tagged w/ Biotech
The U.S. State Department will aggressively confront critics of agricultural biotechnology as the United States seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change, Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, told several hundred attendees from around the world at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual convention last week in Chicago.
Nearly 15,000 stakeholders from the medical, agricultural and industrial sectors crowded the vast McCormick Place conference center, where it can be a half-mile walk between meeting rooms. Highlights of the May 3-6 meeting were keynote presentations by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and former Vice President Al Gore. Lesser-known celebrities included New Yorker writer Michael Specter, author of the book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives (see also stories on Page 5).
Though he was not the first speaker at an opening afternoon "Leadership Summit," Fernandez warmed up the crowd when he said the State Department is ready to take on the naysayers. Agriculture has greater potential to mitigate climate change than either energy or transport measures, he said. "There are more people in the world, and the world is getting warmer. Our challenge is to produce more food with less."
Noting Turkey's recent ban on biotech food imports and India's rejection of biotech eggplant cultivation, Fernandez said the State Department is "working to overcome these obstacles." He outlined a four-pronged strategy to promote biotech crops worldwide: (1) highlighting the science; (2) confronting the critics; (3) building alliances; and (4) anticipating and addressing roadblocks to acceptance.
continued at the link if you have an account.The U.S. State Department will aggressively confront critics of agricultural... more
Red Flags Raised About Potential Negative Impacts of Proposed Large-Scale Release of Genetically Engineered Trees in the U.S.Washington, DC-- While the U.S. Supreme Court hears its first-ever case involving a genetically modified organism, alarms are sounding over the proposed planting of more than a quarter of a million genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees in the U.S., and transgenic trees are being globally condemned.
On April 27, the Supreme Court began to hear a case challenging a ban on the planting of a genetically engineered perennial alfalfa. The ban was implemented due to concerns about escape and contamination, and the inability of U.S. regulators to protect the public. 
In April, Reuters released a report exposing the fact that U.S. regulating agencies have "dropped the ball" when it comes to evaluating the potential risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 
Reuters highlighted concerns that, "the U.S. government conducts no independent testing of these biotech crops before they are approved, and does little to track their consequences after." The report even went so far as to state, "Indeed, many experts say the U.S. government does more to promote global acceptance of biotech crops than to protect the public from possible harmful consequences."
This is a particular concern since the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), one of the named agencies in the report, is considering approving a request by ArborGen to plant 260,000 GE trees across seven states even though researchers admit some of these trees produce viable pollen and some seedlings are assured to escape.
Referring to the questionable efficacy of the altered fertility technology in these GE trees, researcher Steve Strauss said, "There does not seem to have been any serious field studies, in any crop, sufficient to estimate the operational effectiveness of containment genes." Adding, "Until many such studies are published, it would be unwise to assume that genes can be fully and safely contained in the near future." 
Additionally, MSNBC , NPR  and PLoS Pathogens  recently reported that a new strain of a deadly pathogenic fungus, Cryptococcus gattii, has been causing fatal human illnesses throughout the Pacific Northwest. The fungus, which is known to grow on some species of eucalyptus trees, has killed one on four people in Oregon, and 40 out of 220 people infected throughout the region. While it is not known whether genetically engineered eucalyptus plantations would be a host for the fungus, the fact that some of the GE eucalyptus would have reduced lignin has raised concerns that they could be more susceptible to fungal infection.
Another study by researcher Claire Williams, recently published in the American Journal of Botany, found that pollen from trees remains viable over long distances.  This raises concerns about the potential for pollen from genetically engineered versions of native tree species like pines to travel large distances and contaminate forests. Williams' study found that, "GM pine plantings have the potential to disperse viable pollen at least 41 kilometers from the source."
On April 22, during the World Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a broad gathering of Indigenous Peoples, social movements and organizations from around the world, issued a consensus condemnation of transgenic trees (GMO trees) and monoculture plantations. 
"Given all of this evidence, the USDA should not even consider approving the release of any genetically engineered trees," insisted Anne Petermann of Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign.  "The fact that there are so many unknowns and no independent studies evaluating the risks of GE trees--which include human health risks and damage to forests and wildlife--is a major reason why the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2006 and 2008 urged countries to use the Precautionary Principle with regard to GE trees. The Precautionary Principle would require GE trees to be proven safe before they are released." Washington, DC-- While the U.S. Supreme Court hears its first-ever case involving a... more
Diverse Interests Back Center for Food Safety, Oppose Monsanto in Upcoming High Court Hearing on Biotech AlfalfaSTATES, SCIENTISTS, ORGANIC AND CONVENTIONAL FARMERS, FOOD COMPANIES, EXPORTERS, FORMER GOVT. OFFICIALS, AND LEGAL SCHOLARS FILE BRIEFS IN SUPPORT. SEVEN AMICUS BRIEFS FILED IN ALL.
