Tag Archive | "genetically modified crops"

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E.U. Defeat and Study Concerns

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Jerry

After decades of resistance by countries to E.U. directives to accept genetically engineered (GE) crops, a committee of the E.U. has acknowledged the rights of its countries to ban them.  On December 3, 2014 representatives of the E.U. Parliament and E.U. member states reached agreement to allow member countries to ban genetically engineered crops in their own territory.  If the whole Parliament and collective E.U. countries endorse the agreement and it goes into effect in 2015, it represents a major capitulation.

Resistance to GE crops is fueled by periodic studies that suggest they are potentially harmful to the health of either the animals or humans that consume them.   An example is a study completed in 2013 and published in PLOS ONE that stated that complete genes from a GE crop are transferred whole from the human digestive system into the circulation system.

Scientists admit they do not know what the long-term effects on humans are from these genes.  They also admit they do not know the mechanism that allows the genes to pass the blood barrier to enter the human circulation systems.  It is this ignorance that suggests these foods should be put on hold until we know more.  One Canadian scientist, David Suzuki PhD, has said that human beings are part of a “massive genetic experiment”.

Another factor causing the refusal of the E.U. member states to adopt GE crops may be the ethics of moving ahead when there are still outstanding issues to be resolved.  There has been considerable work analyzing the moral issues raised by genetically modified organisms.  These support a slower adoption of these crops.

Of course none of these factors are an issue in the U. S. that produces more than half the GE crops consumed around the world.  GE crops were planted on 169 million acres in the U.S. in 2013.   These crops (mainly corn, cotton and soybeans) are the predominant genetically engineered crops.

The U.S. market leader, Monsanto, has found terrific synergy with its herbicide “Roundup ©.”  GE crops that resist Roundup © have led to a significant increase in the amount of the weed killer (glyphosate) sold as well as the seeds of crops that cannot be killed by Round-up ©.  This is because they are Roundup Ready ©.

The use of Monsanto’s weed killer (Roundup) on crops that resist its influence (Roundup Ready) supposedly leads to less use of the weed killer.  Critics who monitor the sale of the herbicide however see a disproportionate increase in its sales.  This would indicate that farmers are indiscriminate in their use of the herbicide since they are using seeds which produce crops that are unaffected by glyphosate (Roundup ©).

An open recognition of this agreement represents a failure by the E.U. and a major defeat for agricultural and chemical companies that produce and have been sponsoring the GE crops.  Of interest however are the countries in the E.U. that are on each of the respective sides of the issue.

The bigger European countries of France and Germany have actively opposed planting of genetically engineered crops.  They have been joined by Austria, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

This opposition in Germany is surprising given the companies who headquarter there.  Bayer AG and BASF are German companies that have supported GE crops.  Why do the Germans continue to adamantly oppose planting these crops when their own business leaders recommend them?

Some of the smaller E.U. countries, presumably more susceptible to political pressure, are raising genetically engineered crops that have received approval.  These countries include Spain, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Romania and Poland.  They have been joined by the UK that supports GE products.  All of the other countries fall somewhere in between.

Both the E.U. reversal and the recent health studies should give encouragement to those who keep trying to get mandatory labeling passed in the U.S.  They are not alone in their opposition to genetic modification of foodstuffs or in their insistence on mandatory labeling.  While we may have missed the opportunity to ban these crops, there is still time to let the consumer decided what to put in their bodies.  This is what labeling will accomplish.

Use the following links to access more information or the original source documents used for this article.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6215/1280.summary

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pone.0069805

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/01/09/confirmed-dna-from-genetically-modified-crops-can-be-transfered-to-humans-who-eat-them-2/

http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err162.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer

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Are There Cracks in the GM Armor?

