September 10, 2010
UPLAND, CA - This October, more than 580 natural food stores nationwide will take part in the first ever Non-GMO Month, celebrating consumers' right to choose food and products that do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organized by the non-profit Non-GMO Project, the event coincides with the launch of the "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal on retail products.
The process of genetic modification, which takes place in a laboratory, typically merges DNA from different species, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. Virtually all commercial GMOs are bred to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. None of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increase yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.
Studies, meanwhile, increasingly show a correlation between consumption of GMOs and an array of health risks. With U.S. consumer confidence shaken by ongoing food safety failures, distrust of GMOs is growing. As a result, more and more consumers are seeking non-GMO choices, and Nielson reported in February of this year that "GMO-free" is now the fastest growing store brand label claim.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that GMOs currently are in approximately 80% of conventional processed foods in the United States, but they are not labeled. This is in sharp contrast to most other developed nations around the world, where there are significant restrictions or outright bans on GMOs because they're not considered proven safe.
To fill the information gap, a "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal has been created. Manufacturers earn the seal through compliance with rigorous GMO avoidance standards, including ingredient testing, as part of the nation's first third party non-GMO verification program. Nearly 900 products have been verified to date, with thousands more in the process of becoming verified and new products joining the program every day. Non-GMO Month celebrations will draw consumer attention to Non-GMO Project products, as well as educate them about the GMO issue.
"The Non-GMO Project stays true to our mission to offer food in its most natural and unadulterated state, " said Michael Besancon, Whole Foods Market senior global vice president of purchasing, distribution and marketing. "We're committed to offering non-GMO food and products and to educating consumers so they can make informed choices." Whole Foods Market stores nationwide will be participating in Non-GMO Month, and Whole Foods also is in the process of having its entire 365 private label brand verified to the Non-GMO Project Standard.
Close to 300 independent retailers and co-ops also are participating in Non-GMO Month. "Retailers started the Non-GMO Project because of consumer concern and requests for non-GMO foods," said Corinne Shindelar, CEO of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA). "We have a responsibility to consumers to ensure the integrity of our food system, and among shoppers who value safe, healthy food, there is a strong desire to avoid GMOs. Non-GMO Month is a fantastic opportunity to give people the information and non-GMO choices they are looking for."
By Andrew Pollack
New York Times
September , 2010
A salmon genetically engineered to grow quickly is safe to eat and poses little risk to the environment, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.
A salmon genetically engineered to grow faster and an unmodified salmon of the same age.
The assessment makes it more likely that the fish will become the first genetically modified animal to enter the American food supply.
Food from the salmon ?is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon,? the F.D.A. said in its analysis, which was posted on its Web site Friday. ?There is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from this animal.?
The salmon can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of the 30 required for a regular farmed Atlantic salmon, according to its developer, AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Mass.
AquaBounty has been trying for years to win approval for the salmon, a goal that now appears within reach. The analysis by the F.D.A. staff was in preparation for three days of public meetings on the salmon that will start on Sept. 19.
The F.D.A. is expected to make a final decision on approval in the weeks after the meetings. The company has said it will take two to three years after approval for the fish to reach American supermarkets.
A coalition of 31 consumer, animal welfare, environmental and fisheries groups announced opposition to the approval last week, citing, in particular, concerns that the salmon could escape and possibly outcompete wild salmon for food or mates.
But AquaBounty said the fish would be grown only inland. And only sterile females will be sold, limiting any ability to reproduce. The F.D.A., in its analysis, basically agreed that the chance of escape or ecological disruption was small. The salmon ?are not expected to have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment,? it concluded.
But the analysis is not likely to satisfy critics, in part because much of the data upon which the F.D.A. based its conclusions was submitted by AquaBounty.
Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, a Washington advocacy group, said that only a handful to a few dozen fish were used for some of the studies on the safety of the fish flesh or its potential to cause allergic reactions.
?We?re actually pretty amazed at how small their samples were,? he said. He also pointed to information in the documents suggesting that up to 5 percent of the fish might not be sterile because the process is not perfect.
The AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is kept active all year round by a genetic on-switch from a different fish, the ocean pout. Normally, salmon produce growth hormone only in warm weather. So with the hormone produced year round, the AquAdvantage salmon grow faster.
One issue that might attract some discussion at the public meetings is that the engineered salmon have slightly higher levels of insulinlike growth factor 1, a hormone related to growth hormone. Some studies suggest that high levels of the insulinlike hormone in the bloodstream are associated with greater cancer risk, though it is not clear how much food contributes to hormone levels in the blood.
However, the F.D.A. did an analysis that concluded that even if people ate a lot of the salmon, it would not make a significant difference in the amount of the hormone they would consume.
