THE HINDU                                                               NEW DELHI, August 10, 2012


Bar GM food crops, says parliamentary panel

Gargi Parsai


The Hindu Members of a women’s federation raising slogans against the move to introduce Bt brinjal at Palayamkottai in this file photo.

‘Probe how Bt brinjal seed was allowed to be commercialised’

In a major setback to the proponents of genetically modified technology in farm crops, the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture on Thursday asked the government to stop all field trials and sought a bar on GM food crops (such as Bt. brinjal).

The committee report, tabled in the Lok Sabha, demanded a “thorough probe” into how permission was given to commercialise Bt. brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not carried out.

It said there were indications of a “collusion of the worst kind from the beginning till the imposition of a moratorium on its commercialisation in February, 2010, by the then Minister for Environment and Forests.”

The report came a day after Maharashtra cancelled Mahyco’s licence to sell its Bt. cotton seeds.

It flayed the government for not discussing the issue in Parliament and observed that the Ministry failed in its responsibility by introducing such a policy, ignoring the interests of the 70 per cent small and marginal farmers.

The report criticised the composition and regulatory role of the Genetic Engineering Approval (Appraisal) Committee and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM).

According to Committee chairman Basudeb Acharia, there is not a single note of dissent in the report of the 31-member panel, including nine from the Congress and six from the BJP. Observing that GM crops (such as Bt. cotton) benefited the (seed) industry without a “trickle-down” gain to farmers, it recommended that till all concerns were addressed, further research and development should be done only in contained conditions.

Citing instances of conflict of interest of various stakeholders, the panel said the government must put in place all regulatory, monitoring, oversight and surveillance systems.

Raising the “ethical dimensions” of transgenics in agricultural crops, as well as studies of a long-term environmental and chronic toxicology impact, the panel noted that there were no significant socio-economic benefits to farmers. On the contrary, farmers have incurred huge debts because of this capital-intensive practice.

“Today, 93 per cent of the area is under Bt. cotton because no alternative seeds are available,” Mr. Acharia said.



Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Sweet Corn Sparks Debate

By Catherine Griffin

Yellow corn. Photo: Dan Klimke / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Protesters of genetically modified food were outraged in early August when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. confirmed that the company plans to sell Monsanto’s genetically modified sweet corn as soon as the crop rolls in.

The corn, which produces the protein BT, helps repel pests and reduces the amount of insecticide that farmers have to use. Naturally produced by a soil bacterium, BT is often used by organic farmers to control pests. Protesters are worried, however, that having the protein within the corn will pose health and environmental risks. In other altered crops, such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, genetically modified genes have been found in neighboring varieties- pointing to the fact that the genetically modified crop is pollinating nearby varieties. This can lead to a bevy of issues for farmers that have chosen not to use genetically modified corn.

The genetically modified food debate has raged ever since there has been genetically modified food—at least since the mid 1990s. And it’s becoming more polarized as the years wear on. While companies tout the effectiveness and safety of their products, activists call them dangerous and unnecessary.

Both sides, though, have their points. The sweet corn does help drastically reduce the use of pesticides (at least for a time), which means a healthier environment and possibly healthier food. At the same time, activists claim that not enough tests have been conducted on the corn and we have no way of knowing how it will impact health (currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require companies to conduct studies). Monsanto, though, claims that it has conducted enough of  its own tests and that they were evaluated by the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The general research that has been conducted on genetically modified food has had far-ranging conclusions. Some specify that the food is harmless, while others conclude that more research should be conducted. Both sides of the debate criticize studies that don’t support their views.

Bowing to pressure from consumers, companies such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and General Mills have promised not to sell the sweet corn.

Other companies also market genetically modified sweet corn. The seed company, Syngenta, has had a genetically modified variety on the market for more than a decade. Cotton, soybeans, sugarbeets, papaya, squash, canola, and corn also all have genetically modified counterparts. Chances are you’ve tasted genetically modified food without even realizing it; the United States doesn’t require companies to label food containing genetically modified components.

“We absolutely have the right to know if our sweet corn we are eating at our barbecue was genetically engineered in the lab,” said Stacy Malkan of California’s Right to Know Campaign in an interview conducted by the Chicago Tribune.

While the debate continues, though, Monsanto’s sweet corn will soon be hitting supermarkets across the United States.

Monsanto’s Ge…


Ag, biotech giants pour millions into fighting initiative to label genetically modified food 

By Garance Burke, The Associated Press August 16, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO – The nation’s largest agribusiness and biotech companies are pouring millions of dollars into California to stop the first-ever initiative to require special labels on foods made with genetically modified ingredients, a sign of their determination to keep the measure from sparking a nationwide movement.

