lunes, marzo 30, 2009

Jeffrey Tomich, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Planting Cyber Seeds: Monsanto Works to Join the Online Conversation About GMO Crops

St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- March 29, 2009 -- Earlier this month, a blogger named Brad fired a virtual salvo at Jeffrey Smith, the author of "Seeds of Deception" and one of the most vocal crusaders against genetically modified foods.

In a 600-word post, Brad questioned the credibility of an online petition on Smith's website, urging the administration of President Barack Obama to require labeling of biotech foods. He called the petition "sheer political theater" and prodded the activist for purportedly being a yogic flying instructor.

More than 30 comments followed in the next few weeks. On one level, the exchange was just another online debate about GMOs. But this one was notable because of who initiated and hosted it: Monsanto Co.

For years, environmental and food activists have made good use of YouTube video and Facebook to skewer Monsanto in the blogosphere. Now, the biotech giant is turning the tables.

The company's blog, Monsanto According to Monsanto, made its debut Feb. 10, and it is the company's latest tool to engage critics on hot-button issues such as food labeling. The title spoofs a documentary by French journalist Marie-Monique Robin that has been viewed more than 47,000 times on YouTube.

Beside the blog, Monsanto has hired a full-time social media specialist, Kathleen Manning. It has almost 600 followers on the Web-based short messaging system Twitter, started a YouTube channel and launched a Facebook page. The company is also developing a version of its website for cell phones and Blackberries and is creating MonsantoTV.

Glynn Young, a Monsanto manager in his second stint with the company, is heading the effort. Before rejoining the company in 2004, Young, 57, worked for St. Louis Public Schools, where he had a trial by fire in crisis management earlier this decade after the district slashed its budget, cut staff and closed schools.

Monsanto's presence on the Web has evolved during the last few years. But only last year did the company decide to delve into social media as it witnessed the upheaval of traditional media and realized that its existing outreach vehicle -- news releases -- wasn't enough.

"We asked ourselves, 'Is this a space we should be participating in?' The answer was 'yes,'" Young said.

While some consumer companies have used blogs and Twitter to promote their products, Monsanto views social media as a forum to discuss key issues with critics, investors and customers.

"There was this big conversation going on (on the Internet), and we weren't a part of it," said John Combest, a manager in public affairs at Monsanto and one of the bloggers.

There was one particular instance that opened the company's eyes to the power of social media. It happened at last summer's Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, when the company learned, much to its surprise, that some Wall Street analysts had been following an agronomist's blog that chronicled the progress of Monsanto's "Golden Acre" plot, which showcases some of its crops under development.

But just Google the company's name and it quickly becomes obvious that blogs and social media haven't been kind to Monsanto, based in Creve Coeur.

Monsanto has been in the cross hairs of social activists for decades, going back to its days as a maker of Agent Orange and PCBs. That didn't change with the company's new focus on biotech and agriculture.

A decade ago, activists expressed themselves by torching fields of genetically modified crops and throwing tofu cream pies at Monsanto's chairman. These days, activists are challenging the company through the use of YouTube videos and countless blogs that demonize GMOs.

Facebook, the social networking site, is full of anti-Monsanto groups, including one, Millions Against Monsanto, with more than 22,000 members. Another group's avatar depicts CEO Hugh Grant with a handful of soybeans. Below the words: "No Food Shall Be Grown That We Don't Own." It seems there's a way to revile the company in any language.

Nora Ganim Barnes has studied corporate use of social media at the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and urges companies to not let online criticism go unchallenged.

"We advise companies to listen to what's being said about them in social media and get into social media to reply," she said.

One example of a company that effectively did that is PC maker Dell Corp. Dell-bashing escalated a few years ago, giving rise to the term "Dell Hell." When the company finally started its own blog, it became the forum of choice for critics.

Monsanto similarly appears to be trying to steer discussion about critical issues to its blog so it's easier to influence the debate, Barnes said.

"Now they're controlling the posts, they're answering the questions, they're directing them to different places within Monsanto and maybe another site," she said. "They've taken control of the situation."

The company and its critics agreed on one thing: Food is an emotional issue. Knowing that, Monsanto hopes using social media will help put a human face on the company and connect with people who might perceive it as a monolith trying to dominate global agriculture.

Bonnie Azab Powell, a food politics journalist in California and co-founder and editor of The Ethicurian (, a three-year-old blog about food, sees that as a challenge.

"I admire their effort and I'm sure they have a lot of money to spend," she said. But "the hostility toward the company is very real, and it's not going to be corrected by investing heavily in social media."

There are six dedicated bloggers at Monsanto. But any employee is allowed -- even encouraged -- to participate. A frequent contributor is Daniel Goldstein, a pediatrician who works as Monsanto's senior scientist in residence.

The "official" bloggers go by their first names and are represented by personalized South Park avatars. That decision, Young said, "engendered a lot of discussion at levels above me."

Comments on the blog ( are patrolled and answered, but they'll be permitted to stand unless they contain profanity or personal attacks. That's true even if they criticize the company, Young said.

"As long as it's trying to engage in a civil way, that's fine," he said. "But we're not going to let unsubstantiated vitriol go unchallenged."

Bloggers also watch what is said about the company on other agriculture and biotech-themed blogs, such as

Just last week, Monsanto made a splash at The company cross-posted three of its blog posts on the liberal website. Also last week, the site's editor and publisher, Robb Kall, posted a poll for readers asking them if the company should be allowed to cross-post its blog entries.

"One could argue that getting them into a conversation is a good thing," he wrote. "Or one can argue that they have billions to promote their message and OEN should not help them sell their propaganda." As of Friday, 420 readers had responded; 236 of them voted against letting Monsanto post articles on the site.

To be sure, Monsanto acknowledges it is still feeling its way around in the world of Web 2.0. "It's a sea change for us," Young said. "We're kind of going at this in baby steps."

In the end, the company knows it might not win over its critics. But it will continue to engage them.

"We're not asking people to love us," Young said. "And we don't mind critics, but we'd like more informed critics."

Author: Jeffrey Tomich, St. Louis Post-Dispatch



viernes, marzo 27, 2009

La Jornada, Sábado 21 de marzo de 2009

Tortillas transgénicas
Ana de Ita

El pasado viernes 6 de marzo, a partir de un decreto presidencial, firmado además por las secretarías de Medio Ambiente, Agricultura, Economía, Educación y Salud, quedó sin efecto la moratoria de facto establecida por científicos mexicanos, que durante 10 años prohibió en México la siembra experimental y comercial de maíz transgénico, por ser país centro de origen, diversidad y domesticación.

