Say No To GMOs! logo
May 2008 Updates

Mother's Day Candy from Monsanto Not So Sweet

By Andrew Kimbrell
The Huffington Post
May 8, 2008

This Mother's Day, as you give and receive the boxes of candy that are so much a part of the holiday, enjoy those luscious chocolate covered crèmes, nougats and truffles. There's no denying that chocolate is the taste of Mother's Day, but this may very well be your year for worry-free Mother's Day candy, and I'm not referring to calorie count. Sadly, biotech companies want to take away the chocolate our mothers know and love, and look forward to receiving.

Sugar in your Mother's Day candy comes from several sources, including sugar beets. A new option available to farmers this year is Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beet, genetically engineered to survive multiple direct applications of the weed killer, Roundup. At the request of Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on sugar beetroots by a whopping 5,000% -- glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Sugar is extracted from the beet's root and the inevitable result is more glyphosate in our sugar. This is not good news for those who want to enjoy their chocolate morsels without the threat of ingesting toxic weed killer.

The availability of the new genetically modified (GM) beet will have wide-ranging ramifications on where the sugar in your everyday food comes from as well. If sugar beet seed farmers decide this spring to go ahead and plant Roundup Ready, the seeds they produce will proliferate through the nation's sugar beet farms. The sugar produced from those farms will be mixed in with other types of sugar, unlabeled and untraceable. You couldn't avoid sugar from Roundup Ready beets even if you tried.

That result is a nightmare for consumers who won't buy food with GM ingredients; there are hundreds of millions of these consumers nationwide and overseas. Producers of candy, cereal, granola bars, baby food, breads - anything that contains sugar - would be hard pressed to avoid sugar derived from GM sugar beets. A consumer backlash could force these companies to use sugar from crops that haven't been genetically modified, like sugarcane. This would be a real blow to all sugar beet farmers, and food producers would need to factor in the costs of new packaging with labels declaring that their foods contain sugar that is "not derived from GM beets."

If that isn't enough to make you want to give up candy (or cereal, or bread), consider the issue of crop contamination. Beets are wind-pollinated, which means that plants from one field routinely pollinate beets in other fields up to several miles away. Sugar beet seed is primarily grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley, a prime region for growing related species like table beets and chard. Contamination from cross pollination would be unavoidable, and that could put chard and table beet farmers there and elsewhere in the U.S. where GE sugar beets are grown, out of business due to loss of markets, something the USDA utterly failed to consider when approving Roundup Ready sugar beets for commercial use.

In the late spring of 2007, a federal court ruled that USDA broke the law when it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa for commercial use because it failed to conduct the serious environmental review required by law. Since many of the same points of law apply, a suit filed this January against FDA for clearing Roundup Ready sugar beets for planting will hopefully reach a similar verdict. But, whenever citizens are forced into court to ensure their rights, the outcome is never a forgone conclusion, and although I believe that this won't turn out to be the case, this could be the last year Mother's Day candy doesn't contain elevated pesticide levels.

So moms, enjoy this Mother's Day. Savor those coconut crèmes, toffee crunches, and cherry cordials - and confidently share them with your kids. Next year, they may not seem quite so sweet to you.


Scientists Create World's First GM Human Embryo

By Human Genetics Alert
Press release
May 11, 2008

HGA and international civil society groups, scientists and ethicists call for moratorium. British Government must withdraw legalisation of GM embryos pending full public debate

Human Genetics Alert has discovered that American scientists have created the world's first genetically modified (GM) human embryo, without notifying the public or the media. In response, HGA's Director, Dr David King called on the Government to halt its plans to legalise GM embryos in the Human Fertilisation and embryology Bill (HFE Bill), which will be debated in Parliament tomorrow. HGA and an international group of civil society organisations also called for an international moratorium on such experiments until there has been a full debate.

A team of scientists based at Cornell University, and led by Nikica Zaninovic genetically engineered human embryos last year. Dr Zaninovic confirmed that this is the first time that a GM human embryo has been created. Government plans to legalise such experiments in the HFE Bill are being debated by MPs tomorrow, yet few MPs are even aware of the plans.