Posted on 19 October 2013 by Jerry

Below the surface there are cracks in Monsanto’s armor and storm clouds threaten its future.  If we only look at Monsanto’s results for 2013 things are going great.  Sales are up to $14,861 billion while gross profit and net income are at $7,653 billion and $2.482 billion respectively.  Their total seeds and ‘genomics’ (genetically modified products which includes almost all seeds) generated $10,340 billion.  In addition, Monsanto hired the new lobbying firm, the Lincoln Policy Group, of ex-Senator Blanche Lincoln, who for two years was the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

But 2013 was not as positive as it seems.  Events in the European Union have been so negative that Monsanto has announced it will no longer seek approvals for its GM crops in the E.U.  Activists and governments continued to block approval of Monsanto’s applications for genetically modified crops.

While the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has deemed eight genetically modified crops as safe beginning as far back as 2005, they and five other crops are still under study and have been effectively blocked.  European governments have stopped implementation of the EFSA’s approved crops due to political pressure of activists and continued scientific disagreement.  Monsanto announced instead that its focus in the E.U. would be on its traditional seed business.

Also reflecting the rejection of GM products in the E.U. in 2012, BASF Plant Sciences announced they would abandon the development and sale of their European Union product Amflora.  Amflora is a high starch GM potato designed for industrial applications like the production of paper.  BASF instead moved their development and sales resources for this product to a much more supportive United States.

Indicative of the hostility to GM products in the E.U. the Swiss government has announced it will create a permanently protected federal research area for genetically modified crops.  This is to help control the increase of vandalism and the costs it is experiencing.  It is estimated Swiss GM researchers spend 78% of their research funds on security.  Because of this, the government approved an annual expense of €600,000 (~$822,000) for a secure field test site of approximately 3 hectares (~7.4 acres).  In 2008 masked activists threatened researchers and destroyed about 1/3 of the GM plants grown at another location.

Even in the U.S., the home of genetic engineering and the biggest crops from GM grains, there are signs of eventual labeling of GM crops.  Connecticut became the first state to pass legislation requiring labeling of GM foods.  Unfortunately, given the small size of the state, the bill only goes into effect after a number of other states in the Northeast follow suit.

Almost half of the  states have introduced legislation or ballot initiatives requiring mandatory labeling.  The biggest battle that is raging is in the state of Washington where once again the GM industry has brought its big wallet to the fray.  So far opponents of the legislation, the GM industry, have raised over $17 million compared to the $5 million raised by the backers of the initiative.  We will know how this initiative fares by the end of the year.

While labeling is being hotly contested in the U.S., labeling requirements have been embraced by over 64 countries in the world.  These include Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, and all of the countries of the European Union.  We can only hope the GM crop industry decides its state-by-state approach is too costly.

Rumors abound about secret negotiations at the federal level.  President Obama committed to mandatory labeling of GM food in his second term.  This commitment will require we hold the Obama Administration’s feet to the fire to require legislation with real teeth to accomplish the labeling.  Toothless legislation is the House and Senate’s tradition when big business is involved.   This continues the uphill struggle.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these topics or to see source documents.

http://news.monsanto.com/press-release/financial/monsanto-delivers-third-consecutive-year-strong-growth-performance-global-po

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/16/monsanto-blanche-lincoln-_n_4110750.html

http://www.nature.com/news/monsanto-drops-gm-in-europe-1.13432

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-simon/junk-food-lobbyists-sued_b_4104046.html

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/state-labeling-initiatives

http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/17/4558314/will-washington-state-break-us.html

 

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Businesses Join the GM Labeling Fight

Posted on 06 May 2013 by Jerry

We could be cynical about Whole Foods declaring it will require all its suppliers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients by 2018.  We could be skeptical, if it weren’t so exciting and part of a larger trend of businesses weighing in to protect their interests.  We could see the Whole Foods announcement, known for its “organic” products, as just moving closer to their customers, who have been lobbying the chain to get involved.  On the contrary however, we see it as potentially a historic turning point in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration is rumored to be about to approve genetically modified salmon developed by AquaBounty for sale in U.S. stores (see an earlier post on this blog).  This would be a major milestone since it would constitute approval of the first genetically modified animal to enter the U.S. food supply.