La siembra experimental que se permite a partir de este decreto no pretende comprobar alguna hipótesis o reportar algún hallazgo científico, sino es únicamente el trámite requerido para que en un plazo de uno o dos años se generalice la siembra comercial de maíz transgénico en México. Lo que ningún experimento cambiará es la biología del maíz, que al ser un cultivo de polinización abierta hace imposible la coexistencia de variedades transgénicas y variedades no transgénicas, ya que las primeras inevitablemente contaminarán al resto. De ahí que el decreto se impone sin resolver el problema que fundamentaba la moratoria: la contaminación transgénica del maíz nativo, reconocida por el gobierno mexicano desde 2001.

A partir de ahora y en cuenta descendente el maíz transgénico se esparcirá como pandemia a los campos del principal cultivo y alimento básico de México. Monsanto ha declarado que a ellos les interesa avanzar en los cultivos comerciales del norte del país, principalmente en Sonora, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas y Chihuahua, que producen maíz con métodos industriales. Los productores de estos estados, sembrando con semillas mejoradas e híbridas convencionales y un paquete tecnológico con muy alto contenido de insumos químicos, capital, mecanización y riego, están logrando rendimientos muy altos, cerca de 20 toneladas por hectárea, que difícilmente los transgénicos podrán superar.

Sin embargo, ya que el mercado de semillas en México está controlado por las corporaciones que producen los híbridos convencionales, pero también los transgénicos, dependerá de su oferta que los productores puedan escoger sembrar maíz convencional.

El año pasado, la contaminación en Chihuahua demostró que la variedad 7525, que distribuye la empresa Producers Hybrids como híbrido convencional -pues hasta hoy está prohibida la venta comercial de semillas transgénicas de maíz- en realidad contenía variedades genéticamente modificadas de Monsanto.

Más temprano que tarde, los productores industriales de maíz correrán la suerte de los productores de Estados Unidos: aunque quieran no conseguirán sembrar variedades de maíz no transgénicas. Los agricultores comerciales en la mira de las corporaciones son quienes proveen la mayor parte del volumen de maíz que entra al mercado para consumo humano y que hasta ahora no es transgénico (12 millones de toneladas).

Y aunque se importa alrededor de 11 millones de toneladas anuales de maíz amarillo provenientes de Estados Unidos, donde 80 por ciento de las siembras son transgénicas, este maíz se utiliza sobre todo -aunque no exclusivamente- para la alimentación del ganado.

La agricultura campesina produce cerca de 8 millones de toneladas de maíz con mucho menos insumos químicos y utilizando variedades de semillas nativas o criollas, pero participa marginalmente en el mercado, pues destina al autoconsumo gran parte de su producción. Los campesinos son quienes conservan la gran diversidad de razas y variedades de maíz que existen en el país. Aunque parecerían no ser del interés de las corporaciones, pues sus condiciones de producción les impiden el uso de un paquete tecnológico homogéneo y no existen las variedades de semillas comerciales que puedan adaptarse a tan diversas condiciones ecológicas, los programas del gobierno se empeñan en incorporarlos a la agricultura industrial, promoviendo el uso de paquetes tecnológicos que incluyen variedades homogéneas de semillas, como el actual programa de apoyo a productores de maíz y frijol (Promaf).

Desde 2002 y hasta la fecha, los diagnósticos participativos de la presencia de transgenes en las milpas campesinas, elaborados por la red En Defensa del Maíz, registraron contaminación transgénica en regiones campesinas muy apartadas de las zonas de agricultura industrial. La apertura de la siembra de maíz transgénico en México indudablemente expandirá la contaminación a las variedades nativas y criollas de maíz.

La Comisión de Cooperación Ambiental de América del Norte, en el informe Maíz y biodiversidad: efectos del maíz transgénico en México, 2004, recomendó hacer una evaluación profunda de los impactos en la salud, debido al alto consumo de maíz por la población mexicana (229 kilogramos anuales por persona en promedio), muy superior al de los países desarrollados.

El decreto presidencial del 6 de marzo nos impone en el corto plazo la obligación de comer tortillas transgénicas, pues no existirá otro tipo de maíz, a menos que como sociedad impidamos este desastre.

* Directora de Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (Ceccam)

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miércoles, marzo 25, 2009

New from GRAIN

DuPont makes its move

Posted: 25 March 2009

The big corporations that dominate the global seed and pesticide markets have been curiously on the sidelines of the push to hybrid rice that has gathered steam in recent years. The companies taking the lead are often companies established by local business tycoons in collaboration with Chinese seed companies. But there are signs that this dynamic is changing.

This month US-based DuPont, the world's second largest seed company and owner of Pioneer Hi-bred International, made two startling announcements that make clear its ambitious plans for hybrid rice. The first involves a deal giving DuPont privileged access to IRRI's hybrid rice breeding lines. The second, coming just a couple of weeks later, involves a similar deal with Indonesia's Centre for Rice Research, Balai Besar Penelitian Padi (or BB Padi). Both deals followed an announcement in 2007 of a partnership with the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center "to advance hybrid rice in Asia".

Few details of the agreement with IRRI have been made public. Although the deal is referred to as an "Exchange Programme" it sounds much more like a joint venture, with a behind the scenes plan not only for joint research and development but also for commercialisation of hybrid rice varieties developed through the partnership. DuPont is to provide its lab equipment and field locations for the partnership while IRRI's main contribution seems to be its germplasm.

How this squares with IRRI's recently launched Hybrid Rice Consortium is to be seen. The controversial Consortium was supposed to be IRRI's major platform for partnerships with the private sector in hybrid rice-- and some companies have already signed-on as members to get a chance to bid for exclusive rights to IRRI's hybrid rice lines. IRRI and DuPont have said the deal will "complement" the consortium, without elaborating.

