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June 2007 Updates

Congress May End Ban on Genetically Modified Crops

By John Lobertini, USA
June 19, 2007

SACRAMENTO Congress is now considering a bill that would eliminate bans on genetically modified crops. Four California counties have such bans in place.

It used to be organic farmers only worried about pesticides and chemicals. But now they argue that genetically engineered crops threaten the purity of fruits and vegetables and the products they make.

It takes organic farmers, like Petaluma-based Spring Hill Jersey Cheese, three years to get approval to call themselves organic.

"I feel that a lot of the health issues a lot of Americans these days are having is related to the foods they're eating," said Laurelle Pankey of the Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Company.

In California, Marin, Mendocino, Santa Cruz and Trinity counties have already taken a stand and have passed their own bans.

"(Genetically modified crops) could blow on a farmer's land and the farmer could lose his or her markets as a result because it actually banned in exports to foreign markets," said Assemblyman John Laird, a Democrat from Santa Cruz.

The conflict is between those who think it's okay to genetically alter plants and animals and those who don't. Farmers can now plant corn that's resistant to pests. But there is also a downside: In Oregon, genetically engineered grass is proving unstable and it threatening the seed industry.

The ban was slipped into the farm bill late in the process.

Central Valley Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) is concerned it won't receive the proper debate.

"It's tough to get any particular issue dealt with in a very rapid fashion short of declaring war on somebody," Cardoza told CBS 5 on May 31st. "We don't move that fast in Congress."

Genetically engineered crops complicate farming. People ask lots of questions when the Upper Crust Baking Company shows up at farmers markets in the Bay Area. The wrong answer will kill a sale.

"If it doesn't meet their expectations, their taste and preferences, then they walk away. They are concerned," said Ryan Doutt of the Upper Crust Baking Company.

Concerns that could make it even tougher for some farmers to stay in business.


GM Contamination at 21 km and Farther

ISIS Press Release
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
June 27, 2007

No Co-Existence Possible
Researchers find GM pollen cross-pollinated non-GM plants at 21 km and predict much worse.

GM contamination rampant

Everyone knows by now that GM contamination of non-GM crops and produce is inevitable. There have been 142 contamination incidents recorded worldwide since 1997, according to the GM Contamination Register [1]. This is an underestimate, as not every shipment of non-GM produce has been tested, and not every incident registered.

Many wary consumers are buying organic to avoid eating GM food. But GM contamination of organic produce is no longer a rarity.

A recent case of serious contamination involved a shipment of organic soybeans to a processor in the United States. The processor had the shipment tested after being tipped off by a buyer. The lab result showed up a massive GM contamination of 20 percent. The organic certifier was unable to prosecute the supplier, also in the US, who sent a different sample for testing. The processor lost $100 000 in the incident, but the supplier was still selling his crop [2].

Perhaps in anticipation of widespread contamination of organic produce, the European Union Council of Agriculture Ministers voted in June 2007 that organic produce could contain up to 0.9 percent GM [3], despite the fact that, in March the same year, the European Parliament passed a directive setting the contamination threshold at 0.1 percent, which effectively maintained the organic industry's insistence on "zero tolerance" of GM contamination.

Current separation distances derisory

The current regulatory regime where GM and non-GM crops are allowed to grow in adjacent fields separated by tens or hundreds of metres is based on the assumption that the separation distances are sufficient to reduce cross-pollination levels to the acceptable minimum.

Pollen flow is not the only means of GM contamination. Other means involve GM seeds: impurities in the seed stock, volunteers from a previous crop, seeds dropped during transport, seeds inadvertently mixed by suppliers and during processing. Seeds persist much longer and can travel much farther. When the same machinery is used in several fields for harvesting, cultivation and spraying, seeds will be readily moved around from one field to another.