This development threatens the natural salmon fishing industry in Alaska and elsewhere.  It has prompted many more businesses to join the anti-GMO ranks.  Trader Joe’s and other grocery retailers representing more than 2,000 stores have announced they will not carry the GM salmon if it is approved for sale.

The prospect of GM salmon has led to the introduction of federal mandatory labeling legislation, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.  This unites mandatory labeling forces with the fishing industry to continue the fight.  Sponsors of the legislation include U.S. Senators from California (Barbara Boxer), Alaska, New York, and Vermont and House Representatives from Alaska, Oregon, Maine, New York and Washington.

This is not to say the other side of the labeling debate has not been lobbying for its positions.  Quiet meetings between the FDA and pro-GM forces are reported to have taken place as companies lobby for neutered and watered-down labeling requirements that pre-empt the states.  Companies participating in these meetings are said to include behemoths such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Pepsi-Frito Lay, and Mars.

State legislation and ballot measures have not yet been successful other than in Alaska where legislation has passed calling for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified salmon. While state labeling bills are still pending in Connecticut, Missouri, Vermont and Washington state, legislation in New Mexico was allowed to die on the state senate floor.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream also announced it would commit to sourcing non-GMO ingredients for all of its products everywhere by the end of 2013.  They also stated they would transition packaging so all products will be labeled with respect to GMO by the end of 2014.

While owned by international conglomerate Unilever, the terms of its sale required a measure of ongoing independence of a separate subsidiary board of directors unusual to corporate acquisitions.  In addition, some would argue this is not a big deal because of the small size of the B&J product line, that 80% of its ingredients are already non-GMO, and that mandatory labeling is required in the E.U. and U.K.

The U.S. government defines the use of the word organic on a label.  Amongst other things, it identifies products that do not have GM ingredients.  People concerned about the healthiness of their food have a history of paying more for this organic assurance.  Whole Foods has a net profit margin approaching 4% that is more than twice as big as the less than 2% net margin of average retail/wholesale food grocery stores.

Because labeling is a worldwide issue and complex, the identified links below provide additional information.  At present there are 64 countries identified as having mandatory GMO labeling requirements (see below).

For those people looking for a way to be involved or to impact this labeling issue in the U.S. I suggest you put personal pressure on the businesses with which you do business.  We need to learn from the effectiveness of people who lobbied for a change of policy at Whole Foods.

In addition, you should go to www.justlabelit.org.  While hundreds of organizations have declared support for mandatory labeling, Just Label It has become a focal point for individual involvement and grassroots lobbying of elected officials.  I am convinced they are one of the most effective points of entry today.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/node/199961

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-03-15/business/37731461_1_gmo-organic-ingredients-food

http://news.msn.com/science-technology/whole-foods-others-to-shun-genetically-modified-seafood

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/04/bill-introduced-in-house-and-senate-to-require-labeling-of-ge-foods/

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/448-farm-and-food-policy/15491-why-are-wal-mart-and-big-food-lobbying-the-fda-for-a-gmo-labeling-law

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_27182.cfm

http://www.allaboutfeed.net/process-management/management/2013/2/us-washington-state-to-vote-on-mandatory-gm-labelling-1166691w/

http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/news/2013/02/01/gmo-food-labeling-bill-voted-down.html

 

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That’s How Monsanto Makes Money

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Jerry

It takes teams of people to craft a viable strategy that gives a business success while no one is looking.  These include the best legal and legislative minds money can buy to make progress a word or a bill at a time.  Case in point is Monsanto.  The last couple of months show how Monsanto operates legislatively, corporately with other agricultural biotechnology behemoths, and globally to insure greater sales of genetically modified crops and herbicides.