But the difference is that, whereas the Consortium is mainly a mechanism for licensing out IRRI's hybrid varieties to private companies interested in taking on the commercialisation, the deal with DuPont is an exclusive partnership, where IRRI is working with a particular company, DuPont, to develop new hybrid rice lines that it will market, with some portion of royalties likely flowing back to IRRI. The deal with DuPont appears to be both disconnected from IRRI's historical mandate to support the national agriculture research systems (NARS), and it complicates its relations with the NARS and the other Consortium members by potentially locking-up IRRI's best hybrid rice germplasm under broadly-defined "confidential information" obligations. These obligations are spelled out in the Guiding Principles for "Scientific Know-How and Exchange Program" projects agreed to by the CG centres and the main multinational agrochemical corporations on May 20, 2005.

It's a sure-win deal for DuPont. It gets privileged access to the most important collection of hybrid rice parental lines and germplasm outside of China, and certainly the most advanced breeding programme for tropical hybrid rice seed production.

The Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) reacted strongly and immediately to the news. “With what DuPont is doing, an Asia-wide man-made catastrophe is on the looming if they are successful to penetrate Asian countries’ rice agriculture and wiping off indigenous varieties in favor of their commercial varieties,” said Danilo H. Ramos, APC Secretary-General.

Less than two weeks after announcing the IRRI deal, DuPont announced a similar agreement with BB Padi in Indonesia. BB Padi is Indonesia's premier public hybrid rice breeding programme. Its public status hasn't stopped it, however, from licensing a number of its most promising hybrid lines to private seed companies, including Syngenta and DuPont. Indeed, both of its most recent varieties, which are still in the registration process, are licensed to DuPont (Hipa 7 and Hipa 8). But now DuPont is taking its engagement with the Indonesian government a step further. According to news reports, on March 16 DuPont signed an MoU with Indonesia's Research and Development Agency under which BB Padi will collaborate with DuPont on research and development for new hybrid rice varieties, with DuPont taking responsibility for the marketing. DuPont now gets "the exclusive right to commercialize any new selected material," and in return it has pledged to provide BB Padi with $100,000 and a portion of the royalties it collects.

In the press release for the Indonesian deal, DuPont once again used the word "complement" to describe its relation to the IRRI deal. "Integration" would probably be more appropriate-- since through these deals, DuPont has brought two of the most-important public hybrid rice breeding programmes into its fold.

As for what farmers can expect from DuPont's deal-making, the APC's Ramos had this to say: “The losers are primarily the peasants who are double-whammy exploited and oppressed, they are doomed in debt, exposed to health hazards of agro-chemicals, hybrid varieties and GMOs, and displaced from the lands caused by land use conversions and crop conversions."

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martes, marzo 24, 2009

Video de

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lunes, marzo 23, 2009

Biotech under Barack

- Jeffrey L Fox, Nature Biotechnology 27, 237 - 244 (2009)

The Obama administration looks to be a welcome shot in the arm for the scientific endeavor, but the current economic crisis is likely to keep several issues of key interest to biotech firmly on the back burner.

"With this president, a lot of policies are going to change, and a number of them are likely to be exciting for us," says Willy De Greef, secretary general of EuropaBio (Brussels). He points to USDA Secretary Vilsack as but one example of Obama appointments that look positive for biotech. The new USDA secretary "understands what biotech crops can do and has a deep interest in putting agriculture in play, including for energy independence and biofuels," De Greef says. Although no details are available, he adds, Vilsack's attitudes toward and familiarity with biotech-related agriculture issues "are very good for our sector."

The appointment of Vilsack is "nothing but positive for biotechnology," says Val Giddings, a Washington-based industry consultant and former USDA official. "There's not been an ag [USDA] secretary who comes in so familiar with biotech issues and who doesn't have to be briefed for the first time, but is favorably disposed to biotech for farmers. Plus, he respects data and evidence." As for Energy Secretary Chu, Giddings says, "He can't help but advance the [DOE] biotech portfolio. There will be greater openness, and it's nothing but positive."

"On the food side, I expect biotechnology to be a fairly unimportant issue for the next couple of years," says Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Instead, he and others recognize that conventional safety issues, with the salmonella-laced peanut butter problem the most recent example, will be predominant. One exception directly involving biotech could be a move to reinstate a premarket notification rule for genetically engineered plants, a move that was blocked by Bush but could be brought back by the Obama administration. "There is no reason to think the [Obama] administration would go toward more deregulation, much to my chagrin," he says.

What happens with biofuel development ties in with developments and policies affecting agriculture and, here again, Obama's selection of Tom Vilsack for USDA secretary is drawing praise from biotech analysts. "Agbiotech is regarded as important, but let's have no illusions," says Washington-based consultant Giddings. "The economy and Middle East are first-tier issues, and Vilsack won't get Obama's attention for quite a while. And, even if they [administration officials] could be specific about agbiotech, they wouldn't because they will set it on the shelf and get to it once they deal with other stuff."

In terms of regulatory policies affecting genetically modified crops, little is expected to change anytime soon during the Obama presidency, except perhaps for a greater emphasis on transparency. "It is likely that the Obama administration will be more open than Bush's to a wide range of stakeholders," says Gregory Jaffe, who directs the Biotechnology Project at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. More generally, the new administration is more likely to seek additional regulatory authority or even to ask Congress to amend laws in cases where rule-making becomes too much of a stretch for those already on the books. However, he adds, with so many other pressing food-safety issues to face having to do with microbially or chemically contaminated products, "I don't think biotech foods will be high on Obama's agenda."

"Expect more scrutiny of new varieties and more disclosures and transparency about biotechnology in food and agriculture," agrees Mark Mansour, an attorney with Bryan Cave (Washington, DC, USA). He, too, does not anticipate "much change" from recent policies in the near term, except for "some concessions to watchdog groups. But this will take a while, and will be expressed in due course."

One area where agricultural policy might change course is internationally, particularly with Secretary of State Clinton revitalizing international outreach programs, according to Mansour. This could take shape as an "aggressive engagement of USDA and USAID [Agency for International Development] with developing countries in Africa and other parts of the world, using agriculture as a means of engagement," he says. Unlike the Bush administration, for which such programs were, at best, "an adjunct to security, this [Obama] administration could see agricultural biotechnology as a constructive tool." Of course, "there will be obstacles to overcome, but a lot of opposition to biotechnology could melt with a prolonged recession."