But even the extent of cross-pollination is greatly underestimated, as has been pointed out, pollen can remain airborne for hours and a 25 miles-per-hour wind speed is not unusual [4], which is why extensive contamination of certified seed stocks had been detected as far back as 2003 (Transgenic Contamination of Certified Seed Stocks, SiS 19).

Two recent scientific studies have now confirmed that the extent of cross-pollination has been greatly underestimated.

GM bentgrass pollen spreads 21 km or more

A research team led by scientists at the US Environment Protection Agency in Corvallis, Oregon, used an atmospheric model of wind blowing above fields planted with GM bentgrass to look at GM pollen dispersal, combining modelling with actual analysis of cross pollination with non-GM plants of the same or related species [4]. The GM bentgrass carried the glyphosate tolerance trait, which provided a ready selectable marker for cross-pollination.

During extensive greenhouse and laboratory testing, glyphosate-tolerant progeny of non-GM test plants were found up to 21 km from the GM fields.

This was consistent with the model of wind direction and speed, which showed movement of pollen up to 15 km from the GM fields by the first hour; and maximum travel distances increased to 40 and 50 km after two and three hours respectively. The three-hour cut off period was based on previous findings that the viability of the grass pollen dropped to zero within three hours.

These findings were at odds with previous small-scale experiments, involving hundreds of GM plants in small plots, which showed pollen dispersal limited to a few kilometres, basically because the source of GM pollen was too small. It is like putting a drop of ink in an ocean, which soon gets diluted.

In the present experiment, GM bent grass was planted in 162 hectares, at about 2.8 million seeds per hectare. This provided realistically high pollen concentration for the estimation of pollen dispersal. The maximum potential spread of 21 km observed was an underestimate because pollen trapping plants were not set much further than the distance observed. According to the model, GM contamination could be as far as 75 km downwind of the GM field.

Realistic modelling shows highly variable and unpredictable GM pollen spread, but most studies underestimate the real extent

In a similar theoretical study, researchers at Exeter University in the United Kingdom used records of wind direction and speed from 27 weather stations across Europe to predict pollen dispersal and wind-borne cross-pollination in maize, oilseed rape, sugar beet and rice [5]. Their results showed that cross pollination rates vary greatly according to the relative orientation of the GM and non-GM fields, and substantially from year to year. The main determining factor is wind direction, which accounts for most of the variation, 75 percent in the case of maize in the UK.

For maize and rice, cross-pollination rates are relatively high only if the non-GM field is downwind of the GM field with respect to the prevailing winds over the short pollination period. In contrast, contamination rates vary least with field orientation in crops with relatively long flowering periods, such as oilseed rape and sugar beet, because the distribution of wind directions becomes more even as the flowering period lengthens.

"Consequently, even replicated field trials may inaccurately estimate typical levels of cross-pollination, and therefore distort our perception of the separation distances required to achieve sub-threshold adventitious GM presence."

The best one could do is to predict the likely range in levels of cross-pollination based on limited data typically available from field trials, and to introduce time delays between the peak-flowering periods in adjacent fields to reduce cross-pollination to a specific level.

What the model actually says is that a contamination rate measured in any single experiment without knowing the prevailing winds is unreliable, because the wind changes direction from day to day and year to year. The model gives the mean maximum and minimum relative rates based on prevailing conditions, not the absolute rates. For example, suppose that a rate of 0.001 percent contamination was measured in a single field trial and the necessary meteorological records were not available. For the UK, the mean maximum and minimum relative cross-pollination rates for maize were estimated by the model to be 7 and 0.0005 respectively, in the case of maize grown in fields of dimension 500 x 200m, separated by 1 000 m. The maximum possible rate is given by the ratio of the maximum and minimum rates multiplied by the measures rate, i.e., 7/0.0005 x 0.001 = 14 percent, which is quite substantial. If the prevailing weather and wind conditions were known, then the estimate improves considerably. Suppose that the maize trial was carried out in Leeds in 1998, and the relative orientation of the GM and non-GM fields was 100o, and according to the prevailing wind conditions, the minimum relative rate was 0.5 while the maximum relative rate was 9.5, then a measured value of 0.001 percent would give a maximum possible rate of 9.5/0.5 x 0.001 = 0.019 percent, substantially less than the previous estimate. The moral in the example is that wind speed and direction should be measured during future field trials. No such data currently exist.