A myriad of interests – ranging from food companies to farmers unions to scientific experts and legal scholars – have filed briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Center for Food Safety and opposed to Monsanto in a case to be argued on April 27, Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms. This will be the first genetically engineered crop case ever heard by the High Court.
All lower courts that have heard the case temporarily stopped the planting of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” alfalfa because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) failed to analyze the crop’s impacts on farmers and the environment. Although it is undisputed that USDA violated environmental laws and that the agency must rigorously analyze the crop’s impacts if it is to again approve it for sale, Monsanto is arguing that the lower courts should have allowed the planting of the now-illegal crop to go forward anyway.
The Attorneys General of California, Oregon and Massachusetts filed a brief on behalf of their citizens supporting the Center, emphasizing the “States’ interests in protecting their natural resources and their citizens’ rights to be informed about the environmental impacts of federal actions.” The States note “immense” ramifications for all environmental protection should Monsanto prevail, which would damage the States’ interest in “protection of wilderness, habitat preservation for endangered species, watershed protection, [and] air quality.”
Leading organic businesses and trade groups – including Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, the Organic Trade Association, United Natural Foods, Eden Foods, Annie’s, Clif Bar and Nature’s Path Foods – warned of the imminent threat from unwanted biotech contamination to their businesses. The $25 billion-a-year organic industry, the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture for more than a decade, is at particular risk from the effects of contamination because alfalfa is pollinated by bees, which can fly many miles to cross-pollinate different fields. Organic dairy alone is a one-billion-dollar-a-year industry and depends on organic hay as the main forage for its cows. These commercial entities warned that “widespread planting of RR alfalfa imposes massive risk and uncertainty on the continued viability of organic dairy farming” and that overturning the lower courts would “irreparably harm” their ability to grow and sell organic food.
Conventional farmers and exporters filed a similar brief, warning of lost overseas alfalfa markets in Asia, Europe and the Middle East that reject biotech-contaminated crops. The Arkansas Rice Growers Association, which produces approximately half of all exported U.S. rice and which in 2006 lost their overseas markets from a biotech rice contamination episode, voiced similar concerns: “Genetically engineered (“GE”) crops have already contaminated conventional crops, resulting in damages of over a billion dollars to the rice trade, and ruinous results to many of Amici’s export operations.”
A full list of those filing briefs, as well as background and related information, are available Here.
Full List of Amici:
• Amicus brief from California, Oregon, and Massachusetts
• Amicus brief from CROPP Cooperative (Organic Valley), Montana Organic Ass’n, Nat’l Cooperative Grocers’ Ass’n, Nat’l Organic Coalition, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Organic Seed Alliance, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Ass’n, Organic Trade Ass’n, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, United Natural Foods, Inc., Eden Foods, Inc., Annie’s, Inc., Clif Bar & Company, Nature’s Path Foods, Inc., Purist Foods, Inc., Stonyfield Farm, Inc., and Straus Family Creamery
• Amicus brief from Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Rice Producers of California, New England Farmers Union, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, FedCo Seeds, Inc., Nat’l Farmers Union of Canada, Genetics International, Eckenberg Farms, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture
• Amicus brief from Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Responsible Genetics, Dr. Steven R. Radosevich, Dr. Paul E. Arriola, Dr. John Fagan, Dr. E. Ann Clark, Dr. Don M. Huber, Dr. Rubens Onofre Nodari, Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, and Caroline Cox
• Amicus brief from Dinah Bear, Robert Glicksman, Oliver Houck, Daniel Mandelker, Thomas McGarity, Robert Percival, Zygmunt Plater, Nicholas Robinson, and Gary Widman
• Amicus brief from Natural Resources Defense Counsel and Prof. Craig N. Johnston, Prof. Michael C. Blumm, Prof. David W. Case, Prof. Jamison E. Colburn, Prof. William F. Funk, Prof. David K. Mears, Prof. Patrick A. Parenteau, Prof. John T. Parry, Prof. Melissa A. Powers, and Prof. Mary C. Wood
• Amicus brief from Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society of the United States, and Center for Biological Diversity
You can read the Amicus briefs at the link.STATES, SCIENTISTS, ORGANIC AND CONVENTIONAL FARMERS, FOOD COMPANIES, EXPORTERS,... more
Small-scale food producers and farmers have been vocal about their concerns that the Senate will pass highly burdensome food-safety legislation.
Equally worried, but much less vocal, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It frets over major gains by its arch-rival, the U.S. food and Drug Administration, over local food producers and small farms. USDA is so worried it has even had its Senate allies include language that "prohibited the FDA from 'impeding, minimizing, or affecting' USDA authority on meat, poultry, and eggs," according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.
The legislation, if it passes as expected (and is signed into law, as President Obama has already vowed to do), will represent a major coup for FDA, and in the process, a loss in influence for USDA. The bill wouldn't so much take power from USDA as give FDA new power, and in the process providing FDA a leg up on its rival.