So far, farming giants such as Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and Cargill have contributed nearly $25 million to defeat the proposal, with much of that cash coming in the past few days. It’s nearly 10 times the amount raised by backers of the ballot measure who say California’s health-conscious shoppers want more information about the food they eat.

With nearly three months to go before the November election, the measure’s opponents appear to be following the previous blueprint developed by major industries to defeat ballot initiatives in the nation’s largest consumer market: Raise large sums of money to swamp the airwaves with negative advertising.

The tactic previously worked for the pharmaceutical industry. And in California’s June primary, the tobacco industry helped defeat an initiative supported by cycling legend Lance Armstrong that would have raised cigarette taxes to fund cancer research.

The food initiative, known as Proposition 37, is one of 11 statewide measures to go before California voters in November. It would require most processed foods to bear a label by 2014 letting shoppers know if the items contain ingredients derived from plants with DNA altered with genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria.

If the proposal passes, California would be the first state to require labeling of such a wide range of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

It also could force a major production shift in the industry, given that Californians eat about 12 per cent of all food consumed in the U.S., said Daniel Sumner, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis.

Supporters of similar legislation in more than a dozen states say the intent is to give consumers more information about what they are eating and to foster transparency and trust in the food system.

“It’s an epic food fight between the pesticide companies and consumers who want to know what’s in their food,” said Stacy Malkan, media director for the California Right to Know campaign, which by Monday had amassed about $2.4 million to promote the initiative, largely from consumer advocates, organic farmers, organic food manufacturers and health food retailers.

Major agricultural groups and the processed food industry oppose stricter labeling, saying it risks sowing fear and confusion among shoppers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said genetically engineered crops, or GE crops, pose no greater health risks than traditional foods.

The latest influx of cash seeking to defeat Proposition 37 puts the coalition of farming groups, food producers, pesticide companies and taxpayer organizations in a good position to fund media and mailers saying that grocery bills would increase if the initiative succeeds, said Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the No on 37 campaign.

Monsanto, the largest contributor, gave $4.2 million this week.

“Everyone is impacted because everyone buys groceries, and one of the impacts is going to be higher grocery bills,” Fairbanks said. “Prop. 37 leaves consumers with the incorrect impression that there is something wrong with GE crops, when that is not true.”

Opponents also said new labeling rules could pose a future burden on taxpayers if Californians have to pay more for state inspectors to verify that labels are appropriately applied, and could leave the state open to lawsuits.

Ag, biotech gia…


Canada ready to unveil plan to ease trade of genetically modified foods

By Sarah Schmidt, Postmedia News August 17, 2012

OTTAWA — Canada is set to unveil to the world its proposal to permit traces of unapproved genetically modified organisms in imported foods, even as government officials admit they don’t trust all countries “equally” when it comes to how they approve use of the organisms.

The federal government’s draft plan for managing the low-level presence of GMOs in food and feed products, to be submitted to the World Trade Organization in September, will undergo more consultations in Canada.

The government’s initial proposal was to permit the presence of GMOs in food up to a maximum level of 0.1 per cent of any batch or lot tested – what it refers to as a “redefinition of zero” because it believes avoiding trace levels of GMOs altogether will become impossible over time.

Feedback from industry, organic producers and food experts during a first round of consultations raised many questions, internal records obtained by Postmedia News using access to information show.

The records also reveal concerns of government officials about how other countries manage their regulatory oversight of GMO crops.

In GMO crops, the genetic material (DNA) of plant species has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally, usually involving transferring selected individual genes from one organism into another or between non-related species. Herbicide-tolerant plants contain genetic material from common soil bacteria, for example, while insect-resistant plants contain genetic material from a bacterium that attacks certain insects.

The biotechnology industry says these common traits of GM crops mean they generally have higher yields. Opponents, wary of even trace amounts in foods, raise health and environmental concerns they feel warrant mandatory food-labelling rules to let consumers know of the presence of GMOs. Without studies tracking the long-term health effects, they worry GMOs may include exposure to allergens, or lead to antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption.

When a genetically modified crop is authorized for use in a country, trace amounts can contaminate other varieties or crops that were not meant to be genetically engineered during cultivation, harvest, transportation or processing. The explosion of GMO-approved crops around the world, estimated by the European Commission Joint Research Council to jump from about 30 in 2009 to more than 100 by 2015, means the accidental low-level presence of GMOs in imported crops is emerging as a major international trade issue.

