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January 2008 Updates

DOH Says No to Cloned Edibles

By Angelica Oung
Taipei Times
January 07, 2008

NOT COPYING US: The US FDA is expected to approve products from cloned animals for human consumption, but they will not appear on Taiwanese shelves anytime soon

An expected decision from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to declare cloned animals safe to eat will not affect Taiwan's policy on food produced from such animals, a Department of Health (DOH) official said yesterday.

"We have taken a go-slow approach and it will be a long long time -- if ever -- before food from cloned animals is allowed on the shelves [here]," Bureau of Food Sanitation (BFS) Director Cheng Huei-wen said.

"The US decision will not sway our judgement," Cheng said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the US FDA is expected to declare "as early as next week" that milk and meat from cloned animals are safe for human consumption.

The administration reached the decision after considering the question for more than six years, the paper said.

However, many consumers strongly reject the idea of eating cloned animals. As a result, there has been scant interest from businesses bringing cloned animal products to the market here, Cheng said.

"That would be the first step -- expert panels assessing the safety of the technology. And the products would be the next step. Then we would have to assess whether or not introducing these products would be advantageous as a whole," he said.

Even if the cloning technology is perfected and the products are found safe to eat by expert panels, strong consumer concerns about the products would be taken into account by the bureau in assessing whether or not to allow them to be sold.

"Many people are strongly bothered by the idea of eating a cloned animal," Cheng said. "Those concerns, while they may be moral rather than scientific, also carry some weight in our decisions."

The only kinds of genetically modified food currently approved for human consumption in this country are varieties of corn and soybeans, Cheng said.


Entomologist: Don't Let Volunteer Corn Report for Duty

Indiana Ag Connection
January 04, 2008

Bt could stand for "big trouble" in the years ahead if farmers aren't careful in their use of biotech corn, said a Purdue University entomologist. Corn varieties containing Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, genes to control corn rootworms and corn borers, and genetically modified to withstand Roundup herbicide, could become more susceptible to rootworms unless growers keep soybean fields free of volunteer corn and continue planting refuge acres, said Christian Krupke.

"We need to stay a step ahead of rootworm resistance development," Krupke said. "If there's one thing we know about insects, it's that they figure out a way to adapt to whatever we throw at them."

Rootworms are a major threat to corn crops, costing farmers about $1 billion a year in yield losses and control expenses. About 30 percent of Indiana's estimated 6.45 million corn acres were planted to multi-trait biotech varieties this year, including the Bt/Roundup "triple stacks." While transgenic varieties have helped growers boost corn yields, those varieties could unintentionally produce stronger, tougher-to-control rootworms when farmers rotate their cornfields to soybeans the following year, Krupke said. Rootworms feeding on volunteer corn - maverick plants that grow from seed produced by the previous year's crop - are exposed to Bt but at less-than-toxic levels.

"What we found was that in areas where triple stack corn was planted in 2006 and soybeans in 2007, we had a great deal of volunteer corn in some of those fields," Krupke said. "Most of that volunteer corn showed up as being Roundup Ready and as having the Bt gene for rootworm. The problem is that the Bt, for whatever reason, isn't expressed at the same level as Bt that you'd get in off-the-shelf corn. So you get a lot of rootworm larvae eating that volunteer corn, and they are able to survive on it. That's a concern because now you're getting insects exposed to sub-lethal doses of Bt that survive to mate and lay eggs and possibly develop stronger offspring. That is exactly what we don't want."

Volunteer corn is considered a weed and is usually controlled with herbicides. Controlling that corn becomes more difficult when it is both resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and growing in Roundup Ready soybeans. In recent years about 90 percent of Indiana soybean acres have been planted to Roundup Ready varieties.

"Most soybean growers have relied on Roundup as their No. 1 - and sometimes only - weed control for a long, long time," Krupke said.

Farmers have several herbicide options for controlling volunteer corn, said Bill Johnson, Purdue Extension weed scientist. "To control volunteer Roundup Ready corn in soybeans, farmers should use Assure II, Select Max, Fusion or Raptor tank mixed with glyphosate," Johnson said.

Another factor that could hasten rootworm resistance to Bt corn is improper or insufficient planting of refuge corn. Planting refuges alongside Bt corn crops is required by law.

"A refuge is anything that is not Bt corn," Krupke said. "So when you plant Bt corn for rootworm or corn borer, for every 80 acres you plant of the Bt you have to plant 20 acres of the refuge. The thought behind the refuge is that you have some insects in that refuge that are never exposed in their lifetime to Bt. They never have an opportunity to develop resistance to it. The only way insects develop resistance is by exposure. The more you expose them, the greater the pressure is for them to be resistant. So you want to generate some insects that are never exposed to Bt so that they will mate with the ones that are exposed to Bt to dilute the chances of those offspring being resistant."

