriously, and the public will accept nothing less than compliance."
"People who manufacture and distribute pesticide products must follow the federal registration requirements," said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. "These requirements are critical to preventing the development and spread of insect resistance."
Monsanto Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton seed products contain genetically engineered pesticides known as plant incorporated protectants (PIPs), which are registered as a pesticidal product under FIFRA. As a condition of the registrations, EPA included planting restrictions on Bollgard and Bollgard II, which contain the PIP Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). EPA restricted planting of the cotton seed product in 10 Texas counties (Carson, Dallam, Hansford, Hartley, Hutchison, Lipscomb, Moore, Ochiltree, Roberts and Sherman) to protect against pests becoming resistant to Bt PIPs and other microbial products used in sprays and dusts. Monsanto was required to control the sale and distribution of the cotton seed by including information on the planting restrictions in its labeling and grower guides.
In 2007, Monsanto disclosed to EPA that it had distributed misbranded Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton seed to customers in the Texas counties where EPA had restricted its planting. EPA's subsequent investigation confirmed that between 2002 and 2007, the company distributed or sold the cotton products more than 1,700 times nationwide without the planting restrictions in its grower guides and that Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton was planted in the restricted counties.
Monsanto subsequently corrected the grower guides by including the required planting restriction for the Bollgard and Bollgard II products. In September 2008, EPA lifted the planting restriction in the 10 Texas counties for Bollgard II, after Monsanto applied for a change in the registration of that product.
Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Dogwood Alliance, International Center for Technology
July 1, 2010
An alliance of conservation organizations today sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its approval of open-air field tests of a genetically engineered (GE) hybrid of eucalyptus tree across the southern United States. The permit, issued to a company called ArborGen, which is a joint initiative of International Paper, MeadWestvaco and Rubicon, was approved May 12 with minimal environmental review. It authorizes the experimental planting and flowering of a new, genetically engineered hybrid on 28 secret sites across seven southern states - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
"In refusing to prepare a detailed environmental review, the Department of Agriculture ignored serious risks before permitting this action," said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Federal agencies can't be allowed to neglect their duty to the public trust. Once this genie is out of the bottle and escapes to neighboring lands, it's irreversible."
ArborGen hopes its GE 'cold-tolerant' Eucalyptus will become widely planted for pulp and biomass. But eucalyptus trees are not native to the United States and are known to become invasive, displacing native wildlife and plants in various areas around the country and increasing wildfire risk. "Releasing GE cold-tolerant Eucalyptus trees into the wild in multiple states greatly increases the risk they will spread uncontrollably throughout the region," said Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club.
In approving the GE eucalyptus permits, the Department of Agriculture ignored the concerns of numerous agencies and scientists, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, which formally criticized the proposed open field tests of these genetically engineered trees.
In addition to approving these test sites, Agriculture is also considering a 'deregulation' petition submitted by ArborGen that would allow widespread commercial planting of GE Eucalyptus without any limits or regulation. According to the U.S. Forest Service, GE Eucalyptus plantations in the southern United States would use more than twice the water of pine plantations in a region already suffering from a depleted water supply.
"These tests include planting over a quarter of a million genetically engineered eucalyptus trees along the Gulf Coast and into South Carolina," said Anne Petermann of Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign. "Ultimately they plan to produce up to half a billion GE eucalyptus seedlings annually for planting across the U.S. South. This would be another disaster for these beleaguered Gulf Coast states, leading to a loss of native forests and biodiversity, depleting ground water and worsening climate change."
The Government Accountability Office and USDA inspector general have both issued sharply critical reports on the USDA?s management of genetically engineered organism (GMO) field tests. In 2006, a GE rice field test contaminated southern U.S. long-grain rice fields, causing billions in losses to farmers; in 2007, a federal court found that a GE bentgrass field test had contaminated a protected national grassland in Oregon. "The Department of Agriculture continues to tell the public that no further restrictions are needed on these novel organisms," said George Kimbrell, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "In light of history, their empty promises here ring hollow."
"Over the last generation the people of the South have watched the forests of our region destroyed by industrial forestry, impacting our water quality, wildlife habitat and quality of life," said Scot Quaranda of Dogwood Alliance. "The federal government's decision to approve the use of GE Eucalyptus trees in our region will open the door to further exploitation of the people and forests of the South. This decision must be overturned."
The organizations are represented by attorneys Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity, George Kimbrell of the International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety, and Jeanne Marie Zokovitch Paben, director of the Earth Advocacy Clinic at Barry University School of Law.
The organizations that filed suit today are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Dogwood Alliance, International Center for Technology Assessment, Center for Food Safety and Global Justice Ecology Project.
By Jill Richardson
July 19, 2010
When key government officials start touting the need for biotechnology there's reason to be concerned. Roger Beachy, the Chief Scientist of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), recently told Smartplanet.com that biotechnology is needed to maximize food production and reduce the use of agrochemicals. "With a greater number of people," he said, "we're going to have to have more crop per acre. If we don't, we'll have to expand [agriculture] to our parks, forests, and golf courses." And at first it might seem strange to hear a top government official parroting talking points from Monsanto's Corporate Responsibility page ... until you read his resume, that is. His last job before joining the USDA was as founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a non-profit research institute co-founded by Monsanto and the Danforth Foundation.
