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April 2010 Updates

From Genetically Engineered Corn to Cows

Friends of the Earth
April , 2010

GE Livestock, Cloning, and Concentration in Agriculture

The spread of genetic engineering (GE) technology exacerbates the corporate consolidation occurring in the seed industry. This trend will continue, if not worsen, in livestock once the genetically engineering and cloning of animals is commercialized and becomes more prevalent. We must put a stop to this technology before it spreads to protect the livelihood of family farmers and the future of our food supply.

Between 1996, when the first biotech crop became available commercially, and 2007, Monsanto, the largest supplier of genetically modified seed traits, purchased more than a dozen seed companies, and now controls 60% of corn and 62.5% of soybean seeds and seed traits licensed in the United States.i As of 2009, Monsanto's patented genetically engineered genes were found in 93% of all soybeans and 80% of all corn grown in the U.S. Globally, four seed companies (Monsanto, DuPont [Pioneer], Syngenta, and Limagrain) control almost 30% of the world seed market.

This level of market domination has allowed the seed companies to charge exorbitant amounts for their seeds and technology at the expense of farmers. The amount farmers paid for seeds over the past twenty years has nearly doubled, and GE soybean seeds can be twice as expensive as non-GE seeds--$35 a bag versus $17 a bag. Monsanto planned to charge 42% more for its GE seeds in 2010 than it did in 2009. Dupont/Pioneer Hi-Breed announced a 20% and 35% price increase in corn and soy seed, respectively, in 2009 and is projecting "double-digit seed price increases" between 2009 and 2013. Many farmers must pay these prices since traditional seed breeders have been forced out of business and only GE varieties exist in some markets.

Agribusiness is pushing family farmers out of business - a trend that will only accelerate when animals are genetically engineered, cloned, and their genes are patented. As has happened with GE seeds, fewer and fewer corporations will own the expensive technology (and therefore, the actual product) while controlling a larger and larger share of the market.

Read the complete report (pdf)


US Senate, Bill Gates Give Planet a Middle Finger for Earth Day

By Jill Richardson
The Huffington Post
April 22, 2010

A broad coalition including Bill Gates, Tim Geithner, the US State Department, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the World Bank, and others have a plan to help the world's hungry by working in opposition to the recommendations of scientists worldwide, including the findings of a report commissioned by the World Bank and the UN. Ironically, they chose Earth Day to deliver this flaming bag of poop on Africa's doorstep.

Back in 2008, the World Bank and the UN commissioned IAASTD report issued its findings: Go organic. The report - which stands for the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development - examined how we can best use the most current science to feed our world. The over 400 scientists involved agreed that an agroecological approach (i.e. using ecology to grow food) is the best way to feed the world, provide employment in the agricultural sector, and care for the earth. They specifically rejected biotechnology (i.e. genetically modified organisms) as the solution to global hunger, noting that it was highly incompatible with the needs of smallholder farmers in the developing world and the promises made by the biotech sector for the past three decades are still largely unrealized despite billions in investment in biotech.

The U.S. was one of three countries (along with Canada and Australia) that did not approve the IAASTD report. The U.S. rejection, which occurred under the Bush administration, came as a result to the report's stances against biotechnology and free trade. Following the inauguration of Obama, the U.S. was back to a multilateralism - so we were told. But not on this issue. Hillary Clinton's science advisor, Nina Federoff, is a holdover from the Bush days who believes wholeheartedly that biotech and industrial ag are the way of the future. Obama selected several pro-biotech, pro-industrial ag appointees for key positions in his administration, including Rajiv Shah (formerly of the Gates Foundation) as head of USAID, Roger Beachy (formerly of Monsanto's non-profit arm) as head of the USDA's agency that funds agricultural research, and Islam "Isi" Siddiqui as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the U.S. Trade Representative's office. Say what you want about industrial ag and GMOs, world - we're gonna go this one alone.

The U.S. government (along with the Gates Foundation) is calling for a second Green Revolution. The first Green Revolution relied on toxic chemicals like DDT and traditionally bred hybrid seeds to increase crop yields in the developing world, notably in Mexico and India. In the decades since, we've seen a simultaneous rise in per capita food production and a rise in hunger. If you read the plethora of speeches, op eds, and articles these new Green Revolutionaries churn out, you know that they are calling for a doubling of food production by 2050. (Obviously since massive increases in per capita food production didn't work the first time, we should keep trying.) Here's what you should know about that: Their numbers assume that the rest of the world will transition to a diet more dependent on grain-fed meat.