USDA had for more than a decade pinned its hopes on gaining the upper hand in food safety through the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), but when that bombed earlier this year, FDA had a clear opportunity, which it has expertly exploited through the pending legislation.
The FDA's growing authority over the American food system will likely include the power to quarantine large sections of the country if it decides there's a food safety emergency and to randomly inspect virtually all food producers, including roadside stands, and monitor and approve their preparation of detailed, and costly, hazard-control plans. Moreover, the legislation gives the FDA a new foothold among farmers via the authority establish safety standards (about use of compost, application of fertilizers, etc.) under the euphemistically titled United Nations program, "Good Agricultural Practices".
With power, of course, comes money--in this case, lots more money, for inspectors to carry out all those random inspections of thousands of tiny food producers.
"We are seeking better controls at the point of production," crowed FDA's commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, in a February speech about food safety. One main "point of (food) production"--the farm-- has of course been USDA's turf.
The FDA and USDA have long participated in an uneasy alliance overseeing the food supply, with confusing responsibilities (USDA oversees animal slaughtering, FDA oversees dairy production). The loss of influence for USDA that will come via the food safety legislation is merely the latest failure for USDA. A few months ago, it suffered a major setback when farmer ire forced Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to trash, at least temporarily, its own version of a food safety program--the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The program would have allowed the USDA to oversee the registration of hundreds of thousands of farms, and the RFID-chip tagging of literally billions of animals (including chickens, goats, sheep, cattle, and so forth)--ostensibly to protect America's meat supply from the ravages of quickly-spreading animal disease.
Why should anyone care about which bureaucratic behemoth comes out on top in this kind of rivalry?
For one very good reason: For all its coddling of Big Ag, the USDA has shown itself to be increasingly supportive of the growing local-food movement in recent years, while the FDA has long been very tough on small food companies, and shows no sign of wanting to encourage the move to locally-grown food.
And while Michael Taylor, the FDA's food safety czar, talks in speeches about approving of "sustainable" food production, the agency's actions toward those involved in promoting sustainable agriculture have long been the opposite. Any food company that even begins to suggest its food might provide health benefits becomes a target of the agency's knee-jerk reaction that it is positioning food as a drug. Back in 2006, the FDA sent warning letters--threats of court action and possible shutdown--to 29 Michigan cherry growers, for citing studies suggesting health benefits in concentrated cherry juice.
In 2008, FDA filed suit against a small seller of herbs, coconut oil and other health foods for allegedly making similar food-as-drug claims. To avoid legal bills that would have bankrupted it, Wilderness Family Naturals signed a consent decree with the FDA that allows the FDA to conduct twice yearly examinations over a three-year period of its labeling and advertising--that the company has to pay for to the turn of $100 an hour.
When the FDA tried to impose the same kind of burden on Organic Pastures Dairy Co., a California producer of unpasteurized milk, as part of a settlement of an FDA suit for, in part, suggesting that raw milk helps alleviate symptoms of asthma (which has been demonstrated in large-scale European studies), the dairy fought back. Just a few weeks ago, a federal judge, Oliver Wanger, castigated the FDA lawyer arguing for the sanctions.
cont.Small-scale food producers and farmers have been vocal about their concerns that the... more
Nombulelo Siqwana-Ndulo (PhD)
FoodFirst, April 15 2010
Multinational seed and chemical companies looking to gain a new customer base in Africa are facing increasing resistance from both farmers and consumers. Nonetheless, they are making inroads by partnering with African institutions and governments that are eager to ‘modernize' their agricultural sectors. South Africa is of particular importance in this regard. The country has gone against the grain of general distrust of GMOs in Africa to become a gateway for the distribution of GM food aid; the commercialization and export of GM seeds; and experimentation with GM crops not approved elsewhere.[i]
But here too, they face mounting opposition. In July 2009, for instance, the South African government rejected the commercial release application for GM potatoes after the Executive Council, a government licensing body, concluded that the toxicology studies were "inadequate, scientifically poorly designed and fundamentally flawed." It was also reported that, in 2008/2009, 80% of Monsanto's GM maize in South Africa failed to produce a crop, leading critics to call for urgent investigation and a ban on all GM foods.
In 2002, the South African government, in partnership with U.S.-based biotech firm Monsanto, launched the so-called Massive Food Production Program (MFPP) in the country's Eastern Cape Province. The Eastern Cape is characterized by a dual economy in which the western half of the province (previously white South Africa under apartheid) is dominated by commercial agriculture while the eastern half consists of subsistence agriculture. After the advent of democracy in 1994, there was tremendous pressure to develop the rural economy here.