Now, another explanation why Monsanto and Roger Beachy have similar talking points could be that both are correct and they are simply explaining the facts about the future of food and agriculture. Do we really need biotech to feed a growing population?
Nope, turns out that we don't. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, genetically engineered (GE) seeds, to date, don't translate to more crop yields. And worse, GE seeds have meant the uses of more, not less, chemicals. Jack Heinemann, a professor of genetics and molecular biology, agrees. He points out that no GE crops, to date, were designed with the goal of increasing yield, and while "yield benefits have been observed" they've occurred "sporadically and in a year-, location-, and crop-dependent manner." He does not find evidence for decreased pesticide use in GE crops either.
About the prospect of future, drought-resistant varieties of crops, Heinemann dismisses them as a pipe dream because "the physiology of stress tolerance involves the interactions of many different genes working in a complex, environmentally-responsive network... genetic engineering is unlikely to produce reliable drought tolerance in most crops grown in actual field conditions because it is unable to mix and match so many genes at once." (A Mexican peasant might also add that non-GE varieties of drought-tolerant corn already exist in Mexico, the birthplace of corn, where indigenous peoples have developed them via seed saving over centuries.)
But facts and science be as they may, Monsanto and Roger Beachy are not the one ones making these very same claims. The CEO of the biotech company Syngenta, Michael Mack, takes the argument one step further, slamming organics as well. In 2009, he said, "Organic food is not only not better for the planet. It is categorically worse." His explanation? Organic farming takes up "about 30 percent more land" than non-organic farming for the same yield. (Syngenta's slogan, by the way, is "Grow more from less.")
A fact check of Mr. Mack's math finds that multiple studies estimate an increase in productivity of about 80 percent from switching to organic methods in the developing world. (In the U.S., we would see a slight decrease in productivity, but only by about eight percent - hardly a problem for a country that boasts nearly twice as many calories as required for each man, woman, and child.) Just last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter called for a switch to agroecology (that is, organic farming) as it "outperforms large-scale industrial farming for global food security." He cited the "widest study ever conducted on agroecological approaches" that found an average crop gain of 79 percent from going organic.
Where is the biotech industry - and the U.S. government - getting its statements if not from facts and studies? Try market research. Beginning in 1997, the International Food Information Council began researching consumer acceptance of GE foods. Consumers didn't - and still don't - know much about biotechnology. In 1997, only 53 percent said they had heard nothing or "a little" about biotechnology, and that number went up to 66 percent in 2010. In 2010, nearly two-thirds did not know if any foods produced through biotechnology were in the supermarket, and eight percent said they thought there were not any biotech foods in supermarkets. The 28 percent who gave the correct answer - yes - proved their ignorance in the next question when they named which GE foods they thought were available commercially. Top wrong answers included vegetables (37 percent), fruits (19 percent, although to be fair, papayas can be GE), and meat, eggs, or fish (14 percent). Whereas most corn, soy, and canola are genetically engineered (and those are ingredients in most processed foods), only 21 percent named corn, four percent named soy, and less than one percent named processed foods.
So what do biotech companies do with such consumer ignorance? Acceptance of their products is something they are clearly worried about, as they do not ever label any foods as genetically engineered. (Currently labeling genetically engineered foods is not required, although a bill recently introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich would require it.) But as they've watched their market research show little signs that a majority of consumers are warming up to GE foods over the past decade, they've hit upon a few messages that work. While only 32 percent of 2010 survey respondents say they view biotechnology as "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable," a whopping 77 percent said they would be very or somewhat likely to buy a produce item like a tomato that was genetically engineered to require fewer pesticides.
They asked one question three times in three various forms: "How likely would you be to buy bread, crackers, cookies, cereals, or pasta made with flour from wheat that had been modified by biotechnology?" While only 41 percent initially responded favorably, 73 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to buy that product if it were modified to require less land, water, and/or pesticides. That number goes up to 80 percent if that GE wheat was "produced using sustainable practices to feed more people using less resources (such as land and pesticides)." Voila! The magic bullets for biotech acceptance: feeding the world and reducing pesticide use.
Clearly this is advice that biotech companies have taken to heart. And it's apparently convincing enough that it is winning over influential figures and government officials, even if their last job wasn't at a Monsanto-funded non-profit. The key phrase to look for is "In order to feed a population of nine billion people, the world needs to double food production by 2050." Typically a plea for biotechnology and genetic engineering specifically or a more general call for using science and technology to achieve this goal follows such a statement. A few years ago, one might have only heard this rhetoric at the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization conference, but by 2009 it was on the lips of such luminaries as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAD Chief Tom Vilsack. Food production alone is not the problem, as the world currently produces enough food to feed every person on earth and yet one billion people are hungry. Nor is food production in the future necessarily the problem, as the calculation that we need to double food production relies on an assumption that the rest of the world will adopt an American-style diet heavy on factory farmed grain-fed meat (a prospect that the climate crisis and the end of oil make less probable each day). But the idea is such an attractive one that it is now the basis of a new government initiative called Feed the Future, aimed at exporting U.S. biotechnology to the developing world. Apparently the Obama administration never got the memo that the biotech industry's "feed the world" rhetoric was based on market research to promote GE food acceptance among Americans and not on its ability to deliver.