Genetically engineered animals are regulated by the F.D.A. under rules covering animal drugs. The agency?s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee will discuss the application on Sept. 19 and 20 in Rockville, Md. The next day the agency will hold a public meeting to discuss whether or how food from the salmon should be labeled.
By Dr. Brian John
Open Letter - GM Free Cymru
September 10, 2010
Dear Commissioner Dalli,
Re: Ref D 705; Reply to an Open Letter: Commission proposals for national GM bans are deeply flawed
Thank you for the letter sent on your behalf by your Head of Cabinet.
I find your letter deeply disturbing, since it appears that you still do not understand why our organization (like many others) is fundamentally opposed to the new Commission proposals relating to GM crops and foods. As we have said over and again, we are NOT prepared to accept that EFSA is the final arbiter when it comes to the assessment of food and feed safety. That body (which as you know has been heavily criticized by the Commission itself, and by member states and NGOs) still sees its role as the facilitation of consents rather than the protection of the public. Over and again it has advised the Commission to issue consents based upon defective and even fraudulent scientific information contained in applicants' dossiers; it has refused to ask for truly independent safety research; it has taken nutritional studies into GM varieties and has interpreted them as safety studies; it has allowed very poor laboratory protocols to be employed by Monsanto and other GM corporations who can well afford to maintain much higher standards; it has ON EVERY OCCASION refused to modify its safety advice even where independent post-approval studies have shown evidence of harm arising from the consumption of GM food and feed; and it has refused to condemn research blocking by the GM corporations which effectively prevents ANY truly independent safety research from being undertaken prior to approvals being issued. We could continue with this catalogue of institutionalised corruption on the part of EFSA's GMO Panel -- which is well known to the Commission and to the Parliament -- but that would be too depressing.......
By Matthew L. Wald
New York Times
September 13, 2010
A biotech company plans to announce Tuesday that it has won a patent on a genetically altered bacterium that converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into ingredients of diesel fuel, a step that could provide a new pathway for making ethanol or a diesel replacement that skips several cumbersome and expensive steps in existing methods.
The bacterium's product, which it secretes like sweat, is a class of hydrocarbon molecules called alkanes that are chemically indistinguishable from the ones made in oil refineries. The organism can grow in bodies of water unfit for drinking or on land that is useless for farming, according to the company, Joule Unlimited of Cambridge, Mass.
"We make very clean, sulfur-free hydrocarbons that drop directly into the existing infrastructure for the production of diesel fuel," said William J. Sims, the chief executive of Joule. The object, he said, was not to be an alternative for fossil fuels, but "to become a viable replacement."
Joule said it was the first company to patent an organism that secretes hydrocarbon fuel made continuously, directly from sunlight. Other companies, including Amyris Biotechnologies of Emeryville, Calif., and LS9 of San Carlos, Calif., are working on organisms that will make fuel if fed sugar from corn or cellulosic sources, but Joule's bacterium does not require any sugar. Another company, Aurora Algae of Alameda, Calif., said Monday that it had developed an algae-based platform for production of fuel, pharmaceuticals and other valuable chemicals.
Development of a photosynthetic organism to make hydrocarbons is "an important step," said Eric J. Toone, the deputy director for technology at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a new agency within the Energy Department that makes grants for high-risk, high-reward projects. But Mr. Toone and others cautioned that there were other steps to be mastered before such a technology could be commercialized.
The organism is a cyanobacterium, also known as blue-green algae, although it is technically not an algae. It produces the fuel using photosynthesis, the process that plants use to make sugars and other materials from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight.
Alternative energy experts agree that photosynthesis is a promising avenue for biofuel research. The challenge is turning the resulting product into a fuel. Many companies are trying to develop an algae to do that job. But it requires energy to separate the algae from the water and then process the oil they make internally into a usable fuel. An organism that secretes the desired product directly avoids both problems.
In a test in Leander, Tex., Joule's bacteria strain produced ethanol. Different variants can also make polymers and other high-value chemicals that are ordinarily derived from petroleum, according to Joule.
The system can run on the carbon dioxide in ordinary air but will do better using the exhaust from a power plant, once pollutants like sulfur and nitrogen oxides have been removed, according to the company.
Joule said it would begin construction next year on a commercial plant, which it hopes will begin operations in 2012. The company predicts a yield of 15,000 gallons of diesel components per acre - far more fuel than an acre of corn grown for ethanol can produce.
Mr. Sims says the pilot project covers a little less than five acres. Because the process is modular, he said, a full-scale factory would simply mean making multiple copies of a smaller setup. And with a small amount of refining, he said, the hydrocarbons can be converted to an ingredient of jet fuel.
An independent expert, Matthew C. Posewitz, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, said that making an organism that secreted hydrocarbons was "definitely one of the most active areas in the whole game right now."
