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Supreme Court Considers Ban on Monsanto GMO Seeds

Posted on 29 April 2010 by admin

By Kristen Friendstaff U.S. Supreme Court writer – April 29, 2010

monsanto seeds caseThe Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday regarding Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms.

The Court’s decision in the caseMonsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farmscould have an impact on the threshold for challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a case involving genetically modified crops that set the stage for the Court’s first ever ruling on the subject. The case centers around a judge’s injunction preventing the use of a type of herbicidal resistant alfalfa, known as Roundup Ready, produced by the agriculture and biotech company, Monsanto (NYSE: MON). Monsanto produces both the herbicide Roundup and the breed of resistant alfalfa in question.

In the case, the Court is considering the environmental impact of genetically modified crops, not their safety. The decision is not predicted to be a sweeping or broad ranging statement on the ability of government to regulate genetically modified foods or on the merits of doing so. But, it could affect the viability of future challenges under the NEPA because it is expected the Court will dictate a new standard for those bringing claims.

According to the 2000 Plant Protection Act, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is charged with promoting regulations that prevent the “introduction of plant pests into the United States or the dissemination of plant pests within the United States.” [1] This includes the regulation of genetically modified organisms and plants, and APHIS has issued some regulations governing such organisms. Monsanto petitioned APHIS in 2004, claiming that their pest resistant alfalfa was not subject to regulations under the Plant Protection Act.

As was required, APHIS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA), and approved Roundup Ready alfalfa for use in 2005. Some farmers began planting the crop. In 2006, a group of organic farmers, conventional farmers and environmental groups, led by Phillip Geertson of Geertson Seed Farms, sued, claiming that the initial government review was insufficient. AHPIS, they claim, should have produced an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in response to Monsanto’s petition. Geertson also argued that the agency’s Environmental Assessment was lacking and that the use of herbicide resistant alfalfa could result in the cross-contamination of non-genetically modified crops, hindering the farmers’ ability to sell their products domestically and abroad. [2] [3]

A judge agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered an injunction preventing the nationwide use of Roundup Ready alfalfa. Monsanto appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the injunction was upheld.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer wrote in his 2007 decision upholding the injunction that, while the Court accepted the government’s assertion that the crop has no adverse health effects on humans or livestock, health issues are only one of the potential causes of harm that must be addressed. Judge Breyer wrote, “A federal action that eliminates a farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food, is an undesirable consequence: another NEPA goal is to maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity and variety of individual choice.” [4]

In its brief to the Court, Monsanto argued that the injunction preventing the use of their alfalfa seed was overbroad, and that the standard the lower courts used in determining harm was too low. According to Monsanto, the possibility that their breed of alfalfa could infiltrate organic and conventional crops belongs in the realm of “science fiction.” [3] They also contend that the use of a lower standard of harm “virtually requires a federal court to grant an injunction against proposed federal action” in any cases brought under the NEPA. [5]

Instead, Monsanto wants the Supreme Court to determine that plaintiffs in cases brought under the NEPA must show a “likelihood of irreparable harm” in order to win an injunction.

Supporters of Geertson believe that the ability of states to protect natural resources and the ability of citizens to obtain complete information regarding the impact of federal actions will be dangerously hindered if Monsanto prevails in its suit.

Environmental groups also claim that the ability of citizens to challenge the actions of the government on environmental grounds is critical to a functioning democracy. Union of Concerned Scientists member Doug Gurian-Sherman said of the case, “If the court moves towards choking off some of those checks and balances in the form of the public’s ability to challenge an agency, I think that would have some chilling effect on the operation of science in our democracy.” The Union of Concerned Scientists has filed a brief in support of Geertson. [6]

Members of the organic food industry, environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and the National Resources Defense Council, as well as some State Attorneys General have also filed briefs in support of the defendants. Business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, The American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Homebuilders as well as some biotech and agricultural groups have filed briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs. [7]

The USDA has been continuing its work on the required Environmental Impact Statement as the case has made its way through the lower courts and onto the Supreme Court docket. The ban on the use of Monsanto’s seeds would end once the agency completes its review, essentially rendering one aspect of the Court’s decision moot.  However, the issue before the court that has environmental, agricultural and business groups paying attention is what standard of harm the Court will uphold for cases filed under the NEPA.