Killing all rootworms by planting 100 percent of acres in Bt corn is neither the objective, nor is it possible, Krupke said.

"If you expose the entire rootworm population at the same time to Bt, the insects will either have to become resistant or go extinct," he said. "We have made zero species of insects extinct, so you can figure out which way it is going to go."

Even in cornfields where refuge acres were planted, Krupke and fellow Purdue entomologists have found troubling signs.

"We've looked at the relative sizes of rootworm beetles coming out of the transgenic and refuge corn and found some large females coming out of the transgenic blocks," Krupke said. "That is important because large females tend to lay more eggs and are preferred by the male beetles because they lay more eggs."

Farmers need to remain vigilant when they plant Bt corn to ensure the technology is around for a long time, Krupke said.

"If we don't do the things that we need to do, then we're eventually going to have products that are not effective against rootworm," he said. "The two primary things would be to continue planting the refuge and, in areas where you are rotating corn with soybeans, clean up any volunteer corn that you have in the field. You need to do the latter because volunteer corn is a host, and that's where rootworms can develop. There will be a lot of eggs in those first-year soybean fields that were in corn the year before."


Supreme Court Backs Monsanto in Seed Patent Case

By Glenn Hess
Chemical & Engineering News
January 9, 2008

Justices uphold lower appeals court ruling in dispute over reuse of patented biotech seeds

The Supreme Court, without comment, ruled in favor of Monsanto on Jan. 7 and upheld a lower court ruling that penalized a Mississippi farmer for reusing genetically modified soybean seeds.

Monsanto was awarded $375,000 in damages after successfully suing Homan McFarling in 1999 for violating its patents by replanting Roundup Ready soybean seeds.

McFarling saved 1,500 bushels of seeds from his 1998 soybean crop and planted those seeds in 1999. He did the same thing the following year, saving soybeans from his 1999 crop and planting them in 2000.

Monsanto sued, arguing that a technology agreement the farmer signed restricted him to using the seeds for only one growing season. McFarling's lawyers argued that patent law does not allow Monsanto "to control the future use of seeds that were a natural product of the seeds that he had bought and planted."

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., sided with Monsanto, ruling that the "the licensed and patented product (the first-generation seeds) and the goods made by the licensed product (the second-generation seeds) are nearly identical copies."

The Supreme Court's affirmation of the lower court rulings helps ensure "continued investment into the kind of research and development necessary to keep growers on the cutting edge of productivity," Monsanto said in a statement.

"We believe strong intellectual property protection will encourage the investment needed to maintain continued crop improvement," the company stated.


French Govt Move to Ban Monsanto GMO Draws Fire

January 13, 2008

PARIS - French government moves to ban the country's only genetically modified (GMO) crop drew fire on Sunday from the speaker of the country's parliament, farmers and biotechnology industry groups.

The government said on Friday it would activate a "safeguard clause" in European law to suspend the commercial use of MON 810, a maize developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto.

Writing in the Sunday newspaper Journal Du Dimanche, National Assembly President Bernard Accoyer of the ruling centre-right UMP party said decisions to ban GMOs should be based on "irrefutable" evidence, implicitly criticizing the government for basing its decision on a panel's controversial opinion.

"The scientists on this (panel) have disassociated themselves publicly from the conclusions expressed by the chairman of this body," wrote Accoyer.

"Can our country really bind its future to this fragile and hasty opinion...?" he added, arguing GMOs offered potential public health benefits and calling for parliament to establish its own "high authority" to oversee their authorization.

When a country activates the safeguard procedure it has to provide the European Commission, the EU's executive body, with proof there is new scientific evidence justifying a ban.

If the Commission and European Union member states deemed France's arguments invalid, France would probably receive an order to lift its ban, a decision it could then appeal.

Industry, Farmers Upset

In an interview with Reuters, Jacques Beauville, a farmer near Toulouse who had planted 80 percent of his 127 hectares with MON 810, accused Paris of caving in to anti-globalization protestor Jose Bove, who had gone on hunger strike to protest the use of GMOs. Bove ended his protest on Saturday.

"If we obey this moratorium then we will end up polluting more and using more water. Even worse, as yields fall we will from next August have to buy Argentine maize, which is made using GMOs," Beauville said.

Around 22,000 hectares -- or 1 percent of France's cultivated land -- was sown with MON 810 last year.

In a statement on Sunday, the U.S. based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said there were no safety concerns that could justify France's MON 810 ban.

"BIO urges the U.S. government and the European Commission to object to this unnecessary and unscientific policy at the highest levels," it said in a statement.

