Friday, October 2, 2015


School Lunches May Come With a Side of Gnarly Plastic Chemicals

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 2:43 PM EDT
When kids dig into their cafeteria lunches, they may be getting an unwanted side dish. A new study from Stanford University's Prevention Research Center has foundthat meals served at schools may contain unsafe amounts of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound that has been linked to a laundry list of health problems, including hormone disruption, ADHD, and cancer.
"The only items not packaged in plastic were oranges, apples and bananas."
BPA is widely used in plastic food packaging and can liners, but this is the first study on the compound to focus on school lunches, which often come prepackaged.
Researcher Jennifer Hartle observed that almost all the food that her team saw in schools came in plastic or cans. "Meat came frozen, pre-packaged, pre-cooked and pre-seasoned. Salads were pre-cut and pre-bagged," she said in a statement. "Corn, peaches and green beans came in cans. The only items not packaged in plastic were oranges, apples and bananas."
Teaming up with researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Hartle interviewed food service workers and observed cafeterias in schools around California's San Francisco Bay Area. The group compared the school food to previous studies showing how much BPA ends up in various kinds of food. They found that in school lunches, BPA concentrations depended on the meal served, but that some lunches—especially the ones made with canned fruits and vegetables rather than fresh—contained more than half the amount considered toxic in animal studies.
The authors point out that there's already a large body of research that BPA is dangerous even at low levels, and that while the European Food Safety Authority only allows for 4 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day, the United States allows 50 micrograms.
BPA-free plastic packaging, say the authors, won't solve the problem—scientists have linked BPA alternatives to a wide-range of health risks. "The bottom line is more fresh fruits and vegetables," Hartle said in a statement. "There is a movement for more fresh veggies to be included in school meals, and I think this paper supports that."