Canada has been pressing for a consistent global approach to manage the unintended presence, at low levels, of GM crops that are authorized for commercialization in the exporting country but not in the importing one. That’s because Canadian exporters could see their trade disrupted due to trace amounts of Canadian-authorized GM crops found in our exports to countries where they are not approved.

GM crops approved in Canada include: canola, corn, soybean and sugar beet.

The issue became a priority for the federal government in 2009, when the European Union temporarily barred Canadian flax imports after tests showed they were contaminated with GM flax.

Canada’s position remains a tough sell in parts of Europe. Germany affirmed in June that it will oppose any push by the European Union to allow traces of unapproved GMOs in food; the EU adopted new rules last year to allow traces of unapproved GMOs in animal feed imports.

Canada’s draft policy, spearheaded by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, will exclude seeds from the plan altogether, meaning trace amounts will not be permitted in any imported seeds for planting in Canada. The decision comes after organic producers complained during the first round of consultations that cross-contamination undermined the integrity of their crops.

But Blair Coomber, a director general at Agriculture Canada, wouldn’t say if the government will be proposing a change to the “action level” of 0.1 percent set for imported food and other agricultural commodities, below which enforcements action would not be taken.

“I don’t know what the number will be. We put 0.1 per cent as a starting point,” Coomber said in an interview. “We’re still in process of working it out, but it will have a number and seeds won’t apply.”

An internal summary of the discussion at Agriculture Canada’s Grains Roundtable meeting last November shows the grain industry has been pushing for a threshold above the proposed 0.1 per cent.

In addition to needing “policies that are workable for exporters,” the grain industry “is concerned with the action level,” according to general observations.

Specific questions and comments from the grain industry included: “would have trouble meeting the 0.1 per cent”; “At 0.1 per cent, why are we looking at such a low level when we need to be looking for areas that could be applicable in the working level?”; and “Why have we chosen the 0.1 per cent? Is it supposed to be science-based? Why are we so adamant on endorsing something that is too restrictive? It is important to set the right bar not the lowest bar.”

In a separate consultation last October with members of Health Canada’s Food Expert Advisory Committee, officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture Canada said “there is a political interest in having a number,” according to the internal summary.

The officials were also pressed about the trustworthiness of approvals processes, citing India and China as two countries grappling with their own GMO policies.

“Not all countries are trusted equally, the presenters said, and it is difficult to trust countries that don’t have transparency. CFIA is in an active dialogue with China to build the understanding of respective regulatory systems,” the summary states.

In an interview, Coomber said if Canada has concerns about any country’s approvals process related to food, feed and environmental safety, the new plan would not kick in. Instead, Canada would use its current process, under which any presence of an unauthorized GMOs is considered to be in violation of Canadian regulations.

This process triggers an investigation of the risk to the food and feed supply, and the environment. Based on this assessment, the government determines how best way to bring the imported product in line with Canadian rules.

That could mean removing the product from the Canadian marketplace altogether or requiring developers to have their GM product approved in Canada.

“They would have to have gone through a safety assessment that we have confidence in before any (new policy) kicks in. If they haven’t done that, they we go right back to where we are today,” said Coomber.

In an interview, Matthew Holmes, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association, said the interest of Canadian exporting companies appears to be driving the file.

“The history of the GMO approval system has always been: ‘This is science based, this isn’t an economic consideration, this isn’t about market access consideration.’ But what we’re seeing now is an attempt to allow unapproved GMOs into Canada that haven’t been reviewed by Canadian authorities and using the market access argument for that and without providing any information or any detailed scientific information about why or how this level has been established.”

Holmes added that while he’s pleased to see seeds excluded from the new draft policy, organic producers would still be vulnerable.

“It’s an improvement . . . but our concern is most of these things can come in and still propagate,” he said, pointing out most feed blends contain seeds.

Canada ready to…


Genetically modified food labeling on California ballot

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2012 6:03 pm | Updated: 6:03 pm, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

Genetically modified food labeling on California ballot Scripps Howard News Service Herald and

Scripps Howard News ServiceThe controversy over genetically engineered food has moved up the chain, all the way to the ballot box

In November, voters will decide whether to make California the first state in the nation to require labels on most genetically modified food products.

At least 18 states, including California, have tried to pass similar laws through their legislatures and failed. This time, however, the measure made it to the California ballot with 1 million signatures. The showdown in California is being watched closely by food activists throughout the country —those against genetic modification consider the proposition a model for other states. The proposition has the support of organic trade and consumer groups that say people have a right to know if the food they’re eating contains genetically modified material — particularly when the long-term health impacts are unclear. Proponents say research shows risks ranging from allergies to organ damage.

