Wednesday, September 10, 2014



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GMO experiments receive questionable oversight
Bill Lambrecht
Updated 7:57 am, Monday, September 8, 2014
Worker Javier Alcantar tends to corn crops at the Monsanto Co. test field in Woodland, California, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Monsanto Co., an American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, is the world's leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate and the largest producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed.  Photo: Noah Berger, Bloomberg
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Washington -- At a secret location among the vineyards of California's Central Coast, a plot of genetically engineered corn is producing proteins for industrial and pharmaceutical uses, including an experimental vaccine for hepatitis B.
The altered corn is growing with federal approval 100 feet from a steelhead stream in San Luis Obispo County, in designated critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog. Agriculture Department inspectors have reported two "incidents" at the site, including conventional corn sprouting in a 50-foot fallow zone, but the findings did not rise to the level of a fine or even to a formal notice of noncompliance for the company that planted it, Applied Biotechnology Institute Inc.
Details of Applied Biotechnology's inspections and hundreds of other field trials with genetically modified plants were obtained by Hearst Newspapers under Freedom of Information laws. The inspection reports and other Agriculture Department records present a picture of vast, swiftly expanding outdoor experimentation and industry-friendly oversight of those experiments.
The founder and president of Applied Biotechnology, John A. Howard, previously founded another company that was permanently banned from trials of genetically modified organisms - GMOs - after creating such contaminated messes in the Midwest that a half-million bushels of soybeans and more than 150 acres of corn had to be destroyed.
Yet since 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the Applied Biotechnology Institute's little-known plantings, albeit with limits so strict that ears of corn must be locked up and plant remains must be buried 3 feet deep. Indeed, things are proceeding so well for Applied Biotechnology that Howard is seeking land to expand the 5-acre "pharming" operation.
The outdoor tests are at the leading edge of a technological revolution based on reordering the building blocks of life. The advent of GMOs has spawned global debate and protest over issues of consumer safety and the uncertain effects of altered genes on the environment.
Industry-friendly approach
The documents show how the obscure Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), part of the Agriculture Department, takes an industry-friendly approach in seeking to prevent contamination or economic harm from field trials.
Among the findings of a Hearst Newspapers investigation:
-- Minimal penalties. The Agriculture Department issued just two civil penalties for field trials since 2010 despite sending out nearly 200 notices of noncompliance - incidents from paperwork violations to lost seeds to modified plants sprouting where they shouldn't.
-- Monsanto mistakes. The Missouri biotech giant received at least 35 notices of noncompliance from 2010 through 2013, more than any other company. In 2010, the company paid a civil penalty for accidentally ginning experimental cotton in Texas two years earlier, an error that led to unapproved cottonseed meal and hulls being consumed by Texas livestock and exported to Mexico for animal feed. Monsanto blamed human error.
-- Natural perils. Dozens of times, heavy rains washed out or otherwise damaged test plots, raising the specter of unwanted dispersal of GMOs. Animals pose other threats. Birds, insects and larger animals don't distinguish between gene-altered crops and conventional varieties.
APHIS says it has approved nearly 20,000 field-trial permits, covering an estimated 100,000 plantings of gene-altered crops. The agency says it has no firm count.
Once genetically engineered crops become commercialized, no government agency tracks them. That underscores the importance of monitoring field trials, particularly with crops like alfalfa and canola, and grasses with sexually compatible wild relatives.
Economic risks
Besides threatening the environment, escaped or unapproved crops can generate economic problems, as did last year's discovery of wheat engineered to resist Monsanto's Roundup weed-killer.
The herbicide-tolerant wheat, found on an Oregon farm, had been tested by Monsanto in 16 states from 1998 to 2005 before the company suspended its trials. Monsanto has since resumed research into genetically modified wheat.
Within days after the discovery, Japan, Korea and Taiwan suspended imports of certain wheat varieties from the Pacific Northwest out of fear of contamination. The European Union demanded new testing of imports from the United States, and wheat futures dropped sharply. Nowhere in the world is genetically modified wheat legal.
APHIS investigated but has yet to report its findings. Monsanto has said the rogue wheat might have resulted from sabotage.
Since winning APHIS approval in 1996 for herbicide-tolerant soybeans - the first genetically engineered crop commercialized in the United States - Monsanto has become the unrivaled global leader in the business.
The company, which reported $14 billion in revenue last year, says it has conducted roughly 26,000 field trials in the United States since 1990, more than one-fourth of the 100,000 that APHIS estimates have taken place.
Breaches of standards
Monsanto says it relies on training and audits to strengthen field trial procedures and has self-reported some 300 potential violations. But, as the company observes on its website, "We do experience occasional deviations from internal and APHIS standards." Among those deviations, an inspection report in North Carolina in 2007 noted that Monsanto had planted modified soybeans "entirely in the wrong county" - one of several such incidents.