MFPP is a "flagship program" of the South African government designed to bring about agrarian transformation through a "green revolution."[ii]The program operates by granting subsidies (which are phased out over time) and credit to small farming communities to purchase fertilizers, pesticides and GM or hybrid seeds. Through MFPP, Monsanto has essentially been elevated to the status of a government "extension agency" responsible for educating and training farmers about GM seeds and technologies. Of course, as a private company, they are unlikely to share with farmers the potentially disastrous effects of planting their land with GM crops. Rather, they advise farmers to buy and use the recommended agrochemicals. They also instruct them to plant only GM maize, as a monoculture, instead of intercropping with beans or pumpkins as they have done for centuries to ensure their food security.
A white farmer interviewed by GRAIN, paid to mentor an MFPP community, acknowledged that the cost of the inputs was just too high for small farmers to afford on their own,without continuing to amass debt. He was quoted saying he was "tempted to tell farmers to just buy food with the money" as their losses would be less than growing the food themselves through MFPP.
South African farmers are becoming increasingly aware of the deception that GM seeds and technologies will bring development and pull them out of poverty, as their experiences have not born out these claims. In populations with low literacy levels, the farmers are given little or no information about the effects of planting GM seeds, until it is too late, that is. It is not surprising that western consumers who are largely literate and have access to information are wary of GM foods.
Tragically, even the government officials in charge of co-implementing the MFPP program are ignorant of GMOs. A number NGOs and Human Rights organization have taken on the responsibility of educating the farmers about the effects of planting GMOs.
The constitution of South Africa, hailed as one of the most progressive in the world, obligates the government to take steps to protect its citizens. As part of the Consumer Protection Act, the government is indeed drafting policies to regulate GMOs, but many NGOs say it is unclear who will implement and monitor these regulations.
What's more, the South African NGO Safeage reports that the U.S. seed company Pannar and the Swiss firm Syngenta are partnering with local businesses to introduce a program of their own called AfriCan, targeting the poor farmers inthe Eastern Cape who have yet to be reached. The project incorporates farmers into a contract-farming scheme linking them to credit, GM seeds and chemical inputs-much like MFPP. The pilot project, which hopes to be reproduced throughout Africa, was launched in March 2010 with 500 farmers (with .5 to 4 hectare plots) and will run for 18 months.[iii]
Despite claims that there have been no substantiated threats to human and animal health caused by GM crops, subsistence farmers who participated in the MFPP project testified to the contrary in a workshop held by the NGO Biowatch (SA). A farmer from the organization Siyazakha expressed her dismay of the quality of "mielies" (maize), a staple food, produced with"free" seeds from the project. She stated, "the mielies produced are making us sick; they break easily and are bad quality. When we give it to our chickens it affects them, we want to grow our own seed and protect them". Another small-scale farmer from Siyazakha, pointed out that using fertilizers destroys the soil after just a few years and food can no longer be grown on it. He stressed that they want use manure and produce crops using traditional farming methods.[iv]
cont.Nombulelo Siqwana-Ndulo (PhD) FoodFirst, April 15 2010... more
URGENT ACTION: The Senate is expected to vote on this soon. If in U.S., please email your Senators directly on this:
NOTE: As the press release (item 1) notes, no farming methods or technologies other than GM crops are mentioned anywhere in the Global Food Security Act. And the bill's GMO mandate essentially amounts to a "stealth corporate giveaway" embedded in a foreign aid bill. Not surprisingly, Monsanto has lobbied more than any other interest in support of this bill.
1. 100+ Groups Join Scientists and Development Experts in Urging Senate to "Strip the GM Mandate" from the Global Food Security Act
Controversial language said more likely to feed biotech corporations than the world's poor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – 13 April 2010
[SAN FRANCISCO and JOHANNESBURG] -- Experts, scientists and advocates from around the world petitioned the U.S. Senate today in a concerted attempt to strip what they term a "stealth corporate giveaway" embedded in a foreign aid bill which is expected to hit the Senate floor soon. The "Global Food Security Act" (S.384), sponsored by Senators Casey (D-PA) and Lugar (R-IN), is intended to reform aid programs to focus on longer-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises. While lauding the bill's intentions, the petitioners object to a clause earmarking one agricultural technology (genetically modified - GM crops) for potentially billions of dollars in federal funding. $7.7 billion in U.S. funds are associated with the bill and no other farming methods or technologies are mentioned.
Monsanto has lobbied more than any other interest in support of this bill. The company is one of two or three dominant corporations in the increasingly concentrated biotechnology industry likely to benefit from the new research funding stream as well as from future profits from their patented products (both seeds and pesticides).
Today, scientists, development experts spanning a dozen countries, and 100+ groups representing anti-hunger, family farm, farmworker, consumer and sustainable agriculture delivered a letter urging the Senate to reject the "Global Food Security Act" until the bill is made technology-neutral. Their specific concern: language in the bill that would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to read "Agricultural research carried out under this Act shall . . . include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including gm technology."
