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February 2007 Updates

Monsanto Merger Sows Fears over Skewed Seed Market

By Michelle Chen
The New Standard
February 26, 2007

A pending merger in the cotton-seed industry is prompting sharp legal and environmental criticisms of biotechnology in US agriculture.

The proposed merger would fuse the world's largest seed company, Monsanto, with one of the country's leading cotton-seed firms, Delta and Pine Land. Announced last year, the deal is now awaiting antitrust clearance from the Justice Department.

Consumer watchdogs tracking biotechnology's impacts want the federal government to intervene, arguing that the merger would come at the expense of agricultural diversity and the environment.

The US cotton-seed market is already highly concentrated. According to an analysis of industry and government agricultural data by the Center for Food Safety and the International Center for Technology Assessment, nearly 90 percent of US cotton acreage is planted with genetically engineered cotton-seed varieties, nearly all containing traits developed by Monsanto.

Biotech traits - developed by genetic manipulation of seeds - include enhanced protection against insects and "herbicide resistance," which enables heavier chemical spraying to kill weeds while sparing the crop.

The groups' report linked the expansion of genetically engineered cotton with a more than three-fold growth in cotton-seed prices from 1995 to 2005, as technology-related costs drove up seed prices for farmers.

Monsanto has criticized the report, arguing in a recent letter to Wired News that farmers flock to biotech cotton simply because "the technology works and provides them with real economic and environmental advantages."

But the report's author, Bill Freese, told The NewStandard dominant seed corporations have skewed the market, heavily promoting profitable engineered strains while limiting the availability of less expensive quality conventional seed.

The cost of biotechnology is also borne by the environment, Freese warned, as herbicide-resistant plants drive up pesticide use.

According to an analysis of government data by University of Tennessee researchers, use of the weed killer glyphosate - marketed as Roundup by Monsanto - increased by over 750 percent from 1997 to 2003, following the introduction of Monsanto's Roundup Ready cotton seeds. The report cites research linking heavy spraying of glyphosate with damage to soil and local amphibian populations, as well as the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds.

Freese said conventional farms, especially organic crops, are vulnerable to "drift" of aerially sprayed herbicide, and cross-pollination from prevalent biotech crops.

The report predicts the Monsanto merger will accelerate the ongoing trend of consolidation in cotton farming, because herbicide-resistant strains makes it easier for large-scale cotton producers to expand by replacing human labor with intensive pesticide spraying.

With Monsanto rapidly penetrating the seed market in food crops, Freese said the company's tightening grasp over cotton should alarm both farmers and consumers. "We all have a stake in who produces the seeds that we depend on," he said. "It's very dangerous when one company gains this level of control over the seed supply."

Read the Center for Food Safety report PDF


Planned Merger Angers Black Farmers

By Julie Goodman
Clarion Ledger
February 23, 2007

A national black farmers group says a proposed merger between Monsanto Co. and Delta and Pine Land will create a monolopy and force black farmers out of the business. The association represents 80,000 members, predominantly small planters.

Black farmers in Mississippi and around the country are bracing for a major seed company merger they say threatens to create a monopoly that will price them out of the farming business.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. is forging ahead with a plan to purchase Mississippi's Scott-based cottonseed company Delta and Pine Land, and a national black farmers group says its opposition to the deal has gotten lost in the mix

"If this merger goes through, it's going to have a drastic effect on black farmers and small farmers around the country," said John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association.

"If this merger goes through, there is literally no competition for cottonseed, soybean seed and corn seed, genetically engineered."

The association represents 80,000 members around the country, primarily small producers, and has its biggest membership in Mississippi.

Delta and Pine Land operates the largest and longest-running private cottonseed breeding program in the world while Monsanto, one of the world's largest agricultural products companies, makes Roundup, the world's best-selling herbicide.

The deal, still awaiting U.S. Department of Justice approval, would mean a monopoly on the market, and seed prices would shoot up, Boyd said.

"It would be just like going to one supermarket and that supermarket sets the price for everything and we don't have any option but to go to that one supermarket."

