Friday, April 18, 2014


Crop dusting near Ripley, Mississippi, USA. Roger Smith via'Extreme' Levels of RoundUp are the norm in GMO soya

Thomas Bøhn and Marek Cuhra

1st April 2014

To accommodate high levels of Roundup residues in GM soya, limits were raised 200-fold - with no scientific justification and ignoring growing evidence of toxicity. What Monsanto calls 'extreme levels' are now the norm - but only in GM crops.

MRL values appear to have been adjusted, not based on new scientific evidence, but in response to actual observed increases in the content of residues in GM soybeans.
Food and feed quality are crucial to human and animal health.
Quality can be defined as sufficiency of appropriate minerals, vitamins and fats, etc. but it also includes the absence of toxins, whether man-made or from other sources.
Surprisingly, almost no data exist in the scientific literature on herbicide residues in herbicide tolerant genetically modified (GM) plants - even after nearly 20 years on the market.
In research recently published by our laboratory (Bøhn et al. 2014) we collected soybean samples grown under three typical agricultural conditions: organic, GM, and conventional (but non-GM). The GM soybeans were resistant to the herbicide Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.
All the GM samples had Roundup residues - the others did not
We tested these samples for nutrients and other compounds as well as relevant pesticides, including glyphosate and its principal breakdown product, Aminomethylphosponic acid (AMPA).
All of the individual samples of GM-soy contained residues of both glyphosate and AMPA, on average 9.0 mg/kg. This amount is greater than is typical for many vitamins. 
In contrast, no sample from the conventional or the organic soybeans showed residues of these chemicals (see Fig. 1 - above right).
This demonstrates that Roundup Ready GM-soybeans sprayed during the growing season take up and accumulate glyphosate and AMPA. Further, what has been considered a working hypothesis for herbicide tolerant crops, i.e. that, as resistant weeds have spread:
"there is a theoretical possibility that also the level of residues of the herbicide and its metabolites may have increased" (Kleter et al. 2011) is now shown to be actually happening.
Monsanto's claims
Monsanto (manufacturer of glyphosate) has claimed that residues of glyphosate in GM soy are lower than in conventional soybeans, where glyphosate residues have been measured up to 16-17 mg/kg (Monsanto 1999).
These residues, found in non-GM plants, likely must have been due to the practice of spraying before harvest (for desiccation).
Another claim of Monsanto's has been that residue levels of up to 5.6 mg/kg in GM-soy represent " ... extreme levels, and far higher than those typically found". (Monsanto 1999).
Seven out of the 10 GM-soy samples we tested, however, surpassed this "extreme level"(of glyphosate + AMPA), indicating a trend towards higher residue levels.
The increasing use of glyphosate on US Roundup Ready soybeans has been documented (Benbrook 2012).
The explanation for this increase is the appearance of glyphosate-tolerant weeds (Shaner et al. 2012) to which farmers are responding with increased doses and more applications.
Maximum residue levels (MRLs) of glyphosate in food and feed
Globally, glyphosate-tolerant GM soy is the number one GM crop plant and glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide, with a global production of 620,000 tons in 2008 (Pollak 2011).
The world soybean production in 2011 was 251.5 million metric tons, with the United States (33%), Brazil (29%), Argentina (19%), China (5%) and India (4%) as the main producing countries (American Soybean Association 2013).
In 2011-2012, soybeans were planted on about 30 million hectares in the USA, with Roundup Ready GM soy contributing 93-94 % of the production (USDA 2013). Globally, Roundup Ready GM soybeans contributed to 75% of the production in 2011 (James 2012).
Legal limits for glyphosate raised
The legally acceptable level of glyphosate contamination in food and feed, i.e. the maximum residue level (MRL) has been increased by authorities in countries where Roundup-Ready GM crops are produced, or where such commodities are imported.
In Brazil, the MRL in soybean was increased from 0.2 mg/kg to 10 mg/kg in 2004: a 50-fold increase, but only for GM-soy.
The MRL for glyphosate in soybeans has been increased also in the US and Europe. In Europe, it was raised from 0.1 mg/kg to 20 mg/kg (a 200-fold increase) in 1999, and the same MRL of 20 mg/kg was adopted by the US.
In all of these cases, MRL values appear to have been adjusted, not based on new scientific evidence, but pragmatically in response to actual observed increases in the content of residues in glyphosate-tolerant GM soybeans.
Has the toxicity of Roundup been greatly underestimated?
When regulatory agencies assess pesticides for safety they invariably test only the claimed active ingredient.
Nevertheless, these do not necessarily represent realistic conditions since in practice it is the full, formulated herbicide (there are many Roundup formulations) that is used in the field.
Thus, it is relevant to consider, not only the active ingredient, in this case glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA, but also the other compounds present in the herbicide formulation since these enhance toxicity.
Adjuvants and surfactants
For example, formulations of glyphosate commonly contain adjuvants and surfactants to stabilize and facilitate penetration into the plant tissue.
Polyoxyethylene amine (POEA) and polyethoxylated tallowamine (POE-15) are common ingredients in Roundup formulations and have been shown to contribute significantly to toxicity (Moore et al. 2012).
Our own recent study in the model organism Daphnia magna demonstrated that chronic exposure to glyphosate and a commercial formulation of Roundup resulted in negative effects on several life-history traits.
In particular, we observed reproductive aberrations like reduced fecundity and increased abortion rate, at environmental concentrations of 0.45-1.35 mg/liter (active ingredient).
That's below accepted environmental tolerance limits set in the US (0.7 mg/liter) (Cuhra et al. 2013). A reduced body size of juveniles was even observed at an exposure to Roundup at 0.05 mg/liter.
Regulators are relying an ancient, flawed industry studies
This is in sharp contrast to world-wide regulatory assumptions in general, which we have found to be strongly influenced by early industry studies.
In the case of aquatic ecotoxicity assessment, regulators based their assessments on 1978 and 1981 studies - presented by Monsanto - claiming that glyphosate is virtually non-toxic in D. magna (McAllister & Forbis, 1978; Forbis & Boudreau, 1981).
Thus a worrisome outlook for health and the environment can be found in the combination of
  • the vast increase in use of glyphosate-based herbicides, in particular due to glyphosate-tolerant GM plants, and
  • new findings of higher toxicity of both glyphosate as an active ingredient (Cuhra et al., 2013) and increased toxicity due to contributions from chemical adjuvants in commercial formulations (Annett et al. 2014).