France's announcement on Friday coincided with a deadline for the EU to comply with a WTO ruling to end a ban on imports of genetically modified (GMO) food. The EU is not due to respond until January 21, leaving it open to possible trade sanctions.

The MON 810 technology, which is also used by other seed makers, is designed to resist the European corn borer, a pest that attacks maize stalks and thrives in warmer climates.

Monsanto says the protein contained in its maize has selective toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife. The Commission has approved the use of MON 810 around the 27-nation bloc, but several EU countries have expressed concern about its safety, including Austria, Greece and Hungary.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended his government's decision in a speech on Saturday while emphasizing he was not hostile in principle to the development of GMOs.

"(The decision) means simply that when the precautionary principle is at stake I will make the political choice to put our country at the front of the debate on the environment," he said in a speech to a UMP conference.

(Reporting by Nick Antonovics and Nicolas Fichot; editing by Rory Channing)


Kraft Shakes up Dairy Market

By David Sterrett
Chicago Business
January 12, 2008

Kraft Foods Inc. plans to offer cheese free of a controversial growth hormone, a strategic move that pressures competitors to follow.

Northfield-based Kraft says it will start selling a line of cheese made with milk from cows free of rBST by June. Some consumer groups, citing scientific studies, say the production-boosting hormone can cause cancer, despite assurances from U.S. food regulators that it is safe.

Kraft aims to capitalize on consumer worries about food safety with a specialty product that will fetch a higher price than its mass-market cheeses. The new cheese reflects CEO Irene Rosenfeld's plan to rekindle growth with premium brands.

Such a move by the nation's biggest food company also could force rivals to offer products free of artificial hormones.

"This is a big development and shows that food companies acknowledge consumers are taking a much more active interest in what is in their food," says Bill Bishop, chairman of Barrington-based consultancy Willard Bishop. "This used to be a niche interest, but as it becomes more mainstream the big food companies . . . have to respond or they will find themselves in an unfortunate position."

Other companies already have responded to those concerns. Dean Foods Co., the largest U.S. dairy company, offers a line of rBST-free products, while grocery chain Kroger Co. bans the artificial hormone from its name-brand milk. Starbucks Corp. last year became the highest-profile company to act, instituting a ban in its 6,793 company-operated cafes.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., spun off from McDonald's Corp. in 2006, also announced last year it was banning rBST. In a statement, Oak Brook-based McDonald's says, "We continue to look to the (U.S. regulators) to provide further guidance, as well as engage our suppliers on this topic." The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of rBST, or recombinant bovine somatotropin, in dairy cows in 1993. The agency reaffirmed its ruling that there was no health or safety threat to humans in 2000. All cows have BST, a protein hormone that stimulates milk production, and rBST is a synthetic version used to increase milk production.

About 17% of U.S. dairy cows receive the artificial hormone, according to a 2007 government survey. Opponents of rBST say it increases infections in cows and stimulates the production of another hormone in the animals linked to cancer in humans.

RBST, produced by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., is sold under the brand Posilac. A Monsanto spokeswoman refused to release financial information about the product, but Chief Financial Officer Terrell Crews said during an Oct. 10 analysts' conference call that the company expects to see declines in Posilac demand, because "we've seen some pressure in the dairy business on that product."

For big food companies like Kraft, changing processes can add to manufacturing expenses, but those added costs can be passed on to consumers. And given their higher retail prices, natural and organic lines typically are more profitable, Mr. Bishop says.

Kraft Not Alone

Kraft began talking with suppliers in November about using milk free of synthetic hormones for its "2% Milk" cheese lines, a spokesman says. Kraft chose the 2% brand because it's a premium line with several dozen products. "We understand this is important to some people, and this is what is really driving the decision for us," he says.

Kraft will continue to use milk that is not certified rBST-free in the majority of its cheese products. Still, the company's shift has the potential to reverberate throughout the dairy industry, resulting in more rBST-free cheese, ice cream and butter in general, says Catherine Donnelly, professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Several small processors, including Tillamook County Creamery Assn. in Oregon, began offering rBST-free cheese several years ago, but the decision by Kraft, the maker of Velveeta and Cheez Whiz, validates it as a mass-market move, she says.

"Consumers are speaking out with their pocketbooks, and it's a national trend that people care more about where their food comes from and how it's produced," Ms. Donnelly says.

'Smoke and Mirrors'

Kraft and rivals assured customers for years that rBST-containing products were safe because they were approved by the FDA.

But "now consumers don't trust anything," she says.

Some in the dairy industry are skeptical that any health threat exists.

Terry Etherton, head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University in State College, Pa., says the growth of rBST-free products is "part of a smoke-and-mirrors campaign." He says supermarkets usually charge about 20% more for rBST-free milk, while those retailers and dairy processors don't see similar cost increases.

