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April 2008 Updates

GM Lactoferrin Manufacturer Criticized over Food Plans

By staff reporter
April 10, 2008

A Californian rice and barley ingredient developer has been criticized by organic and sustainable agriculture advocate, the Center for Food Safety (CFS), over attempts to introduce specialist GM proteins into the US food supply.

CFS said Ventria Bioscience's genetically engineered, rice-derived recombinant human lactoferrin and lysozyme ingredients had no place in the food supply and may contravene federal food and drug law.

Interest in Ventria's lactoferrin ingredient had been shown by at least one manufacturer which has been subsequently withdrawn.

Maryland-based Cera Products, a manufacturer of sports beverages, reassessed its position, and called for more research into what CFS calls "pharmaceutical rice".

"Our company is not 'a likely partner with Ventria', nor are we including or plan to include any GMO rice in our products," said Cera president and chief executive officer, Charlene Riikonen. "We do not know enough about it for one thing, and certainly further research is needed to support any claims as well as issues and concerns regarding the GMO rice." was unable to gain comment from Ventria before publication.

Drugs and food

A September 2007 Congress amendment to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations prohibits the "the addition to food of an approved drug or a licensed biologic".

However legal opinion varies as to the enforceability of this amendment due to the mutability of the terms 'drugs' and 'biological products'.

Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, a Washington DC-based law firm specializing in food and drug matters, said in a blog that the amendment did not clearly define what constituted a drug as was the case in the exclusion clause written into dietary supplements laws.

"The reference to 'drug' with its attendant uncertainties regarding the manifestation of intent, is not so bright a line as that provided [in the] dietary supplement exclusionary clause," the firm stated. "Contributing to the blurred distinction is the vague threshold of 'substantial clinical investigations'."

CFS suggests Ventria would require an FDA exemption if it sort to market its GM ingredients in medical foods or other products.

"This prohibition should stop Ventria's headlong rush to put its unapproved lactoferrin in the food supply," said CFS legal director, Joseph Mendelson. "FDA has enough problems handling traditional food safety threats, like Salmonella, without allowing people to be exposed to unapproved drugs in foods."

Yogurt, granola bars, performance drinks as well as oral rehydration solutions for children suffering from diarrhea are some of the food categories Ventria has shown interest in developing.

CFS, which opposes GM foods in principle, has targeted GM rice products and produced a report in 2007 entitled, A Grain of Caution: A Critical Assessment of Pharmaceutical Rice.

Lactoferrin is a protein that occurs abundently in breast milk and is therefore popular in the infant nutrition market.


Report Shows GM Crops Do Not Yield More

New Soil Association
Press Release
April 10, 2008

Coinciding with a manifesto from Country Life launched today, which urges people to 'learn to love GM crops', the Soil Association has published a report on the latest available research on GM crop yields over the last ten years. The yields of all major GM crop varieties in cultivation are lower than, or at best, equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said:

"GM chemical companies constantly claim they have the answer to world hunger while selling products which have never led to overall increases in production, and which have sometimes decreased yields or even led to crop failures. As oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, we need to move away from oil dependent GM crops to producing food sustainably, using renewable energy, as is the case with organic farming."

Latest Research on GM Crop Yields

GM crops as a whole

First generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are in no way intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.

  • An April 2006 report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that \u201ccurrently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. [\u2026] In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars\u201d. (Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and Caswell, 2006)
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization\u2019s 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields (FAO, 2004). This is not surprising given that first-generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are not intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.
  • A 2003 report published in Science stated that \u201cin the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative\u201d. (Qaim and Zilberman, 2003). This was despite the authors being strong supporters of GM crops.
  • Yields of both GM and conventional varieties vary - sometimes greatly - depending on growing conditions, such as degree of infestation with insects or weeds, weather, region of production, etc. (European Commission, 2000)

Roundup Ready (RR) GM soya

Studies from 1999 - 2007 consistently show RR GM soya to yield 4 - 12% lower than conventional varieties.