"We're spending about $22 billion per year for the region [Africa], and candidate Obama called for doubling resources, and to put agricultural resources among the top ten," says Robert Paarlberg of Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA, USA), and author of Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept out of Africa. "Science-based assistance does seem to have a voice." However, biotech will not soon make inroads into African agriculture because so many countries there remain dominated by Europe through custom and because Europe provides them much more assistance than does the United States, he adds. Thus, although USAID "has tried to throw its weight around, that doesn't work in Africa."

"The EU approach has helped keep African countries from adopting GM [genetically modified] crops," agrees De Greef of EuropaBio. "We hope if the EU and US become less adversarial, it could remove pressure from Africa, which feels forced to choose between US or EU regulations."

In terms of global agbiotech disputes, there are "tricky dossiers" to be faced, De Greef says. Even though the US won a round against the EU in a long-standing World Trade Organization (Geneva) case about genetically modified organism imports, "no official appeal" from the EU has been filed yet, he says. "If EU does not appeal or comply, the US, Argentina and Canada can take unilateral measures, but the US probably will prefer to negotiate, which seems more Obama's style. I'd like to see agreements rather than litigation, and a real victory would be to have science-based regulations."


domingo, marzo 22, 2009

Proteger las semillas criollas creando zonas libres de transgénicos

RAPAL Uruguay
Marzo 2009

Los organismos manipulados genéticamente, llamados “transgénicos”, son organismos creados en laboratorio, cuyas características han sido alteradas mediante la inserción de genes de otras especies. Las empresas multinacionales que han realizado estas alteraciones se han apropiado de estas semillas.

Para que un productor haga uso de las semillas transgénicas, debe de pagar un derecho por su uso a las empresas. En el caso de los dos cultivos transgénicos que se cultivan en Uruguay, las patentes son de las empresas Monsanto y Syngenta, empresas que además producen los agrotóxicos que acompañan a estos cultivos.

Situación en Uruguay

En Uruguay se cultivan transgénicos desde 1996 (soja) y 2003 (maíz). Estos cultivos se introdujeron en nuestros campos y en nuestra dieta sin que tuviese lugar un adecuado debate social sobre su conveniencia. Los impactos de estos cultivos son conocidos a nivel ambiental sobre la biodiversidad, el agua, el suelo y la salud. Sin embargo, por parte de las autoridades no ha habido una evaluación sobre los impactos que estos cultivos han causado a los agricultores al medio ambiente o sobre la salud de la gente.

Mientras los cultivos transgénicos avanzan, los cultivos convencionales van perdiendo su espacio y las semillas de maíz criollo pierden día a día la posibilidad de seguir existiendo. La “coexistencia” decretada por el gobierno en julio del 2008 ha permitido que el mercado opere libremente sin tomar en consideración a los pequeños productores que desean seguir cultivando el maíz criollo que han conservado por generaciones.

Desde la introducción del maíz transgénico, el maíz criollo está siendo amenazado de ser contaminado por polen de maíz transgénico. La contaminación que pudiera existir por cruzamiento de polen de una semilla transgénica a otra convencional es inminente. En nuestro país ya hay datos científicos de contaminación de maíz convencional producida por maíz transgénico.

Zonas libres de cultivos transgénicos

Es vital decretar zonas del país en las que se impida sembrar cultivos transgénicos. Esta medida es la única que puede permitir a los pequeños productores conservar sus semillas. La creación de zonas libres de cultivos transgénicos puede proteger los recursos fitogenéticos que posee el país.

Salvaguardar las semillas criollas y preservar la biodiversidad agrícola de la contaminación por semillas transgénicas es una urgencia, ya que nuestra seguridad y soberanía alimentaria están en juego.

En este momento lo que está en juego es el maíz criollo, pero en cuestión de tiempo otros cultivos también podrán estar en la misma situación, dado que nuevos eventos de maíces están a la espera de ser aprobados y otros cultivos como el arroz.

Treinta y Tres zona libre de cultivos transgénicos

De acuerdo a la ley aprobada el año pasado sobre Ordenamiento Territorial (ley 18.308), se otorgan potestades a las intendencias para la categorización de los suelos y su uso con un concepto de desarrollo sostenible en función de objetivos sociales, económicos, urbanísticos y ecológicos.

La intendencia del departamento de Treinta y Tres es la única del país que posee un Departamento de Agroecología y Soberanía Alimentaria enmarcada en el “Plan de Soberanía Alimentaria Territorial”. En este marco hace varios años que se cuenta con una amplia variedad de semillas criollas de maíz que los productores del departamento desean seguir conservando sin que se contamine con la transgénica.

Además, en este departamento, “La Quebrada de los Cuervos” ha sido decretada una zona nacional de protección. Esta zona, que se encuentra a poco más de 30 kilómetros de la capital del departamento de Treinta y Tres, ingresó al Sistema Nacional de Área Protegida (SNAP) bajo la categoría de paisaje protegido, otorgándole un mejor estatus para su conservación.

Si a lo anterior se agrega que, de acuerdo a los datos obtenidos por la Dirección Nacional de Medio Ambiente (DINAMA), hasta la zafra 2007 -2008 en ese departamento no ha sido introducido el maíz transgénico y que estudios científicos y experiencias de campo demuestran que los cultivos transgénicos no poseen un rendimiento más alto que los cultivos naturales, que son más contaminantes y que introducen nuevos riesgos para la salud y para el ambiente, se concluye que Treinta y Tres cuenta con condiciones óptimas para que sea declarado como zona libre de maíz transgénico.

Si así se lo decreta, este departamento podrá asegurar que el maíz criollo pueda ser efectivamente protegido en nuestro país y que se pueda así empezar a caminar hacia nuestra soberanía alimentaria. En caso contrario, el país estará atado a la compra de semillas transgénicas patentadas, en poder de grandes multinacionales extranjeras.
Y si fuese así: “Las penas serán de nosotros y las semillas serán ajenas.”


miércoles, marzo 18, 2009

The Golden Rice Scandal Unfolds

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins

Phase II clinical trials on children have been conducted with unapproved experimental GM rice enhanced in pro-Vitamin A that has the potential to cause birth defects and developmental abnormalities


Golden Rice, an exercise in how not to do science

Golden Rice, genetically modified to make pro-vitamin A in the endosperm (the grain remaining after polishing), was announced with great fanfare in 2000 as a cure for widespread vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.

The project had already cost US$100 million, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the European Community Biotech Programme and the Swiss Federal Office for Education and Science, and could cost as much again to develop. It was tied up in at least 70 patent claims on genes, DNA sequences and constructs, a problem only partly solved in the “ground-breaking deal” worked out by Dubock (see above)..