8 out of 9 pesticides more toxic than active ingredients alone
A similar situation can be found for other pesticides. Mesnage et al. (2014) found that 8 out of 9 tested pesticides were more toxic than their declared active principles.
This means that the Accepted Daily Intake (ADI) for humans, i.e. what society finds 'admissible' regarding pesticide residues may have been set too high, even before potential combinatorial effects of different chemical exposures are taken into account.
For glyphosate formulations (Roundup), realistic exposure scenarios in the aquatic environment may harm non-target biodiversity from microorganisms, invertebrates, amphibians and fish, (reviewed in Annett et al. 2014) - indicating that the environmental consequences of these agrochemicals need to be re-assessed.
Other compositional differences between GM, non-GM, and organic
Our research also demonstrated that different agricultural practices lead to markedly different end products.
Data on other measured compositional characteristics could be used to discriminate statistically all individual soy samples (without exception) into their respective agricultural practice background (see Fig. 2, above right).
Organic soybeans showed the healthiest nutritional profile with more glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltose, significantly more total protein, zinc and less fiber, compared with both conventional and GM-soy.
Organic soybeans contained less total saturated fat and total omega-6 fatty acids than both conventional and GM-soy.
Roundup Ready GM-soy accumulates residues of glyphosate and AMPA, and also differs markedly in nutritional composition compared to soybeans from other agricultural practices.
Organic soybean samples also showed a more healthy nutritional profile (e.g. higher in protein and lower in saturated fatty acids) than both industrial conventional and GM soybeans.
Lack of data on pesticide residues in major crop plants is a serious gap of knowledge with potential consequences for human and animal health.
How is the public to trust a risk assessment system that has overlooked the most obvious risk factor for herbicide tolerant GM crops, i.e. high residue levels of herbicides, for nearly 20 years?
If it has been due to lack of understanding, it would be bad. If it is the result of the producer's power to influence the risk assessment system, it would be worse.

Thomas Bøhn is Professor of Gene Ecology, Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT The Arctic University of Norway. He is also afiliated to GenØk - Centre for Biosafety, Tromsø, Norway.
Marek Cuhra is a PhD student, Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT The Arctic University of Norway. He is also afiliated to GenØk - Centre for Biosafety, Tromsø, Norway.
This article was originally published by Independent Science News.