  • A 2007 study by Kansas State University agronomist Dr. Barney Gordon suggests that Roundup Ready soya continues to suffer from a yield drag: RR soya yielded 9% less than a close conventional relative.
  • A carefully controlled study by University of Nebraska agronomists found that RR soya varieties yielded 6% less than their closest conventional relatives, and 11% less than high yielding conventional lines (Elmore et al, 2001). This 6% \u2018yield drag\u2019 was attributed to genetic modification, and corresponds to a substantial loss in production of 202 kg/ha.
  • In 1998 several universities carried out a study demonstrating that, on average, RR soy varieties were 4% lower in yield than conventional varieties (Oplinger et al., 1999). These results clearly refuted Monsanto\u2019s claim to the contrary (Gianessi, 2000).
  • Yields of GM soybeans are especially low under drought conditions. Due to pleiotropic effects (stems splitting under high temperatures and water stress), GM soybeans suffer 25% higher losses than conventional soybeans( Altieri and Pengue, 2005)
  • 5 studies between 2001 -2007 show that glyphosate applied to Roundup Ready soybeans inhibits the uptake of important nutrients essential to plant health and performance. The resultant mineral deficiencies have been implicated in various problems, from increased disease susceptibility to inhibition of photosynthesis. Thus, the same factors implicated in the GM soya yield drag may also be responsible for increased susceptibility to disease. (Motavalli, et al., 2004; Neumann et al., 2006; King, et al.,2001; Bernards,M.L, 2005; Gordon, B., 2007).
  • The yield drag of RR soya is reflected in flat overall soybean yields from 1995 to 2003, the very years in which GM soya adoption went from nil to 81% of U.S. soybean acreage. By one estimate, stagnating soybean yields in the U.S. cost soybean farmers $1.28 billion in lost revenues from1995 to 2003 (Ron Eliason, 2004).
  • More recent evidence shows that the kilogram per hectare ratio of soybean has been in decline since 2002, leading to the conclusion that RR soy does not have an impact on yield (ABIOVE, 2006a).

Bt Maize

Only maize shows a persistent trend of yield increase into the biotech era, but even here the rate of increase is no greater after than before biotech varieties were introduced.

  • A rigorous, independent study conducted in the U.S. under controlled conditions demonstrated that Bt maize yields anywhere from 12% less to the same as near-isoline (highly similar) conventional varieties (Ma & Subedi, 2005).

Bt Cotton

Despite claims of increased yield, Bt cotton has had no significant impact in real terms.

  • Average cotton yields have increased 5-fold since 1930, and staged an impressive surge from1980 to the early 1990s. Cotton yields then went flat, and continued to stagnate during the seven years of GM cotton\u2019s rise to dominance. The steep yield and production increases in 2004 and 2005 were chiefly attributable to excellent weather conditions (Meyer et al., 2007).
  • Bt cotton, introduced to Australia in 1996, has not offered a boost to the cotton sector, and since its adoption has not provided improvements in either yield, or quality (ISAAA, 2006b).
  • Cotton South Africa show constant yield levels before and after adoption of Bt cotton (Witt et al 2005, cited in FoEI Who Benefits 2007), in contradiction to ISAAA claims that Bt has brought about a 24% yield increase in the region.
  • Outbreaks of the secondary pests that are not killed by the Bt insecticide have rendered Bt cotton ineffective in China (Connor, S., July 27, 2006), and are also becoming a problem in North Carolina (Caldwell, D. 2002) and Georgia (Hollis, P.L., 2006).
  • An article in Nature Biotechnology notes that the poor performance of Bt cotton varieties used in India (which were developed for the short U.S. growing season) is linked to the loss of their insecticidal properties late in India\u2019s longer growing season, and because Bt cotton insecticide is not expressed in 25% of the cotton bolls of India\u2019s preferred hybrid cotton varieties (Jayaraman, K.S., 2005)

During the Government's 2003 'national debate' on whether or not to allow commercial planting of GM crops, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, which represents land agents amongst others, predicted 'long-term chaos' and possible declines in land values if GM crops were planted. [1] Recent research in Sweden has confirmed that GM seeds can remain active in farmland for at least 10-years, adding scientific support to the RICS's concern about the impact on land values of growing GM crops.

References available on request or at the Soil Asociation website.


'GE' Crop Bill Called 'Big Step'

By Craig Crosby, , Morning Sentinel Staff
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
April 13, 2008

But organic farmers want more protection against use of genetically engineered crops.

Spencer Aitel says his livelihood is protected like never before, but he still feels disappointed and nervous.

Legislators last week revamped rules governing the use of genetically engineered crops, limiting organic farmers' exposure to lawsuits and forcing the state to develop best practices for growing the so-called "GE" crops.