Lower courts have repeatedly ruled that plaintiffs are exempt from showing a “likelihood of irreparable harm” in such cases, and must simply show a “possibility of irreparable harm.” The “possibility” of harm standard was used by the 9th Circuit Court as part of the finding for upholding the injunction. [4]

If the Court finds for Monsanto, the burden on the government to provide thorough public Environmental Impact Statements will be reduced. If it finds for Geertson, it will affirm the position that the law requires full disclosure from the government in cases where potential environmental harm could result from the deregulation of a product.

The Supreme Court has decided one case involving the “likelihood of irreparable harm” standard,Winter v. NRDC in 2008. Monsanto’s arguments rely heavily on the Court’s decision in this case.

The issue under consideration in Winter was the legality of the use of sonar in Navy training activities. Environmental groups protested the use of sonar, arguing that it was known to cause harm to marine life. The Navy issued an Environmental Assessment but did not release an Environmental Impact Statement. The National Resources Defense Council sued in an attempt to halt the exercises, but a district court allowed the Navy to proceed with some added restrictions. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, with the Navy making a very similar argument: that the lower courts had relied only on the mere “possibility” of environmental harm when making rulings. [8]

In a decision, written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court found in favor of the Navy, stating that harm must be “likely” and that an injunction is an “extraordinary remedy” requiring a “clear showing” of the success of a plaintiff’s argument. [8]

Given the decision in Winter, the Court’s history regarding environmental decisions handed down by the 9th Circuit Court, and the tone of the Justice’s questioning during oral arguments, it appears likely that the Circuit Court’s decision will be overturned. Of the five decisions favoring environmentalists the Supreme Court overturned last year, four of them came from the 9th Circuit.[3]

During arguments, the Justices seemed critical of the respondent’s claims that the genetically modified crops would cause harm. They also appeared unconvinced of the lower court’s authority to enforce a complete ban, with Chief Justice Roberts questioning why the injunction was issued at all. When reflecting on the potential impact of the genetically modified crop, Justice Antonin Scalia said, “This isn’t the contamination of the New York City water supply. This isn’t the end of the world, it really isn’t.” [9]

Justice Breyer, who is considered to be a member of the “liberal” wing of the Court, is not involved in the case since his brother wrote the decision under consideration. Environmental advocacy groups urged Justice Thomas to recuse himself on the grounds that he worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970s and wrote the decision in a 2001 case that provided the legal grounds for companies like Monsanto to be able to patent seeds. [10] These efforts were unsuccessful.

A decision is expected in late June or July.

Sources

  1. http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/20206
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/04/22/22greenwire-supreme-court-to-take-first-look-at-genetically-4425.html?pagewanted=1
  3. Decision, United States District Court For the Northern District of California
  4. http://www.wlf.org/litigating/case_detail.asp?id=600
  5. http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/american-life/US-Supreme-Court-Considers-Genetically-Modified-Crops–92168999.html
  6. http://minnesotaindependent.com/58024/u-s-supreme-court-to-hear-arguments-in-monsanto-case-tuesday
  7. http://www.scotuswiki.com/index.php?title=Winter%2C_et_al._v._Natural_Resources_Defense_Council%2C_Inc.%2C_et_al.
  8. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5isgbi9DSGVLOvoyTQ3f8M–Aw4sQD9FBGO1O0, The Associated Press
  9. http://iowaindependent.com/32870/justice-with-past-monsanto-ties-should-recuse-himself-environmentalists-say
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After Monsanto’s GMO Meltdown in the USA

Posted on 14 April 2010 by admin

After Monsanto’s GM Meltdown in the USA…

Syngenta comes to the rescue to keep the transgenic treadmill going Prof. Joe Cummins

A fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website and can be downloaded here

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One major impact of crops genetically modified (GM) for insect resistance is that the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cry toxins conferring insect resistance are specific for particular pests. After the Bt crops have been planted for several years, the target pest is usually diminished, leaving an ecological niche into which another insect pest species may invade. This has already happened with Bt cotton in India [1] (Mealy Bug Plagues Bt Cotton in India and PakistanSiS45) and in the United Stated, where the tarnished plant bug has emerged as the major pest in the cotton belt [2] (GM Crops Facing Meltdown in the USA,SiS 46).