He said that Joule did not yet have a proved process, but that it had strong research and development capabilities. "They have some extreme horsepower within that company," he said.
Penn State University
September 14, 2010
University Park, Pa. -- When Penn State weed scientist David Mortensen told members of the U.S. House Oversight Committee this summer that the government should restrict the use of herbicide-tolerant crops and impose a tax on biotech seeds to fund research and educational programs for farmers, it caused quite a stir.
The growing problem with weeds that have become resistant to the most common herbicide used by American corn, soybean and cotton farmers has gotten so serious that new strategies are needed to combat them, he contended.
Mortensen should know. The professor of weed ecology in the College of Agricultural Sciences has spent his career researching weeds that affect agricultural production, sustainable ways to control them, and the relationships between crops, native and invasive weeds, and pollinators. He has published several peer-reviewed papers on the subject in recent years.
The resistant weeds cannot be killed by the sole use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. Roundup has become broadly popular with farmers since the advent more than a decade ago of soybeans, cotton, corn and other crops that are resistant to the chemical. The weeds now infest about 11 million acres -- a fivefold increase in three years, Mortensen reported.
The problem is most prevalent in cotton and soybean fields in the South but is spreading to other regions. And he told lawmakers it will get worse if farmers don't take measures to control the weeds, including nonchemical methods such as planting cover crops to suppress weeds, rotating crops and spraying herbicides other than glyphosate.
"With the rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds, farmers have to quit relying so heavily on Roundup to control weeds," he said. "Farmers value the convenience and simplicity of these crops without appreciating the long-term ecological and economic risks."
Testifying before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee July 28, Mortensen explained that weed management is a serious matter for farmers. While weed management almost always comprises several tactics, herbicide use is central and accounts for 70 percent of all pesticides used in agriculture.
"Since the mid-1990s, adoption of genetically engineered crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate has been widespread, and herbicide-resistant crops are now grown on more than 143 million acres of cropland internationally, with 92 percent of the U.S. soybean crop planted to glyphosate-resistant varieties," he said. "Genetic engineering makes it possible to take a crop that was formally susceptible to glyphosate and genetically transform it to be resistant to the plant-killing effects of the herbicide."
The adoption and widespread use of genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant crops has greatly changed how farmers manage weeds, enabling them to rely solely on a single-tactic approach to weed management (application of glyphosate). Unfortunately, Mortensen noted, this approach has resulted in an unintended, but not unexpected, problem -- a dramatic rise in the number of weed species that are resistant to glyphosate and a resulting decline in the effectiveness of glyphosate as a weed-management tool.
"During the period since the introduction of glyphosate-resistant crops, the number of weedy plant species that have evolved resistance to glyphosate has increased dramatically, from zero in 1995 to 19 in June of 2010," Mortensen said.
This list includes many of the most problematic weed species, such as common ragweed, horseweed, johnsongrass and several of the most common pigweeds -- many of which are geographically widespread.
"In practice, the problem of glyphosate resistance goes far beyond a species count," Mortensen said. "More important, perhaps, is the increase in acreage infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds. The reported extent of infestation in the United States has increased dramatically since just November of 2007, when glyphosate-resistant populations of eight weed species were reported on no more than 3,251 sites covering up to 2.4 million acres."
In the summer of 2009, glyphosate-resistant weeds were reported on as many as 14,262 sites on up to 5.4 million acres, and the most recent summary indicates 30,000 sites infested on up to 11.4 million acres, according to Mortensen. In a period of three years, the number of reported sites infested by glyphosate-resistant weeds has increased nine fold, while the maximum infested acreage increased nearly fivefold.
"There is reason to believe this trend will continue into the future," he said. "The cost of forestalling and controlling herbicide-resistant weeds is estimated to cost farmers almost $1 billion each year, at an additional cost of $10-20 per acre."
Mortensen expressed concern about herbicide- and germplasm-development companies responding to the glyphosate-resistance problem by developing a new generation of genetically engineered crops in which glyphosate-resistant cultivars are being engineered to have additional resistance traits introduced into the crop's genome.
"These additional gene inserts will confer resistance to other herbicide active ingredients, including 2,4-D and dicamba," he said. "For a variety of reasons, it is quite likely that such crops will be widely adopted. Disturbingly, that would result in a significant increase of older, higher use-rate herbicides in soybean and cotton production.
"If they are adopted in the way I expect they will be, herbicide use in soybean production would increase by an average of 70 percent in a relatively short time after the release of these new genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant cultivars."
Vapor drift of more toxic herbicides has been implicated in many incidents of crop injury and may have additional impacts on natural vegetation interspersed in agricultural landscapes, Mortensen told lawmakers. Scientists have documented that nontarget terrestrial plant injury was 75 to 400 times higher for dicamba and 2,4-D, respectively, than for glyphosate.