  • American Soy Association, Soystats.  2013. 16-5-2013.
  • Annett, R., Habibi, H. R. and Hontela, A. 2014. Impact of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides on the freshwater environment. - Journal of Applied Toxicology DOI 10.1002/jat.2997.
  • Aumaitre, L. A. 2002. New feeds from genetically modified plants: substantial equivalence, nutritional equivalence and safety for animals and animal products. - Productions Animales 15: 97-108.
  • Benbrook, C. M. 2012. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. - the first sixteen years. - Environmental Science Europe 24:24.
  • Binimelis, R., Pengue, W. and Monterroso, I. 2009. "Transgenic treadmill": Responses to the emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistant johnsongrass in Argentina. - Geoforum 40: 623-633.
  • Bøhn, T., Cuhra, M., Traavik, T., Sanden, M., Fagan, J. and Primicerio, R. 2014. Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans. - Food Chemistry 153: 207-215.
  • Cuhra, M., Traavik, T. and Bøhn, T. 2013. Clone- and age-dependent toxicity of a glyphosate commercial formulation and its active ingredient in Daphnia magna. - Ecotoxicology 22: 251-262 (open access). DOI 10.1007/s10646-012-1021-1.
  • Duke, S. O., Rimando, A. M., Pace, P. F., Reddy, K. N. and Smeda, R. J. 2003. Isoflavone, glyphosate, and aminomethylphosphonic acid levels in seeds of glyphosate-treated, glyphosate-resistant soybean. - Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 51: 340-344.
  • EC . Review report for the active substance glyphosate. 6511/VI/99-final, 1-56. 2002.  European Commission. Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General.
  • Forbis, A.D., Boudreau, P. 1981. Acute toxicity of MON0139 (Lot LURT 12011)(AB-81-074) To Daphnia magna: Static acute bio- assay report no. 27203. Unpublished study document from US EPA library
  • Harrigan, G. G., Ridley, G., Riordan, S. G., Nemeth, M. A., Sorbet, R., Trujillo, W. A., Breeze, M. L. and Schneider, R. W. 2007. Chemical composition of glyphosate-tolerant soybean 40-3-2 grown in Europe remains equivalent with that of conventional soybean (Glycine max L.). - Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55: 6160-6168.
  • James, C.  Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2012. ISAAA Brief No. 44. 2012.  ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.
  • Kleter, G. A., Unsworth, J. B. and Harris, C. A. 2011. The impact of altered herbicide residues in transgenic herbicide-resistant crops on standard setting for herbicide residues. - Pest Management Science 67: 1193-1210.
  • McAllister, W., Forbis A. 1978. Acute toxicity of technical glyphosate (AB-78-201) to Daphnia magna. Study reviewed and approved 8-30-85 by EEB/HED
  • Mesnage, R., Defarge, N., Vendômois, J. S. and Seralini, G. E. 2014. Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles. - BioMed Research International
  • Monsanto . Residues in Roundup Ready soya lower than conventional soy. . 1999.
  • Moore, L. J., Fuentes, L., Rodgers, J. H., Bowerman, W. W., Yarrow, G. K., Chao, W. Y. and Bridges, W. C. 2012. Relative toxicity of the components of the original formulation of Roundup (R) to five North American anurans. - Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 78: 128-133.
  • Pollak, P. 2011. Fine chemicals: the industry and the business. - Wiley.
  • Shaner, D. L., Lindenmeyer, R. B. and Ostlie, M. H. 2012. What have the mechanisms of resistance to glyphosate taught us? - Pest Management Science 68: 3-9.
  • USDA . National Agricultural Statistics Service.  2013. 16-5-2013.


Monsanto and Big Food Losing the GMO and 'Natural' Food Fight

  • By Ronnie Cummins 
    Organic Consumers Association, April 16, 2014 
For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page, our Millions Against Monsanto page and our Genetic Engineering page.

After 20 years of battling Monsanto and corporate agribusiness, food and farm activists in Vermont, backed by a growing Movement across the country, are on the verge of a monumental victory—mandatory labels on genetically engineered foods and a ban on the routine industry practice of labeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural.”

On April 16, 2014, the Vermont Senate passed H.112 by a vote of 28-2, following up on the passage of a similar bill in the Vermont House last year. The legislation, which requires all GMO foods sold in Vermont to be labeled by July 1, 2016, will now pass through a House/Senate conference committee before landing on Governor Peter Shumlin’s desk, for final approval.

Strictly speaking, Vermont’s H.112 applies only to Vermont. But it will have the same impact on the marketplace as a federal law. Because national food and beverage companies and supermarkets will not likely risk the ire of their customers by admitting that many of the foods and brands they are selling in Vermont are genetically engineered, and deceptively labeled as “natural” or “all natural”; while simultaneously trying to conceal this fact in the other 49 states and North American markets. As a seed executive for Monsanto admitted 20 years ago, "If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."

Proof of this “skull and crossbones” effect is evident in the European Union, where mandatory labeling, in effect since 1997, has all but driven genetically engineered foods and crops off the market. The only significant remaining GMOs in Europe today are imported grains (corn, soy, canola, cotton seed) primarily from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. These grains are used for animal feed, hidden from public view by the fact that meat, dairy and eggs derived from animals fed GMOs do not yet have to be labeled in the EU.

Given the imminent passage of the Vermont legislation and the growing strength of America’s anti-GMO and pro-organic Movement, the Gene Giants—Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta—and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), representing Big Food, find themselves in a difficult position. Early polls indicate that Oregon voters will likely pass a ballot initiative on Nov. 4, 2014, to require mandatory labeling of GMOs in Oregon. Meanwhile, momentum for labeling continues to gather speed in other states as well.

Connecticut and Maine have already passed GMO labeling laws, but these laws contain “trigger” clauses, which prevent them from going into effect until other states mandate labeling as well. Vermont’s law does not contain a “trigger” clause. As soon as the governor signs it, it will have the force of law.

Divisions Between Big Food and the Gene Giants

Given what appears to be the inevitable victory of the consumer Right-to-know Movement, some of the U.S.’s largest food companies have quietly begun distancing themselves from Monsanto and the genetic engineering lobby. General Mills, Post Foods, Chipotle, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and others have begun to make changes in their supply chains in order to eliminate GMOs in some or all of their products. Several hundred companies have enrolled in the Non-GMO Project so they can credibly market their products as GMO-free.