An HFEA document says that, 'The Bill has taken away all inhibitions on genetically altering human embryos', It acknowledges that this raises, 'large ethical and public interest issues', without saying that, despite HGA's repeated warnings about GM embryos, these issues have not been publicly debated.

Attached briefings outline the government's plans and the case against Human Genetic Modification (HGM). In brief, the Government initially stated openly its aim of allowing genetic modification of human embryos in order to permit the development of safe technology to create GM children. It even proposed to eventually legalise GM children by executive decision, rather than by a full Parliamentary debate! Although the Bill, in itds current form bans the implantation of GM embryos for the present, this is clearly not a permanent ban, since it would be illogical allow the development of technology and then continue to ban its use.

The creation of GM children is not just a hypothetical scenario - leading British scientists, Robert Winston (a Government adviser on these issues), and Ian Wilmut have patented techniques for Human Genetic Modification. The ban also contains a major loophole, in that it contains powers for the Government to permit the implantation of GM embryos to treat mitochondrial genetic diseases, without full Parliamentary debate (Clause 3ZA (5)).

HGM is unnecessary for medical purposes, since there are many alternative ways of avoiding passing on genetic conditions, but if permitted it will very soon be used to create 'enhanced' 'designer babies'. This would turn children into objects, designed just like other consumer commodities, and would lead to a new eugenics in which the rich are able to give their children genetic advantages over others. Because of these concerns, nearly all EU countries and many others, have permanently banned HGM, and the EU has banned the creation of cloned and GM embryos, in its last two major research funding programmes. Britain must not break this international consensus.

Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert said: "When I discovered these experiments on the Internet I was shocked at these scientists' irresponsibility. This might seem like a small thing, but it is a large first step on the road that will likely lead to the nightmare world of designer babies and a new eugenics. We may be entering the era of Human Genetic Modification, which would be no less significant for humanity than the nuclear era.

"The HFEA is right to say that the creation and legalisation of GM embryos, 'raises large ethical and public interest issues', but neglects to mention that these have not been debated at all. I have been speaking to MPs all week, and no one even knows that the Government is legalising GM embryos. The public has had enough of scientists and Government sneaking these things through and then presenting us with a fait accompli. The Government must withdraw these plans, so that we do not cross crucial ethical lines without a full debate."

Dr Marcy Darnovsky, Associate Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society, a public affairs organization based in California, said: "A small group of researchers has decided on its own to overstep a key ethical boundary that is observed around the world. In response the UK appears ready to lower its own standards. This is a global issue and highlights clearly demonstrates the need for international regulation and for far greater involvement by the public and civil society."

Silvia Ribeiro from ETC Group, a civil society group, based in Mexico City, said: "If the UK Parliament legalises GM Human embryos it would set an awful precedent for the rest of the world. GM embryos may be sold to policymakers today on the vague promise of 'curing disease' but the real money is in 'human performance enhancement' applications (known as HyPEs). In a world in which diabetes drugs are sold with much more profits as 'bikini drugs' and Alzheimer drugs as 'cognitive enhancers', any germ line manipulation will open the door to market-designed babies. Human diversity would be seen as abnormal, further marginalizing disabled people and those too poor - or not wanting - to be 'improved', according to a market-led standard of what and who is a proper human being."

Dr Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College, said: "Human embryos, particularly within their first two weeks, are poor systems in which to study basic biology or the development of disease. It is clear that technologies for genetically altering human embryos are being developed with the hope and expection that legal prohibitions against gestating them for extended periods will eventually be dropped, ultimately leading to organ harvesting and full term GM infants. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is just another step in this unfortunate direction."

Dr Richard Nicholson, Editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said: "The Government seems willing now to permit scientists to do whatever they like in the field of reproductive technology. It thinks it is helping British scientists to keep ahead of the competition elsewhere. But there is little competition because most other countries recognise how obviously unethical any genetic modification of human embryos would be."


Corporations Grab Climate Genes

By Hope Shand [Editor: John Feffer]
Foreign Policy In Focus
May 13, 2008

First the biotech industry promised that its genetically engineered seeds would clean up the environment. Then they told us biotech crops would feed the world. Neither came to pass. Soon we'll hear that genetically engineered climate-hardy seeds are the essential adaptation strategy for crops to withstand drought, heat, cold, saline soils and more.