July 14, 2010
Bayer AG lost its fifth straight trial over contaminated U.S. long-grain rice to a Louisiana farmer who claimed the company's carelessness with its genetically engineered seed caused exports to plunge.
A jury in St. Louis said today the company should pay damages of $500,248. The company previously lost two trials in state court and two in federal, for a total of more than $52 million in jury awards.
It faces about 500 additional lawsuits in federal and state courts with claims by 6,600 plaintiffs. It hasn't won any rice trials so far. The Louisiana grower, Danny Deshotels, and his family claimed the company and its Bayer CropScience unit were negligent in testing their genetically modified LibertyLink seed, causing a dive in exports to Europe.
"Five different juries under the laws of four different states in both federal and state courts now have unanimously found that Bayer was negligent and liable to rice farmers for damages," Don Downing, Deshotels' lawyer said after the trial. "Not a single juror in any of the five trials found for Bayer."
Bayer, based in Leverkusen, Germany, denied it was negligent and disputed the damages claims. It said after today's verdict it "will consider its legal options."
"The facts in this specific case do not support an award of damages," Greg Coffey, a CropScience spokesman, said in the statement. "The company maintains that it acted responsibly and appropriately at all times in the handling of its biotech rice."
Sixth Trial Coming
A sixth case is scheduled to begin trial July 19 in state court in Arkansas, followed by a federal trial in St. Louis in October, Coffey said yesterday in an interview.
Lawyer for growers will continue pushing these cases to trial "until Bayer decides it is willing to provide fair compensation through settlement," Downing said after the verdict.
Bayer has been participating in mediation discussions in the federal lawsuits in St. Louis, Coffey said. The company is "hopeful that all parties might approach resolution in a positive and reasonable manner," he said.
The newest loss might spur Bayer into "thinking seriously about a settlement," said law professor Carl Tobias, of the University of Richmond in Virginia. "Five in a row seems pretty convincing," he said in a phone interview. "But Bayer might think it's worth it to test out a few more."
Farmers in five states claim the company and Bayer CropScience negligently contaminated the U.S. long-grain rice crop with its genetically modified LibertyLink seed, leading to export restrictions, bans on two kinds of high-yield seeds and a plunge in prices.
The rice growers' "reputation for producing a pure product was destroyed, with the export market lost," Downing told the federal court jury yesterday. "It was Bayer's carelessness, and Danny Deshotels was hurt."
Bayer didn't dispute contamination. It denied it was negligent and said rice sales rebounded after an initial drop.
The farmers' losses "were minimal and short-lived," Mark Ferguson, the company's trial attorney, said in closing arguments at the trial. "Global prices recovered quickly with the discovery of other markets."
Deshotels lives in Lettsworth, Louisiana, about 100 miles north of New Orleans and two miles west of the Mississippi River, Downing said.
The grower asked for about $1.5 million in damages for lost sales and contamination of his land, seed and equipment.
The jury of seven women began deliberating yesterday.
The LibertyLink brand was being studied at Louisiana State University in an effort to create a crop that could be safely sprayed with a weed-killer.
In August 2006, the U.S. Agriculture Department announced that the modified seed had been found in commercially grown long-grain rice in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri.
Five days later, the European Union announced a ban on U.S. imports to the 27 countries in that group, Downing said at the start of the trial. Within four days of the announcement, a decline in rice futures had cost U.S. growers about $150 million, according to the farmers' complaint in federal court in St. Louis.
Rice Held Safe
Restrictions were eased after Bayer's rice was declared safe by the Agriculture Department in November 2006.
There are no claims in the rice litigation that LibertyLink harmed or risked human health. Farmers say the contamination cost them the European market for long-grain rice and that sales haven't rebounded.
"Our rice exports to the EU fell off a cliff, almost literally, and you will see that they still haven't recovered," Downing said in opening statements at the trial June 21. Europeans "are still eating rice, but the customers we were selling to are now buying from these countries: Thailand, Pakistan, India and Uruguay."
Farmers in five states asked to be allowed to pursue their claims in class action, or group suits, one action per state. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry in St. Louis in August 2008 refused, instead scheduling test trials on typical claims. The outcomes may provide the basis for settlement negotiations.
Bayer's previous federal court losses were for about $2 million in December and about $1.5 million in February. Those juries didn't award punitive damages.
The two state court losses both came in Arkansas. The first verdict was for about $1 million, including $500,000 in punitive damages. The second was for almost $48 million, with $42 million in punitive damages, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Bayer filed post-trial motions to set aside the verdicts in federal court and "is seeking appellate review in the two state trials," said Coffey, the company spokesman.
The case is In Re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, 06- md-1811, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).