Simply put, the world cannot shift to diets based on grain-fed meat, and Americans need to reduce our consumption of grain-fed meat too. Mother Nature does not work like a market, operating on supply and demand. When economic markets support producing and consuming more industrially-produced cheap meat, Mother Nature does not take action to account for the increased carbon emissions, water usage, manure pollution, or even human health consequences. For example, a recent study found that people who eat 4 oz of red meat (including pork) daily are 25%-33% more likely to die within the next decade. Our very ability to continue to exist as a species on this planet relies on a decrease in grain-fed meat consumption. Americans, in fact, must shift to a primarily plant-based diets, supplemented by pasture-raised meats in order to address the climate crisis and a host of other issues. Therefore, the goal of doubling food production by 2050 is a false one.

Yet, today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, discussing plans to deliver biotechnology, fertilizer, and other hallmarks of industrial ag to Africa. USAID head Rajiv Shah went so far as to refer to USAID efforts to expand biotechnology around the world as "sustainable." (This is far from true, as shown by the Union of Concerned Scientists' report Failure to Yield. To date, biotechnology has not increased agricultural yields but it has increased overall pesticide use. Industrial agriculture results in carbon emissions, pollution, and soil degradation, whereas agroecological farming methods ameliorate all of the above.) Simultaneously, Bill Gates and Tim Geithner published an op ed in the Wall Street Journal, announcing $30 million from the Gates Foundation to a fund to boost food production in the developing world. The fund will be supervised by the World Bank, which, despite sponsoring the IAASTD report, seems to be on board with the pro-industrial ag, pro-biotech approach of the United States. It is highly ironic and disturbing that they chose Earth Day to announce these crimes against the earth.


Genetically Modified Crops Are Not the Answer

By Dr. Hans Herren and Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman
The Hill
April 22, 2010

The Senate is considering a bill that would overhaul the way Americans deliver foreign aid. With more people going hungry than ever before, the bill's attention to global hunger could not come at a better time. The Global Food Security Act would streamline the aid process and focus on long-term agricultural development. But something has gone awry inside the bill. A closer look reveals that its otherwise commendable focus may be seriously undermined by a new clause lobbied for by one of America's largest seed and chemical companies.

This bill includes a mandate that we spend foreign aid dollars developing genetically modified (GM) crops. No other kind of agricultural technology is mentioned. Unsurprisingly, Monsanto has lobbied more frequently on this bill than any other entity.

The trouble with a mandate for GM crops is this: it won't work. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrates that GM crops don't increase crop yields. USAID has already spent millions of taxpayer dollars developing GM crops over the past two decades, without a single success story to show for it, and plenty of failures. A recent, highly touted partnership between USAID and Monsanto to develop a virus-resistant sweet potato in Kenya failed to deliver anything useful for farmers. After 14 years and $6 million, local varieties vastly outperformed their genetically modified cousins in field trials. Another 10-year USAID project for GM eggplant in India recently met with such outcry - from scientists and Indian farmers alike - that the government put a moratorium on its release. Growing insect resistance to genetically modified cotton and corn shows that the technology is already failing farmers and will continue to fail over the long term. Sadly, today's GM obsession shows every indication of duplicating the first ill-fated "Green Revolution" that trapped millions of farmers on a pesticide treadmill while devastating the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend.

Fortunately, we have alternatives. Improved farming practices, conventional breeding and agro-ecological techniques deliver far better results, without the risks and high input costs that accompany GM seeds. A 2008 study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development found that "organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and - is more likely to be sustainable in the long term." Even the chief agricultural scientist of Punjab - a home of the Green Revolution -argues that Indian farmers should farm organically.

Meanwhile, the World Bank and UN agencies have completed the most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date: the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). This four-year study - by more than 400 scientists and development experts from 80 countries and approved by 58 governments - found that reliance on resource-extractive industrial agriculture is risky and unsustainable, particularly in the face of worsening climate, energy and water crises. It noted that expensive, quick fixes - including GM crops -fail to address the complex challenges that farmers face, and often exacerbate already bad conditions. Instead, the IAASTD highlighted the need to build more resilience into our food systems by increasing investments in agro-ecological sciences, small-scale biodiverse farming methods and farmer-led participatory breeding programs.

The success of ecological agriculture rests not only in its immediate outcomes of better and more reliable performance, but also in its ability to address the underlying cause of hunger: poverty. Congress could learn from the thousands of Kenyan farmers who have obtained bumper crops and higher household income through the ecological pest management system known as "push-pull." By planting a variety of grasses in and around their cornfields, these farmers have suppressed insect pest and weed populations, reduced input costs, doubled or tripled their corn harvest, increased forage for livestock, supplied their families and local markets, paid off debts and set aside money to pay for school, medicines and other needs. No amount of gene-splicing (or lobbying or advertising) by Monsanto has ever accomplished this much for an African family.