"The bill's focus on genetically modified technology simply makes no sense," stated Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network. "Independent science tells us that genetically modified (GM) crops have neither increased yield nor reduced hunger in the world. The most credible and comprehensive assessments of agriculture to date say that if we want to end global poverty and hunger, we'll need to focus on increasing the biodiversity and ecological resilience of small-scale farming systems."
"Here in Africa, pressure to import GM crops is wreaking havoc on our local economies," explained Mariam Mayet of the African Center for Biosafety. "In South Africa, we are now dumping GM corn into other countries, disrupting local markets and undermining the livelihoods of family farmers there. As a result, Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on GM corn imports, and Kenya—which has a bumper crop of GM-free corn and doesn't need any imports—is now grappling with a massive, illegal and unwanted shipment of 280,000 metric tons of GM corn from South Africa. A handful of powerful agribusinesses' obsession with GM is pitting African countries against each other, with Monsanto and international grain traders reaping the benefits and ordinary farmers losing out. The last thing we need from the U.S. is a bill legislating yet more money for GM crops."
Concerned groups and individuals note that if Congress singles out one technology and attaches it to a pool of foreign aid money, the pressure on developing countries to ignore other priorities and scientifically valid options—and to open their markets to that one technology—will be substantial.
“At the end of the day, the GM mandate has more to do with breaking open markets for American biotech corporations than fighting hunger," explained Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. "To get at the root of the global hunger crisis, we need to tackle poverty, something no technological silver bullet can ever do.”
continuedURGENT ACTION: The Senate is expected to vote on this soon. If in U.S., please email... more
In what is being hailed as a major victory for workers in the biotech and nanotech fields, a former scientist with pharmaceutical firm Pfizer has been awarded $1.37 million for being fired after raising the alarm over researchers being infected with a genetically engineered "AIDS-like" virus.
Becky McClain, a molecular biologist from Deep River, Connecticut, filed a lawsuit against Pfizer in 2007, claiming she had been wrongly terminated for complaining about faulty safety equipment that allowed a "dangerous lentivirus" to infect her and some of her colleagues.
The Hartford Courant describes the virus as "similar to the one that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS." Health experts testified that the virus has affected the way McClain's body processes potassium, which they say causes McClain to suffer complete paralysis as often as a dozen times per month, the Courant reports.
McClain's lawsuit (PDF) asserted that Pfizer had interfered with her right to free speech, and that she should have been protected from retaliation by whistleblower legislation.
Pfizer challenged her assertion, claiming McClain only started complaining about safety problems once her employment was terminated, the Associated Press reports. Pfizer also claimed to have investigated McClain's claims about safety violations and found them to be untrue, according to the New London Day.
On Thursday, a jury in a US District Court in Connecticut disagreed with Pfizer, granting McClain the $1.37 million, as well as punitive damages, meaning the total amount could be much greater.
The WorkersCompensation.com Web site says the ruling is being "considered the first successful employee claim in the biotech and nanotech industry."
Workers' rights advocates are pointing to the McClain lawsuit as "evidence that risks caused by cutting-edge genetic manipulation have outstripped more slowly evolving government regulation of laboratories," reports the Courant.In what is being hailed as a major victory for workers in the biotech and nanotech... more
Sidestepping a stalled Senate confirmation vote, President Obama appointed Islam Siddiqui during Senate recess to be chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. trade representative. Dr. Siddiqui’s nomination was held up in the Senate and was opposed by more than 80 environmental, small-farm, and consumer groups. More than 90,000 concerned citizens contacted the White House and Senate to oppose the nomination. Siddiqui is a former pesticide lobbyist and is currently vice president of science and regulatory affairs at CropLife America, a biotech and pesticide trade group that lobbies to weaken environmental laws.Sidestepping a stalled Senate confirmation vote, President Obama appointed Islam... more
According to the NYTimes, a federal judge has invalidated two patents on human genes, claiming that
the patents were “improperly granted” because they involved a “law of nature.”
While this decision is certain to be appealed by patent owner Myriad Genetics, it has the potential to drive widespread changes throughout the biotech industry.
Patent law doesn’t presently allow laws of nature to be patented. No-one could patent green photons, for example, or the quantum mechanical property of particle tunneling. What can be patented are devices that measure or creates green photons in a new and novel way, or that use tunneling as a means to create a new semiconductor device for electronics.
The genes in question are unquestionably natural and discovered, not created, and so its not at all a surprise that the patents were thrown out based on existing patent law. It strikes me, a non-expert, as the reasonable and correct thing to do. However, according to the NYTimes article, most experts expected that the judge would dismiss the case in favor of the patent holder instead of voiding the patents.
More at the link.According to the NYTimes, a federal judge has invalidated two patents on human genes,... more
While the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, recently reported that the Church has no official position on the practice of modifying the genes of produce, it appears that change may be in the air for Pope’s inner circle. The hope is that the appointment of Cardinal Peter Turkson in January as the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to replace the notably pro-GMO Cardinal Renato Martino would usher in a more cautionary perspective about GMOs from the Vatican.