The researchers stress that their analysis is conservative, because if a very large quantity of pollen is released in strong gusts of wind, then cross-pollination rates will be even more extreme.

For oilseed rape, sugar beet and rice, contamination rates could be reduced by 50 percent when the lag between the times of peak flowering of the GM and non-GM fields is 13 days and by 90 percent when the lag is 24 days. For maize, similar reductions require lags of only 4 and 8 days respectively because of the shorter flowering period.

Maize, sugar beet and rice are almost entirely cross-pollinated by wind, whereas oilseed rape is cross-pollinated by both wind and insects.

Stop planting GM crops right now

It is clear that transgene contamination is inevitable and unavoidable if GM crops are planted. We must make the choice to stop planting GM crops right now, not only to avoid the massive economic losses involved in transgene contamination incidents, but also on the basis of the now irrefutable evidence that GM crops are neither safe not sustainable [6, 7] (Scientists for a GM Free Europe, No to GMOs, No To GM Science)

A fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS members' website.

An electronic version of this report, or any other ISIS report, with full references, can be sent to you via e-mail for a donation of £3.50. Please e-mail the title of the report to:


Monsanto Tells Pack of Lies in South Africa

By Trevor Wells
June 27, 2007

Monsanto tells a pack of lies to the Advertising Standards Authority and gets nailed

Mark Wells, an organic farmer from Cintsa on the Wild Coast, South Africa, challenged the claim of a Monsanto advert that no negative reactions to Genetically Modified food have been reported. The false claim was made in the Monstanto advert which appeared in the widely read "You Magazine" on February 15th, 2007. Wells produced evidence to repudiate the claim.

An arbitration panel consisting of eight members was chaired by former High Court Judge Mervyn King SC whose cutting edge 'King Report on Corporate Governance' is hailed as the best practice corporate governance bible.

In view of the prima facie evidence produced by the complainant, the ASA opened the proceedings by stating that the matter before them for consideration was whether the advert was in breach of two sections of the Code of Practice:

  1. Substantiation
  2. Misleading claims

Dealing with the substantiation section first the ASA ruled that the onus is on the advertiser to substantiate the claim.

Monsanto addressed the ASA at length and submitted inter alia that it had a strict code of conduct and that MON 863 was not their product.

The facts are that MON 863 is indeed a product of Monsanto and that Monsanto had suppressed the evidence of serious damage to the liver and kidneys of rats in their own GM maize trials until ordered to release this evidence by a German Court. Furthermore Monsanto had applied to the South African GM regulatory authority for a commodity release permit for MON 863.

Monsanto then argued that after the rats had contracted liver damage Monsanto contracted five 'independent' scientists to assess the data supplied by them and they concluded that MON 863 had no adverse effect as claimed by the complainant.

Monsanto then changed their tack in mid-stream and argued that rather than focus on the two conflicting studies the ASA should focus on the benefits of GM maize.

The substantiation section of the code provides that any advertiser must be able to substantiate any claim objectively with documentary evidence which emanates from an independent, credible and expert source acceptable to the ASA. The ASA then invoked this clause.

Monsanto's lawyers then pulled a letter out of the hat from Covenance Laboratories in the USA which inter alia stated that they were not affiliated with Monsanto.

After applying their minds to the letter from Covenance in the USA, Justice King ruled that the benefits of "GM-Corn" had nothing to do with the case in front of them. After having given Monsanto every opportunity to substantiate their claim they had failed to do so. The letter from Covenance made no mention of the issue which was before the ASA for consideration.