Now Christoph Then of Test Biotech, an independent German research group, reports on the spread of the western bean cutworm (Striacosta albicosta) and the massive damage inflicted on Bt maize in the United States [3]: “The infestation has been observed since the year 2000.…. This cutworm has historically been confined to very limited regions and did not cause any major problems in maize crops. For several years now the pest has been spreading into more and more regions within the US Corn Belt and causing substantial economic damage. In 2009, maize plants affected by the western bean cutworm were even found in Canada for the first time. According to scientific publications, this new pest has been caused by the large-scale cultivation of genetically engineered plants expressing Cry1Ab such as MON810. It is seen as a case of ‘pest replacement’, often found where there is extensive use of pesticides in industrial agriculture. Pest replacement means that new ecological niches open up which other competitors then occupy. In this case, a naturally occurring competitor of the western bean cutworm has been intentionally suppressed by the extensive cultivation of Bt maize plants, thus allowing the new pest to spread on a large scale and heavily infest the crop. A whole arsenal of insecticides – some of them highly toxic – and genetically engineered multi-stacked maize are recommended for controlling the pest.”

Syngenta MIR162 to the rescue

For the most part, the pesticides used to combat new pests are toxic, expensive and leave residues on food and feed.  The Bt Cry toxins available for genetic modification have not proven   sufficiently effective against the newly emerged pest. Syngenta Corporation was quick to fill the pesticide gap by introducing a maize line called Agrisure Viptera to control western bean cutworm.  That GM maize line is derived from event MIR162 incorporating a Bt vegetative insecticidal protein, VIP3Aa [4]. VIP toxins are produced in growing Bt cells as distinct from the Cry toxins that are produced as crystals in stationary stage sporulating Bt cells. Agrisure Viptera was cleared for commercial release by USDA/APHIS and USEPA in time for the growing season in 2010.

Event MIR162’s Bt insecticidal vegetative protein gene vip3Aa20 is driven by a maize polyubiquitin promoter with the CaMV 35S 3’ polyadenylation termination signal. A selectable marker pmi encoding mannose-6-phosphate isomerise from E. coli, also driven by the maize polyubiquitin promoter, withAgrobacterium nopaline synthase terminator. The phosphomannose-isomerase converts mannose-6-phosphate to fructose-6-phosphate. Only transformed cells are capable of utilizing mannose as a carbon source. Transgenic plants regenerated from selected transformed immature embryo-derived calli contained the pmi gene and the gene was transmitted to the progeny in ‘Mendelian’ fashion [6]. (This is based on the statistical misuse of failure to depart from ‘Mendelian ratios’ as evidence of transgene stability,  as pointed out by ISIS [7] GM Rice Unstable (isisnews 9/10). The Syngenta petition for non-regulated status of MIR162 maize was an extensive document describing the construction of the transgenic maize line and its field testing for productivity and resistance to pests. VIP3Aa20 produces pores in the gut cell membrane of insect pests that caused the cells to burst; its target cell proteins are different from those of the Cry proteins. The impact of MIR163 on non target organisms were examined, but only with the VIP3Aa20 protein produced in the bacterium E coli, which is  different from that expressed in the transgenic maize.  The latter is transcribed from a DNA sequence that had been altered to optimise production of VIP3Aa20 protein in maize, differing by several amino acids, but assumed, unjustifiably, to be insignificant [6].

In 2005, USDA/APHIS  determined that Syngenta Corporation cotton event COT102 with transgene VIP3A was no longer regulated, and is now used to control a number of Lepidopteron pests  [8, 9].