But as important as those changes are for Aitel and other organic farmers, who hoped the law would require GE seed producers to report sales in the state, there is still a lot of work to be done.

"It's a big step forward but it's not as much of a step as it should be," said Aitel of Two Loons Farm, an organic dairy farm in South China. "In general, what we're looking for is better protection."

Maine's debate over the use of genetically engineered crops, which are modified to resist pests, has spiked in recent months.

Last year, Maine became the last state in the union to allow the use of Bt corn. Voters at last month's Montville town meeting approved a 10-year moratorium on growing genetically engineered crops within town limits.

Still, the number of farmers growing genetically engineered crops has grown quickly during the past 10 years. Farmers say the modified crops safely produce a better yield, while reducing exposure to pesticides and herbicides.

Organic growers disagree. They question the safety of genetically engineered crops and worry about cross- pollination with their natural crops. Organic growers worry that contamination could destroy a farm's organic certification and open the door to potential lawsuits for copyright infringement.

While no known lawsuits for have been filed in Maine, companies that produce genetically engineered seeds have sued farmers in other states for allegedly stealing technology.

LD 1650, a bill that passed the state House of Representatives on April 8 and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci, removes liability for unintended possession of a genetically engineered product and forces any infringement case brought against a grower to be tried in a Maine court.

"For us, it's of huge significance," said Aitel, who saves and cultivates his own seeds from year to year. "The threat of lawsuits is not just imagined, it's real."

While protection from lawsuits is vital, Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, believes the bill's real benefit is clarifying which seeds are subject to regulation and re-emphasizing the role seed companies play in reiterating the importance of planting directions. Planting instructions are important in order to avoid problems with neighbors.

"The most important part is it directs the (Department of Agriculture) to come up with best- management practices to avoid conflict," Libby said. "I think our solution is going to have to be based 98 percent on prevention."

Libby predicted those management practices will be rely heavily on guiding communication between farmers.

While crafted to curb cross-pollination, the bill should not pit conventional farmers against organic growers, said Rep. Benjamin Pratt, D-Eddington, one of the co- sponsors.

"I think it gives some protection to Maine farmers," he said. "What I don't want to see is farmers suing farmers. There's good things for everybody in here."

"All farmers care about the future of Maine agriculture," said Rep. John Piotti, D-Unity, a co-sponsor of the bill. "We don't know what the future is, all we know is it's going to be different from the present."

Tom Cote of Somerset Farms, a Pittsfield dairy farm in Pittsfield, said the legislation will not hinder his use of genetically engineered products, but he worries the new rules set a precedent that could lead to more restrictions.

"I don't see the need for this legislation," he said. "They're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist."


GM Foods 'Not the Answer' to World's Food Shortage Crisis, Report Says

By Sean Poulter
Daily Mail
April 16, 2008

Genetically-modified crops are not the solution to spiralling food prices or Third World hunger, according to a powerful international report published yesterday.

Questions remain over their effects on human health and the environment, it warns.

Sixty governments, private industry, scientists, consumer groups and social campaigners have delivered a blueprint for global agriculture for the next 50 years.

It delivers a remarkable snub to "Frankenstein Foods" and the industrialisation of farming while offering a boost to organic and small-scale agriculture.

The authors also warned against the rush to grow crops to be turned into fuel - biofuels - saying this could exacerbate food shortages and price rises.

This represents a direct challenge to government policy in the UK, Europe and the U.S. Publication of the report triggered an international row after the U.S. government, which has attempted to impose GM crops on the world, refused to sign up to the global initiative.

The row carries echoes of the Americans' refusal to sign up to initiatives to tackle global warming.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development has been working for five years to develop a new approach to world food production.

Its director, Professor Robert Watson, said the industrialisation of farming since the Second World War has failed to produce the food needed by the world.

As a result, while the families in the West have plenty to eat, some 850million people around the world go to bed hungry each night.

In recent months, GM companies, trade bodies and associated scientists have issued a deluge of propaganda suggesting biotech crops are the key to feeding the Third World.

Professor Watson and his team made clear that GM or transgenics - moving genes between plant species - was not the solution to providing plentiful cheap food.

He said: "Are transgenics the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no."

He said much more research was needed to establish whether they offer benefits and do not harm the environment.

Professor Watson said the industrialisation of agriculture, of which GM is a part, has led to the heavy use of artificial fertilisers and other chemicals.

