tagged w/ Center For Food Safety
My first experience with the perils of large scale seed banks was the scandal that erupted over the Fort Collins collection in the mid 1980s. Journalists had published stories dramatically detailing the grossly negligent manner in which deposits to the seed bank were treated. Numerous seed deposits were spilling out onto the floors of the facility, the facility was woefully understaffed, there was no testing of the seed and a virtually complete failure of required regeneration — in short a seed saving disaster. A legal petition by my organization to rectify the decision seemed to get the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) attention. But when no real action resulted we litigated. I was a very active member of that legal team. As such I reviewed much of the material in the case that documented USDA’s complete disregard for the safety and integrity of the seeds under its care. This litigation ultimately forced a settlement where USDA agreed to do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and conditions at the seed bank improved somewhat.
Since that first experience I learned that bigger is definitely not better or safer when it comes to seed saving. As noted elsewhere on this site, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) strongly advocates for in situ protection of plant diversity, and when ex situ seed saving is required it should reside at the most local and ecologically appropriate level. This has been one of the bases for CFS’ longstanding concerns about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Not surprisingly these fears have recently been justified. In December 2010 NordGen, the entity overseeing Svalbard, fired its Director Jessica Kathle. Some at NordGen believed that she was a “scapegoat” for the seed bank’s well known problems including continuing deficits, significant understaffing, and failure to do routine tests on the deposited seed to determine viability. (http://dagendresen.wordpress.com/about/Dot.) Sadly it seems like the Fort Collins fiasco redux.
There is however yet another important concern about Svalbard. The Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), which supports the operational costs of Svalbard, has received almost $30 million dollars in support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Global Diversity Trust, “Funding Status 1-1-2011.” http://www.croptrust.org/main/funds.php)This is by far the largest support of any non-governmental entity. As is well known, the Gates Foundation has very close working ties to Monsanto. The Gates Foundation invested $23 million in Monsanto in 2010 to help the company through some financial woes, and has been a determined supporter of spreading Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops throughout the developing world. In 2006 the Gates Foundation hired Rob Horsch, a former Monsanto Vice President and a key scientist involved in the creation of the company’s Round Up Ready crops in the 1980s, as their Senior Program Officer for their International Agriculture Development Program. This Monsanto connection to Svalbard is very troubling as the corporation owns almost a quarter of all the world’s commercial seeds and is the world’s leader in the genetic engineering of crops and the patenting of plant genetics (including plant genes, cells and seeds). Monsanto has also had a decade long history of persecuting and prosecuting thousands of farmers for saving seeds.
Svalbard’s ties to the Gates Foundation and Monsanto are not the only issue. Only two private corporations have donated to the GCDT. Dupont/Pioneer Seeds has donated $1 million as has Syngenta. (Global Diversity Trust, “Funding Status 1-1-2011.” http://www.croptrust.org/main/funds.php)Together these two companies own another 25% of the world’s commercial seeds and are also among the leaders in agriculture biotechnology and in patenting of plant genetics. So a major question looms. Why this interest by these biotech companies and their surrogates in paying the operational costs of Svalbard? These companies have no record of altruistic concern for the integrity and diversity of seeds and have in fact been destroying that diversity through genetic engineering and patenting for decades. The most obvious hypothesis is that these corporations see in Svalbard an opportunity to gain further control of the world’s plant genetics — being able to utilize the seed bank as a resource for germplasm that can be used for creating patentable hybrid or genetically engineered seed varieties.
To test that hypothesis I requested that the CFS legal team investigate the deposit agreements at Svalbard. The point of this analysis was to see if in some way the contract between Svalbard and depositors created an advantage for these corporations in their efforts to control and patent seed genetics. As the legal memorandum reveals, the answer to the question is “yes.” The Svalbard agreement does provide corporations seeking to patent plant genetics additional advantages in their efforts.
cont.My first experience with the perils of large scale seed banks was the scandal that... more
STATES, 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
In Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case which could have an enormous effect on the future of the American food industry. This is Monsanto's third appeal of the case, and if they win a favorable ruling from the high court, a deregulated Monsanto may find itself in position to corner the markets of numerous U.S. crops, and to litigate conventional farmers into oblivion.