The L’Osservatore Romano comments concerning the alleged neutrality of the Holy See’s were made shortly after the European Commission approved for commercial cultivation Amflora, a genetically modified starchy potato. Amflora, produced by the largest chemical company in the world, BASF, is currently only approved for starch production, not human consumption, but the leftover skins will be fed to cattle. It will used for industrial purposes like paper and yarn production and making spray concrete.
The controversy surrounding Amflora is that the potato contains a gene that is resistant to antibiotics including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin. When antibiotic resistance is making frequent headlines, the European Commission’s approval, and BASF’s cultivation of such crop, is, in the eyes of many, irresponsible.
Despite the Vatican’s alleged neutrality, GMO Journal, which has previously expressed an opinion that reverberations from the Pope’s inner circle suggest a pro-GMO stance, hopes that the recent appointment of Cardinal Turkson signals that the Vatican is ready to confront the GMO debate with greater objectivity and less willingness to blindly repeat the industry jingles of needing GMOs to save the world from hunger.
In fact, unlike his predecessor Cardinal Martino, as the new head of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Turkson would urge an attitude of caution and further study of the possible negative effects of genetically engineered organisms.
Continue reading: http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2010/03/30/vaticans-perspective-on-gmo-signaling-winds-of-change/While the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano,... more
Bill Gates and the biotech juggernauts are doing their best to keep Africa dependent on imported technology, just like in the bad old days of colonialism. Gates, Monsanto and Pioneer have joined the long list of those believing they know best how the continent should grow its food. If the history of colonialism and subsequent development practice have taught us anything, it is that all interventions must strengthen resilience, encourage diversity and be locally appropriate. The biotech seed proposal for Africa fails on all three counts.
A Feb. 17 Des Moines Register article - "Pioneer, Gates to Give African Farmers Biotech Seed" - implies that the U.S. model of crop production will be exported to Africa nations by giving African farmers biotech seed. Exporting a model developed specifically for this country to the 47 countries of sub-Saharan Africa is bad enough; worse, this model carries the high economic, environmental and social costs of producing only one or two crops on the same land year after year. It has caused enormous problems in the United States. Why would we want to export it?
Biotech corn is designed for monoculture production on large acreages like we have in the United States. African agriculture is overwhelmingly small scale (on farms of less than one acre) and diverse, allowing for a more diverse diet as well as greater overall output given the dependence on rain-fed agriculture and the very limited access to external expensive inputs, such as fertilizer.
It's often claimed that biotech seeds will yield larger crops. In fact, there is no evidence that crops from biotechnology seeds produce higher yields than do crops from conventionally bred seeds. Both Pioneer and Monsanto claim they will make the seeds available royalty-free. But nothing is said about providing seeds at cost. Nor is anything said about the biotech industry's stringent rules prohibiting saved seed. Biotech becomes a vehicle to introduce a need for a slew of expensive inputs, many of them fossil fuel-based, which African farmers have historically provided for themselves on-farm.
If Gates is going to be responsible for spending hundreds of millions on agriculture in Africa, we need his foundation to do better.
So, what are the alternatives to high input agriculture in Africa?
The Nigerian National Variety Release Committee is set to release improved corn varieties that address drought, low soil fertility, pests, diseases and parasitic weeds. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) developed these varieties in partnership with other African plant breeding programs in Nigeria. These include 13 open pollinated varieties with varying maturities and four hybrids with drought tolerance. They do not have the costs or legal hassles associated with genetic engineered varieties, and will be suited for small farmers.
Another example is the work of Pedro Sanchez, who spent his career developing low-cost and comprehensive soil rejuvenation programs for eastern and southern Africa and other food-deficit nations. Sanchez, the 2002 winner of the World Food Prize, has shown how biodiverse small farms are able to not only produce more local food but also build soil fertility and rural economies. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development - now endorsed by more than 50 countries - reached similar conclusions.
In the United States, the biotech industry has dictated the terms of the technology, trampling over the interests and concerns of farmers and the public alike. Biotech crops have resulted in fewer farmers growing more agricultural raw materials and less food, exactly the opposite of what is needed in Africa.
cont.Bill Gates and the biotech juggernauts are doing their best to keep Africa dependent... more
A coalition of family farmers, consumers and other critics of corporate agriculture are calling on the U.S. government to crack down on what they see as unfair consolidation of the nation's food system into the hands of a few multinationals --particularly Monsanto.A coalition of family farmers, consumers and other critics of corporate agriculture... more
The listed blogs in the article keep fledgling and seasoned biotechnologists alike well-informed about the nuances and movements within their rich, diverse community of seemingly limitless potential.
Link: http://becomingaradiologist.org/50-best-blogs-for-biotech-students/The listed blogs in the article keep fledgling and seasoned biotechnologists alike... more
The latest data from the ISAAA on GM crops around the world  reveals that seven out of 25 countries had reduced GM cultivation areas in 2009 and another remained static. The data from the industry-funded group reveals that no new countries grew GM crops during this period.