Monsanto, which sells seeds and also licenses technology for insect protection and herbicide tolerance - one way farmers can help keep costs low - could not say whether prices would go up.

"It's difficult to speculate on pricing decisions in the future, but I would say that bottom line is, we've always looked to price our technologies based on the value the technology and the seed is delivering to the farmer," said company spokesman Lee Quarles.

Monsanto broadly licenses the technologies to other cottonseed companies so farmers can access the technologies in the seed brands they prefer to plant, he said.

A portion of the money the company makes is reinvested into new technology for farmers, including cotton farmers.

Quarles said a monopoly is not in the works, pointing to other companies farmers will have access to, including Stoneville, which Monsanto currently owns and could become an independent brand if the merger goes through.

"Just as we have announced that we would have a proposed merger with Delta and Pine Land, we've also announced that we would divest of the Stoneville business if that's required by the Department of Justice."

Boyd, who raises corn, soybeans and wheat, said he has asked Congress to hold hearings on the issue, but has not yet heard back on a decision.

One farmer in Mississippi, Rodalton Hart, fears he will go out of business if the merger goes through.

"You ain't got no control over it and with the cost of fertilizer and chemicals and everything that goes in to it, ain't no way anybody can survive," said Hart, 56, a cotton farmer in Lexington with 1,500 acres.

"They can go up as high as they want to go and you ain't got no control over it. It's just like the airlines. You can't control it," he said.

"You have to pay labor; you have to pay rent; you got to pay for seeds and chemicals ... equipment. It just goes on and on and on. I mean, everything comes out of the farmer's pocket."

The stakes are already high in farming, Hart said.

"Farming is risky. You're already on the edge. You're already on the verge ... Ain't no way you can survive," he said.

"Unless the government steps in and regulates the prices, we're just messed up."

Read the National Black Farmers Association RESOLUTION opposing Monsanto's acquisition of Delta and Pine Land Company.


RP Reviews Bayer's GMO Rice Bid

February 19, 2007

The Philippines' agriculture department on Thursday it was reviewing an application by a division of Bayer AG for the domestic sale of genetically modified (GMO) rice for food and animal feed.

The Bureau of Plant Industry is checking the safety of the GMO rice of Bayer CropScience known as LLRICE 62, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap told reporters.

"We are still reviewing the application," he said.

A government scientist said the application by Bayer would allow the Philippines to import GMO rice for food, feed and processing but not for planting.

The GMO rice has a protein known as Liberty Link, which allows the crop to withstand applications of a herbicide used to kill weeds.

The Philippines was the first country in Asia to commercialize GMO corn in 2002.

The country has since allowed about 20 varieties of GMO corn to be imported, of which two could be planted by local farmers, a scientist at the Bureau of Plant Industry told Reuters.

The same scientist said that the GMO rice application from Bayer has been pending since August 2006.

Environmentalist, consumer groups and even some church leaders have warned the government against allowing the entry of GMO rice due to fears of its effect on health and the environment.

"Rice is a staple food and source of livelihood of more than 50 million farmers in our country, with roots in our own culture and traditions and thus should be taken with utmost care," Agnes Lintao, policy officer at NGO group SEARICE said in a statement.

"The approval will allow the first genetically modified rice into the country, and would thus set a precedent," SEARICE said.

Last week, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales asked the government to look into the sale of GMO rice in local stores and stop the import of rice from the United States.

"We believe that we should strongly oppose any experiment or attempt to use genetically engineered food that are not safe or good to the environment," Rosales said in a letter to Arroyo, a copy of which was released by his office.

"We should feed our people with food that are produced through natural means."


The First Independent Study of Genetically Engineered LibertyLink Rice

By Dr. Joe Cummins
Amberwaves Special Report

LibertyLink Rice, the first GM (genetically modified) rice developed in America, was cultivated in Texas in 2001 by Aventis. However, because of the controversy surrounding StarLink Corn, another one of Aventis's GM products, and its contamination of conventional and organic crops, the company decided to destroy all 5 million pounds of the rice, and it never came to market.

