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February 2008 Updates

Canola Restrictions Approved in WA State

By Cookson Beecher
Capital Press
February 15, 2008

Rule designed to protect vegetable-seed crops from cross-pollination

"It's a big step." That's how Milo Lyons, production manager of Alf Christianson Seed Co., described a new rule that sets up special seed-production districts to protect vegetable-seed crops from being cross-pollinated with canola oilseed crops grown for biofuels.

The rule is the outcome of concerns that genetic crosses between the two seed crops would lower the quality and value of the state's vegetable-seed crops, known worldwide for their purity and quality.

Another concern is that because canola is genetically modified, cross-pollination with the vegetable-seed crops would result in the loss of two important markets - Japan and Europe.

In short, cross-pollination could wipe out a lucrative industry that has long been established in Washington state.

"It's vital for the vegetable seed industry to set up rules and isolation distances," Lyons said. "The industry supports a lot of farmers. It's important to maintain the buyers' perception that this is a good area to grow vegetable seed crops."

Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation - with a unanimous vote in both houses - that gave the Washington State Agriculture Department the go-ahead to draft a rule setting up special districts.

Officially called brassica seed production districts, they are sometimes referred to as canola-free zones.

Brassica crops include cabbage, broccoli, rutabaga, kohlrabi and canola.

The department adopted the rule after gathering public comments during meetings in Mount Vernon and Moses Lake. The rule will go into effect Feb. 24.

In crafting the rule, the department worked with the Brassica Working Group, which included vegetable-seed growers, canola oilseed growers and biodiesel manufacturers.

In addition to establishing two districts - one on each side of state - the rule also specifies general requirements within the districts.

In essence, it establishes isolation distances - in many cases, two miles - between vegetable-seed and canola-seed crops.

Now that the districts have been established, no one can plant a canola crop within a district unless conditions of a special brassica production agreement are met.

These requirements, which apply only to the two production districts, differ within the two districts.

Snohomish County grower Dale Reiner, who has grown canola oilseed for the past several years, said he supports the new rule. "I'm certainly not interested in putting neighboring farmers and crops in jeopardy," he said. "Doing this (the rule) is the responsible thing to do. It protects all of us."

He also said the rule will help foster better relations between the vegetable-seed growers and the canola growers.

"The vegetable seed growers were suffering real angst over this," he said, referring to fears about possible cross-pollination of the two crops.

Steven Verhey, founding chief executive manager of Central Washington Biodiesel in Ellensburg and a member of the Brassica Working Group, currently buys canola oil from Natural Selection Farm in Sunnyside.

"It's obviously extremely important to protect the vegetable-seed industry," he said. "But it's also important to balance that with the rights of farmers to grow what they want to grow. I think the final rule did a good job of achieving that balance."


Consequences of GM Crop Contamination 'Set to Worsen'

By James Randerson
The Guardian, UK
February 18, 2008

The consequences of contamination between GM crops and non-GM varieties will be much more serious with the next generation of GM crops, an influential group of US scientists has warned.

Mixing between GM and non-GM varieties has already caused serious economic losses for producers in lost sales and exports. But the consequences of mixing will be much more serious with new crops that are altered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, the scientists argue. The crops could harm human health and be toxic to wild animals.

"What would be the impact societally, economically if for example, cornflakes were contaminated by some sort of drug or chemical? I think it would be a vast impact economically," said Karen Perry Stillerman, senior food and environment programme analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"I think it's really hard to say [what impact contamination would have] because there is a variety of different drugs and chemicals that might be manufactured in plants this way," she added. "Our perception is that some of them might be toxic, but all of them would certainly cause tremendous economic upheaval."

The group presented its findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.

Huge research effort

Up to now, commercial GM varieties have been restricted mainly to modifications for herbicide tolerance or resistance to pests. But a huge research effort is going into a new generation of crops that are genetically modified to produce drugs, hormones, vaccines and industrial chemicals such as the precursors of plastics.

Although public opinion in Britain and the rest of Europe remains firmly against GM crops in general, it is more favourable to crops with medical benefits. But the Union of Concerned Scientists said that these are precisely the crops that pose the greatest risks if they exchange genes with wild relatives or conventional versions of the same crop.

So-called 'pharma crops' can offer advantages over current methods of drug manufacture. Vaccines produced this way could be grown cheaply in developing countries and simply given to patients in the food. That would remove the need for sterile needles and refrigerators to keep vaccine doses cold - a major obstacle for delivering therapies in poor countries.