APHIS sent Monsanto a notice of noncompliance in July after the company divulged that it had "unintended constructs" of genes at 39 corn trial locations across five states.
APHIS' handling of field trials has drawn criticism from scientists and from other federal agencies. The Agriculture Department's inspector general in 2005 identified "weaknesses in inspections and enforcement" as basic as being unaware of the locations of field trials.
In 2008, the Government Accountability Office, citing "controversy and financial harm" from a half-dozen unauthorized releases, recommended more robust monitoring of field trials. The GAO also said government agencies should work together after engineered products hit the market to determine unintended consequences to the environment, conventional farming and food safety.
APHIS officials said they have bolstered the agency's science capacity and increased its inspection staff to 130.
Nonetheless, APHIS is drawing heat from farmers worried about the potential effects of so many field trials. Last year, more than 150 farm groups and businesses, many in the organic trade, asked the Agriculture Department to strengthen oversight of field trials.
In San Luis Obispo County, Applied Biotechnology's Howard hopes the company can avoid the public uneasiness with genetically modified food.
In May, APHIS granted Applied Biotechnology's request for a confined release of genetically engineered corn designed to produce 22 pharmaceutical and industrial molecules. The government is allowing the company to keep some of them confidential.
APHIS' decision summary minimizes potential impacts. It notes that the hepatitis B protein - derived from the hepatitis B virus - has no "toxic activity."
The ruling asserts that corn, a wind-pollinated crop, lacks sexually compatible relatives in the wild and therefore does not threaten surrounding plant life.
Some restrictions
As for the steelhead trout, APHIS acknowledged "potential for a small amount of genetically engineered pollen to drift into the stream" but concluded that because of the minimal exposure and lack of toxicity, it would have no effect.
Nonetheless, the federal agency ordered that the engineered corn not be grown within a mile of commercial corn and its seed must be maintained with what are called chain-of-custody documents.
Before starting Applied Biotechnology Institute in California, Howard set up ProdiGene Inc. of College Station, Texas, in the late 1990s and carried the title of chief scientific officer.
But that company encountered such contamination problems with its APHIS-approved field trials that the Agriculture Department eventually forced it out of the business of growing pharmaceutical plants.
In 2002 - the year Howard says he parted ways with ProdiGene - APHIS disclosed that corn plants from ProdiGene's field test a year earlier in Nebraska were sprouting in a field of soybeans planted at the site. But before the corn could be removed, the potentially contaminated soybeans were harvested. All 500,000 bushels had to be destroyed.
Also in 2002, ProdiGene was forced to burn 155 acres of corn near the site of a field trial in Iowa after pharmaceutical plants were found growing illegally. ProdiGene was fined $250,000.
In addition, the Agriculture Department purchased, hauled and destroyed the adulterated soybeans at a cost of $3.5 million, and gave ProdiGene two years interest-free to pay the government back.
ProdiGene's problems persisted. In 2004, an inspector found that oats growing alongside one of the company's test corn sites in Nebraska had been baled for animal feed. In addition, engineered corn was sprouting in a nearby sorghum field.
It took three years, but this time, APHIS came down hard. In 2007, ProdiGene received a modest $3,500 fine but agreed that neither it nor "its successors in interest" would ever again apply to the Agriculture Department for permission to introduce GMOs into the environment.
Departure date in question
Despite his claim that he left his executive position with the company in 2002, Howard remained a director of ProdiGene until 2007, according to the Texas secretary of state's records. Howard still owns "lots of shares" in the company, he said.
In an interview, Howard said he was not involved in practices that led to the contamination incidents before his departure in September 2002 after what he described as "a difference of opinion with management."
APHIS skirted the question of whether the California company's GMO releases should be allowed given the 2007 agreement, responding by e-mail that it has issued permits to Applied Biotechnology Institute "for a variety of genetically engineered organisms, including products developed by ProdiGene."
But Greg Jaffe, a lawyer with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, suggests that the agreement has been "technically violated given that Applied Biotechnology Institute is selling ProdiGene's main product and ProdiGene personnel are doing the same thing in the new company."
Howard, 63, of Cayucos (San Luis Obispo County), received a doctorate in biochemistry from UC Riverside.
Howard said his company has security measures even beyond those imposed by the Agriculture Department.
He believes that his quest to produce a hepatitis B vaccine insulates him from some of the opposition to genetically modified foods.
"It's harder to make up some Frankenstein scenario where this is terrible when the outcome of not doing it is that people die," he said.
Bill Lambrecht is an investigative reporter for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014



GMO experiments receive questionable oversight

SFGate - ‎Sep 7, 2014‎
Details of Applied Biotechnology's inspections and hundreds of other field trials with genetically modified plants were obtained by Hearst Newspapers under Freedom of Information laws.