Condemnation was swift and widespread, not least because it was absurd to offer Golden Rice as the cure for vitamin A deficiency when there are plenty of alternative, infinitely cheaper sources of vitamin A or pro-Vitamin A, such as green vegetables and unpolished coloured rice (especially black and purple varieties [11], which would be rich in other essential vitamins and minerals, and hence much more nutritious. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) started a project in 1985 to deal with vitamin A deficiency using a combination of food fortification, food supplements and general improvements in diets by encouraging people to grow and eat a variety of green leafy vegetables. One main discovery from the project was that the absorption of pro-vitamin A depends on the overall nutritional status, which in turn depends on the diversity of the food consumed [12].

The main cause of hunger and malnutrition in the Third World is the industrial monocultures of the Green Revolution, which obliterated agricultural biodiversity and soil fertility, resulting in ever-worsening mineral and micronutrient deficiencies in our food. Golden Rice, like other GM crops, is industrial monoculture only worse, and will exacerbate this trend, as well as the destruction of agricultural land, and the impoverishment of family farmers that also accompanied the Green Revolution [13] (see Beware the New "Doubly Green Revolution", SiS 37).

GR1 was made with the standard ‘first generation’ genetic modification techniques, using GM constructs that cause uncontrollable mutations and other collateral damage to the host plant genome, with many unintended, uncharacterized effects [14]. In addition, the viral and bacterial sequences, including antibiotic resistance marker genes, in the construct and in the vectors created for gene transfer enhance horizontal gene transfer and recombination, the main route to creating new pathogens and spreading antibiotic resistance.

GR2 represents an improvement in so far as antibiotic resistance markers were no longer used, but still includes a medley combination of sequences from plant pathogens Agrobacterium (used in a binary vector system) and Erwinia uredovor, and from E. coli, inhabitant of the human gut, which also contains pathogenic strains. We have highlighted the special hazards of the Agrobacterium vector system since 2003 [15] (Agrobacterium & Morgellons Disease, A GM Connection?, SiS 38) (see below).

The main reason for Golden Rice was revealed in the unusually long news feature article [16] accompanying the scientific publication [8] which stated: “One can only hope that this application of plant genetic engineering to ameliorate human misery without regard to short-term profit will restore this technology to political acceptability.”

A detailed audit on the project [14] (The 'Golden Rice', An Exercise in How Not to Do Science, ISIS Report) uncovered “fundamental deficiencies” from the scientific and social rationale to the science and technology involved. It was being promoted “to salvage a morally as well as financially bankrupt agricultural biotech industry.” The situation has changed little since.

The phase II clinical trials of uncharacterized, unapproved, experimental GR2 events on children, some of whom may indeed be suffering from vitamin A deficiency, is morally inexcusable. GR2 has not been assessed for safety, and there are reasons to suspect it is unsafe.

GMO safety in question

The biotech industry has consistently found genetically modified food and feed ‘as safe as their conventional counterparts’, and regulators in the United States and European Union have accepted this assertion overwhelmingly based on studies carried out and interpreted by the industry [17] (GM Food Nightmare Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham, ISIS scientific publication).

There is now a string of evidence that exposure of many species of animals to a variety of genetically modified crops, and food and feed derived from them, can cause illnesses and death, raising the distinct possibility that genetic modification is inherently dangerous [18] (GM is Dangerous and Futile, SiS 40). This is reinforced in results obtained in the most recent studies.

The Austrian government commissioned long term studies showing that mice fed GM maize hybrid (NK603xMON810) with combined glyphosate tolerance and biopesticide Cry1Ab produced fewer and smaller litters with many genes affected compared to controls [19] (GM Maize Reduces Fertility & Deregulates Genes in Mice, SiS 41). At the same time, the Italian National Institute of Research published a study showing that GM maize MON810 fed to mice produced disturbances in the immune system of the young and the old [20] (GM Maize Disturbs Immune System of Young and Old Mice, SiS 41). In India, the first independent assessment of the feeding study submitted by Monsanto and its subsidiary Mahyco to the Indian regulatory authorities showed that Bt Brinjal (aubergine) caused many changes in several species of animals including diarrhoea, increased water consumption and decrease in liver weight in rats [21] (Bt Brinjal Unfit for Human Consumption, SiS 41).

There are several reasons why genetic modification is inherently hazardous, as spelt out more than ten years ago [22] (Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare?) and unfortunately, still not taken on board by the regulatory authorities, let alone systematically investigated. The dangers may come from the transgenic protein itself that may be toxic or immunogenic [23] (Transgenic Pea that Made Mice Ill, SiS 29), the toxicity of herbicides such as glyphosate to which more than 70 percent of GM crops now grown globally are made tolerant [24] (Death by Multiple Poisoning, Glyphosate and Roundup, SiS 42) or it could be totally unexpected, unintended effects resulting from the mutagenic insertion of foreign DNA into the genome, and worse, the instability of transgenic lines, which makes proper safety assessment well nigh impossible [25] (Transgenic Lines Unstable hence Illegal and Ineligible for Protection, SiS 38).

One major hazard inherent to GM organisms (GMOs) is enhanced horizontal gene transfer and recombination [26] (Horizontal Gene Transfer from GMOs Does Happen, SiS 39). This is considerably worse with transgenic plants like Golden Rice (both GR1 and GR2) that have been created using the Agrobacterium binary vector system, basically because the Agrobacterium bacteria as well as the binary vector tend to persist in the transgenic plants, providing a ready vehicle for further horizontal gene transfer to all species that interact with the transgenic plant material, including human cells. Agrobacterium is known to invade human cells. Horizontal transfer of transgenic DNA into human cells has the potential to cause harmful mutations including cancer. In general, horizontal transfer of transgenic DNA facilitates the creation of new pathogens. The identification of Agrobacterium sequences in patients with Morgellons’ Disease raises questions as to whether the widespread use of Agrobacterium vectors in genetic modification has indeed resulted in creating a new pathogen for humans [15].