Syngenta’s patented death proteins

Syngenta corporation, producer of chemical and biological pesticides, has patented the vip genes for use in transgenic crop plants and microbes [10]. The patent provided evidence that Vip3A toxin produces apoptotic cell death, a series of cytological changes including the production of membrane bound apoptotic bodies and activation of endonuclease enzymes that cleave chromatin into discrete fragments. Apoptosis (meaning petals falling from a flower) or programmed cell death, is common to all cells with discrete nuclei. Apoptosis is a part of normal development, but that induced by VIPp3A toxin is not. In order to function fully in the plant cells the vip3A gene is modified in its coding sequence, and is given additional extraneous sequences: a strong promoter to drive transcription, an intron to facilitate transfer of the pre-messenger RNA from nucleus to cytoplasm, a transcription terminator, and signal for polyA addition. The insect VIP3A receptor was identified and its ‘death domain’ recognition sequence characterized. Organisms whose cells have nuclei generally have families of receptors with ‘death domain’ recognition sequences, just as the insect VIP3A receptor is a unique member of a family of receptors [11, 12]. The death domain of VIP proteins is a 60 to 70 amino-acid motif, that is present in many proteins and phylogenetically conserved, as I pointed out previously [13] (Death Domains in New Bio-pesticidesSiS 26). The effects of VIP proteins on non-target organisms need to be very thoroughly investigated. USDA /APHIS finding of no significant impact (FONSI) has allowed the unconfined cultivation and use of COT102. The environmental assessment responded to public comment about apoptosis,  but did not discuss the topic extensively [12].

Continuing trangennic treadmill

Syngnta seems to have quickly turned adversity into opportunity. Nevertheless, once the western bean cutworm occupied niche is subdued, another resistant pest will appear to provide further opportunity for enriching biotech corporations in the endless transgenic treadmill [14] (see Glyphosate Resistance in Weeds – The Transgenic TreadmillSiS 46).

The only escape from the transgenic meltdown may well be organic cropping [2].

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Obama USDA Poised to Take Away Our Right to GMO-Free Food

Posted on 21 January 2010 by admin

Don’t believe Monsanto’s green-washing. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), aren’t meant to feed the world or survive the evermore frequent droughts and floods brought on by global warming – they’re designed to sell Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup and the patented “Roundup Ready” genes now spliced into millions of acres of corncottonsoycanolasugar beets and alfalfa. A 2009 study showed that, in 13 years, Roundup Ready crops increased herbicide use by 383 million pounds.

During the Bush administration, the movement to stop GMOs was making progress. Reflecting public concern over GMOs, in 2007, a Federal court ruled that the Bush USDA’s approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa violated the law because it failed to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa and the development of “super-weeds.” The court banned the planting of GM alfalfa until USDA completed a rigorous analysis of these impacts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice affirmed the national ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa planting, but Monsanto is appealing. They’re taking organic alfalfa farmers all the way to the Supreme Court!

Barack Obama, despite promising us “change we can believe in,” is unfortunately turning out to be just as pro-GMO as the preceding Bush and Clinton administrations, packing the USDA and other government bureaucracies with Monsanto men and biotech cheerleaders such as former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, named “Biotech Governor of the Year” in 2001, now serving as USDA Secretary. Vilsack, notorious for flying around in a Monsanto company jet during one of his previous election campaigns, is now busy trying to get the court-ordered ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa lifted by issuing a new draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that denies or downplays the obvious environmental and human health hazards of GM alfalfa.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the U.S. and a key source of dairy forage and hay. The first perennial crop to be genetically engineered, GM alfalfa can regenerate itself from its root-stock. It is open-pollinated by bees, which can cross-pollinate at distances of several miles, spreading Monsanto’s patented, foreign DNA to non-GMO and organic crops. Widespread GMO-contamination of organic alfalfa is inevitable if the Obama Administration successfully distorts science and ignores public opinion and allows Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready alfalfa to be planted across the U.S.

Mounting evidence shows damage to animals and humans from unlabeled and untested Frankenfoods. Consumers who ingest GM alfalfa are likely risking their health; since even the USDA’s EIS admits that, “acute toxicity in mice was observed.”

According to the EIS, consumers who ingest foods with residues of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide may experience “general and non-specific signs of toxicity from subchronic and chronic exposure to glyphosate includ[ing] changes in liver weight, blood chemistry (may suggest mild liver toxicity), liver pathology, and weight of the pituitary gland.”

The EIS warns that, “Based on upper estimates of exposure … infants consuming fruit and all age groups consuming vegetables may be at risk of adverse effects associated with acute exposure to glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup] residues.”

Consuming milk and meat from animals fed crops that are genetically engineered is also risky. In Europe, where farmer and consumer rejection has kept GMO crop acreage to a bare minimum, massive quantities of GMO-tainted animal feed is imported from the U.S. and a survey of 60 samples of 12 different milk brands sold in stores in Italy demonstrated the presence of GM maize sequences in 15 (25%) and of GM soybean sequences in 7 samples (11.7%).