Here's where it gets a bit dicier. Two Supreme Court justices have what appear to be direct conflicts of interest.
Charles Breyer, the judge who ruled in the original decision of 2007 which is being appealed, is Stephen Breyer's brother, who apparently views this as a conflict of interest and has recused himself.
From the years 1976 - 1979, Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto. Thomas apparently does not see this as a conflict of interest and has not recused himself.
Fox, meet henhouse.
The lawsuit was filed by plantiffs which include the Center for Food Safety, the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Dakota Resources Council and other farm, environmental and consumer groups and individual farmers. The original decision :
The federal district court in California issued its opinion on the deregulation of “Roundup Ready” alfalfa pursuant to the Plant Protection Act on February 13, 2007. Upon receiving Monsanto’s petition for deregulation of the alfalfa seed, APHIS conducted an Environmental Assessment and received over 500 comments in opposition to the deregulation. The opposition’s primary concern was the potential of contamination. APHIS, however, made a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and approved the deregulation petition, thereby allowing the seed to be sold without USDA oversight. Geertson Seed Farms, joined by a number of growers and associations, filed claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as the Endangered Species Act and Plant Protection Act. In regards to NEPA, they argued that the agency should have prepared an EIS for the deregulation.
Addressing only the NEPA claims, the court agreed that APHIS should have conducted an EIS because of the significant environmental impact posed by deregulation of the alfalfa seed. A realistic potential for contamination existed, said the court, but the agency had not fully inquired into the extent of this potential. The court also determined that APHIS did not adequately examine the potential effects of Roundup Ready alfalfa on organic farming and the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds and that there were “substantial questions” raised by the deregulation petition that the agency should have addressed in an EIS. Concluding that the question of whether the introduction of the genetically engineered alfalfa and its potential to affect non-genetic alfalfa posed a significant environmental impact necessitated further study, the court found that APHIS’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the agency to prepare an EIS. The court later enjoined the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa from March 30, 2007, until completion of the EIS and reconsideration of the deregulation petition, except for those farmers who had already purchased the seed. In May of 2007, the court enjoined any future planting of the alfalfa. An order by the court in June, 2007 required disclosure of all Roundup Ready planting sites.
Monsanto filed appeals in 2008 and 2009. In both instances, they were unsuccessful in having the original decision reversed, so they appealed to the Supreme Court, who agreed to hear the case.
Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States, behind corn, soybeans, and wheat. South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the plaintiffs, said Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his conventional alfalfa seed business because it was certain his 9,000 acres would be contaminated by the biotech genes.
Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by wind. The plant is also perennial, meaning GMO plants could live on for years.
"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate the conventional alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will own the entire alfalfa industry."
Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other legal actions against farmers who harvest crops that show the presence of the company's patented gene technology. It has sued farmers even when they have tried to keep their own fields free from contamination by biotech plants on neighbouring farms.
The case has implications beyond alfalfa crops. About eight hundred reviewed genetically engineered food applications were submitted to the USDA, yet no environmental impact statements were prepared. Even as this diary is being written, a federal judge in San Francisco is reviewing a similar case involving genetically modified sugar beets. The decision is expected this week and could halt planting and use of the gm sugar beets, which account for half of America's sugar supply.In Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear... more
The Institute for Responsible Technology (a.k.a. The Campaign for Healthier Eating in America) together with the Center for Food Safety, have updated their Non-GMO Shopping Guide. The updated Guide includes new features, such as a free iPhone App, ShopNoGMO, and it also cross-references products that participate with the Non-GMO Project’s third party GMO Avoidance Verification Program.
http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2010/02/26/non-gmo-shopping-guide-is-now-on-your-iphone/The Institute for Responsible Technology (a.k.a. The Campaign for Healthier Eating in... more