"The statement which the complainant alleges is false, to wit: 'This is one of the most extensively tested and controlled types of food, and no negative reactions have ever been reported.' goes beyond merely indicating safety. It expressly states that out of all the studies done in this field no negative effects have ever been reported."

Without reference to the fact that Monsanto had wasted the time of an eight member panel and come to the hearing with dirty hands, Monsanto was politely informed that their claim was unsubstantiated and in breach of the Code of Practice. The ASA further ruled that as the claim was unsubstantiated it was not necessary to consider whether it was misleading.

Monsanto was ordered to immediately withdraw their claim and given the standard polite warning, which applies to all advertisers, that in future they must make sure that they can substantiate any claims before they publish them.

In January, this year, Monsanto was fined 15,000 euros (19,000 dollars) in a French court for misleading the public about the environmental impact of herbicide Roundup.

A former chairman of Monsanto Agriculture France was found guilty of false advertising for presenting Roundup as biodegradable and claiming that it left the soil clean after use. Monsanto's French distributor Scotts France was also fined 15,000 euros.

In 2005 Monsanto was caught smuggling South African produced GM Bollgard cotton seed into Indonesia disguised as rice. Monsanto was fined for bribing Indonesian officials.

More recently in June this month, a second peer-reviewed case involving another variation of Monsanto's GM maize, namely, NK603, has been shown by studies to be potentially toxic to humans. NK 603 has been approved for food, feed, processing, and propagation in Europe and the Philippines The new research, carried out by the French scientific research institute CRIGEN, involves biotech firm Monsanto's NK603 GMO corn (marketed commercially under the name Round-up Ready) which was approved as food and feed in the country in 2003, and for propagation in 2005.

Rats that were fed GM maize showed significant differences in measurements, as well as significant weight differences compared to those fed with normal maize. Almost 70 statistically significant differences were observed and reported - 12 for hematology parameters, 18 for clinical chemistry parameters, nine for urine chemistry parameters, six for the organ weights (brain, heart, liver), 14 for body weights and body weight changes, and eight for food consumption. toxicity, The most alarming was the diminished brain size. Scientists warned that this was a danger warning for growing children.

Here is the unsubstantiated Monsanto advert which had to be withdrawn after the judgment

Is your food safe?

Biotechnology - the true facts

The safety of genetically modified food products though biotechnology remains a subject of uncertainty to many people, but after more than twenty years' of research and ten years' commercial use, genetically modified grain products have been found to be just as healthy, nutritious and safe as normal products. All commercially approved grain products that have been genetically modified adhere to strict food, feed and environmental safety guidelines of regulatory authorities worldwide. This is one of the most extensively tested and controlled types of food, and no negative reactions have ever been reported. In fact, these innovative products also lead to food with improved nutritional value, which includes enhanced vitamin A, protein and antioxidant content, as well as better food safety through the removal of allergens and anti-nutrients. In short, you can use it with confidence!

Tested. Healthy. Nutritious. Safe.


Synthia's Last Hurdle?

News Release
ETC Group
June 28, 2007

Synthia - the "Original Syn" artificial microbe - may have jumped a hurdle that Dolly - the cloned sheep - never could

Synthia, the (theoretical) human-made synthetic microbe - still barely a twinkle in J. Craig Venter's eye - may be in search of a surrogate micro-mom sometime very soon. According to a research report released today in Sciencemagazine, Synthia (the subject of a patent application discovered by ETC Group a few weeks ago - see "Goodbye Dolly -- Hello Synthia!") may have overcome her last hurdle. The report, authored by Craig Venter and his colleagues at Synthetic Genomics Inc., claims to have inserted a foreign bacterial genome into the cell of another bacterial species. Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith who is one of Venter's co-authors in the research article told a meeting of synthetic biologists in Zürich on Monday that this represents a significant step en route to building a whole new life form. As the article itself concludes, ". . . we have discovered a form of bacterial DNA transfer that permits . . . recipient cells to be platforms for the production of new species using modified natural genomes or manmade genomes . . ." "In the case of Dolly the cloned sheep," says Jim Thomas of ETC Group, "the job was to insert a single parent's DNA into an embryonic cell for replication. Venter's group replaces the host cell's natural DNA with an entirely foreign species." "The peas in this pod would not look alike at all," adds ETC's Executive Director, Pat Mooney, "it's like pod-outcasting."