Golden Rice particularly dangerous

In addition, the unbalanced enhancement of single nutrients in GM crops may do more harm than good [27] (GM Crops and Microbes for Health or Public Health Hazards? SiS 32). As David Schubert at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences La Jolla, California, in the United States points out [28], plants possess the ability to synthesize between 90 000 and 200 000 nonessential small molecules, with up to 500 in one species. The enormous repertoire is due in part to enzymes with very low substrate specificity, which are unpredictably altered by mutations and pleiotropic effects associated with GM technology. Furthermore, overdose of many single nutrients are known to be toxic, vitamin A being a case in point. Schubert highlights the toxic effects of retinoic acid and other metabolites of b-carotene, only a few of them can be identified and measured in the current state of technology.

Golden Rice is enhanced in b-carotene, which on ingestion, is cleaved in half to generate retinal for use in the visual cycle. Retinal is also reduced to retinol, or oxidized to retinoic acid (RA), which interacts with highly specific nuclear receptors. Essentially all of the biological activity of retinoids, apart from vision, involves RA. While high concentrations of retinol are toxic, RA is biologically active at concentrations several orders of magnitude lower than retinol. Hence, Schubert states [28]: “excess RA or RA derivatives are exceedingly dangerous, particularly to infants and during pregnancy.” RA is required for the development of the nervous system, both by directly controlling nerve differentiation and by generating concentration gradients that direct cell migration, embryonic segmentation, and development. Therefore, RA and synthetic derivative of RA are teratogenic (able to cause birth defects). They can accumulate in fat and plasma, becoming a risk factor for pregnancy for up to 2 years following ingestion, and multiple low doses of retinoids have greater toxicity than a single high dose.

Because of the type of biological functions controlled by low levels of RA, any perturbation of its signalling pathways by plant-derived RA receptor agonists or antagonists will have clinical consequences. “Could the GM modifications used to enhance b-carotene synthesis create such compounds?” (This question remains unanswered to this day.) Six hundred naturally occurring compounds exist in the carotene family, and at least 60 can be precursors to retinoids. “Therefore, plants have the potential to make many potentially harmful retinoid-like compounds when there are increased levels of synthetic intermediates to b-carotene as in golden rice.”

While all retinoids and derivatives are likely to be teratogenic, good assays and information regarding the behaviour and teralogic activity are available for only three: retinol, RA, and retinal. Therefore, at the very least, “extensive safety testing should be required before the introduction of golden rice as a food.”


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martes, marzo 17, 2009

Who Can We Trust on GM Food?

  • Former chief scientist David King praises GM crops. But can we trust a government scientist any more than an industry insider?
    By Peter Melchett
    The Guardian - UK, December 9, 2008

Last week, on the Radio 4 programme Street Science, a publicist for the GM industry made a number of claims about what GM crops can do. He said: "Using GM technology, there are now varieties of major crops, rice, wheat and maize being produced that are drought resistant, flood resistant, saline resistant and disease resistant, which could transform Africa's ability to feed its people ... Some products have emerged, for example, from South Africa. They are now planting drought resistant crops that have increased the yield by 30% ... So you can actually save millions of people from starvation by these techniques - nothing to do with the private sector ... Americans are perfectly happy to eat [unlabelled GM food] and I don't know of anyone who has ever suffered from eating a GM product."

There is nothing wrong with this - similar claims are made all the time by people working for GM companies. Except that this was not Monsanto's press officer, it was Professor Sir David King, recently retired as the UK government's chief scientist.

The first claim, if read carefully, is not inaccurate. GM companies are trying to produce crops that are drought, flood and saline resistant, and although none are available for commercial use, in theory such crops could increase food production in Africa and elsewhere - if you make a number of assumptions.

These assumptions are not scientific, they are political, subjective and highly contested. This particular point of view assumes that the key cause of hunger and starvation is lack of food, rather than problems with distribution, access to land, wars, corruption and poverty. It also assumes that in future poor farmers will have no problems with buying expensive seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, all of which are required by GM crops. I know many people assume GM crops must somehow be needed to feed the world. But the IAASTD (the food and farming equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report by 400 international scientists - led by Professor Robert Watson, now chief scientist at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - said GM crops were not essential to feed the world.

David King was wrong to say that drought-resistant GM products that increase yield by 30% are now being planted in South Africa. In fact, Monsanto is carrying out trials of GM drought-resistant maize in South Africa. The process of trialling the crops has only just begun (a permit was issued a year ago), and these crops are probably about eight years away from commercial use if they prove to be successful. No drought-resistant GM crops are currently grown commercially in South Africa. King has been wrong before about new crops in Africa, claiming that a successful project near Lake Victoria was benefiting from GM technology, before having to admit the crops involved were not GM at all.

In the BBC programme, David King referred to crops like rice that are "flood resistant". In fact the submergence tolerant (flood resistant) rice that is on the market is not GM, but instead marker assisted selection (MAS), normal breeding informed by knowledge of the genome and supported by environmentalists and organic organisations, was used to develop it. This is an example of the kind innovative non-GM plant breeding that is making a lot of progress in a number of areas that the GM companies are only just beginning to tackle - with unknown results. Marker-assisted breeding (usually called marker assisted selection) uses the genetic diversity found in crops or their wild relatives, combined with genomic data (genomic markers) to speed up what are otherwise essentially conventional breeding methods.

Two years ago, the scientists at the University of California Davis responsible for developing submergence tolerant rice initially tried to develop the rice using both MAS and GM techniques. While the MAS worked well and quickly, GM failed initially, for unknown reasons. The scientists were moving a rice gene into another type of rice, so this failure simply underlines the inherent uncertainty and lack of precision in GM technology. Finally, a couple months ago, the scientists did get the GM process to work, but this version is not being bred for sale to farmers. To get the GM process to work, the scientists had to attach the gene they wanted to transfer to a very powerful promoter - the part of the gene that determines in what parts of the plant, when, and how much, the gene functions (called "expression"). The promoter they used is from an ubiquitin gene and it is turned on at a high level in many tissues of the plant, most of the time.

This contrasts with the normal (native) promoter of the sub1A gene, which is turned on only when needed in the plants and at the correct levels. Therefore, while the sub1A gene, run by the ubi promoter may nominally function, it is much more likely to have negative side effects in the plant because of its incorrect expression (called ectopic expression). These effects could be harmful to health or the environment, or just have adverse effects on the agronomic properties of the crop (for example, it could cause the crop to grow poorly under some conditions, as has happened in practice with some other GM crops). Normal breeding using MAS worked better and faster, and is less likely to have negative side effects.