After failing to convince an unwilling public to accept genetically engineered foods, biotech companies see a silver lining in climate change. They are now asserting that farmers cannot win the war against climate change without genetic engineering. According to a new report from ETC Group, the world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto, BASF, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, and Dow - along with biotech partners such as Mendel, Ceres, and Evogene - are stockpiling hundreds of patents and patent applications on crop genes related to environmental stress tolerance at patent offices around the world. They have acquired a total of 55 patent families corresponding to 532 patents and patent applications.

In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the Gene Giants are gearing up for a PR offensive to re-brand themselves as climate saviors. The companies hope to convince governments and reluctant consumers that genetic engineering is the essential adaptation strategy to insure agricultural productivity. In the words of Keith Jones of CropLife International, an industry-supported non-profit organization, "GM foods are exactly the technology that may be necessary to counter the effects of global warming." But rather than an effective way to confront climate change, these so-called "climate-ready" crops will be used to drive farmers and governments onto a proprietary biotech platform. Climate Change and Food Crisis

Human-induced climate change is triggering climate shocks in all ecosystems. It will profoundly affect crops, livestock, fisheries and forests and the billions of people whose livelihoods depend on them. Agriculture and food systems in the South, especially in South Asia and southern Africa, will be the first and most negatively affected. Extreme climate events (especially hotter, drier conditions in semi-arid regions) are likely to slash yields for maize, wheat, rice, and other primary food crops.

For instance, Asian rice yields will decrease dramatically due to higher night-time temperatures. With warmer conditions, photosynthesis slows or ceases, pollination is prevented, and dehydration sets in. A study by the International Rice Research Institute reports that rice yields are declining by 10% for every degree Celsius increase in night-time temperatures. South Asia's prime wheat-growing land - the vast Indo-Gangetic plain that produces about 15% of the world's wheat crop - will shrink 51% by 2050 due to hotter, drier weather and diminished yields, a loss that will place at least 200 million people at greater risk of hunger.

For the world's largest agrochemical and seed corporations, genetic engineering is the technofix of choice for combating climate change. It is a proprietary approach that seeks to expand an industrial model of agriculture - one which is largely divorced from on-the-ground social and environmental realities. (It is also an approach that fails to learn from history. Many of the problems with saline soils and soil degradation, for example, have been exacerbated by the use of intensive production systems.) The Gene Giants are now focusing on the identification and patenting of climate-proof genetic traits (genes associated with abiotic stresses), especially related to drought and extreme temperatures. "Abiotic" stresses refer to environmental stresses encountered by plants such as drought, temperature extremes, saline soils, low nitrogen, etc.

The Game of Monopoly

Monopoly control of crop genes is a bad idea under any circumstances. But in the midst of a global food crisis with climate change looming, such control is unacceptable and must be challenged. Patented gene technologies will concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. Globally, the top 10 seed corporations already control 57% of commercial seed sales. A handful of transnational seed and agrochemical companies are positioned to determine who gets access to patented genes and what price they must pay.

Many of these patent claims are unprecedented in scope because a single patent may claim several different environmental - or abiotic - stress traits. In addition, some patent claims extend not just to abiotic stress tolerance in a single engineered plant species - but also to a substantially similar genetic sequence in virtually all engineered food crops. The corporate grab extends beyond the United States and Europe. Patent offices in major food producing countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, and South Africa are also swamped with patent filings. Monsanto (the world's largest seed company) and BASF (the world's largest chemical firm) have entered into a colossal $1.5 billion partnership to engineer stress-tolerant plants. Together the two companies account for nearly half of the patent families related to engineered stress tolerance.

Farming communities in the developing world - those who have contributed least to global greenhouse emissions - are among the most threatened by climate chaos created by the world's richest countries. Will farming communities now be stampeded by climate profiteering? The focus on genetically engineered, so-called "climate-ready" crops will divert resources from affordable, farmer-based strategies for climate change survival and adaptation. Misguided Philanthropy

In a bid to win moral legitimacy for their controversial GM seeds, the Gene Giants are also teaming up with philanthro-capitalists to introduce climate-tolerant traits in the developing world. Monsanto and BASF, for instance, are working with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and national agricultural research programs in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa to develop drought-tolerant corn. The program is supported by a $47 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In March 2008 the African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that Monsanto and BASF have agreed to donate royalty-free drought-tolerant transgenes to the African researchers.