Legislatively, Monsanto brought together its inside Congress man (Roy Blunt – U.S. Senator (R) from Missouri), its attorneys and strategists to craft a rider to benefit Monsanto that could be snuck into a bigger piece of legislation that would certainly pass.  It needed to be crafted in such a way as to not offend and yet compel the U.S. government to overrule the federal courts and act in accordance with Monsanto’s wishes.  It was written a word at a time to set precedents that would serve as the basis of future lobbying and political end-runs.

Such was what has been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” that Barack Obama signed into law with his signature on House Resolution 933, which was a continuing resolution spending bill that Congress passed to give the government ongoing funding for its day-to-day operations.  The full text of the “Monsanto Protection Act” appears in article cited from The Guardian, below.  Of significance is selection of the phrase, “the secretary of agriculture shall”.  Shall is such a more pleasant word than Must even though its meaning is the same.

At the same time, it was announced that Monsanto and DuPont reached an agreement where they would stop their reciprocal lawsuits and DuPont would pay Monsanto royalties amounting to $1.75 billion over several years for access to Monsanto’s technology for genetically modified seeds.  After having lost one big case against Monsanto, DuPont saw great promise for its own seeds and herbicides using Monsanto’s technology to produce the next wave of herbicide resistant crops that will face a new wave of herbicide resistant weeds invading U. S. farms.

DuPont’s Pioneer brand agricultural seeds generated some $7.3 billion in sales in 2012.  Monsanto had total revenues of about $13.5 billion last year.  This is a sweet deal for these two leaders in the agricultural biotechnology space.

Separately, Monsanto reported its second quarter earnings for the beginning of 2013.  A Forbes article reporting Monsanto’s results cited net income for the quarter ending with February 2013 as $1.48 billion.  The article further cites Michael E. Cox of Piper Jaffrey as observing that higher sales of Roundup (Monsanto’s herbicide) and a lower-than-expected tax rate were responsible for the performance.  Oh look, herbicide sales are booming.  What a surprise!  Many have argued that Monsanto genetically modified seeds, which make plants impervious to Roundup, are really a way of allowing farmers to use Roundup indiscriminately to kill weeds since it will not hurt their GM crops.

Monsanto continues its full court press to spread use of its seeds around the world.  Even in its own sanitized press releases, Monsanto’s ambition is obvious.  This press release gives only hints of the complexity of its strategy, pervasiveness and costs it is incurring in just this one continent.  This is big international business at its most powerful and yet devious.  Its concentration on South American markets and Africa are where it expects it future profits to come from.  Blocked from many European Union countries and other developed nations in the world, developing nations are a key focus.  So far only the U.S. and Canada have completely embraced Monsanto and DuPont’s genetically modified crops.

The Guardian article cited below states that Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds make up 93% of U.S. soybeans, 88% of cotton and 86% of corn crops last year.  We do not have comparable data for Canada but are sure they closely follow the U.S. in GM crop percentages.

Chapter 13 of Beyond Animal, Ego and Time is completely focused on genetic engineering and synthetic biology and the inherent dangers they represent.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/05/who_snuck_in_the_monsanto_protection_act/

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/26/statement-press-secretary-hr-933/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/apr/04/monsanto-protection-act-gm/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2013-04-03/monsanto-raises-forecast-as-profit-tops-estimates-on-corn-seed.html

http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/intacta-rr2-pro-benefits-for-south-american-countries.aspx

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Patents for Genetic Engineering Confuse & Miss the Point

Posted on 24 February 2013 by Jerry

Patent law covering genetically engineered foods and biotech technologies is in flux but only one outcome is on the side of history and humanity.  Courts are unsure about which products and technologies should be protected by patent.  A case filed by a 75 year old farmer against Monsanto is headed to the Supreme Court.  Another one rejected by a lower court, ratified by a federal appeals court and sent back for reconsideration by the Supreme Court is once again at the Supreme Court.