These Emails Show Monsanto Leaning on Professors to Fight the GMO PR War

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 12:30 PM EDT
For a blockbuster recent piece, the New York Times' Eric Lipton got a first look a massive cache of private emails between prominent public university scientists and GMO industry executives and flacks. The emails came to light through a barrage of controversial Freedom of Information Act requests by U.S. Right to Know, which is funded by the scrappy, anti-corporate Organic Consumers Association.
In addition to the correspondence uncovered by USRTK, Lipton used the FOIA to uncover emails showing close ties between former University of Washington researcher Charles Benbrook and organic food companies like farmer-owned dairy company Organic Valley. Lipton paints a fascinating picture of the the place occupied by public universities in the PR and lobbying war between the agrichemical/GM seed and organic food industries.
"I understand and appreciate that you need me to be completely transparent and I am keenly aware that your independence and reputations must be protected," a Monsanto rep wrote to professors.
But his piece, excellent as it is, may actually underplay the extent to which Monsanto, other ag-biotech companies, and their trade groups and hired PR guns rely on friendly professors as foot soldiers in the industry's battle against regulators and critics.
Here are some highlights that didn't make it into the Times. Although there is no specific evidence to suggest that Monsanto paid professors for these activities, and many of the professors have said they reached their conclusions independently, the correspondence is nonetheless interesting: 
• In an August 2013 email to nine prominent academics, Monsanto's strategic engagement lead Eric Sachs broached a plan: that the group would pen "short policy briefs on important topics in the agricultural biotechnology arena," chosen "because of their influence on public policy, GM crop regulation, and consumer acceptance."
Sachs assured the professors that the project would be handled discreetly. "I understand and appreciate that you need me to be completely transparent and I am keenly aware that your independence and reputations must be protected," he wrote. Two outside entities—an industry-funded group called the American Council on Science and Health and a PR outfit called CMA—would "manage the process of producing the policy briefs," "coordinate website posting and promotion," and "merchandize" the briefs by helping turn them into "op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc." This third-party management is "an important element," the Monsanto exec added, "because Monsanto wants the authors to communicate freely without involvement by Monsanto."
In December of 2014, the zealously pro-biotech website Genetic Literacy Project ran a package of professor-penned articles that look remarkably like the ones proposed by Sachs, though no involvement with Monsanto is disclosed in any of them. For example, Calestous Juma, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School, was among the addressees on that August 2013 letter from Monsanto's Sachs. In it, Sachs laid out seven topics and suggested each to one or two of his correspondents. Here's what Sachs had in mind for Juma:
Entitled "Global Risks of Rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology," Juma's contribution—which Juma says is based on a book that he wrote in 2011—closely resembles Sachs' request for a robust defense of GMOs as a bulwark against hunger in the developing world. (On WednesdayThe Boston Globe noted Juma's piece, describing it a "widely disseminated policy paper last year in support of genetically modified organisms," written "at the behest of seed giant Monsanto, without disclosing his connection.")
In his email, Sachs recommended that Peter Phillips, a policy professor at Canada's University of Saskatchewan, write about "over burdensome regulation of GMO crops and food." His piece on the Genetic Literacy Project website is called "Economic Consequences of Regulations of GM Crops."
For Mississippi State's Davis Shaw and Tony Shelton of Cornell, Sachs suggested a piece defending crops modified to kill insects and withstand herbicides. Their Genetic Literacy Project article, titled "Green Genes: Sustainability Advantages of Herbicide Tolerant and Insect Resistant Crops," does just that.
"I would appreciate your consideration of submitting a blog on the safety and health of biotech to Web MD, at all possible?" a Monsanto rep asked a professor.
For University of Florida professor Kevin Folta—a main focus of the New York Times article—Sachs envisioned a piece on "holding activists accountable" for their opposition to GMOs. In his GLP piece, Folta thundered against those who "wage aggressive campaigns against existing technologies that have demonstrated to be advantageous to the farmer, the environment, the consumer, and the poor locked in nutritional deficit."
• Another prominent academic who emerges with strong industry ties is Nina Fedoroff, an emeritus professor of biology at Penn State, a professor of biosciences at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and the former chief science and technology adviser to secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. The Times piece noted that University of Illinois professor emeritus Bruce Chassy led a "monthslong effort to persuade the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its proposal to tighten the regulation of pesticides used on insect-resistant seeds."