Opponents, though, say such fears are misguided, and that the benefits of genetically modified food far outweigh the perceived negatives. Indeed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, many scientists and medical organizations have deemed genetically modified foods safe. The measure is opposed by deep-pocketed food manufacturers — including PepsiCo and Coca-Cola — the biotech industry and seed companies.

Recent polls show the proposal, Proposition 37, winning by a 3-to-1 ratio, although opponents have raised more than $22 million — $4.2 million from agricultural giant Monsanto alone — to the yes campaign’s $2.7 million in anticipation of a media battle leading up to the fall vote.

“Bioengineered crops are the safest crops in the world,” said Bob Goldberg, a molecular biologist, professor at UCLA and member of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’ve been testing them for 40 years. They’re like the Model T Ford. There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe.”

About 70 to 80 percent of processed foods sold in the United States are made with genetically engineered ingredients, including corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cotton oil. Many of these crops have been genetically altered in the laboratory to make them more resistant to pests and invasive weeds, reducing the need for chemical pesticides and making the crops better suited to survive periods of bad weather. Genetically modified crops also significantly increase per-acre yields, reducing the demand for farmland.

If the California measure passes, processed genetically engineered food products would include the words “Partially produced with genetic engineering” on either the front or back label. For whole foods, such as sweet corn and salmon, grocers would be required to have a sign on the shelf. Manufacturers and stores would have 18 months to make the change. Products such as alcohol, most meats, eggs and dairy would be exempt.

Opponents of the proposition say that labeling would send a message to consumers that the genetically altered food is, in fact, dangerous — “guilt by association” — and that the manufacturing cost of requiring labels on food sold only in California would trickle down to consumers in the form of higher grocery bills.

Some farmers and processed food manufacturers also fear that they would be subject to frivolous lawsuits if they don’t label the food properly.

“If this proposition passes, it will expose me to lawsuits, require me to do more paperwork and require me to have two operations” (one for genetically altered crops and one for conventional), said Erik Freese, a fifth-generation farmer from Dixon. He said he started using corn seed genetically engineered to resist invasive weeds and pests in 2001, and it has greatly reduced how much he’s had to till the soil and spray herbicides. And his yields have increased 10 to 30 percent, to a maximum of 13,000 pounds per acre.

But supporters of the measure point out that the proposition would not ban the use of genetically altered foods — just alert shoppers when they are present. Supporters also point out that most industrialized nations outside North America already require modified food to be labeled.

“Consumers and the public have a fundamental right to know whether their food contains a genetically modified product,” said Albert Straus, president of Straus Family Creamery. The Marin County company, which produces milk, ice cream, yogurt and butter — all organic — is also “verified” as not using genetically altered foods, meaning Straus regularly tests the source of his dairy cattle feed to ensure that none of it has been genetically engineered.

“I’m not just concerned about human health and the land,” he said. “But I don’t want to jeopardize my animals’ health.”

© 2012 Herald and News. All rights reserved

Genetically mod…


GMO food label

Monsanto spends millions to fight labeling of genetically modified food

Published: 16 August, 2012, 21:07

An anti-GMO activist holds a bag containing “MON 810”, a variety of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by Monsanto, coated with an insectiside named Poncho (AFP Photo/Eric Cabanis)

Activists in California are fighting to pass Proposition 37, a law that would legally require genetically modified foods to be labeled as such. Biotech giant Monsanto doesn’t like that idea, though, and has donated over $4.2 million to oppose it.

If the majority of voters in California can come together to support Proposition 37 on Election Day, companies such as Monsanto will be forced to advertise products created through genetic engineering and modification as being exactly that. And although the initiative is being touted by activists who demand a right to know what is being sold in supermarkets and grocery stores across the state, Monsanto and other GMO corporations are condemning the legislation.

No on 37, a “coalition against the deceptive food labeling scheme, sponsored by farmers and food producers,” has been put together to push back the proposition. According to campaign records publically available on the California State Department’s website, Monsanto has handed over $4,208,000 so far to support the movement aimed against Prop 37.

Dow Agrosciences, a multi-billion-dollar chemical company with strong GMO ties, has also contributed almost $1.2 million; Dupont has offered $1,273,600.

Taking into account the contributors from by Dupont, Dow and Monsanto made only this week, those three entities alone have donated $6.8 million in just a few days towards fighting the mandated labeling. The parent companies of Nestle, Pepsi, Hershey and Kellogg have also made handed over substantial amounts of money, as have Coca Cola, Sara Lee, Rich Products , Dole and Del Monte — and some have even made repeated donations.