All of this controversy ignores the fundamental moral issues surrounding genetically altered foods.  In the book “Beyond Animal, Ego and Time”, an argument is made to recognize that life’s gene pool is its most commonly shared asset. The collective owner of the gene pool is life. Given its universally shared nature we should not allow any individual, corporation or government to own the genetics of any living organism that occurs naturally or any that has been genetically engineered or synthetically created.

The argument that genetically engineered products are not based on natural phenomena ignores that all of the processes genetic engineers and synthetic biologists are using were copied from bacteria and viruses which were the basis for these entire fields of science.  We must stop the profit motive as the major driver of such dangerous products.  Ownership of any life form should be illegal and no patent protection should be granted.  

That being the case, the behavior of Monsanto and the courts is instructive.  Monsanto has genetically engineered crops, in this case soybeans, to be resistant to harm from its own weed killing herbicide “Roundup”.  It has patented these and other seeds giving the farmer freedom to use as much of the weed killer as they please because it poses no risk to their genetically altered crop.  Monsanto requires a customer buy the seed from them each crop cycle.  If they plant the crop from seeds of plants grown in earlier seasons, they are still required to pay Monsanto even though the plants are from second generation seeds.  Obviously the weed killer is also supplied by Monsanto. 

At issue is a 75 year old farmer who is a good Monsanto customer for his main soybean crop but buys seed for a late season crop from a grain elevator known to have Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds.  For this second late summer planting, which has greater risk because of the higher incidence of heat, drought and floods, the farmer has to plant twice as many seeds. 

He did not pay Monsanto for seed for the later crop arguing the seeds were from a grain elevator who licenses the seed from Monsanto.   In his view if Monsanto had an issue with anyone it was the grain elevator company.  Monsanto argued he was violating a contract he signs when he buys seed for his main crop.  The farmer said none of Monsanto contracts ever spoke about seed purchased from contracted third parties. 

Monsanto has a large staff whose sole purpose is to find cheating farmers who violate its patents and contract provisions.  Monsanto argues it is illegal to grow a crop using its patented technology without permission and payment.  The farmer argues that nature makes the plants whose seed was first bought and paid for by someone else.

The issue is how long and widely does Monsanto’s patent protection reach?  When referring to self replicating life forms, how many generations of the organism are included within the patent protection?  In addition, if the protected organism is purchased from a third party, who purchased it legally, what obligation extends to customers who buy from the third party?

Monsanto’s position in this lawsuit is suspect.  In a normal market, there are multiple avenues of distribution.  Buying a product from a third party who serves as the retailer does not involve legal obligation.  In addition, it could be argued these seeds, once again in a normal market, would not be so tightly controlled because they benefit another product from the same company, the herbicide product.  This should be analogous to a razor and razor blade market where the razor is sold for a very low price because the real profit is made on the blades.  This appears to be the same relationship between the seed and the herbicide.

The entire area of patent protection rightly remains contentious.  As an example, patents were not upheld in a recent case involving a San Diego company who patented a method of determining proper drug dosage.  In this case the Supreme Court ruled that no patent should have been issued because the way the test worked was based on the laws of nature.  In another recent case, the Supreme Court overturned patents that were granted to a Salt Lake City company.  Here it ruled that patents for naturally occurring genes should not be granted because there was no alteration by human beings and they were based once again on natural occurrences.

As previously stated, because all knowledge serving as the basis of genetic engineering was derived by study and copying of natural processes used by bacteria and viruses, these products should be considered based on natural occurrences and the laws of nature.  Unfortunately, our government, the courts, and these companies prefer to ignore where these sciences came from and the natural organisms on which they are based.

Use the following links to obtain further information:

http://www.nature.com/news/seed-patent-case-in-supreme-court-1.12445

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/business/supreme-court-to-hear-monsanto-seed-patent-case.html

http://www.nature.com/news/us-supreme-court-upends-diagnostics-parents-1.10270

http://www.nature.com/news/the-great-gene-patent-debate-1.11044

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/11/us-supreme-court-to-decide-on-gene-patents-in-myriad-case.html

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