David King also mentioned GM crops that "have not been produced in the private sector, they've all been produced by government and international research laboratories" when he spoke about crops being developed for farming in South Africa. I assume that he was actually talking about the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project (WEMA), which involves several African countries - Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa. The WEMA project was only announced in 2008, so no crops have yet been grown even experimentally. The projections for yield increases from this project are that "the maize products developed over the next 10 years could increase yields by 20-35% under moderate drought, compared to current varieties". But this applies to non-GM as well as possible GM varieties, and the first conventional varieties developed by WEMA could be available after six to seven years of research and development. The project says that GM drought-tolerant maize hybrids "will be available in about ten years".

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Cloning: Agribusiness as Usual

  • Apart from the under-researched 'safety' of cloning, and its inherent cruelty to animals, this technology serves only corporate, not consumer interests
    By Peter Melchett
    The Guardian - UK, January 16, 2008

To no one's great surprise, the US Food and Drug Administration has decided that cloned animals, and products from them, such as milk, are safe for consumers.

As a result, European regulators are now under pressure to adopt the same pro-cloning policy in order to allow imports of foods from cloned animals, and indeed that is supported by the EU's scientific advisory committee. Already, thousands of doses of cattle semen from clones have been used in the US. In September last year, the European Commission held a meeting to help it decide on its policy. Experts explained how cloning depends on several horribly cruel processes. Using hormones and invasive techniques, the eggs are extracted from female animals, and surrogate mothers are then used to rear the implanted embryos. There are frequent abnormalities and many foetuses are naturally aborted or have to be terminated. Many others die soon after birth.

Partly because of these huge losses, the clones themselves are extremely expensive, and would not be used for food, but they would be used, for example, for producing semen for artificial insemination.

US regulators have decided that the progeny of cloned animals can be used for food, despite the fact that there is almost no scientific research to show if this is safe. The Soil Association, along with almost all of those involved with organic food, and many others, is concerned about these further attempts to manipulate nature in ways that will benefit a few of the largest farmers and enrich some of the largest agribusiness companies in the world.

My own concerns fall into two main areas - risk and animal welfare. Food safety cannot and should not be judged until there is a body of scientific understanding of the biological impacts of cloning. With so little research into the health impacts, it is unscientific and totally irresponsible to simply "assume" or "hope" that these animals are safe for eating. This approach has been proven to be wrong with GM; many animal trials show negative effects from "EU approved" GM crops.

There are major animal welfare problems, which mean this technique should not be allowed even if it is "safe" for people. The commercial use of cloning, for example through artificial insemination, will further reduce the genetic diversity of livestock and so increase the risk of disease epidemics. More generally, this technique will promote industrialisation of livestock rearing with negative nutritional, animal health and environmental consequences, including increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

Whatever your view on the lack of scientific evidence for food safety, the animal welfare arguments against cloning on animal welfare grounds seem to me to be irresistible. The scientists involved in cloning claim that the "loss rates" are coming down as the technology improves. Joyce D'Silva, of Compassion in World Farming, is clear that this technology is unacceptable on animal welfare grounds. She notes that cloned animals "are the high-producing animals that have the most endemic welfare problems anyway".

Those supporting cloning respond to the animal welfare criticisms in exactly the same way as the GM industry has responded to the realities of higher pesticide use, similar or lower yields, and rejection in the marketplace - by promising jam tomorrow. In the case of cloning, scientists claim that cloning could be used to enhance animal welfare - for example, by spreading useful genetic mutations that make animals resistant to diseases such as scrapie. The same scientists claim that cloning could make animals able to adapt to a changing climate or to resist new diseases. There is no evidence that any of this can actually be achieved, any more than GM crops have eradicated hunger and starvation nearly a quarter of a century after GM scientists started claiming that these miracles would soon be delivered by GM technology.

In an interesting quote, the UK's National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents agribusiness, and currently takes a pro-GM and pro-cloning line, reveals what is wrong about the reaction of some farmers to these new technologies. Helen Ferrier, the NFU's food science adviser, says: "Generally, our views on the safety or the acceptability etc are really based on the opinions of independent scientific experts." It's one thing to rely on scientists to pronounce on safety, but why on earth aren't the NFU listening to their customers when it comes to deciding whether a particular way of raising farm animals is "acceptable" or not? Whether something is acceptable is a moral question, something which people producing a product should leave to society as a whole and individual customers to decide. It is a gross abuse of science to suggest that pronouncing on acceptability is a scientific matter.

To add insult to injury, the NFU go on to say that they don't want there to be any requirement to label meat or dairy products from cloned animals or their offspring because it might "mislead" consumers. So the animals suffer and the people who buy the food from these new and cruel systems are going to be kept in the dark about where their food comes from. I suppose, as an organic farmer, working in a system that bans GM and cloning, I should be pleased; but, in fact, the whole business leaves me feeling sickened and sad.

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domingo, marzo 15, 2009

La contaminación transgénica como negocio

El 6 de marzo, el gobierno mexicano anunció que consideraba terminado (en todos los sentidos de la palabra) el marco legal de bioseguridad en México, abriendo las puertas a la experimentación con maíz transgénico. Un delito histórico, que marca la decisión del gobierno de enajenar y colocar en alto riesgo el patrimonio genético alimentario más importante del país.

Los funcionarios eliminaron de facto el establecimiento de un Régimen Especial de Protección al Maíz, al que están obligados por la Ley de Bioseguridad y Organismos Genéticamente Modificados, incorporando en su lugar unos cuantos párrafos en el reglamento de dicha ley. Como lo han argumentado sólidamente especialistas en la materia, esta medida viola la ley en varios puntos. (Alejandro Nadal, Maíz transgénico, funcionarios delincuentes, La Jornada, 11/3/2009).

Obviando la ilegalidad, los funcionarios argumentan que esta apertura es necesaria porque el maíz transgénico aumentaría la producción y además, no pondrá en riesgo las zonas que definan como centro de origen del maíz. Se trata solamente de experimentos, puntualizan, que serán evaluados antes de autorizar plantaciones comerciales.