At least 30 members (10 percent of the total membership) of the GMA who contributed money to defeat Proposition 37 in California in November 2012, have held back on making further contributions to stop labeling initiatives in other states. Among the apparent defectors in the GMA ranks are: Mars, Unilever, Smithfield, Heinz, Sara Lee, Dole, Wrigley, and Mead Johnson.  Under pressure from the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Anthony Weil’s natural health and supplements company, Weil Lifestyle, pulled out of the GMA.

Meanwhile a number of the Gene Giants themselves, including Monsanto, appear to be slowly decreasing their investments in gene-spliced GMOs, while increasing their investments in more traditional, and less controversial, cross-breeding and hybrid seed sales.  Still, don’t expect the Gene Giants to give up on the GMO seeds and crops already in production, especially Roundup Ready and Bt-spliced crops, nor those in the pipeline such as 2,4-D “Agent Orange” and Dicamba-resistant corn and soybeans, GE rice, and “RNA interference” crops such as non-browning apples, and fast-growing genetically engineered trees.

America’s giant food companies and their chemical industry allies understand the threat posed by truthful labeling of GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, growth promoters and toxic chemicals. They understand full well that the GMO monocrops and factory farms that dominate U.S. agriculture not only pose serious health and environmental hazards, but represent a significant public relations liability as well.

This is why the food and GE giants are threatening to sue Vermont and any other state that dares to pass a GMO labeling bill, even though industry lawyers have no doubt informed them that they are unlikely to win in federal court.

This is also why corporate agribusiness is supporting “Ag Gag” state laws making it a crime to photograph or film on factory farms. Why they’re lobbying for state laws that take away the rights of counties and local communities to regulate agricultural practices. And why they’re supporting secret international trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that will, among other provisions, enable multinational corporations to sue and eliminate state and local laws on matters such as GMOs, food safety, and country of origin labeling.

The bottom line is this: Corporate America’s current “business-as-usual” strategies are incompatible with consumers’ right to know, and communities’ and states’ rights to legislate.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, Safeway, Del Monte, Nestlé, Unilever, ConAgra, Wal-Mart, and every food manufacturer with GMO-tainted brands, understand they’re not going to be able to label their products as “produced with genetic engineering,” or drop the use of the term “natural” on GMO-tainted products, only in Vermont, while refusing to do so in other states and international markets. This is why their powerful front group, the GMA, is frantically working in Washington, D.C. to lobby the FDA and the Congress to take away the right of states to require genetically engineered foods and food ingredients to be labeled, and to allow them to continue to label and advertise genetically engineered and chemically-laced foods as “natural” or “all natural.”

Industry’s Last Chance: Indentured Politicians 

Conspiring with the GMA, Monsanto’s minions from both the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress, led by the notorious Koch brothers mouthpiece, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), introduced in early April in the House a GMA-scripted bill to outlaw mandatory state GMO labels and allow the continued use of “natural” or “all natural” product labels on a wide range of Frankenfoods and beverages.

The GMA’s federal offensive to prop up the dangerous and evermore unpopular technology of transgenic foods comes on the heels of two high-profile ballot initiative battles in California (2012), and Washington State (2013), where GMA members were forced to spend almost $70 million to narrowly defeat GMO labeling forces. The 15 largest contributors to stop GMO labeling in California and Washington include the following GMA members:

(1) Monsanto: $13,487,350
(2) Dupont: $9,280,159
(3) Pepsico: $4,837,966
(4) Coca-Cola: $3,210,851
(5) Nestlé: $2,989,806
(6) Bayer CropScience: $2,591,654
(7) Dow Agrosciences: $2,591,654
(8) BASF Plant Science: $2,500,000
(9) Kraft Foods (now in part Mondolez International) $2,391,835
(10) General Mills: $2,099,570
(11) ConAgra Foods: $2,004,951
(12) Syngenta: $2,000,000
(13) Kellogg's: $1,112,749
(14) Campbell Soup: $982,888
(15) Smucker Company: $904,977

The Fire Next Time

These “dirty tricks,” “dirty money” ballot initiative victories in California and Washington now ring hollow.  If Congress or the FDA, prompted by these same companies, dare to stomp on states’ rights to require GMO labels on GMO food, if they dare to repress the rights of millions of consumers to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered, they run the very real risk of detonating an even larger and more vociferous grassroots rebellion, including massive boycotts and a concerted effort to throw “Monsanto’s Minions” out of Congress. The widespread furor last year over the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” surreptitiously appended to the Appropriations Bill, and then, after massive uproar, subsequently removed, is but a partial foreshadowing of the turmoil yet to come.

Likewise Congress or the FDA should think twice before legally sanctioning the patently outrageous practice of allowing companies to continue to label or advertise GMO or chemically tainted food as “natural” or “all natural.”