The combined area of all GM crops in 2009 covered just 2.7% of all agricultural land.  Very little of this production went directly to feed people, as most went into animal feed (GM maize, soy and canola), industrial scale biofuels (GM maize, soy and canola) or to produce cotton.
The expansion of GM maize in Brazil alone accounted for over 60% of the 9 million hectares increase in GM cultivation area in 2009. In seven other countries the area under GM crops actually fell in 2009 (compared with 2008), including two of what ISAAA describe as "mega" countries:
*China's GM cultivation area was down 3%;
*Paraguay’s GM cultivation area was down 19%.
The only other country with significant growth in area was India, where Bt cotton cultivation expanded. However the biotech industry received a major setback recently when the Indian government placed a moratorium on the approval of GM Bt brinjal (aubergine) for commercial production pending further scientific assessment on safety and cross pollination. The decision followed months of mass protests throughout the country. 
Globally the same six countries continue to dominate GM cropping: US, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada and China grew nearly 95% of all GM crops, while the remaining production area in 20 other countries remains low. One crop, GM herbicide tolerant soybeans (mostly Monsanto’s Roundup Ready), accounted for 52% of all GM crops. In all, GM soybeans, maize, cotton and canola accounted for over 99% of all plantings, demonstrating that no new GM crops have been adopted on any scale since GM crops were first grown commercially.
The US grew the highest number of different types of GM. However, deregulation of GM herbicide tolerant alfalfa and GM sugar beet have both been suspended by US courts because of the failure of the US Environmental Protection Agency  to conduct an environmental impact assessment on the crops.
The ISAAA report fails to assess weed resistance to glyphosate, which has become a major problem in GM herbicide tolerant crops in North and South America.  More weed killers are being used to combat this problem, and in the US the total of amount of herbicide used each year has increased since GMHT crops were introduced in 1996. 
In Europe, the majority of GM maize (the only crop approved for cultivation) was again grown in Spain, but there was a 4% fall in the area grown in 2009. Figures given by ISAAA for the EU reveal that the area fell in five out of seven of the principal maize growing regions in Spain in 2009  – a decline that began in some regions in 2004.
Elsewhere in Europe the area of GM maize fell for the second year in a row:
*Germany's GM cultivation (where a ban was introduced in 2009) was down 100%;
*The Czech Republic's GM cultivation was down 31%;
*Romania's GM cultivation was down 57%;
*Slovakia's GM cultivation was down 54%.
The area in Poland under GM remained static in 2009. Five other EU countries have banned the cultivation of Monsanto's GM maize. 
Recently published figures reveal the extent to which GM crops are being converted to biofuels rather than used to feed people. In 2008 12.2 million hectares of GM crops in the US were used for biofuels (19.5% of total US GM area and 10% of the global GM area).  The majority of this was from the conversion of maize into bio-ethanol. GM maize and soya production in Latin America is also being used to produce biofuels, but detailed data are not available.
Africa remains an unreceptive area for GM crops with only three countries growing any. ISAAA claim a large increase in Bt cotton area in Burkina Faso. However, the Bt cotton seed price in Burkino Faso is reported to exceed the total input costs of non-GM cotton farmers in other parts of West Africa  by more than a third. A recent study of GM Bt cotton crops presented strong evidence that many poorer farmers had "been bypassed altogether" and were not benefitting from using GM seed. 
98 Organizations Oppose Obama's Monsanto Man, Islam Siddiqui, for US Agricultural Trade RepresentativeA large coalition of groups – including the Organic Consumers Association – has been fighting since the fall to block Obama's nomination of CropLife/biotech industry rep and former pesticide lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, to the position of Chief Ag Negotiator at the US Office of the Trade Rep. The nomination was approved by the Senate Finance Committee, but is stalled in the Senate. It could go to a Senate floor vote any day now. The coalition sent the following letter to the Senate on February 22, 2010. If you would like to send a letter to your Senator, please click here.
The following 98 organizations are writing you to express our opposition to the nomination of Islam Siddiqui as Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the office of the United States Trade Representative. Our organizations— representing family farmers, farmworkers, fishers and sustainable agriculture, environmental, consumer, anti-hunger and other advocacy groups—urge you to reject Dr. Siddiqui’s appointment when it comes up for a floor vote, despite the Senate Finance Committee's favorable report of his nomination on December 23, 2009.
Siddiqui’s record at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and his role as a former registered lobbyist for CropLife America (whose members include Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow), has revealed him to consistently favor agribusinesses’ interests over the interests of consumers, the environment and public health (see attached fact sheet). We believe Siddiqui’s nomination severely weakens the Obama Administration’s credibility in promoting healthier and more sustainable local food systems here at home. His appointment would also send an unfortunate signal to the rest of the world that the United States plans to continue down the failed path of high-input and energy-intensive industrial agriculture by promoting toxic pesticides, inappropriate seed biotechnologies and unfair trade agreements on nations that do not want and can least afford them.
