Friday, December 16, 2011

Cuba as a biotech island

Cuba as a biotechnology island
By Isbel Diaz
Havana Times.org
December 16, 2011

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 16 — Thanks to the recently concluded international congress “Biotechnology Havana 2011,” the Cuban public can know learn — albeit superficially — down what paths we are being dragged by our homegrown bio-technocrats.

As expected, this year’s event was devoted to agricultural biotechnology, which is currently one of the most profitable sectors for transnational producers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

To erase any doubt, this event was held jointly with a trade show, which was clearly the main attraction for the more than 300 foreign delegates attending from 29 countries.

Carlos Borroto, the deputy director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (IGBC) and a member of the conference’s organizing committee, said his center currently has more than 20 research and development projects focused on agro-biotechnology.

[Read More…]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bt Crops Failures

Bt Crops Failures & Hazards
Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji
ISIS Report
December 14, 2011

The claim that genetically modified organisms are the most promising way of increasing crop yields is falsified by many independent scientific studies, as well as direct experience with GM crops in India, China, Argentina and the United States. Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji reviews evidence on Bt crops

This report has been submitted to the EPA on behalf of the Institute of Science in Society. Please circulate widely and forward to your policy-makers

Rising insect resistance to genetically modified (GM) crops including Monsanto’s biggest selling crop, Bt corn, is threatening their utility and profitability. Insect resistance has prompted a new investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to documents in the newly opened docket (Docket No: EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0922) [1], “severe” damage to corn by rootworm has occurred in four states in the US. Further, the EPA describe Monsanto’s insect resistance monitoring program as “inadequate”. The EPA will collect public information to tackle the damage that could cause serious crop and economic damage. Amidst this investigation, Monsanto are seeing significant falls in their share prices [2]. Comments and information regarding insect resistance can be submitted to the EPA on their website [1].

In 2010, GM crops engineered to produce insecticidal toxins from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium, were grown on more than 58 million hectares of land globally [3]. First commercialised in the US in 1996, it is also the only commercialised GM crop grown in the EU, with Spain being the largest producer. Despite their widespread commercialisation, the evidence for their functionality is still elusive, while evidence of their harm to the environment, people’s health, economic security and self-determination is continually mounting.

GM proponents have repeatedly claimed that Bt crops can help combat world hunger by increasing crop yields while reducing pesticide use, thereby providing a more productive and environmentally safe option over traditional varieties. However, as highlighted by a recent report conducted by 20 Indian, Southeast Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people, these claims are false. Pesticide use has increased, while GM crop yields are lower than conventional varieties (see [4] Transgenic Cotton Offers No Advantage, SiS 38) and world hunger is at epic proportions [5].

Risk assessments of Bt toxins to date have been inadequate, not least due to inexplicable lack of reliable data on the concentrations of Bt toxin produced in plants, including the roots and pollen. The purported efficacy and safety of these products cannot be established when exposure levels have not be reliably determined. A new study reported a standardised method to test Bt toxin levels and still found significant variation in results, highlighting the variability in previous studies [6]. In particular, reports of declining concentrations in the food chain and soils are unreliable and need to be re-evaluated and repeated. Despite these inadequacies in risk assessments so far, evidence of the Bt toxicity to environment and health is steadily accumulating.

The present review summarises all the evidence surrounding the efficacy and safety of Bt crops with regards to pest control, human health and environmental impact.

[Read More…]

Monday, December 12, 2011

USDA speeds approval

Under Industry Pressure, USDA Works to Speed Approval of Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Crops
By Mike Ludwig
Truthout
December 12, 2011

For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.

This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.

The USDA launched the pilot project in April and, in November, the USDA announced vague plans [3] to “streamline” the deregulation petition process for GE organisms. A USDA spokesperson said the streamlining effort is not part of the pilot project, but both efforts appear to address a backlog of pending GE crop deregulation petitions that has angered big biotech firms seeking to rollout new products.

Documents obtained by Truthout under a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that biotech companies, lawmakers and industry groups have put mounting pressure on the USDA in recent years to speed up the petition process, limit environmental impact assessments and approve more GE crops. One group went as far as sending USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a timeline of GE soybean development that reads like a deregulation wish list. [Click here [4] and here [5] to download and read some of the documents released to Truthout.]

[Read More…]

Monday, November 21, 2011

GE law probe (NZ)

GE law probe a big surprise
By David Fisher
NZ Herald
November 20, 2011

A highly sensitive Government study into how much money can be made by changing genetic engineering laws will be underway immediately after the election.

Environment Minister Nick Smith is facing embarrassment after admitting he knew nothing about the study.

The proposal from his Ministry for the Environment is in sharp contrast to his assurance GE laws will not change.

The study aims to find out how much money can be made by relaxing laws governing GE and the release of foreign organisms into our environment. The ministry has specifically ordered genetically engineered organisms be included in the study.

Details are in a tender document drafted and quietly released by the ministry this month.

The document - obtained by the Herald on Sunday - shows the Treasury, scientists and companies in the industry believe the country’s “economic performance” is suffering because of strict laws around release of new organisms into the environment.

It says there is concern other countries with more relaxed rules will get a competitive advantage.

Officials say there is no current estimate on how much money restrictive laws cost New Zealand and they want to know if a relaxation will make a difference. They say they want to know how much money the country can make if the law is changed.

[Read More…]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pimping for Monsanto

Why is the State Department using our money to pimp for Monsanto?
By Jill Richardson
AlterNet
November 14, 2011

People in India are up in arms about eggplant. Not just any eggplant — the fight, which is also raging in the Philippines, is over Monsanto’s Bt eggplant. Even as increasing scientific evidence concludes that biotechnology and its arsenal of genetically modified crops may be doing more harm than good, companies like Monsanto are still pushing them hard and they are getting help from the U.S.

The State Department is using taxpayer money to help push the agenda of Monsanto and its friends all across the world. Here’s a recent example: Assistant Secretary of State Jose W. Fernandez, addressing an event of high-level government officials from around the world, agribusiness CEOs, leaders from international organizations, and anti-hunger groups said, “Without agricultural biotechnology, our world would look vastly different. One of our challenges is how to grow more crops on the same land. This is where biotechnology plays a role.”

Many scientists would disagree with these statements, which are more controversial than Fernandez let on. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that biotech crops did not lead to reliable yield increases compared to conventional, non-GMO crops and that biotech crops actually required more pesticides than conventional crops. These conclusions are reiterated by the scientists who authored the “International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development” (IAASTD) report, a 2008 study written by 400 scientists from around the world concluding that agroecology was the best way to feed the world. And a recent 30-year study by the Rodale Institute found that organic methods provided excellent drought protection, whereas drought-tolerant GMOs are mostly still an idea of the future.

So why is Fernandez making speeches that sound like Monsanto talking points? His background prior to working at the State Department was as a lawyer specializing in international finance and mergers and acquisitions, particularly in Latin America. Now he heads up the State Department’s Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), which works “to promote economic security and prosperity at home and abroad.” And part of such prosperity, according to EEB, includes promoting GMOs around the world.

[Read More…]

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