Given the fact that 80-90 percent of American consumers want genetically engineered foods to be labeled, as indicated by numerous polls over the last 10 years, and given the fact that it is obviously unethical and fraudulent to label or advertise GMO or heavily chemically processed foods as “natural,” even the FDA has so far declined to come to the rescue of Monsanto and Big Food. In the face of 65 so far largely successful national class-action lawsuits against food companies accused of fraudulently labeling their GMO or chemically-laced brands as “natural, ”Big Food’s lawyers have asked the FDA to come to their aid. But so far, the FDA has declined to throw gasoline on the fire.

It’s clear why “profit at any cost” big business wants to keep consumers in the dark. They want to maximize their profits. The consumer, the environment, the climate be damned. But let’s review, for the record, why truthful food labeling is so important to us, the overwhelming majority of the people, and to future generations.

Here are three major, indeed life-or-death, issues that drive America’s new anti-GMO and pro-organic food Movement:

(1)     There is mounting, and indeed alarming, scientific evidence that genetically engineered foods and crops, and the toxic pesticides, chemicals, and genetic constructs that accompany them, are hazardous. GMOs pose a mortal threat, not only to human and animal health, but also to the environment, biodiversity, the survival of small-scale family farms, and climate stability.

(2)     Genetically engineered crops are the technological cornerstone and ideological rationale for our dominant, out-of-control system of industrial agriculture, factory farms, and highly processed junk food. America’s industrial food and farming system is literally destroying public health, the environment, soil fertility and climate stability. As we educate, boycott and mobilize, as we label and drive GMOs off the market, we simultaneously rip the mask off Big Food and chemical corporations, which will ultimately undermine industrial agriculture and speed up the “Great Transition” to a food and farming system that is organic, sustainable and climate stabilizing.

(3)     Fraudulent “natural” labels confuse consumers and hold back the growth of true organic alternatives.Consumers are confused about the difference between conventional products marketed as "natural," or “all natural”and those nutritionally and environmentally superior products that are "certified organic." Recent polls indicate that many health and green-minded consumers remain confused about the qualitative difference between products labeled or advertised as "natural," versus those labeled as organic. Many believe that "natural" means "almost organic," or that a natural product is even better than organic. Thanks to growing consumer awareness, and four decades of hard work, the organic community has built up a $35-billion "certified organic" food and products sector that prohibits the use of genetic engineering, irradiation, toxic pesticides, sewage sludge and chemical fertilizers. As impressive as this $35-billion Organic Alternative is, it remains overshadowed by the $80 billion in annual spending by consumers on products marketed as "natural." Get rid of fraudulent “natural” labels on GMO and chemically tainted products, and organic sales will skyrocket.

With the passage of the Vermont GMO labeling law, after 20 years of struggle, it’s time to celebrate our common victory. But as we all know, the battle for a new food and farming system, and a sustainable future has just begun.


Thursday, April 17, 2014


Global Peasant Movement Exemplifies Power of Organized Humanity

Commemorating the International Day of Peasant Struggle

Sadly, yet not unlike the inception of many commemorative days, the events that inspired the first International Day of Peasant Struggle were soaked with blood. It was April 17, 1996, a calm day in the northern Brazilian municipality of Eldorado dos Carajás, where the country’s most renowned social movement, the Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) had organized a demonstration against the federal appropriation of a vacant ranch where nearly 3,000 rural working families were living and cultivating the land. The protest turned violent when the secretary of public security ordered police to clear the roadway – “at any cost”. The operation was costly indeed: nineteen people lost their lives in that event that would come to be known as the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre.

Word of the massacre ricocheted throughout the world, particularly north to Mexico where the international peasant movement known as Via Campesina was gathered for its second conference in Tlaxcala. Via Campesina was only three years in the making at the time, but had already achieved much. The movement boasts a unique global base of farmers, fishers, and pastoralists, connecting labor movements, women’s organizations, and a host of underrepresented and mostly rural members. The conference in Tlaxcala, Mexico would prove to be historic – it was there that Via Campesina solidified its groundbreaking framework of “food sovereignty” – redefining the fundamental right to food to the advantage of food-producing peasants themselves.

But when Via Campesina’s leaders and organizers learned of what had occurred in Brazil that fateful day, their world stood still. Anything that happened within MST struck a chord within Via Campesina – the two groups were intrinsically tied from the moment MST helped pen the international movement’s founding documents. Via Campesina simultaneously grieved the loss of its colleagues in Brazil and reflected on similar incidents of violence against peasant activists in Latin America and around the world. The movement quickly recognized a public awareness gap that it was convinced could be filled by education and advocacy by and for peasants. Via Campesina spared little time and declared April 17 an annual celebration of peasants everywhere in honor of those killed in Brazil.

Fast-forward, and Via Campesina has grown to 164 member organizations in 73 countries as it marks its 20th anniversary. Peasants today are still routinely sidelined and harassed – despite the fact that their work accounts for 70 percent of global food production. With that in mind, the International Day of Peasant Struggle continues to be one of the movement’s key days of organizing and action. This year, Via Campesina dedicates its day of action to the defense of seeds.