Experimental GMO Crops In California Grown With Little Oversight

CBS Local - ‎9 hours ago‎
SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) - Genetically modified corn that's being grown along California's Central Coast is being used in an experimental vaccine for hepatitis B. But records obtained from the Department of Agriculture by Hearst newspapers reveal these ...

GMO lobbying is a booming business as labeling laws increase

Public Radio International - ‎Sep 5, 2014‎
Major food makers like Coca-Cola and biotech giants like Monstanto and DuPont are determined to stop the passage of such laws in the US - so much so that they've spent more than $27 million in the first six months of this year on GMO-related lobbying.

Colorado's 'Blue Book': GMO Labeling Will Raise Grocery Prices

Food Safety News - ‎Sep 4, 2014‎
GMO labeling initiatives so far have failed in both California and Washington. In those states, the initiatives started out with huge leads but support eventually collapsed under the weight of heavy opposition spending and largely unfavorable ...

Ad Watch: Pro-GMO Group Calls Maui County Measure a 'Farming Ban'

Honolulu Civil Beat - ‎Sep 8, 2014‎
Ad Watch: Pro-GMO Group Calls Maui County Measure a 'Farming Ban'. Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban spent more than $80,000 in the past week on TV ads against the initiative to ban genetically modified crops. September 8, 2014 · By Anita ...

Colorado ballot decisions include personhood, GMO food, horse racing

The Denver Post - ‎14 hours ago‎
Proposition 105, which calls for the labeling of genetically modified food "to provide consumers with the opportunity to make an informed choice of the products they consume and protect the public's health, safety and welfare.

Urban vote key to GMO campaign

Portland Tribune - ‎6 hours ago‎
Political analysts say it's a foregone conclusion that opponents of GMO labeling will outspend the measure's supporters, as in the other states.

VIDEO: Funding Fuels Hawaii GMO Food Fight

Big Island Video News - ‎10 hours ago‎
HAWAII ISLAND - Both sides in Hawaii's ongoing Genetically Modified Organism debate are taking their arguments to different arenas in order to influence a favorable outcome.


We Must Degrow the 'Corporate Food Regime': Food Sovereignty Advocate

Published on Tuesday, September 09, 2014 by  Common Dreams
The industrial system in place has 'fetishized growth' but has not addressed hunger, according to Food First's Eric Holt-Giménez
Members of peasant farmers group La Via Campesina demonstrating outside the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. (Photo: Friends of the Earth International)

It's necessary to "degrow" the "corporate food regime" that over last five decades has impoverished the climate, water resources, local communities and crop diversity, and has not solved the problem of hunger.

This was the argument made by Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of Food First, an organization whose mission is to work towards ending hunger by bringing about food justice, at a presentation Friday at the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, which took place in Leipzig, Germany.
Holt-Giménez made his address via video during a session entitled "The food challenge. Struggling for just and ecological food systems."

The food sector has been growth-focused, but this has not stopped the problem of hunger, Holt-Giménez said, pointing the example of 2008, which was a year of record harvests and record profits for agricultural giants like Cargill and ADM amidst record hunger.

"Clearly something has to change, and simply growing more food isn't going to solve the problem of hunger," he said. "This contradiction runs even deeper when we realize that most of the hungry people in the world are farmers. They're peasant farmers," mo
st of whom are women, he added.
Yet "peasant farmers produce most of the food in the world — and they do it on less than a quarter of the agricultural land on the planet."

"So there's a tremendous amount of inequity bound up in the food system which creates poverty and in turn creates hunger even in a world of abundance."

Yet institutions of power repeat the claim that the amount of food the wold produces must double by 2015, Holt-Giménez said. "This is simply part of productivist ideology of an extractive and regressive food system — regressive in that it does not redistribute the wealth within the food system, but it concentrates the wealth in fewer and fewer hands. "
Degrowth, however, has gripped the food system as well, he said, because as big farms are getting bigger, small farms are getting smaller. Despite this, small farms continue to be more productive than their bigger counterparts.