Market-based philanthropy aims to open African markets for high-tech seeds that will undoubtedly be accompanied by intellectual property laws, seed regulations, and other products and practices amenable to agribusiness. To African farmers, this is hardly philanthropic.

As the climate crisis deepens, governments may well offer corporate subsidies by encouraging farmers to adopt prescribed biotech traits that are deemed essential adaptation measures. The U.S. government's Federal Crop Insurance Company announced in October 2007 that it would begin a pilot program that offers a discount to farmers who plant Monsanto's "triple-stack" corn seeds on non-irrigated land - reportedly because the biotech corn (engineered for herbicide tolerance and two kinds of insect resistance) provides a lower risk of reduced yields when compared to conventional hybrids. The decision was especially controversial because USDA relied on Monsanto's data to substantiate this claim. Staying the Corporate Hand

In the face of climate chaos and a deepening global food crisis, the corporate grab on so-called climate-tolerant genes is business as usual. Governments must respond urgently by:

  • Recognizing, protecting, and strengthening farmer-based breeding and conservation programs and the development of on-farm genetic diversity as a priority response for climate change survival and adaptation;
  • Suspending all patents on climate-related genes and traits and conducting a full investigation of the potential environmental and social impacts of transgenic abiotic stress-tolerant seeds;
  • Adopting policies to facilitate farmers' access to and exchange of breeding materials and eliminate current restrictions on access to seeds and germplasm (especially those driven by intellectual property, agribusiness-inspired seed laws, trade regimes, and corporate oligopoly). In the midst of climate crisis, spiraling food prices and food scarcity, restrictions on access to seeds and germplasm are the last thing that farmers need in their struggle to adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions.

Genetically engineered "climate-tolerant" seeds are a technological fix that distracts from the root causes of climate change and the imperative to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reverse consumption patterns - especially in the North.


Setback for Sarkozy as Parliament Throws Out GM Bill

By Staff Writers
Terra Daily (AFP)
May 13, 2008

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government suffered a setback on Tuesday as lawmakers unexpectedly threw out a controversial bill on genetically-modified (GM) crops.

Although Sarkozy's ruling right holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly, one third of his UMP party rebelled and joined left-wing lawmakers to vote out the text on technical grounds, by a whisker-thin 136 votes to 135.

Cheers broke out outside the parliament building where anti-GM campaigners had gathered in protest as the bill, which aimed to bring France into line with a 2001 European Union law, was rejected.

Anti-globalisation activist Jose Bove, who has been jailed several times for ripping up GM crops, called it a "historic victory".

"This is a collective victory for the citizens of this country who refuse GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). The government will not be able to do anything it wants after this," said a cheering Bove.

Left-wing critics attacked the legislation, drawn up following a national conference on the environment last October, as lacking strong enough safeguards to protect conventional crops from possible contamination from GMOs.

They also attacked its plans to make ripping up GM crops, a tactic of choice for French anti-GM activists, a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in jail.

Opposition among members of Sarkozy's UMP party was for different reasons: many argued the text gave too much ground to environmentalists by making it compulsory to publicly disclose any GM field under cultivation.

Green party deputy Noel Mamere said the National Assembly vote was "a fine lesson for the government and for Nicolas Sarkozy", while Greenpeace said it was "happy" the text had been voted out.

GM crops have proved divisive even in French government ranks, where Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and his junior minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, have openly clashed on the issue.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the text would be submitted to a new vote in both the lower-house National Assembly and the supper house Senate, and that a bi-partisan committee would meet Wednesday to start studying the text.

But the Socialist opposition warned the government it would not accept the text being forced through parliament.

Reflecting widespread public hostility to GM crops in France, the government in February banned the only strain of genetically-modified corn currently grown in France, MON810, produced by the US agribusiness giant Monsanto.

GM crops cover less than one percent of farmland in France, Europe's top agricultural producer.

While production of GM maize remains small, it has increased: some 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of the crop were planted in France in 2007, up from 5,000 hectares in 2006.

top of page