From the beginning, control over seeds has been at the top of Via Campesina’s list of critical issues. Its relevance has heightened as transnational corporations have tightened the grip on a world food system characterized by the commodification of basic resources. At present, just ten seed companies dominate 67 percent of the world’s seeds – with Monsanto and its patents controlling 23 percent of the global supply.

"Seeds for us signify the basis of food sovereignty because they determine how we cultivate the land, how we eat, and also reflect our cultures and tastes,” said Guy Kastler, a Via Campesina leader based in France. “Farmers face increasing criminalization when planting their native seeds, even though that practice has always been the foundation of agriculture,” he elaborated. Diverse member organizations within Via Campesina employ various tactics to preserve indigenous seeds, from local seed banking to international seed exchanges. In the same vein, its activists strongly protest the spread of GMOs, pushing the envelope of food system change and catalyzing actions far beyond Via Campesina’s original base.

The world’s largest – and perhaps most important – agrarian movement has realized many victories in just over two decades of existence. With its efforts around seeds – and additional work on complex issues ranging from land and water grabs to trade and migration, Via Campesina’s base is no less threatened now than it was in Brazil nearly 20 years ago. While some view peasant agriculture as a bygone livelihood, and powerful political and economic interests are out to replace it, Via Campesina is taking calculated measures to ensure that today’s peasantry does not slip quietly into the night.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


The legislation is up for another vote in the Senate Wednesday before it goes back to the House, which passed a slightly different version last year. Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated he’s likely to sign the bill.
Vermont Senate votes 26-2 for GMO labeling
Vermont one step closer to becoming first state to enact such a law
Apr. 15, 2014

BUR 0415 GMO bill C1
Sen. David Zuckerman ( P-Chittenden), right, talks with legislative counsel Michael O'Grady as the Senate debates the GMO food labeling bill at the Statehouse on Tuesday. / EMILY McMANAMY/FREE PRESS
Written by
Free Press Staff Writer

BUR 0415 GMO bill C2
Sen. Richard Sears,D-Bennington, stands to address the Senate as they debate the GMO food labeling bill at the Statehouse on Tuesday. / EMILY McMANAMY/FREE PRESS
BUR 0415 GMO bill C4
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott stands before the Senate on Tuesday as they debate the GMO food labeling bill at the Statehouse. / EMILY McMANAMY/FREE PRESS
MONTPELIER — The Senate gave a decisive 26-2 vote Tuesday for a bill that would require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, a strong indication that Vermont could become the first state in the nation to enact such a law.
“We are saying people have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor.
Campbell and other supporters argued that they believe they have written a bill that is legally defensible. They nonetheless created a fund in the legislation to help pay the state’s legal bills, as many assume that food manufacturers will sue.
The bill would require food sold in Vermont stores that contain genetically modified ingredients to be labeled starting July 2016. The legislation is up for another vote in the Senate Wednesday before it goes back to the House, which passed a slightly different version last year. Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated he’s likely to sign the bill.
Two other states — Connecticut and Maine — have passed labeling laws, but both delayed implementation until neighboring states join them, a strategy designed to insulate them from being sued. Voters in Washington and California defeated labeling measures there.
Supporters said they hoped Vermont would lead the way on the issue. “Vermont’s always first,” said Will Allen, an organic farmer from Fairlee, citing the state’s ban on slavery, passage of civil unions and same-sex marriage as other firsts.
Many foods, including an estimated 88 percent of the corn crop in the United States, contain ingredients that have plants or animals that were genetically modified, typically to increase disease resistance or extend shelf life. Opponents argue that the process may be harmful to humans. Supporters contend there is no evidence of that. Sixty countries, including the European Union, require labeling.
Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, noted as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday that questions remain about the safety of the genetically modified foods because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relies on testing done by the food producers rather than independent sources.
(Page 2 of 2)

Sens. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, and Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, were the only votes of dissent Tuesday.
Flory, a lawyer, noted that Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said the state is likely to be sued. Senate Judiciary Committe Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, conceded under questioning from Flory that if Vermont loses the case, as it did with a similar law that sought to require labeling of milk containing bovine growth hormones, the legal bills are estimated to be as high as $8 million.
McAllister, a farmer, argued that labeling will do nothing but mislead consumers into believing there must be something bad about GMOs, which he believes is untrue. “This labeling bill will not tell them anything other than ‘GMO something’,” McAllister said. “This does not educate them about what they’re eating. The nutritional value is exactly the same.”
Some senators who had been skeptical of GMO labeling said they were persuaded that their constituents want the information clarified on the food they buy. Senators said they were flooded with emails and calls from people urging them to pass the bill.
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said he came to view labeling of GMOs as akin to the label that tells him how many carbohydrates are in a bottle of tea. That label gives him information without declaring that carbohydrates are evil, he said. “I know what carbohydrates can do to my body,” he said. “Some people in this room that’s exactly how they feel about GMOs.”
Under the bill, Benning said, the wording declaring that a product contains GMOs could be as small as the carbohydrate listing typically found on food packages.
Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he, too, had been unenthusiastic about GMO labeling, but at every public meeting he heard from Vermonters who wanted a labeling law. “Lo and behold, GMOs would float to the top of the debate within those meetings,” he said.
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Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 999-9994 or