Prof Paul Gepts, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis, said past experience suggests that 'contamination' events cannot be avoided. "Gene flow is really a regular occurrence among plants. So if you put a gene out there it's going to escape. It's going to go to other varieties of the same crop or to its wild relatives," he said. "It's clear that zero contamination is impossible at present."

Major economic losses

There have been a handful of examples in the US and elsewhere of genes from GM varieties not cleared for human consumption getting into nearby food crops and hence the human food chain. This has led to major economic losses for producers in lost sales, exports and clean-up costs, but there have been no proven cases of damage to human health.

"With the products we are talking about, there's the potential for that to be much more serious than what we have seen so far," said Prof Robert Wisner at Iowa State University.

According to Gepts, most of the ideas for keeping crops apart are inadequate, because pollen and seed are carried on the wind, by animals and birds and on farm machinery. He said the only way to be sure that food crops would not be contaminated by drug genes or genes for industrial chemicals would be to use non-food crops such as tobacco.

Alternatively, GM food plants could be grown in greenhouses or underground to prevent pollen escaping, he said.

Call for ban

The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling on the US Department of Agriculture to ban the growth of GM pharma crops outdoors unless they are species that are not eaten by people or livestock.

The USDA is currently putting together new guidelines on GM that are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Currently, no GM crops that produce industrial chemicals or pharma crops are grown commercially, although there are some field trials under way in the US.

Similar issues will apply in the UK and Europe if pharma crops are approved. So far, though, only a handful of GM crop varieties are grown in Europe.


Herbicide-resistant Genes Found to Persist in Weeds

By Paul Hanley
The StarPhoenix - Canada
February 19, 2008

It's not supposed to happen, but it does. Genetically modified canola plants have been found to interbreed with a weed, producing a hybrid wild mustard that is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup).

Significantly, these new hybrid weeds are persistent.

Millions are spent on propaganda to calm the nerves of irrational consumers and other overwrought folks worried about the environment, those who fear there is something potentially dangerous about genetic engineering. The main thrust of the campaign is to offer calm and reasoned responses from scientists meant to allay any and all concerns by establishing the "fact" that everything done in the name of biotechnology is perfectly safe.

First the propagandists said that genetically engineered plants wouldn't cross with weeds. When they did, they said the new hybrids wouldn't persist. They are unstable plants that die out after a year or two, so no need to worry. Now, new research from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists provides the first report of persistence and apparent introgression (stable incorporation of genes from one gene pool into another).

The researchers found the herbicide resistance gene from Brassica napus moved into the gene pool of its weedy relative, Brassica rapa, under normal commercial field conditions. Persistence of the HR trait occurred during a six-year period.

Contrary to the propaganda from the biotechnology industry, the scientific community is not entirely at ease with genetic engineering, and for good reason.

Given that transgenic canola is grown over millions of acres across Canada and around the world, it is highly likely that herbicide-resistance genes have escaped to weeds in multiple locations. This is of great concern to organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), since it means the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds could be widespread.

The UCS believes the escape of transgenes into the wild is common. They point out, for example, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently fined the Scotts company with the maximum penalty of $500,000 for allowing an experimental turf grass for golf courses to become established in the wild in the U.S.

Scotts' negligence allowed creeping bentgrass, which was genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup, to escape from field trials in Oregon and interbreed with wild relatives. This is the company's second offence, reports the UCS. Scotts was also fined in 2004 for not notifying the USDA on two occasions that the wind had blown seeds out of its test plots. The company agreed at that time to take additional steps to control the escaped bentgrass, but apparently did not succeed.

The transfer and persistence of herbicide-resistant genes in weedy species -- and the potential costs to farmers, other landowners, and the environment -- is one of the major concerns of the UCS about growing these crops.

The organization of scientists is not opposed to biotechnology, however they do oppose the sometimes cavalier attitude with which this new technology is deployed. They believe there is insufficient oversight by regulatory bodies to ensure safety, a concern that is confirmed by a growing number of reports of genes escaped into the wild or unapproved transgenic grains entering the food supply.

The UCS among others hold that the scientific evidence available to date, while generally encouraging, does not support the conclusion that genetically modified crops are intrinsically safe for health or the environment.

They say the next generation of products -- crops engineered to produce drugs and industrial chemicals or to alter regulatory and metabolic pathways -- offer far more numerous traits and appear to be more obviously dangerous than the current slate of herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops.