Ultimately, tackling global hunger and poverty requires more than a focus on production technologies. The bigger, more fundamental challenge today is about restoring fairness and democratic control over our food systems. This requires strengthening local food economies, increasing small-scale farmers' control of seed and land, and -importantly - breaking up corporate monopolies in agriculture and establishing fairer regional and global trade arrangements.

If Congress is serious about addressing world hunger, they should take their lead from the most comprehensive science and from farmers on the ground - not from Monsanto lobbyists.

Herren is co-chairman of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) and president of the Millennium Institute and BioVision. Ishii-Eiteman is a lead author of the UN-sponsored IAASTD Global Report. She is senior scientist and director of the Sustainable Food Systems Program at Pesticide Action Network.


GM Crops Go to US High Court, Environmental Laws on the Line

By Matthew Berger
Inter Press Service
April 26, 2010

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in its first-ever case involving genetically modified crops. The decision in this case may have a significant impact on both the future of genetically modified foods and government oversight of that and other environmental issues.

The case, Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, revolves around an herbicide-resistant alfalfa, the planting of which has been banned in the U.S. since a federal court prohibited the multinational Monsanto from selling the seeds in 2007.

That decision found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not do a thorough enough study of the impacts the GM alfalfa would have on human health and the environment and ordered the agency to do another environmental impact statement (EIS) review.

Though a draft was released in December, "there is no anticipated date" for the final EIS, Suzanne Bond, a spokeswoman with the USDA division charged with regulating GM organisms - the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) - told IPS.

The law under which organic farmers were allowed to challenge USDA's oversight of the GM alfalfa, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is what may suffer the most from the court's eventual decision, which is expected in June at the earliest. The law "requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions", said Bond.

It is also a key legal tool for environmental groups seeking to challenge those agencies' decisions. The vulnerability of NEPA is a key reason so many such groups have joined the plaintiffs by filing amicus briefs against Monsanto in this case.

The Centre for Biological Diversity, one of those groups, does not normally get involved in GM issues, said the Centre's Noah Greenwald, but this case "has broad implications for how governments do environmental analysis and when they need to prepare impact statements".

"The broader implications are why we got in this," he told IPS.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, who wrote several expert opinions for the earlier cases in lower courts and is a senior scientist at the food and environment programme of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has also filed an amicus brief, pointed to the need for the type of citizen oversight of the government's own oversight that is granted by statutes like NEPA.

"The big issue here is how much deference should be given to a regulatory agency and its expertise in doing its job versus how much access or deference should be given to the public in having the ability to challenge the agency in court," he said.

"The issue here then becomes how amenable is the Supreme Court going to be in terms of allowing citizens to bring suit against an agency that is not doing its job, and that I think is the gist of what this decision may be," he added.

But the legal implications are only half the story. Also implicated, at least potentially, is the future of GM crops in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In the original court case, organic farmers argued that the genes of the GM alfalfa would be carried to neighbouring - potentially miles away - non-GM alfalfa by the bees that pollinate the crop and that genetic contamination would hurt their ability to market their alfalfa under the label "organic". This would also preclude them from exporting to countries that prohibit GM crops.

"Consumers may not accept products cross-contaminated with genetically-engineered components and you can test for those and testing is done pretty routinely and therefore the market could reject the contaminated organic crops," explained Gurian-Sherman.

In addition to this economic impact, they have argued that the planting of the Roundup Ready alfalfa that is at issue here, used in conjunction with the Monsanto-made herbicide Roundup, may also lead to increased herbicide-resistance in weeds.

APHIS largely dismissed this as an issue in its original analysis, says Gurian-Sherman, "even though over the last couple years the incidence of resistant weeds and the economic impacts they're having largely contradicts APHIS's analysis."

Though questions over the environmental and economic impacts of growing GM crops have existed for decades, the issue remains extremely complicated from an ethical and health perspective. Depending on how broad the Supreme Court's decision ends up being, it could go a long way to deciding the fate of other GM crops.

A case on GM sugar beets is currently ongoing. The court has allowed plantings this year, but has reserved the right to prohibit them in the future. The USDA is in the midst of preparing a draft impact statement for both these sugar beets and a GM creeping bentgrass.

Gurian-Sherman has serious concerns about the agency's actions on GM crops generally. "There's been several indications beside this case that USDA has not been really doing an adequate job regulating genetically-engineered seed&As a scientist, having reviewed a number of environmental assessments that the agency has done, in my opinion they've often done a very lax, scientifically often unsupportable job in their analyses. It's not like they've been completely negligent, but in my opinion they've made a number of errors in either scientific reasoning or in their data or data analysis."