The team of synthetic Genomics scientists inserted the whole genome of Mycoplasma capricolum - a bacterium that often infects goats - into another bacterium showing that it is possible to "boot up" a new species through the cells of another species. "Synthia - the artificial goat bug - may, if it works, surpass Dolly - the lamb clone - with the scientific breakthrough," says Pat Mooney.

The patent application disclosed at the end of April showed that - at the time of application - no one had created artificial life. But, at the same time, the patent claims that the method it disclosed could make artificial life possible. Today's article, by some of the same inventors, seems to suggest that the patent may need updating. Presumably, Synthetic Genomics Inc. is submitting a new application for this new approach. "For at least two years now, Craig Venter has been promising the world artificial life in a matter of months," Thomas notes, "The promises keep coming and the months keep rolling by. Now the research team may have just overcome one of the last hurdles to synthetic life." Pat Mooney adds, "However, the real hurdle that Synthia and Craig Venter have to overcome is society. Synthetic biology is a form of extreme genetic engineering that has enormous implications for everyone who lives on this planet."

Despite the delays and the changes, no one attending the Synthetic Biology 3.0 gathering in Zürich this week really doubts the ability of the technology to build unique life forms. "Perhaps the most shocking thing about all this," concludes Jim Thomas, "is that scientists now treat the construction of artificial life as a 'given'. Everyone seems to feel it is just a matter of time." During the Zürich conference earlier this week, Jim Thomas of ETC Group called for scientists to join with civil society and governments in a broad societal discussion over the socio-economic, environmental, health, and ethical implications of the new technology. (For further information about theZürich meeting, see

ETC Group will be discussing the implications of Synthetic Biology and the potential development of artificial life forms when the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's scientific subcommittee meets next week in Paris (July 2 - 6). Climate change is on the UN body's agenda and Craig Venter is claiming that Synthia could be used to improve agricultural crops as agri-fuels. As the intergovernmental agency responsible for the Cartagena Protocol (the treaty on the transboundary movement of genetically-modified organisms), ETC Group believes that the Convention should study whether entirely artificial life forms (unnatural biodiversity) come under the remit of the protocol and (whether they do or not) what the impact might be on natural biodiversity.


Doctors Should Highlight Risks of GM Food

By Greg Baxter
Irish Medical Times
June 29, 2007

The Secretary of the Irish Doctors Environmental Association (IDEA) has called on Irish doctors to highlight the dangers of genetically modified (GM) food and prevent the planting of genetically engineered crops here.

Public health doctor Elizabeth Cullen, in an article in the most recent Irish Medical Journal, argues that GM food could have harmful effects on health. She writes that there is insufficient research on the effects of GM food products, but what little exists is troubling.

"The results of research to date with animals are disturbing. Immune system damage and proliferation of the gastric mucosa have been found in rats fed GM potato 10, reductions in cellular metabolism and changes in the liver and pancreas in rats fed GM soya 11, allergic reactions and subsequent lung damage in mice fed GM peas 12 and a preliminary report indicating low-birth weight and fatalities in rats fed GM soya 13," she writes.

She also argues that containment of GM seed is not possible. "Seeds will spread by wind, and by people and animals," she writes.

"Doctors have an ethical and moral duty to highlight concerns in relation to these issues, and in the interest of health of present and future generations, permission to grow or consume genetically engineered foods in Ireland should be denied."

The European Commission does not allow member states and local authorities to decide whether GM crops may be grown in their areas.

Read Elizabeth Cullen's article (Word Doc)

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