"It would be a serious misstep to overread the positive early experience with Bt and herbicide-tolerant crops and conclude that the weak regulation currently in place will suffice to control the risks of these and other new crops," says the union.

The UCS argues that the regulatory regime must become more stringent as new transgenic plants and animals start to enter the environment in the future.


Multiple-Resistance Weeds: Coming to a Field near You?

By Mike Wilson
Missouri Ruralist
February 27, 2008

Glyphosate-resistant weeds are on the rise says Kevin Bradley, weed scientist at University of Missouri, speaking at a Bayer CropScience meeting in Nashville this week.

Of even greater concern is that some weeds are becoming resistant to several modes of herbicide action - not just glyphosate.

"Glyphosate resistance is a concern and we want farmers to change their ways," says Bradley. "I am probably equally scared about multiple resistance as just glyphosate resistance. Some waterhemp is now resistant to glyphosate, ALS and PPO-inhibiting herbicides.

"We're trying to scare people to death in order to change their ways, but the shock value is going away," he says.

Using different modes of action will lessen the impact of resistant weeds. But it's an uphill battle to get farmers to change their ways says Bradley. For one thing, the best systems cost twice the cost of a typical 2X glyphosate application.

Liberty Link soybeans is one way to battle resistance, he says. And we may have dicamba-resistant soybeans by 2013, which would add another weapon in the weed arsenal.

Resistance happens within the natural population of weeds. "What we do wrong is spray glyphosate over and over and allow that biotype to survive until sooner or later, you have a patch of resistant weeds among the patch of killed weeds," says Bradley. "Then those weeds multiply."

In Missouri, a recent retailer survey revealed that 51,000 acres may be suffering from glyphosate resistance.

Where we're headed is more Roundup Ready acres whether we want it or not, he says. Most seed companies say in the next three to five years we will have 80% Roundup Ready corn-Roundup Ready soybean rotations.

"If we get into these rotations, we're going to be in trouble," he says. "We're already 90% roundup ready soybeans. These continuous glyphosate systems are what we're worried about."

The list of resistant weeds includes marestail, common ragweed, giant ragweed, amaranth, waterhemp, hairy fleabane, Italian ryegrass and rigid ryegrass, he says. And most of it is in the eastern Corn Belt as well as the mid-south. You can get more information at You can also learn more about glyphosate resistant weeds at:


Feds Announce Recall of Unapproved Genetically Engineered Corn, 'Event 32' by Dow Agrosciences

By Center for Food Safety, Goodman Media
February 22, 2008

With tainted beef, latest recall casts grave doubt on federal agencies' ability to manage food supply, according to Center for Food Safety

Washington D.C. - This afternoon, the Center for Food Safety voiced grave concern regarding news of yet another contamination episode involving an unapproved, genetically engineered (GE) crop. Known as 'Event 32,' the unapproved GE corn had found its way into three commercial corn seed lines that were planted on a total of 72,000 acres over the past two years. The announcement, made today by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states that Dow AgroSciences notified the agencies and was instructed to recall the seed lines found to contain the unapproved crop.

'Event 32' is a GE corn variety that contains a built-in insecticide, and has not undergone the regulatory review process established for insecticide-producing GE corn. In 2000/01, another insecticide-producing GE corn known as Starlink was mistakenly introduced into the nation's food supply, leading to the nation's largest-ever food recall due to concerns that it could cause allergies in those who consumed contaminated corn products.

"These days, it appears that the U.S. is not much better than China when it comes to allowing unapproved additives into foods destined for export," said Joe Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "These contamination episodes pose potential risks to consumers and hurt farmers through lower prices and lost markets, especially overseas. It's long past time we passed laws that make biotech companies financially liable for their sloppy and reckless behavior."

The unapproved GE corn variety 'Event 32', was detected by Dow Agrosciences in its Herculex RW and Herculex XTRA corn lines. Seeds containing the unapproved 'Event 32' was sold to farmers by Dow affiliate Mycogen Seeds and planted in 2006 and 2007. While USDA, FDA and EPA issued a press release to quell consumer concerns, 'Event 32' has not undergone established regulatory review procedures to check for potential adverse environmental or human health impacts.

"The fact is that consumers have been exposed to yet another unapproved genetically altered plant, and since no testing has occurred, we cannot know what the health effects might be," continued Mendelson. "In light of this week's massive recall of beef, the agencies' assurance that this corn poses no risk to consumers has a hollow ring."