But it didn't mention that Fedoroff evidently played a key role in the campaign, which, as the Times reported, culminated when Chassy "eventually set up a meeting at the E.P.A., with the help of an industry lobbyist, and the agency ultimately dropped the proposal." Fedoroff, it turns out, attended that meeting, according to anOctober 17 email. According to Chassy's email, the pivotal confab with the EPA was set up by Stanley Abramson, a prominent industry lobbyist, and Adrianne Massey, who serves as managing director of science and regulatory affairs at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), a trade group to which Monsanto and other ag-biotech firms belong.
Fedoroff's role in the campaign to get the EPA to back off on GMO regulation wasn't confined to that one "surprisingly productive" meetingChassy reports in an August 19, 2011, email to Massey that he has been "working with Nina," for "a month and many revisions" on an op-ed that ran in the New York Times on August 2011The piece, bylined solely by Fedoroff, complained that the EPA "wants to require even more data on genetically modified crops" and concluded that the "government needs to stop regulating genetic modifications for which there is no scientifically credible evidence of harm."
• In a January 10, 2012 email, Karen Batra, communications director for theBiotechnology Industry Organization, asked Chassy for advice on how to respond to an article critical of GMOs published in The Atlantic. "For most of us communications folks, the science here is way over our heads, and an appropriate response would have some kind of scientific defense," she wrote. "In other words, BIO just writing a letter saying 'biotech foods are safe' isn't enough of a response here."
"I'm excited to torpedo this stupidity," a professor told a Monsanto PR rep who had asked him to weigh in on a controversy over textbooks critical of GMOs.
She added that a group called IFIC—presumably theindustry-funded International Food Information Council Foundation—had "also [sent] out a mass email asking folks to weigh in on the [Atlantic article's] comments page." Batra asked the scientists to "either post a comment yourself on the page or provide us with some top-line scientific points that we could use in a letter to the editor." Chassy responded to Batra's email with detailed talking points on the article. 
Chassy "engaged on the Huffington Post blog at my request," a 2012 email from Monsanto's Sachs reveals—engaging in a spirited back-and-forth with an anti-GMO commenter, for which he sought input from Monsanto employees.
• At one point, Chassy agreed to Monsanto's request to travel to China to speak at a seminar, without having any idea of the topic or the audience. Here's Chassy on January 24, 2012:
You originally asked if I would go to China and do what I did in Korea. You wanted to know if I was available and said you would explain later. One thing led to another and I am now going but we never did speak about the actual mission on China. Where am I speaking?  To whom? For how long? More importantly, what is the topic and is there an assigned title? What's really going on and what are the between the lines issues? Knowing the ansers [sic] to all of these questions would really help me plan a talk. Can we talk sometime before I start putting a talk together?
Sachs responded:
I apologize for the gaps in information. This opportunity came to my attention late in the process and I was narrowly focused on finding the best 3rd-party [i.e, non-Monsanto] expert that could speak on the topic of safety assessment of products employing RNAi [a topic I discuss here.]
"Monsanto China is working with Chinese Agricultural Biotech Association to host the seminar," Sachs continues. "The goal is to pave the way for import approval for biotech products in China."
Chassy later submitted a draft of his presentation to Monsanto officials ahead of the event. (See the exchange here). "Overall, everyone is pleased with how the presentation turned out," a Monsanto employee responded, adding that there "were some minor changes in text and they are indicated in red," as well as "some comments for you to address." Chassy responded seeking more input:
Thanks to the reviewers. They picked up a number of good points. I have attached a word file which contains responses to the reviewers comments. There are a couple that remain unresolved or for which my new wording may or may not fully address the concern voiced by the reviewer. Please have each of the reviewers take a second look.
• In a January 15, 2015, email to the University of Florida's Kevin Folta, Monsanto's Lisa Drake
 wrote that "over the past six months, we have worked hard through third parties"—ie, people not affiliated with Monsanto—to "insert fresh and current" material on GMOs to WebMD. The pitch: "I would appreciate your consideration of submitting a blog on the safety and health of biotech to Web MD, at all possible?" She added, "Please consider insert [sic] the word 'labeling' somewhere in the content in order to get search algorithms to pick it up." Folta responded, "I'm glad to do this and will bounce something off you soon." (Folta says he never ended up writing the post in question.)
• And on January 28, 2015, an employee of the PR firm Ketchum—writing "on behalf of the Council for Biotech Information," a group funded by Monsanto and other biotech companies—included Folta on a group email pointing to another burning controversy: A publisher had indicated it "will update a sixth-grade science textbook that presents some of the benefits of GM crops." Worse, "additional publishing companies are considering replacing content that could be considered pro-GMO."
She asked anyone interested in responding to the textbook crisis to reply. "I'm excited to torpedo this stupidity," Folta responded, to the delight of his Ketchum correspondent. "This is the best email I've gotten all day. [Smiley-face emoticon.] Thanks! I'll be in touch as we move forward on this."