Most consumers, especially organic consumers, are determined to avoid Roundup Ready alfalfa, and meat and dairy products derived from animals ingesting Roundup Ready alfalfa, but according to the EIS, we don’t have that right because, “At the present time, there is no policy regarding the unintended presence of GE (genetically engineered) material in organic products or food, consistent with the fact that the NOP (National Organic Program) is a process-based program for certifying a farm or production system as organic, and not a product-based program that tests or certifies individual products as organic.”

We must stop the Obama administration from taking away our right to grow and consume organic and GMO-free food. The “change we believe in” is a healthy and sustainable future based upon organic food and farming and a green economy.

Follow Ronnie Cummins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OrganicConsumer

source: huffingtonpost.com

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USDA Approval of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets Ruled Unlawful by Federal Court

Posted on 20 October 2009 by admin

(NaturalNews) On September 21, a California federal district court found that the USDA’s 2004 approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” sugar beets was unlawful. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) deregulated GMO sugar beets without preparing an Environmental Impact Statement. Plaintiffs in the case, filed in January 2008, include the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds.

Failing to account for cross-pollination of the GMO seeds with nearby fields of conventional and organic varieties was one of many unreasonable deficiencies cited by the court in the original USDA approval of the crop. Plaintiffs in the case are also emphasizing in no uncertain terms that they will not tolerate the continued pandering to the likes of Monsanto by the USDA. The USDA’s job is to protect America’s growers, farmers, and consumers, not multinational corporations who patent genetically-altered seeds.

When Monsanto originally began marketing its “Roundup Ready” GMO sugar beet seeds, it enticed farmers with promises that the crops could be doused with herbicide up to five times a year without killing the crop. What it failed to disclose was the potential for entire crop fields to be cross-contaminated with genetically modified seeds, devastating the availability of untainted conventional and organic crops. The environmental impact of using GMO seeds is tremendous and could wipe out the non-GMO crops entirely.

Another issue not addressed by APHIS is the fact that continual applications of glyphosate, the herbicide marketed by Monsanto as Roundup, has led to the growth of Roundup-resistant weeds commonly referred to as “superweeds”. Similar to antibiotic “superbugs” that become resistant to antibiotics, these superweeds require ever-increasing amounts of not only Roundup but other more potent, toxic herbicides just to keep them under control. There are currently millions of U.S. land acres that are infested with superweeds.

An independent analysis of USDA data by the former Executive Director of the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Agriculture, Dr. Charles Benbrook, has revealed some startling information. Between 1996, when “Roundup Ready” genetically engineered crops were first introduced, and 2004, herbicide use in the U.S. has increased by 138 million pounds.

A 2008 study conducted at the University of Caen in France found that Monsanto’s Roundup concoctions triggered the death of human embryonic, placental, and umbilical cells in vitro. The dilution levels used in the study were far below the recommendation levels used in agriculture and were meant to replicate the amount ingested due to residue left on food.

Despite the tremendous victory this case represents, there is still the unfortunate reality that the lead defendant in the case was USDA head Thomas Vilsack, an Obama hand pick who heavily supports genetic engineering. Other appointments to top USDA positions under the Obama administration include many former Monsanto executives, perpetuating the Bush-era legacy of revolving-door politics that favors corporate agribusiness and GMOs at the expense of food freedom and consumer protection.

In his ruling, Judge Jeffrey S. White has scheduled a meeting on October 30 to deliberate the remediation phase of the case that may include injunctive relief against the use of GE sugar beets.

Sources:

Victory! Court Finds USDA Violated Federal Law by Allowing Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets on the Market – The Center for Food Safety

Genetically Engineered Sugar Beet Approval Illegal, Judge Rules – Environment News Service

Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells – American Chemical Society

Genetically Engineered Crops, Obama Administration, USDA: Food Politics – gourmet.com

Learn more:http://www.naturalnews.com/027209_USDA_sugar_beets.html#ixzz1aw6nhCrc

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When Cocaine and Monsanto Roundup Collide, War on Drugs Becomes a Genetically-Modified War on Science

Posted on 31 August 2009 by admin

At the intersection of cocaine and Roundup in rural South America, Monsanto and the U.S. government are struggling to keep up appearances. That’s becoming more and more difficult as the unanticipated hazards of genetic modification become clearer.