Contaminated Biotech Corn Grown in Iowa

By Philip Brasher
Des Moines Register Washington Bureau
February 23, 2008

The government says there is no danger to humans or to livestock.

Washington, D.C. - Some Dow AgroSciences corn seed grown in Iowa in 2006 and 2007 was contaminated with small amounts of an unapproved biotech variety, the company and government officials said Friday.

Federal officials said that there was no risk to humans or livestock from the grain and that there was no need to recall it. However, Dow has recalled contaminated seed that was sold for the 2008 crop.

Most of the contaminated corn was planted in Iowa, and most of the recalled seed had been distributed in the state, according to the company.

It is the latest in a series of incidents in which unapproved biotech varieties of corn and rice have inadvertently made their way into seed or grain supplies. The first incident occurred in 2000 when a genetically modified corn variety known as StarLink was found in food products despite not having been approved for human consumption.

In 2005, Dow rival Syngenta was fined $375,000 by the U.S. Agriculture Department for the contamination of seed that it had sold.

The Dow mix-up "reinforces the fact that no one is watching this industry," said Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.

A USDA spokeswoman said the latest incident is under investigation.

The contamination occurred when pollen from the unapproved biotech corn landed on a patch of plants approved for commercial use, said Garry Hamlin, a spokesman for Dow. Both types of corn were growing in the same research plot.

Dow discovered the contaminated seed while doing some testing last month and notified the government Jan. 25, Hamlin said.

"We're in the process of re-evaluating all our processes and procedures to prevent a recurrence," he said.

The contaminated seed was sold by Dow affiliate Mycogen Seeds under the labels Herculex RW and Herculex XTRA. The seed is genetically engineered to make the plants toxic to insect pests.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the proteins produced by the unapproved Dow variety, known as Event 32, were covered by an existing food-safety clearance because they were identical to the proteins in an approved corn variety, Event 22. The Food and Drug Administration determined there was no risk to humans or livestock.

About 53,000 acres of the contaminated seed were grown last year; 19,000 acres were grown in 2006, according to Dow. About 14 million acres of corn were planted in Iowa last year and 93 million acres nationwide.

Government officials said that only a tiny fraction, about 0.0002 percent, of the nation's 2007 corn crop would have contained the unapproved variety.

The recalled seed will be destroyed, Hamlin said.


Hormone-free Labeling for Dairy Products Stirs up Debate

By Dawn House
The Salt Lake Tribune
February 26, 2008

Proposal pits farmers vs. milk processors; rule could be finalized soon

Utah officials are considering a proposal that could make it illegal to list milk products as being free from artificial growth hormones.

As of now, products can be labeled hormone-free.

The new rule would allow dairy products to contain information about cows being free of hormones, but only if the label also said: "No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from cows treated with artificial growth hormones and cows not treated with artificial hormones."

The issue pits dairy farmers, who want advertising restrictions on hormone-free products, against milk processors, who want to continue using national guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that allow the labeling.

During a public hearing in Salt Lake City on Tuesday attended by about 50 people, a representative for a multinational biotechnology company spoke in support of the proposed rule.

"You're headed in the right direction," said Brian Lowry, of the Monsanto Co., maker of recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST, which is injected into cows to increase milk production.

Ogden dairy farmer Kerry Gibson, who also is a Republican state representative, said labeling products as having no artificial hormones or pesticides "elicits an emotional response in consumers who don't have time to research the issue."

"It'smisleading to imply that one product is not as safe as another," he said of the proposed rule, which would outlaw claims that cannot be verified by tests established by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists.

But Ardraine Colvin, who was among several parents attending the session, said consumers "are a lot more savvy than you think."

Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, said Utah is among several states considering its own labeling requirements, which would make it "a nightmare" for processors and retailers to comply with what could become a patchwork of state regulations.

The Utah Food Industry Association favors hormone-free labeling, which he says is consumer-driven.

Mike Winder, of Winder Farms, a West Valley-based home-delivery company, said if the rule were enacted, "Utah could become the laughingstock of the nation" because the state would have to challenge a long list of product claims.

"It's tough to stand up to the giants," he said. "It's more likely that the state would go after local Utah businesses."

Agriculture Commissioner Leonard Blackham, who will decide the issue, said the rule could be finalized soon, "and then we'll have another 30 days for public comment."

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