Bayer subsequently bought Aventis CropScience and took over ownership of the LibertyLink varieties. In 2006, an unapproved strain of LibertyLink Rice contaminated much of the rice crop in the American South, sparking international boycotts by Japan, Europe, Russia, and other regions and resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in revenues to farmers.

Amberwaves, a grassroots organization devoted to preserving natural and organic rice, wheat, and other essential foods, commissioned Professor Joe Cummins, a Canadian geneticist, to prepare a scientific report on LibertyLink Rice and its possible effects on human health and the environment.

LibertyLink Rice is rice resistant to the herbicide glufosinate (Liberty or Basta); it was produced by the AgrEvro company (which consolidated and is currently Aventis). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approved the AgrEvro petition (98-329-01p 26 Jan 2001 found online at ( docs/9832901p_det_ea.HTM) to determine non regulated status for the glufosinate tolerant rice. The APHIS review included a cursory environment assessment concluding that the rice will not harm the environment. The plants will have no plant pathogenic properties, are not likely to become weeds, will not increase weediness of cultivated or weedy species with which they interbreed, will not harm beneficial organisms nor will they damage agricultural commodities. The genetically modified (GM) rice were obtained by transforming rice varieties M202 and Bengal, respectively, with the bar gene derived from the soil-borne bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus. The bar gene encodes phosphinothricin-N-acetyltransferase (PAT), an enzyme which inactivates the herbicide glufosinate ammonium. The bar gene was introduced via a well characterized method that introduces DNA directly without the use of vector agents according to the APHIS report. It is presumed that the cryptic comment means that the rice was transformed using the biolistic (gene gun) method, and APHIS seemed unaware of the viral promoter (CaMV promoter is usually employed), antibiotic resistance gene, and residual bacterial genes from the plasmid used in propagating the genes used in the engineering of the rice. The 18-page APHIS report seemed to have been generated using the bureaucratic rubber stamp. For example, there is clear agreement that the glufosinate tolerance gene will be spread to the weed red rice, but APHIS agrees with AgrEvro that the resistant red rice does not pose a threat because it can be controlled by other herbicides!

Rice is an allotetraploid whose cultivated varieties are relatively current in evolutionary terms (Ge et al 1999). Allotetraploids are made up of two or more diploid chromosome sets combined from grass species to make hybrids. Rice is the world's most important food crop. GM rice is effected by somaclonal variation-a form of gene and chromosome instability that results from the tissue culture embryos used to propagate GM crops (Labra et al 2001). Somaclonal variation occurs in tissue culture embryos from both normal and GM crops, but the effect is greatest in GM crops. Somaclonal variation is caused by replication of genetic elements called retrotransposons that replicate in the plant cell nucleus and are inserted into structural genes to cause mutation and chromosome rearrangement (Agrawal et al 2001). The genetic changes activated in producing GM crops may be numerous and subtle and may produce gradual loss in productivity of GM varieties or unexpected toxic plant products. Govermental regulators seem to have been blissfully unaware of such complications. For example, glyphosate resistant soybean cultivars had significantly lower yield than did sister lines which were not genetically modified (Elmorer et al 2001). Regulators should require full and truthful analysis of GM crops.

In conclusion, government regulators appear to be closely allied to the chemical industry giants. USDA engages in commercial enterprises on a grand scale in joining commercial interests to patent numerous genetic engineering techniques including the terminator procedure which benefits only commercial interests and works against farmers who traditionally save seed. USDA and the food and drug administration (FDA) are too closely associated with commercial interests, and such association seems to blind the government agencies to legitimate concerns and clear dangers. Truly independent regulators that are fully protected from industrial and political influences are needed at this time.

Notes on the Teratogenicity of Glufosinate

Glufosinate is a herbicide that kills almost everything green; it is used extensively with genetically engineered crops including corn, canola, and soybeans. The herbicide resistant crops were approved by the Canadian and United States governments, even though there was clear evidence that the herbicide caused birth defects in experimental animals. The chemical acts by causing premature cell death in the immature brain by a process called apotosis. It also prevents development of glutamate channels in the brain, thus disrupting cellular communication. The birth defects observed in animals included brain defects leading to behavioral changes. Cleft lip and skeletal defects or kidney and urethra injury were observed in treated newborn. The herbicide also caused miscarriage and reduced conception in treated mothers. Exposure of male farm workers caused birth defects in their children.