Back in April, Argentinean embryologist Andrés Carrasco gave an interview with a Buenos Aires newspaper describing his recent findings suggesting the chemical glyphosate, a chemical herbicide widely used in agriculture as well as in U.S. anti-narcotic efforts, could cause defects in fetuses in much smaller doses than those to which peasants and farmers in his country were already being exposed. Loud calls for a ban on the substance were issued by Argentinean environmental lawyers, and the country’s Ministry of Defense banned the planting of glyphosate-resistant soya crops in its fields.

Then came the backlash. An article in an Argentinean paper recently reported that Carrasco was assaulted in a way he described as “violent” by four men associated with agricultural interests:

Two of the men were said to be members of an agrochemical industry body but refused to give their names. The other two claimed to be a lawyer and notary. They apparently interrogated Dr. Carrasco and demanded to see details of the experiments. They left a card Basílico, Andrada & Santurio, attorneys on behalf of Felipe Alejandro Noël.

It’s still unclear who these people are. But the interest in keeping such information quiet or discrediting Carrasco and his findings are strongest with Monsanto, the agricultural company who first patented a glyphosate product (sold as Roundup) and also created genetically-modified crops specifically to resist the herbicide.

http://blog.buzzflash.com/analysis/894

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Corporate Power vs. The Small Farmer

Posted on 20 May 2009 by admin

Keynote: Percy Schmeiser – Corporate Power vs. The Small Farmer
Free Speech TV – Boulder, CO

Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer and seed breeder who has become world-famous by displaying enormous courage and tenacity in defending farmers rights by standing up to the Monsanto corporation which had the unmitigated gall to charge him with illegally using its patented GMO canola seeds when his fields were actually contaminated by winds blowing from nearby GMO crops. He’ll discuss his experiences and the dangers of losing biodiversity of our crops and the domination of our food supply by industrial agriculture

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Europe Holds the Key to a GM-Free World

Posted on 08 May 2009 by admin

Europe Holds the Key to a GM-Free World

Scoop.co.nz (press release) – New Zealand

Europe Holds the Key to a GM-Free World 5th Conference of GM-Free Regions, Food & Democracy

Important revelations at the Conference on how Europe determines the future of GMOs in the world market, and more Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Two hundred and fifty delegates from 28 countries (from Europe and elsewhere) converged to the lakeside culture and conference centre (KKL) in Lucerne , Switzerland , for the 5 th European Conference of GMO-free Regions on Food and Democracy [1]. The sun was shining on the scenic lake and the spring air charged with excitement and anticipation.

Germany ‘s move to ban the cultivation of MON810 GM maize barely ten days ago [2] ( Europe Firms Up Against GMOs & Patent on Life , SiS 43) had taken everyone by surprise. Germany , the most populous country in the European Union (EU) ranking fourth in land area, is also its most influential and economically powerful member nation. Monsanto has since taken the German government to court [3] saying its ban is arbitrary and goes against EU regulations.

The symbolic significance of German’s ban on GM maize is a great boost to the campaign whose long-term goal is to get Europe GM-free, as Maya Graf, member of the Swiss National Council said in introducing the conference, which brought a constellation of star speakers from governments and non- government organisations.

Highlights from the opening session

Switzerland , the host country lost no time in hogging the limelight. The country has had a moratorium on GMOs since 2005, which has been extended to 2013.

Adrian Borgula , President of the Cantonal Parliament of Lucerne bid everyone a warm welcome to the beautiful city, and spoke of William Tell, the legendary 14 th century hero of the alpine Canton of Uri in Switzerland . An expert marksman with the crossbow, he was made to shoot an apple on top of the head of his son by the Hapsburg overlord seeking to dominate Uri, and became the symbol of democracy, and the Conference logo.

Chira Simoneschi-Cortes i, Speaker of the Swiss National Council, told the congregation that a big Swiss Insurance company has announced it will not insure against GMOs, because the risks are incalculable! She was “encouraged by the German rejection of MON810.”