“Everyone is impacted because everyone buys groceries, and one of the impacts is going to be higher grocery bills,” No on 37 spokesperson Kathy Fairbanks tells the Associated Press. “Prop. 37 leaves consumers with the incorrect impression that there is something wrong with GE crops, when that is not true.”

In a classic case of David against Goliath, though, the supporters of Prop 37 say that they will persevere in the end, even if they are going against millions of dollars in unmatched contributions.

“The giant pesticide and food companies are afraid of the mothers and grandmothers who want the right to know what’s in our food,” Stacy Malkan, media director of California Right to Know, tells Raw Story. “These companies will try to buy the election, but it won’t work. California moms and dads will prevail over Monsanto and Dupont.“

So far No on 37 has raised almost $25 million, more than 10 times what supporters of the proposition have produced, the AP reports. The bill will be up for vote on Election Day this November.

Monsanto spends…


Genetically modified rice a good vitamin A source

AMY NORTON, Reuters August 16, 2012 1:01pm

NEW YORK – Genetically modified rice could be a good source of vitamin A for children in countries where deficiency in the vitamin is common, a new study suggests.

The study tested so-called Golden Rice against both spinach and supplements in providing vitamin A to 68 six- to eight-year-olds in China.

Researchers found that the rice was as effective as the capsules in giving kids a boost of vitamin A, based on blood tests taken over three weeks.

And it worked better than the natural beta-carotene in spinach, the researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Normally, rice plants produce beta-carotene – a precursor to vitamin A – in their green parts, but not the grain that people eat. Golden Rice is genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene in the edible part of the plant.

The product has been around for years, but it has yet to come into real-world use for a number of reasons. Because it’s genetically modified, it has faced opposition from environmental groups and others.

There have also been questions about how efficiently the beta-carotene in Golden Rice can be converted into vitamin A, especially in children.

But the new study suggests the rice works as well as synthetic beta-carotene given in capsules, according to lead researcher Guangwen Tang, of Tufts University in Boston.

“While further study is needed, our results suggest that Golden Rice could be one useful way to combat vitamin A deficiency in areas where rice is a staple food crop and where vitamin A deficiency is still common,” Tang said in an email.

As many as 250 million children worldwide are vitamin A deficient, according to the World Health Organization.

Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness and, because it dampens immune system function, leaves children more vulnerable to becoming severely ill from infections.

If all children in deprived areas were given enough vitamin A, up to 2.7 million deaths could be prevented each year, according to Tang’s team.

“We know vitamin A deficiency is a huge problem,” said Keith P. West, a professor of infant and child nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

“We know that some children are going to die who shouldn’t have died, because of this one nutrient,” said West, who was not involved in the study.

He said the findings are encouraging. “The beta-carotene is absorbed at a level that should affect the vitamin A status of young children,” West said.

Not a ‘panacea’

Golden Rice has been held up as a relatively cheap and simple way to provide vitamin A to children in countries where rice is already a staple, including China and many other Asian countries.

Based on the current findings, Tang’s team says a 100- to 150-gram bowl of Golden Rice (3.5 to 5 ounces) should give children about 60 percent of the daily vitamin A they need.

But West said there are many issues beyond whether the beta-carotene in Golden Rice is absorbed.

As a genetically modified food, it has to face regulatory hurdles. It also has to be “grown by and accepted by different cultures,” West said. And of course, young children have to be convinced to eat it.

The issue of cultural acceptance is not unique to Golden Rice, West pointed out. But, he said, it underscores the fact that no single food is a “panacea.”

There are other “biofortified” foods being studied for combating vitamin A deficiency, including ones conventionally bred to be rich in beta-carotene.

West and his colleagues are beginning a study of “orange maize” in rural villages in Zambia – a country where vitamin A deficiency is common and white corn is a dietary staple.

Research has already suggested that the beta-carotene in the bright-orange corn is converted to vitamin A in the body at a higher rate than the beta-carotene found naturally in vegetables like spinach and carrots.

West noted that UNICEF has a program to give young children vitamin A capsules twice a year (one capsule is good for a six-month supply of the vitamin).

But only some countries with widespread vitamin A deficiency take part in the program, and UNICEF considers “diversifying” diets and fortifying already commonly-eaten foods to be key to combating vitamin A deficiency.

In wealthy countries, people may take food fortification for granted, West pointed out. But in developing countries, there may be no systems in place to provide such foods, or the costs may be out of reach for the poor.

A range of foods naturally contain vitamin A or vitamin A precursors – from liver, fish oil and eggs to spinach, carrots, mango and red peppers. But again, West noted, those foods may either be locally unavailable, depend on season, or be priced beyond what most families in developing nations can afford. — Reuters

Genetically mod…