The United States urgently needs a trade negotiator who understands that current trade agreements work neither for farmers nor the world’s hungry. With farmers here and abroad struggling to respond to water scarcity and increasingly volatile growing conditions, we need a resilient and restorative model of agriculture that adapts to and mitigates climate change and that moves us towards energy-efficient farming.
The most comprehensive analysis of global agriculture to date, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) states unequivocally that “business as usual is not an option.” We need a new, sustainable model of biodiverse, ecologically-based agriculture that regenerates soil health, sequesters carbon, feeds communities, protects farmworkers and puts profits back in the hands of family farmers and rural communities. Siddiqui’s track record shows that he favors none of these solutions.
We call on the Senate to reject Islam Siddiqui’s nomination and reorient trade policy to serve the interests of family farmers, farmworkers, consumers and the planet.
[List of 98 organizations below.]A large coalition of groups – including the Organic Consumers Association... more
The anti-technological aspect [in James Cameron's Avatar] is strange because the movie is among most technically sophisticated ever: it uses a crazy 2D and 3D camera, harnesses the most advanced computer animation techniques imaginable, and has apparently improved the state-of-the-art when it comes to cinema. But Avatar’s story argues that technology is bad. Humans destroyed their home world through environmental disaster and use military might to annihilate the locals and steal their resources.' The question is two-fold: why have a technically sophisticated, anti-technical movie, and why are we drawn to it?
Part of the answer lies in Neal Stephenson's Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/17/opinion/17stephenson.html?_r=1The anti-technological aspect [in James Cameron's Avatar] is strange because the... more
So Hollywood trashed the world in 2012, and scourged it in The Road. But neither apocalypse delivered the sweet tang of satisfaction. That's because what the Earth needs now are life-distorting biotech mutation stories. Here's why:
First of all, there haven't been very many biotech apocalypse flicks at all, even though genetic engineering and other genome/proteome-based weirdness are freaking everybody out in the pop science media. Possibly 28 Days Later is the iconic example of a biotech apocalypse, since it's a human-made virus that unleashes the zombie hoardes. But honestly, we can do better than plagues - we've all seen those before. Besides, the upcoming World War Z movie is probably going to hold the whole plague subgenre hostage to its awesomeness next year.
So what would have to happen to produce a really great biotech apocalypse that wasn't just a virus scare with zombies that made us all think disappointedly of I Am Legend?
First of all, the biotech armageddon would have to affect the entire biosphere, not just humans. When it comes to imagining this scenario I always think of Kathleen Ann Goonan's Jazz Quintet novels, which begin with Queen City Jazz. She creates a future where many people move into biotech cities whose entire infrastructure is mutable and organic - genetically-engineered bees keep the cities "growing" by fertilizing the buildings, which are actually giant wildflowers. The problem comes when the city itself is infested with a virus that causes its entire fabric to remake itself to resemble stories from files stored in the city's library. What if your city decided that it wanted to be a film noir Paris, and then reprogrammed every person and building to emulate that (fictional) place?
If you wanted to go even weirder, visit the scenarios that Rudy Rucker comes up with in Hylozoic, where every object on the planet becomes sentient. Suddenly you are having an emotional relationship with your telephone, which has a lot of opinions about how you've abused it in the past.
I'm not saying we need movie versions of these books, though that might be nice if done by the right people. What we need is for mainstream media to catch up to what is happening in literature and in the lab.
Though I wasn't entirely crazy about Minority Report, one thing that film got right was its emphasis on believable technology. The filmmakers went to MIT, checked out labs where futuristic computer interfaces and biotech are being invented, and incorporated them into the film. I'd love to see the movie that got made after some filmmakers spent some time hanging out at the Department of Energy's Genome Research Institute, or the Max Planck Institute in Europe - or, hell, how about just reading even one essay by Drew Endy?
Continued below . . . . .
http://io9.com/5418516/give-me-a-biotech-apocalypse-that-i-can-believe-inSo Hollywood trashed the world in 2012, and scourged it in The Road. But neither... more
How can the public trust government agencies to ensure the safety of GMOs if those agencies have a long track record of failure? USDA's regulatory track record begs the question of whether it is a government “regulatory” agency or an industry group.
http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2009/12/03/usda-and-gmos-the-roots-of-failure/How can the public trust government agencies to ensure the safety of GMOs if those... more
Articles noted by the GMO group at Care 2
E-mail messages obtained by the New York Times show that statements by dozens of lawmakers entered into the official record of the House debate on healthcare were ghostwritten, in whole or part, by lobbyists for biotechnology company Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotech companies. The company estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats.E-mail messages obtained by the New York Times show that statements by dozens of... more