"We do expect an additional premium (in the price) to reflect the cost of ingredients and adjustments to the supply chain to accommodate the milk," a Kraft spokesman says. He declines to discuss any specific prices or costs involved in the change.

Pennsylvania is debating whether processors should be allowed to label a product rBST-free. Monsanto and other opponents to such labeling say there is no way to accurately certify something as free of rBST because milk with or without the hormone is chemically the same.

"Unfortunately, consumers are being misled to think one carton of milk is safer or more healthy, when in fact all milk is the same," a Monsanto spokeswoman says. "People are paying more for milk that is the same."


"Serious Questions" Open the Way for a Ban on GMO Corn

By Gaëlle Dupont and Hervé Kempf
Le Monde
January 10, 2008

Issued Wednesday, January 9, an opinion of the Provisional High Authority on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) opens the way for a moratorium on GMO cultivation in France. The two questions Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo posed to the High Authority were specific. Is there new scientific information about the transgenic corn MON810 since its authorization by the European Commission in 1998? Are there serious questions of a nature to cause reassessment of that homologation? The answers were clear.

"Yes, new scientific information exists," declared Jean-François Le Grand, UMP senator for La Manche, president of the High Authority, as he delivered his opinion to Mr. Borloo. "Yes, serious questions exist. In order to remove them, we must have time and money."

The words were not chosen by chance. During his Tuesday, January 8, press conference, Nicolas Sarkozy had said he was prepared to activate the European escape clause on MON810 in the event of "serious questions." It seems most likely, therefore, that the clause will be activated and MON810 cultivation suspended. The moratorium will then be in effect, since this corn that is resistant to the corn borer - a major corn insect pest - is the only transgenic plant that may be cultivated in Europe.

An "official announcement" should follow, according to Mr. Borloo. "The president wished the opinion to be issued," he noted. "I leave you to guess my position." For the first time in France, an authority charged with evaluating GMO has issued a qualified opinion that is solidly backed up.

The original aspect of the High Authority on GMO, which came about as a result of the Environmental Summit, is its composition, much more varied than former governmental agencies. It includes scientists from numerous disciplines (ecology, population genetics, agronomy, entomology ...) and not only geneticists and toxicologists.

"Civil Disobedience"

Greenpeace, however, and the Peasant Confederation - both opposed to GMO - boycotted the work, since they demanded the activation of the escape clause immediately after the promise the ecology minister made during the Environmental Summit at the end of October. Mr. Borloo had said then that he was ready to activate the clause.

Wednesday at noon, the union representative at the Environmental Summit, Pascal Ferey, mentioned possible "civil disobedience" - the purchase of MON810 in Spain - if the decision was motivated by political rather than scientific factors.

Received by Nicolas Sarkozy during the afternoon, FNSEA President Jean-Michel Lemétayer asserted that he had received assurances that the president would take time to examine the opinion before making any decision. But, with the head of state's statement during the press conference the day before, Jean-Louis Borloo had already won his case, while Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier was kept aside from any decision.

The prospect of the escape clause is, of course, welcomed by ecologists and by Green deputies who have emphasized the lacunae in our knowledge of the environmental and health impact of GMO for years. But it is also welcomed by a part of the agricultural world. The Peasant Federation and Rural Coordination are not in favor of GMO, mostly for economic reasons: they fear GMO manufacturers' takeover of seed stock.

On the other hand, the majority of agricultural union and seed stock manufacturers are confounded. "What's at issue is the competitiveness of French agriculture; I have the impression people are forgetting that," deplores Christian Pèes, president of the Pau-Euralis cooperative, which is in favor of GMO. "While we talk about an old GMO, crops are developing all over the world." For French farmers, MON810, cultivated over 22,000 hectares in 2007, represents an economic advantage, with a 10-30 percent higher yield, depending on the situation.

The turn of events has also created surprise within the right-wing majority, which accuses the government of folding to José Bové, on a hunger strike since January 3. "The clause sends a bad message, just when France is getting ready to take over the European Union presidency," asserts Jean Bizet, UMP senator for La Manche, who is in favor of GMO. The pro-GMO are convinced they've been sacrificed in a government "quid pro quo" with the ecologists: a victory on GMO in exchange for their silence on nuclear power during Environmental Summit discussions.

Activation of the escape clause, however, will not mean that France has determined definitively on the fate of GMO. It's a method established by the government. The High Authority will issue its opinions case by case on each GMO. Its composition and its broadened questioning should give it a legitimacy that previous government agencies, like the Commission on Bio-engineering, were never able to achieve. The tenor of the opinion on MON810 reflects this new mindset. The second piece of the system, the law, the reading of which was finally pushed back to February 5, will define the conditions for coexistence between the crops.

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.

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