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


   April 14, 2014

Image courtesy of Organic Consumers

Moderator’s Note: Since 1992, when I joined the Board of Directors of the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG),[1] I have carefully monitored scientific developments related to the predictive ecology and public health and environmental health impacts of transgenic technologies.  Throughout this period, there have been very few moments when former or current EPA, USDA, or FDA scientists served as ‘whistleblowers’ on  the dismal and ultimately unscientific processes these federal agencies rely on to review and approve GMO crops.
Yesterday was one of those profound moments when a former EPA biosafety scientist by the name of Ramon J. Seidler revealed that scientists – including government employees – have long had multiple problems with GMOs. Dr. Seidler is a professor of microbiology and a retired senior scientist and team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency’s biosafety program.
This is dramatic news and comes in the midst of a gathering in Jackson County, Oregon addressing a countywide ban on the planting of GMO seed beets and seed grasses by Monsanto and Syngenta. The May 20 ballot is a pivotal moment in the struggle against GMOs in the Pacific Northwest and comes as Monsanto and its allies continue to pressure Congress to pass legislation banning state-level labeling laws requiring identification of GMO crops and processed food ingredients.

Just this past Thursday, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) introduced legislation to the House for a Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 (a.k.a. HR 4432) The industry-supported legislation would “amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to food produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism, the labeling of natural foods…”

The Jackson County election could become a vital turning point in the strategy of the nonGMO and pro-sustainable and organic farming communities because it seeks to address the production of GMO seed rather than the consumption of GMO foods. This shifts the focus from the equally important right of the consumer to know their food through labeling to the establishment of GMO-free farming communities inside zones designed to protect key bioregions involved in the invaluable production of heirloom native and naturalized gene lines for all commercial food, fodder, turf, orchard, and bramble cultivars.

In an article dated April 13, 2014 and appearing in the Ashland, Oregon-based newspaper, Daily Tribune, Dr. Seidler punctures holes in nearly every major industry-articulated argument made in defense of GMOs. For example, the former EPA scientist affirms what a growing number of scientists have been arguing for decades – including CRG and more recently the Center for Food Safety and the Biosafety Alliance – that GMO crops do not have a significant increased yield compared to conventional nonGMO or organic crops.

Another key point made by Dr. Seidler is that the patenting system that undergirds the development of GMO technology actually “stifles research” which contradicts biotechnology industry claims that patents are necessary to conduct research and promote innovation. I have been making this same argument in this blog since 2006 and the most significant research I believe is being stifled is related to the development of the agroecology paradigm. But Dr. Seidler declares that he is “…deeply troubled to report that promises of patent enforcement by American agrichemical seed companies have prevented U.S. scientists from researching what some exclaim are ‘problems’ associated with GMO crops.” In other words, agrichemical seed companies are using patents to block research on environmental risks, productivity, and public health.

There are several other important rebuttals offered by Dr. Seidler but these two points  should suffice to retract the unwise, unscientific, and highly politicized federal and state governmental support for transgenic technologies. As Seidler notes, quoting the chief technology officer for Monsanto, “American farmers are smart and wouldn’t adapt a technology that didn’t have tangible benefits.” And so, what? The USDA, a veritable subsidiary of Monsanto et al., went ahead and promoted the technology anyway despite scientists’ warnings to governmental authorities during both Republican and Democratic administrations since the 1990s.
The writing is now more clearly on the wall: Monsanto seems desperate and dead in the water. Since August 2013, hedge fund managers and even some Monsanto executives have dumped the company’s stock.  Other large institutional investors are under increasing pressure to divest from Monsanto, Syngenta, and other biotech stocks and these trends will likely increase as transgenic technology failures become the focus of attention in the socially responsible investment community.
The principal reason for these corporate troubles is the persistent record of failure of transgenic and post-transgenic technologies (i.e., RNA interference). The same will happen with the upcoming replacements for glyphosate and Bt Cry protein applications. These ‘second generation’ stacked-traits transgenic crops are touted as a movement toward a futuristic sustainable agriculture but instead constitute a perverse back-to-the-future nightmare scenario: The second gen transgenic technologies involve returning to older and even more deadly biocides like the case of a new genetically engineered (GE) soybean crop called FG72 produced by Bayer CropScience that will be paired with Isoxaflutole (isox), a pesticide the EPA classified as a human carcinogen in 1998 (see our post of September 5, 2013).
This is the same pesticide that Syngenta proposes for use on their U.S. soybeans. Dr. Seidler also reports “scientists predict…isox use will greatly accelerate and…become one of the new controversial poisons used on our foods.” He wonders “if Syngenta will conduct exploratory experiments [in Jackson County, Oregon] with sugarbeets using isox or 2,4-D.” Syngenta currently uses land in Jackson County to produce glyphosate-resistant seeds for Midwest sugarbeet plantations.
The EPA, USDA, and FDA – all with somewhat overlapping and contradictory regulatory processes – are captive to serving these narrow corporate interests with their constant need to amplify and modify the scientific, legal, and political economic frameworks that prevent scientists from the conduct of accurate and independent (preferably professional third party) verification of all relevant cumulative risk and environmental justice impacts of GMO crops including all new pending transgenic and post-transgenic technologies.
As a service to our readers, we are reposting Ramon J. Seidler’s article. The original source is here: The Ashland Tribune.