Challenging the Giant GMO

Posted: Updated: 
At a private residence in Los Angeles this past Saturday, chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall revealed that Steven Druker, author of Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public challenged Monsanto to review his research for any inaccuracies.
Ms. Goodall paraphrased Druker's premise: "If they find something that's wrong, [in the book] he will investigate and if they're proved right, he will apologize and withdraw it."
Goodall doesn't expect the chemical manufacturer to come up with a substantive argument against Druker's meticulously researched tome.
Druker said:
If the world suddenly gained full awareness of the actual facts about GE (genetically engineered) food and all opinions about them became thoroughly based in solid science, if we adhere to the routine rhetoric of the proponents of the products, we'd have to predict that a universal wave of enlightenment would cause all opposition to them to vanish. Because in the rendition of reality that they propound, opposition has been based solely in ignorance and concerns about risks have been due to lack of scientific understanding.
But in actuality, the phenomenon that would rapidly vanish is not the opposition to GE foods, but the foods themselves. If the actual facts became widely known, the entire GE food venture would quickly collapse. And that is because, as research in several different countries has consistently shown, the more people know about GE foods, the more they learn the facts about them, the more concerned they become. And that's why, despite repeated pretentions about wanting to educate the public, the biotech promoters have strenuously striven to suppress or distort critical facts.
Moreover, this twisting of the truth has reached massive proportions. My book documents case after case in which eminent scientists and scientific institutions have stooped to deception in order to enable the GE food venture to advance. And it demonstrates that if the truth had been told and the facts openly and honestly aired, these novel products would never have come to market, and we would not be having this discussion this afternoon.
Further, the sheer magnitude of the deception, in itself demonstrates how strongly the evidence weighs against the safety of these novel products because if the evidence were supportive, as their advocates claim it to be, there would be no need to distort it. If you have the facts on your side, you don't need to do anything except just present them. You don't distort them, you don't resort to trickery. The fact that trickery has been resorted to time and time again and that the facts have been misrepresented or suppressed, again, is strong evidence against the safety of GE foods.
The biotech industry asserts the following, each of which Druker addressed in the following video:
1. Genetic engineering (transgenics) is nothing new. Though the biotech industry would have you believe that natural selection and gene transfer from one plant to another occurs on a continuum, of which GE is part of that seamless continuum, Druker cited the late Nobel Laureate George Wald of Harvard University when he referred to genetic engineering as "the biggest break in nature that has occurred in human history," further stating that "such interventions must not be confused with previous intrusions upon the natural order of living organisms." Molecular biologist Liebe Cavaliere, representing the position of science prior to release of GE foods, said that scientists who are claiming that GE foods are essentially the same as traditional breeding are perpetrating a "sham."
2. GE foods have never caused any harm. Druker devotes a chapter in his book to the epidemic following ingestion of a food supplement of bioengineered bacteria that produced L-tryptophan, where in 1989 and 1990, according to the Center for Disease Control, dozens of people died and 1,536 people were seriously harmed with a rare illness. These cases could be traced back to the company Showa Denko K.K., a Japanese wholesaler that used biotechnology to engineer its tryptophan-making bacteria. Unintended consequences do result because the following assertion is a myth:
3. GE is precise and perfect; the gene insertion always produces the intended results. FDA scientists themselves have warned that new and novel GE genetic expressions are not reliable, that they may pose serious adverse health effects in the way of allergies, contaminants, and toxins. Despite these warnings, the FDA's mandate was to further biotechnology.
4. GE foods are rigorously tested and regulated by the FDA. In fact, the FDA does not require the inspection of GE foods for their safety. According to a paper published by the Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology, the "deadly supplements would have passed as a safe product if the established procedure for approval of GE foods had been used" because "the present safety assessment procedure for GE foods is far too insensitive to detect such dangerous poisons." Druker further noted that, "Not only can GE food be put on the market here in the U.S. without even a smidgen of testing according to the FDA, the manufacturer does not even have to inform the FDA that the food is being injected into the food supply."
5. Evidence abounds about the safety of GE foods. The Salk Institute's David Schubert, a medical research scientist, published a peer-reviewed critique of GE food safety testing. Schubert wrote, "I can state confidently that it is false to say such foods are extensively tested and have been proven safe." In fact, enough studies on laboratory animals have shown there is cause for concern, even when the studies rarely if ever extend longer than 90 days. When asked if there have been any human studies of the chronic ingestion of GE foods, Dr. Schubert said, "No. There's not been any long-term studies in humans. There are not even short term studies in humans at all."
An outspoken critic of GMOs, Goodall discussed some of the effects of RoundUp, the most prevalent herbicide used in the world. RoundUp Ready seeds produce corn, soy, and canola plants which are generously sprayed with chemicals. RoundUp, a combination of glyphosate and surfactants, seeps into the tissues of the food so that it cannot be washed off. In a paper published by the FDA, on page 6, they state:
Residue Chemistry Branch has determined that the metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) is formed on plants in amounts that can range as high as 28 percent of the total residue on the plant. Since the extent of glyphosate metabolism was not adequately addressed in the rat metabolism study, the possibility exists that the AMPA metabolite could pose a hazard to humans that was not evaluated by testing the parent compound, glyphosate.
In a genotoxicity study by F. Manas et al, RoundUp's metabolite, AMPA, was found to significantly effect human genes, leading to sections of the chromosomes being deleted, added or rearranged. The study noted in its summary: "Very scarce data are available about AMPA potential genotoxicity." Keep in mind that these researchers had not looked at the health effects of glyphosate or its metabolite, AMPA, on the brain or on reproductive health.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