Since 1992, USDA's APHIS division has granted non-regulated status to GM plants in response to 80 petitions, according to Bond, including multiple varieties of corn, soybeans, cotton, rapeseed, potato, tomato, squash, papaya, plum, rice, sugar beet, tobacco, alfalfa, flax, and chicory.

Tuesday's decision may have a significant influence on how that list changes in the future.


Ethiopia: New Forum Seeks to Prune GMO Law

By Wudineh Zenebe
April 27, 2010

Consultative Forum established on Wednesday, April 14, 2010, at the Desalegn Hotel, Cape Verde Street, has a plan to sway the federal government into reconsidering the overlooked bio safety law.

The main aim of the forum is to change some elements of the bio safety law, which was endorsed on July 7, 2009. The law allows GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to be imported for research purposes. But when the products are allowed to enter the country for public use, if any problem occurs, the researchers who recommended its use could land up to 15-year prison terms.

Another point of concern is that the implementation of the bio safety law was given to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which is feared to be more averse towards GMOs because of its environmental concerns.

The seven members of the forum include Ethiopian Cotton Producers, Ginners, and Exporters Association; private investors such as Amibara Agricultural Development Plc; Addis Abeba University; and the Ethiopian Biological Society.

The forum lead by Aseffa Aga, general manager of the association, has tried to develop the kind of materials that the forum can use to lobby and convince the government of its positions, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The initiative came from Tilahun Zeweldu (PhD), regional coordinator for the USAID's Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, based in Uganda, who is also working closely with the US based Monsanto, one of the leading agro-chemical producers in the world. Monsanto is also a pioneer in GMO production.

"The law should be reconsidered," said Tilahun. "This is not a workable law."

On July 7, 2009, Parliament endorsed five bills in just one day along with the most controversial bill ever to pass, the antiterrorism law, which the representatives deemed the most important and debated on at length.

Away from such controversy and with hardly any debate the bio safety bill passed into law under Proclamation 655.

Ironically, the bill on bio safety did not even go to the Parliament's Natural Resources Standing Committee as it ought to. Instead it was proposed as a motion and adopted with 343 votes in favour and eight abstentions.

The ratification of this bio safety law disappointed researchers, investors, and businesses.

"I am afraid to begin research on GMOs," said Geremew Terefe (PhD).

He is one of the senior researchers in the Agricultural Research Centre under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD).

"If anything [of negative consequence] should arise, the researcher goes to jail for 15 years, according to the new law," he said.

Ethiopian Cotton Development is cultivating 110,000ht of land, currently. However, the MoARD has plans to expand this size to 500,000ht within the next five years because Ethiopian textile and garment factories need more raw materials for their production.

The government has a plan to earn one billion dollars from the export of textiles and garments. However, the country's cotton plantations are plagued by 68 types of pests that have been identified so far.

Cotton, according to Emiru Seyoum (PhD), a researcher in the Department of Biology at AAU, is a very vulnerable plant.

"We are spraying different kinds of pesticides to increase production," said Solomon Ayalew (PhD), general manager of Hiwet Agricultural Mechanisation Plc.

The company cultivates 10,000ht of land in Amhara Regional State.

"We are suffering under increased production costs," said Solomon. "And we cannot do this indefinitely. We need to use genetically modified or Bt cotton, which is more cost effective."

The genetically modified cotton is resistant to pests, according to Zerihun Desalegn (PhD), breeder and agronomist at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) under MoARD.

"In order to get better products and minimise costs of production, we should use GMOs," he said.

The Ethiopian government has ordered studies, on genetically modified cotton from the Ethiopian context, to begin.

The seeds, imported from India, have already arrived at Horer Agricultural Research Centre in the Afar Regional State. The researchers responsible are not happy with their job, because of the law, according to a source close to this programme.

The government body responsible to exercise this law is the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

The forum members argue that the EPA has taken into consideration only environmental factors and nothing else, making the new law impractical for researchers and investors.

However, Belete Geda, who is a biodiversity team leader and bio safety project coordinator at the EPA, supports the stand taken by the authority.

"GMOs are dangerous to everything and should therefore be handled with care," he said. "If we hand this responsibility over to the sector ministry, it may be abused."

The controversy is expected to continue between the forum and the EPA.

Ethiopia is the only country in east Africa free of GMOs and the EPA management has every intention to stay on this track. But investors along with the suppliers are to lobbying top officials, including the Prime Minister, for some leeway.

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