Image courtesy of Our Family Farms Coalition
Scientists find multiple problems with GMOs

Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D. |  Jackson County, Oregon | April 13, 2014

“GMO seeds have not been shown to definitively increase yield potentials” and “in fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties.”
A February 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture report declared what many scientists already knew: There are no significant differences in yields of GMO and non-GMO crops. When asked about the USDA report, the chief technology officer for Monsanto declared, “American farmers are smart and wouldn’t adapt a technology that didn’t have tangible benefits.”
Are the USDA and scientists around the world wrong in their conclusion about failure to yield? No.
Agroeconomists have shown repeatedly that the best-yielding, most-affordable crop varieties, to “feed the world”, are those derived from conventional non-GMO hybrids (U.N Commission on Trade and Development).
Furthermore, CNBC’s chief news correspondent, Mark Koba, quoted Mark Spitznagel, the chief investment officer of a billion-dollar investment firm, as saying GMOs are “distorting the natural process and will eventually lead to ruin,” and, “Agriculture is heading for a wall.”
Patented GMO crops stifle research
As a lifelong scientist, I am deeply troubled to report that promises of patent enforcement by American agrichemical seed companies have prevented U.S. scientists from researching what some exclaim are “problems” associated with GMO crops. We will not know the facts as long as the seeds and plants that we, our children, pets and livestock consume are not made available for conducting long-term, controlled experiments.
Norwegian scientists recently detected Roundup in 10 of 10 farms using genetically engineered soybeans. We had to also learn from these Norwegian (not American) scientists that the nutritional composition of soybeans grown on 31 Ohio farms differed depending upon the type of farm management system employed. Soybeans harvested from organic farms had higher concentrations of protein and essential amino acids, and higher concentrations of two minerals, and no Roundup residues (Food Chem. 2014).
Now we know from the scientific literature that the same concentrations of Roundup residues in soybeans is sufficient in laboratory assays to: induce hormone disruptions during frog development (mixed-sex frogs); kill young trout and tadpoles; stop the growth of earthworms in soil; inhibit activities of beneficial soil and human gut bacteria; and stimulate the growth of human breast-cancer cells assayed under laboratory conditions.
Toxin-resistant corn rootworm outbreaks are plaguing at least five Midwest corn-growing states, and the problems are related to failures in GMO management techniques (Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences, March 2014). An entomology professor from Cornell stated resistance problems could have been resolved sooner if Monsanto had allowed American scientists access to investigate and confirm the presence of the toxin-resistant insects (
A premier seed-growing location
Syngenta, a foreign corporation, is here in Jackson County producing Roundup-resistant seeds for Midwest sugarbeet plantations. The history of this agrochemical corporation goes deep to the first productions of DDT, 2,4-D, and manufacture of the controversial herbicide, Atrazine. This history seems consistent with the recent announcement that Syngenta will use a probable carcinogen, isoxaflutole (isox) initially on their U.S. soybeans. Scientists predict that isox use will greatly accelerate and will soon become one of the new controversial poisons used on our foods. One can only wonder if Syngenta will conduct exploratory experiments locally with sugarbeets using isox or 2,4-D.
More secrecy
Unfortunately, seed buyers have canceled local Swiss chard contracts because of the likelihood of cross-pollination by sugar beets. Sugar beet pollen travels two to four miles (Beta Seed Company, Oregon) and cross-pollination is likely with chard because GMO farms are usually secretly located. Syngenta contributes little to the local economy, while closing down business opportunities of permanent, local, tax-paying American farmers. Since glyphosate is already in our urine, air and rain, it was frightening to learn one of the known Syngenta crop farms is situated in proximity to two of Ashland’s schools.
I, personally, resent this intrusion since my stepdaughter is a student at this school. She doesn’t have the opportunity to know when the Roundup-containing hormone disruptor(s) will be flying through the air and be inhaled by young, developing students. Residents can take control of these insensitive practices by voting yes on 15-119 to return local control to where it belongs, here in Jackson County, not in Salem, not in Washington, D.C., and certainly not in Switzerland.
Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., of Ashland, is a professor of microbiology and a retired senior scientist and team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency’s biosafety program.

[1] Disclaimer: I served on the Board of Directors of the CRG between 1992-2002.