“It is not up to scientists and the companies to decide what goes onto our plate. The principle of market economy also demands we should not have GMOs, there simply is no market demand for it,” she said. “ Switzerland has chosen a wise path, moratorium until the end of 2013. This offers great advantage for the small agricultural market of Switzerland .”

There is opposition in Parliament, she admitted; but it is for the people of Switzerland to decide. Furthermore, there must be proper labels for GMOs instead of just the small print.

This conference was the first official visit to Switzerland for Nikolaus Berlakovich , Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Austria . GM crops are simply not for small countries; he said, they must produce high quality food to position themselves in the market. “Our position is organic agriculture. Austria is an ecocosocial economy, neither capitalist not communist. Britain has nationalised their banks. Isn’t that strange? But we must integrate economic and social. We are backing GMO-free animal feed on all levels.”

He explained that organic farming needs protection; and Austria is very critical of EU’s co-existence policy. “We have high percentage of organic farming in Austria , which also covers areas not cultivated. We have the support of consumers. GMOs are rejected by the majority of farmers who know that if they are contaminated, they have a problem.”

It is important for neighbours to join forces, Berlakovich said. “MON810 is authorized in EU, but we ban it, we have lots of scientists supporting that ban.”

He described how Austria won the majority vote against the
European Commission’s attempt to make Austria and Hungary lift their bans on GM maize. “We submitted several studies; our cultivation ban was discussed again. We were in a difficult situation. We needed 74 percent of the environment ministers to vote for us. Germany normally did not support us, but there was a real dynamic, we won over Germany and other countries that did not look likely to vote with us. We got 82 and 85 percent respectively for the two maize varieties! So it was great that a small country like Austria can win. Luxemborug also instituted the ban, very courageous.”

Austria wants liability clarified, he said; what if they are contaminated by neighbouring country? “My goal is to achieve GMO-Free farming in Austria . This should be our right, not to be denied by the EU. Every state should have the right to do so. We have to change the rules at the EU to allow for self-determination. And even within countries, GMO-free regions should be allowed. We are working with like-minded states. Many states support us in this approach, but we need the European Commission to actively change things.”

Berkovich re-iterated the need to incorporate socioeconomic values in assessing GMOs, not just the negative impacts. What value is there for the people? That was why Austria banned MON810, which has no socioeconomic value whatsoever. He also called for proper label for GMOs, not just in the fine print that we need our glasses to read.

“Conferences like this one are important. We need to join forces to create a movement for GMO-free agriculture.” He concluded

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Monsanto sues DuPont over genetic-seed traits

Posted on 05 May 2009 by admin

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Monsanto Co. (MON 90.08, +4.12, +4.79%) has accused DuPont Co. (DD 28.11, +0.48, +1.74%) of stealing intellectual property associated with the genetic traits of its Roundup Ready unit designed to make soybeans and corn more tolerant to its herbicide. Monsanto filed a lawsuit Monday evening in a St. Louis federal court to prevent what it calls the unlawful use of the traits by DuPont’s wholly-owned Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. Specifically, Monsanto said Pioneer is using Roundup Ready traits to mask problems with their Optimum GAT trait. “This violates Monsanto’s contract rights and U.S. patents,” the company said in a Tuesday morning release.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/monsanto-sues-dupont-over-genetic-seed-traits?dist=msr_7

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Germans protest over pig patent

Posted on 16 April 2009 by admin

Germans protest over pig patent

The pig breeders fear they might have to pay royalties to a US biotech firm in future if the patent is upheld. They demonstrated outside the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich on Wednesday, on the eve of a deadline for objections to the patent. The EPO granted the patent nine months ago, but will now study the objections. The patent application was filed in 2005 by Monsanto, which sold its pig-breeding technology to another US biotech firm, Newsham Genetics, in 2007.

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Biotech seed bill tabled by Montana senators

Posted on 26 March 2009 by admin

Biotech seed bill tabled by Montana senators
Associated Press – March 26, 2009

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana Senate committee has sidelined a bill that sought standards for how biotech companies test crops for patent infringement, burying the measure after members attended a private dinner also attended by biotech giant Monsanto Co. representatives. The Senate Agriculture Committee’s action on Tuesday provoked charges of unfairness after news emerged of the dinner, which was attended by most of the committee at a private club in Helena.

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