Glufosinate use may be increased greatly by introduction of liberty link crops such as corn, canola, and soybeans along with commercial rice. The herbicide may also be used as a desiccant prior to grain harvest on crops that are not resistant to glufosinate (such applications are used to mature grains threatened by frost damage). Such applications are undesirable because the microbial activity is reduced at low temperature and more teratogen will enter the surface and groundwater.

References on LibertyLink Rice

  • Agrawal, G, Yamazaki, M, Kobayashi, M, Hirochika, R, Miyao, A and Hirochika, H "Screening of rice viviparous mutants generated by endogenous retrotransposon Tos17 insertion tagging of a zeaanthin epoxidase4 gene and a novel OsTATC gene" Zool Plant Physiology 125, 1248-57
  • Elmore, R, Roeth, F, Nelson, L, Shapiro, C, Klein, R, Knezevic, S and Martin, A "Glyphosare resistant soybean cultivars yields compared with sister lines" 2001 Agron J. 93, 408-12
  • Ge ,S, Sang, T, Lu, B, and Hong, D "Phylogeny of rice genomes with emphasis on origins of allotertraploid species" 1999 Proc. Natnl Acad Sci USA 96, 14400-5
  • Labra, M. Savini, C, Bracale, M, Pelucchi, N, Columbo, L, Bardini, M and Sala, F "Genomic changes in transgenic rice plants produed by infecting calli with Agrobacterium tumefacians "2001 Plant Cell Reports On line reports DOI 10.1007/s002990100329

References on Glufosinate and Birth Defects

  • EPA/OTS:Doc #88-920003678
  • FuJii, T. and Ohata, T. J.Toxicol.Sci. 1994, 19, 328.
  • Garcia, A., Benavides, F., Fletcher, T. and Orts, E. "Paternal exposure to pesticides and congenital malformations" Scand J Work Environ Health 24, 473-80, 1998)
  • Watanabe, T. and Iwase, T. Terat.Carcinog. Mutagen 1996, 287, 1996
  • Watanabe, T. Neurosci Lett. 1997, 222, 17
  • Watanabe, T. Teratology 1995, 4, 25B

Professor Joe Cummins, professor emeritus of genetics at the University of Western Ontario, is one of the foremost scientists active in the campaign to protect the safety of crops, foods, human health, and the environment. Prior to joining Western in 1972, he taught genetics at Rutgers University and the University of Washington (Seattle) and since 1968 has been involved in a range of environmental issues related to mercury, asbestos, PCBs, pesticides, toxic waste, and genetic engineering. Prof. Cummins is the author of more than 200 scientific and popular articles and has published recently in Nature Biotechnology, The Ecologist, and Biotechnology and Development Review. He lives in London, Ontario, Canada. His e-mail:


Declaration of Seed Sovereignty

Board of County Commissioners
Santa Fe County

Following an initiative last March by the Traditional Native American Farmers' Association and others, Santa Fe County, NM has passed a landmark "Declaration of Seed Sovereignty," addressing GMO contamination in context of the specific threats it poses to indigenous agricultures. More information is available at

Whereas, our ability to grow food is the culmination of countless generations of sowing and harvesting seeds and those seeds are the continuation of an unbroken line from our ancestors to us and to our children and grandchildren.

Whereas, our ancestors developed a relationship with plants that allowed their cultivation for food and medicine and this has been a central element of our culture and our survival for millennia in regions throughout the world.

Whereas, the concurrent development of cultures of Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas resulted in a plethora of food and crop types including grains such as maize and wheat; legumes such as beans and lentils; fruits such as squash and chile; vegetables such as spinach and those of the cabbage family; and roots such as potatoes and turnips.

Whereas these foods and crops, though developed independently of each other, came together in New Mexico with the meeting of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American cultures to create a unique and diverse indigenous agricultural system and land-based culture.