Together the herbicide and seed-breeding industries are moving to address the problem of resistance with crops that have been engineered to be resistant to multiple herbicide active ingredients, according to Mortensen. If these new crop introductions occur as reported, we should expect to see herbicide use continue to increase and a significant proportion of those added herbicides will be older, less environmentally benign compounds, he predicted.
Mortensen suggested that federal regulation should play a strong role in forestalling the further development of herbicide-resistant weeds. He advocated steps that could significantly improve the sustainability of weed-management practices in American agriculture.
"Biotech companies are trying to deal with the problem by engineering new crop varieties that will be immune to more than one herbicide, but even those products will eventually run into resistance problems if farmers aren't careful," he said. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service should require that registration of new herbicide/transgenic crop combinations explicitly address herbicide-resistance management.
"Regulations should limit repeated use of herbicides in ways that select for resistance or that result in increased reliance on greater amounts of herbicide to achieve weed control," Mortensen added. "We should provide environmental market incentives, possibly through the Farm Bill, to adopt a broader integration of tactics for managing weeds.
"Transgene seed and associated herbicides should be taxed and proceeds used to fund and implement research and education aimed at advancing ecologically based integrated weed management," he concluded.
September 16, 2010
International scientists confirm dangers of Roundup at GMO-Free Regions Conference in Brussels
Brussels: Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world's best-selling weedkiller Roundup, causes malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying and well below maximum residue levels in products presently approved in the European Union. This is reported in research (1) published by a group around Professor Andrés Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School and member of Argentina's National Council of Scientific and Technical Research.
Carrasco was led to research the embryonic effects of glyphosate by reports of high rates of birth defects in rural areas of Argentina where Monsanto's genetically modified "Roundup Ready" (RR) soybeans are grown in large monocultures sprayed from airplanes regularly. RR soy is engineered to tolerate Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the herbicide liberally to kill weeds while the crop is growing.
At a press conference during the 6th European Conference of GMO Free Regions in the European Parliament in Brussels Carrasco said, "The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy." Reporting of such problems started in 2002, two years after large scale introduction of RR soybeans in Argentina. The experimental animals share similar developmental mechanisms with humans.
The authors concluded that the results raise "concerns about the clinical findings from human offspring in populations exposed to Roundup in agricultural fields." Carrasco added, "I suspect the toxicity classification of glyphosate is too low. In some cases this can be a powerful poison."
The maximum residue level (MRL) allowed for glyphosate in soy in the EU is 20 mg/kg. The level was increased 200-fold from 0.1 mg/kg to 20 mg/kg in 1997 after GM RR soy was commercialized in Europe. Carrasco found malformations in embryos injected with 2.03 mg/kg glyphosate. Soybeans can contain glyphosate residues of up to 17mg/kg.
In August 2010 Amnesty International reported that an organized mob violently attacked people who gathered to hear Carrasco talk about his research in the town of La Leonesa, Chaco province. Witnesses implicated local agro-industry figures in the attack.
Carrasco is also the co-author of a report, "GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?" released on September 16 by a group of international scientists. The report documents a bulk of evidence in scientific studies on the harmful health and environmental impacts of GM RR soy and Roundup.
This report is released together with the testimonies of people who have suffered from such spraying. Viviana Peralta, a housewife from San Jorge, Santa Fe, Argentina was hospitalized together with her baby after Roundup spraying from planes flying near her home. Peralta and other residents launched a lawsuit that resulted in a regional court ban on the spraying of Roundup and other agrochemicals near houses.
September 17, 2010
Des Moines, IA -- Years ago, finding non-genetically modified seeds for crops was easy, but today fewer and fewer seed companies are offering them. John Gilbert farms near Iowa Falls, where he feeds dairy cows and hogs, using his own corn. He prefers non-GMO seeds in order to avoid any side effects in his livestock, but says it's becoming more difficult to find them for sale.
"This company I dealt with for a lot of years, which was farmer-owned before it became a subsidiary of Monsanto, had six or seven non-GMO varieties a year ago. I think for this year there's only going to be two."
While the industry contends GMO seeds are safe and says there is an increasing demand for them, 32 percent of conventional farmers wish their seed company offered more non-GMO options, according to a "Farm Journal" Summer 2010 on-line poll of readers.
Gilbert says the big seed companies are more interested in profits than in providing what farmers want.
"It's obviously an economic thing. The seed companies make a lot more money selling the modified versions because of the tech-fees they are collecting."
Practical Farmers of Iowa is hosting a U.S. Testing Network field day on Sept. 23 in Ames to connect farmers with seed salesmen and corn breeders who are increasing the number of non-GMO (conventional and organic) corn hybrid options that are available.