So what will it take for degrowth to occur in the right way in the food system? That will require food sovereignty, a system that is local, redistributive and adheres to agro-ecological principles, he said.

That's a food system that stands in contrast to the chemical-dependent system introduced in the so-called Green Revolution and trade policies like NAFTA, but is one that ensures access to land and an "end to corporate monopoly rule."
"Clearly we need to degrow corporate power," he said. "Clearly this means a complete transformation of the corporate food regime."

We need "reforms that transform" the current capitalist food system, and that will take alliance building between progressives and radicals to make a strong enough movement to bring about such reforms, he said.
To see Holt-Giménez's full remarks as well as those by the other panelists, watch the video below uploaded by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung:

Sunday, September 7, 2014



Guatemala Rejects U.S. Trade Law Protecting Monsanto and GMOs

Big Biotech’s promise to feed the world, by squeezing out every other choice against the will of the impoverished people intended as the target - is beyond cruel and exploitative. It is another way that the U.S. occupies other countries. How else are other people in these countries supposed to view multiple soft-sanctions on food, but as an act of war?
The people of Guatemala caught on to the deceptive nature of a U.S. Trade Agreement with Central America which was marketed as a way to “modernize” them. It also pretends to protect new seed varieties and paints the seed bearers in need of protection as small farmers. It is actually a way for big biotech and seed companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Duwest, Syngenta, etc. to assume power and immunity as owners of their food supply.
Guatemala is calling it “Monsanto Law.” It does bear resemblance to the “Monsanto Protection Act” which was a rider slipped into a U.S. financial bill last year, now considered dead.
From TechDirt:
The new law was brought in as part of the process of complying with the 2005 CAFTA-DR free trade agreement between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the US. Under its terms, signatories are obliged to sign up to the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties — exactly the same one that was being foisted on Africa last year. However, as reports, despite that obligation, there is mounting resistance to handing over the country’s seed sovereignty in this way:
The growing opposition to the “Monsanto Law” comes from diverse sectors of civil society such as indigenous organizations, environmental groups, scientists, artists and members of Congress.
Artists and television celebrities have joined an online signature campaign to reject the law.
Their petition is addressed to the President, Otto Perez Molina, via the Avaaz website, and argues that the law is unconstitutional.
“This law violates articles of the Constitution relating to the Protection of Individuals, Cultural Identity, Natural Heritage, Right to Health, the principles of the Economic and Social Regime, in addition to the obligation of the state to protect consumers,” the petition states.
On 10 June, the Congress of Guatemala approved Decree 19-2014 or the “Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties” which led to an outpouring of criticism from various sectors of civil society.
This law, published on 26 June, protects the intellectual property of plant breeders deemed to have “created” or “discovered” new plant varieties, or genetically modified existing ones.
This way, the beneficiaries of the law — “breeders”, which are typically companies producing transgenic seeds like the transnational corporation Monsanto — obtain property rights over the use of such varieties, in the form of plants or seeds.
If that isn’t enough, according to the Rural Studies Collective (Cer-Ixim) the implications of this law are harsh and dire (but not too surprising, considering Monsanto’s treatment of farmers in the U.S.). 

It will be illegal and punishable by imprisonment if farmers do the following:

  • Possess or exchange protected seed varieties without authorization.
  • Possess the harvest or save seeds for future use.
  • Use the product of “varieties essentially derived from the protected variety.” Meaning even unintentionally via contamination.
Do you realize that biotech seed companies own their spreading damage through patents and protection under laws such as these? Their damage to the farmer and inevitable contamination becomes their property, and then some, with litigation. Add to that the imprisonment of the afflicted party and they don’t just own all the seed and food, but the farmers too.
Guatemalan groups are seeing the full implications of this trade and reject it for its unconstitutionality, a loss of biodiversity for foreign interests and the lack of consent.
RT reports:
The highest court in Guatemala has suspended the controversial ‘Monsanto Law,’ a provision of a US-Central American trade agreement, that would insulate transnational seed corporations considered to have “discovered” new plant varieties.
The Constitutional Court suspended on Friday the law – passed in June and due to go into effect on Sept. 26 – after a writ of amparo was filed by the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Peasant Movement, which argued the law would harm the nation, LaVoz reported.
The Court’s decision came after several Guatemalan parliamentarians from both the governing Patriotic Party and the opposition party Renewed Democratic Freedom said they would consider repealing the law after outcry from a diverse cross-section of Guatemalans.