These have harmed the soil structure and polluted water ways.

The leeching of the soil of essential minerals means food is less healthy than 60 years ago.

The professor, a renowned expert on climate change and chief scientist at the UK food and farming department DEFRA, suggested organic farming practices offer many benefits.

UK GM crop trials have shown that associated farming practising destroy the weed population, removing food for bees, butterflies and other insects, and harm the food supply for birds.

There have been concerns the food could trigger unforeseen allergies.

Professor Janice Jiggins, of Wageningen University, questioned whether GM crops have been proven as safe. "There are many legitimate concerns about the presence of transgenics in food, as well as the safety standards that might be appropriate as these enter into animal and human food," she said.

This week the Government and EU imposed new laws that will require all fuel pumped into cars to contain 2.5 per cent of biofuels.

It is suggested that turning crops such as maize, wheat and sugar cane into a biofuel will help the world reduce the creation of greenhouse gases.

However, the IAASTD said this policy - driven by the U.S. government - could be misplaced.

Professor Watson said giving over land to biofuels was one of a number of factors driving sharp increases in food prices in the last year.

The report was published simultaneously in the UK, Washington, Delhi, Paris, Nairobi and a number of other cities.

The U.S. government was joined by Canada and Australia, which are also supporters of GM farming, in refusing to sign up to the initiative.

Bodies representing global biotech companies, which include the likes of Monsanto, also walked out of discussions on the report after failing to get their way.

The UK Government has not yet signed up the report but Professor Watson indicated it has the full support of the Prime Minister.

Genetically-modified crops are not the solution to spiralling food prices or Third World hunger, according to a powerful international report published yesterday. Questions remain over their effects on human health and the environment, it warns.


Waterville Health Food Store Bans Genetically Modified Items

By Colin Hickey, Morning Sentinel Staff
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
April 19, 2008

WATERVILLE -- Uncle Dean's Good Groceries is taking a stand against genetically modified organisms (GMO).

The Waterville health food store stopped buying GMO products six months ago, and owner Dean Bureau estimates that less than 5 percent of his current inventory is genetically modified.

Bureau said his hope is other health food stores will join him in the ban.

"A lot of my argument against it is based on my own feeling," Bureau said. "I just don't like it."

Bureau is not alone in that regard.

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has taken a formal position against genetically modifying food, a process by which the genetic structure of food is altered, often to enhance crop yield or to make food more nutrient dense.

Russell Libby, MOFGA executive director, said the organization has been trying to get legislation passed since 1994 to mandate that GMO food products be labeled.

He said MOFGA's concerns about GMO spans human health and environmental and economic impacts.

For Bureau the main concern is the health of his customers.

He is in business, he said, to make money -- but not money at all cost. And certainly not at the cost of compromising the health of the people who buy the products on his shelves.

Whether eating genetically modified food is harmful to people remains an open debate. The scientific community in general says that more research must be done before any conclusions can be reached.

"For consumers there are multiple layers to this," Libby said. "One is human health and whether people want to be the guinea pig or not."

Bureau is not alone in answering no to that question.

Virginia Jewell has worked at Spice of Life, a health food store in Skowhegan, for about 15 years. Jewell said Spice of Life also is opposed to genetically modified food. "We try not to bring in the stuff with GMO as much as possible," Jewell said.

But while the commitment is there, Jewell said the reality is determining whether food has been genetically modified can be difficult, which goes back to MOFGA's efforts to get labeling mandated.

"We try as much as possible to look at ingredients," she said.

Bureau said he watches for corn starch, canola and soy in the ingredient list. If the food in question is not organically grown, he said, those three ingredients usually signify a GMO product.

So far, Bureau said, he has found substitutes for all the GMO food he's eliminated and in most cases has not encountered a significant cost difference. But he has faced frustrations, too.

Bureau said he cannot find a Maine source for non-organic grain that is GMO free. Thus he has ceased to stock the item.

Libby applauds Bureau's ban on GMO food.

"That is taking a leadership role," he said, "and it is a way to start changing public perception of this. But it has to happen in a lot of different places."

Jewell argues that genetically-modified food, whatever its benefits, is not worth the potential risks.

"Anytime you take things and play around with the genetics of it, it's scary," she said. "It is kind of scary what they are putting in our food and what it is doing to our food. We are what we eat, so if your body is full of this stuff, you have to wonder what will happen. Will we grow an extra arm?"

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