Whereas, just as our families are attached to our homes, our seeds learn to thrive in their place of cultivation by developing a relationship with the soil, water, agricultural practices, ceremonies, and prayers; thereby giving seeds a sacred place in our families and communities.

Whereas, the way in which seeds become attached to a place makes them native seeds, also known as landraces, also makes them an important element of the generational memory of our communities.

Whereas the continued nurturing of native seeds or landraces has provided the basis for the community coming together for communal work such as cleaning acequias and preparing fields as well as in ceremony, prayers, and blessings; thereby binding our communities, traditions, and cultures together.

Whereas the practices embodied in working the land and water and caring for seeds provides the basis for our respectful connection to the Earth and with each other.

Whereas, our practices in caring for native seeds (landraces) and growing crops provide for much of our traditional diet and results in our ability to feed ourselves with healthy food that is culturally and spiritually significant.

Whereas, clean air, soil, water and landscapes have been essential elements in the development and nurturing of seeds as well as the harvesting of wild plants; and that these elements of air, land, and water have been contaminated to certain degrees.

Whereas corporate seed industries have created a technology that takes the genetic material from a foreign species and inserts it into a landrace and is known as Genetically Engineered (GE) or transgenic crops.

Whereas seed corporations patent the seeds, genetics, and/or the processes used in the manipulation of landraces, and have gone so far as to patent other wild plants or the properties contained in the plants.

Whereas GE crops have escaped into the environment with maize in Oaxaca, Mexico and canola in Canada and crossed into native seeds and wild plants.

Whereas organic farmers have been sued by seed corporations when these patented genetic strains have been identified in the farmers' crops, even though the farmers were unable to see or stop pollen from genetically engineered crops from blowing over the landscape and into their fields, thus contaminating the farmers' crops.

Whereas the effect of this technology on the environment or human health when consumed is not fully understood.

Whereas the seed industry refuses to label GE seeds and food products containing GE ingredients.

Whereas the pervasiveness of GE crops in our area cannot then be fully known due to the lack of labeling and therefore carries the potential for genetic pollution on our landraces.

Whereas countries such as Japan, England, and countries in Africa have refused genetically modified foods and prohibit the introduction of GE crops on their lands because of their unknown health effects.

Whereas indigenous cultures around the world are the originators, developers, and owners of the original genetic material used in the genetic modification of crops by corporations today.

Whereas this declaration must be a living, adaptable document that can be amended as needed in response to rapidly changing GE technology that brings about other potential assaults to seeds and our culture.

Now therefore be it resolved, that the Board of County Commissioners of Santa Fe County supports the following:

  • The traditional farmers of Indo-Hispano and Native American ancestry of current-day northern New Mexico collectively and intentionally seek to continue the seed-saving traditions of our ancestors and maintain the landraces that are indigenous to the region of northern New Mexico.
  • Seek to engage youth in the continuation of the traditions of growing traditional foods, sharing scarce water resources, sharing seeds, and celebrating our harvests.
  • Reject the validity of corporations' ownership claims to crops and wild plants that belong to our cultural history and identity.
  • Object to the seed industry's refusal to label seeds or products containing GE technology and ingredients and demand all genetically modified seeds and foods containing GE ingredients in the State of New Mexico to be labeled as such.
  • Object to the cultivation of GE seeds in general but especially within range of our traditional agricultural systems that can lead to the contamination of our seeds, wild plants, traditional foods, and cultural property.
  • We will work with each other, local, tribal, and state governments to create zones that will be free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and GE technology.
  • We will also work together to address other environmental abuses that contaminate our air, soil and water quality that certainly affects our health, the health of our seeds and agriculture, and the health of future generations.
  • We will work together with the traditional farmers representing various acequia, Pueblo, tribal and surrounding communities to create, support, and collaborate toward projects and programs focused on revitalization of food traditions, agriculture, and seed saving and sharing.

Passed, approved and adopted this 30th day of January, 2007

Board of County Commissioners
Virginia Vigil, Chair
Valerie Espinoza, Santa Fe County Clerk
Stephen C. Ross, Santa Fe County Attorney

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