At least 15 countries and 4 regions - representing 65% of EU's population and 65% of its arable land – move toward national GE bans in EU, with more expected by Oct. 3 deadline 

Distrust over EU GM crop approvals grows as at least 15 countries move towards national bans
Press release - October 1, 2015

Brussels – In the latest blow to the European Commission’s laissez-faire approach to GM crops, at least 15 EU countries and four regions (in two other countries) are in the process of banning the cultivation of GM crops on their territories, with more expected to follow by a 3 October deadline for notifications to the EU, said Greenpeace.
On 1 October, ten EU countries (Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland) and four regional administrations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK, and Wallonia in Belgium) had already formally notified the Commission of their intention to ban GM crop cultivation under new EU rules [1]. Statements by governments to the media also inform of impending notifications by five additional countries (Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia) [2].
This brings the total number of countries who have already declared their intention to put in place GM crop bans to 15 – plus four regions – representing 65 per cent of the EU’s population and 65 per cent of its arable land. More countries are expected to follow suit as the deadline approaches.
The bans currently notified apply to the only GM crop currently approved for cultivation in Europe – Monsanto’s pesticide-producing GM maize, known as MON810 – but also to the seven GM crops awaiting approval by the Commission [3]. These are all GM maizes [4].
Nine EU countries (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland) had previously banned cultivation of MON810 under so-called safeguard clauses.
Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: “A clear majority of the EU’s governments are rejecting the Commission’s drive for GM crop approvals. They don’t trust EU safety assessments and are rightly taking action to protect their agriculture and food. The only way to restore trust in the EU system now is for the Commission to hit the pause button on GM crop approvals and to urgently reform safety testing and the approval system.”
In July 2014, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the Commission should not be able to force through GM crops against a majority of EU countries [5]. The Commission is yet to deliver a legislative proposal that can achieve this. A revised EU risk assessment scheme, called for by EU environment ministers in 2008, has similarly not been implemented. Current risk assessments by the EU’s food safety authority also ignore EU rules in place since 2001 (Directive 2001/18) for more in-depth and independent testing of GM crops.
[1] Under EU Directive 2015/412, governments can ask biotech companies whose GM crops have already been authorised for cultivation in the EU, or are pending approval, not to market their crops on their territory. The companies – Dow, Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer – can then accept or refuse these opt-outs, without having to justify their response. Governments can also legislate to ban individual or groups of GM crops approved in the EU. The Commission list of notifications for national bans:
[3] Denmark is requesting bans for MON810 and only three other GM crops pending approval.
[4] The pending authorisations include Pioneer’s pesticide-producing GM maize, known as 1507, whose EU approval was opposed by 19 out of 28 EU countries in February 2014:
[5] Juncker said: “[I] would not want the Commission to be able to take a decision when a majority of Member States has not encouraged it to do so”Political Guidelines for the next European Commission (July 2014):
Greenpeace EU press desk: +32 (0)2 274 1911,
Franziska Achterberg – Greenpeace EU food policy director: +32 (0)498 362403,
For breaking news and comment on EU affairs:
Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments, the EU, businesses or political parties.


“ A Harvard Kennedy School professor wrote a widely disseminated policy paper last year in support of genetically modified organisms at the behest of the seed giant Monsanto, without disclosing his connection, e-mails show.

Monsanto not only assigned professor Calestous Juma the topic. It went so far as to provide a summary of what the paper should say and a suggested headline. The company then connected the professor with a marketing company to pump it out over the Internet and attract media attention, according to the e-mails, obtained through a public records request."