Son argumentos falsos, empezando porque todo México es centro de origen y diversidad del maíz, entonces no debería haber maíz transgénico en ninguna parte. Pero fundamentalmente, ocultan la discusión sobre el punto nodal de los transgénicos. Todos los transgénicos están patentados y son propiedad de 6 transnacionales. Monsanto controla el 86 por ciento de éstos, y con Syngenta y DuPont-Pioneer, cerca del 95 por ciento. Un grado de concentración corporativa sin precedentes en la historia de la agricultura y la alimentación. Cuando hablamos de transgénicos, el punto de partida es la entrega de la soberanía alimentaria, dándoles la llave de toda la red alimentaria a unas pocas trasnacionales.

La falacia de que los transgénicos aumentan la producción, no se sostiene en las estadísticas oficiales de Estados Unidos, el mayor productor mundial de transgénicos. En promedio, los transgénicos han bajado los rendimientos. En el caso del maíz, la producción ha sido igual o casi imperceptiblemente mayor, pero como las semillas transgénicas son más caras, el productor siempre pierde, porque el supuesto aumento no compensa nunca el gasto. Las empresas arguyen que si fuera así, no seguirían plantando. La realidad, también basada en informes de la Secretaría de Agricultura de Estados Unidos, es que no pueden hacer otra cosa. Los agricultores han perdido sus semillas, y las mismas empresas de transgénicos controlan también el resto de las variedades no transgénicas. Aún cuando esas produzcan más, no las multiplican para la venta en suficiente cantidad, porque quieren vender transgénicos. La razón: son más caros, están patentados, la contaminación es inevitable (por viento, insectos o cadenas de distribución), y es detectable al tener genes extraños al maíz. Así pueden demandar a las víctimas de la contaminación por uso indebido de patente, una ganancia extra, y obligan a todos a comprarles semillas cada estación.

El argumento de que sólo es experimentación, es penosamente falso. Aún si los criterios de experimentación fueran muy estrictos (que no lo son), por ejemplo plantar en confinamiento o con muy extensas áreas de aislamiento, barreras de viento, retirar la espiga antes de polinizar, etc., ninguno de estos criterios se mantendrán en la siembra comercial. Los productores nunca repetirán esos criterios –son complicados, aumenta más los costos y el trabajo– y además la ley de bioseguridad no prevé ni avisar a los vecinos ni ninguna sanción real a quienes contaminen. Por lo tanto, llamarle experimental no es más que un eufemismo para la posterior plantación comercial sin ningún control.

Pero además, estamos en México, centro de origen del maíz, donde siguen viviendo en sus comunidades, millones de los campesinos que crearon la enorme riqueza y diversidad genética del cultivo, para bien de toda la humanidad. A la condena de dependencia económica y alimentaria, se suma la condena de la contaminación de la biodiversidad y del maíz campesino. Un hecho inherente a los transgénicos, comprobado en México y muchos otros países. Una vez en campo, el viento y los insectos no diferencian si es experimental o si no debieran polinizar otra planta: la contaminación es inevitable. Justamente al contrario de las cínicas declaraciones de Agrobio, agrupación de las multinacionales, de que Los activistas querían decidir por todos los agricultores mexicanos al rechazar la experimentación (Diego Cevallos, IPS 11/03/09), los transgénicos son los cultivos más imperialistas de la historia. Cualquier plantación de maíz transgénico, condena a corto o largo plazo, a todos los demás a la contaminación.

La absurda respuesta de los funcionarios gubernamentales es que también eso será un negocio: florecerán las empresas de detección –que públicas o no, para funcionar ¡deben pagar a las trasnacionales de transgénicos para usar sus genes!

Tanta falsedad contrasta con la sencilla verdad de los campesinos: tienen 10 mil años de experiencia en la creación y la resistencia y no piensan someterse a esta condena.

*Investigadora del Grupo ETC

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2008 was another great year in the global resistance to the imposition of GM crops. But you might not have known it thanks to the atmosphere of crisis as food prices sky-rocketed and so did Monsanto's profits. The two were directly connected.

The World Bank's attributed as much as 70% of food price inflation to the disastrous policy of growing food for fuel. Some go further and see 'biofuels' as the critical catalyst for the entire crisis.

Monsanto had been at the heart of the lobby for 'biofuels', and with food riots breaking out as the poor were pushed increasingly to the wall, Monsanto got together with the likes of Dupont and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) to form the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy. The aim: to keep Bush's ethanol mandates firmly in place, regardless of the consequences.

The reason was that food price inflation not only enabled Monsanto to profit by massively hiking up its prices for seeds and Roundup, it also provided the launch pad for an aggressive new PR campaign. Its purpose was to use the atmosphere of crisis to try and over-rule grassroots resistance to GM by enlisting the support of pro-GM politicians, technocrats, industrialists and commentators in promoting GM crops as vital to solving the food crisis.

As Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent succinctly put it, 'The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.'

Even some GM supporters showed signs of disquiet at this panic-mongering. Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales admitted, 'The cynic in me thinks that they're just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they're doing it, but the danger is that if they're making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that's bullshit.'

But the waves of BS were also being driven by industry desperation. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, resistance to GM was far from crumbling amidst the panic, and to make matters worse a major report produced by 400 scientific experts and signed up to by nearly 60 governments
was published in 2008, which made it clear that after more than 10 years of commercialisation, GM crops had done nothing to help with the eradication of hunger or poverty, nor reversal of environmental degradation caused by agriculture.

Just as damaging for the biotech industry, was the report's conclusion that the evidence showed that it was the agroecological alternatives, with their proven track record in boosting production for small farmers in developing countries, that needed special promotion at the cost of investments in industrial and GM-based agriculture.

After reading the 2500-page report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, it was easy to see that the diversion of political attention, scientific endeavour and funding away from these innovative low-cost approaches will have a long-term negative impact on both future food supplies and equity for the poor.

This is a message that the biotech industry and its supporters are desperate to keep out of the media and away from the political elite, but 2008 was the year the cat got out of the bag.

Nobody should any longer be in doubt - when it comes to resolving global problems and building a better world, GM crops are a dangerous irrelevance that will only push us further down the path to destruction.

Here are the first 6 months of GM resistance from 2008.


viernes, marzo 13, 2009

El espejismo de la coexistencia

De Radio Mundo Real:

  • Duración: 14:12 minutes (9.8 MB)
Contaminación transgénica de maíces en Uruguay; entrevista al bioquímico Pablo Galeano (Redes - AT Uruguay)

La “coexistencia controlada” entre cultivos transgénicos y orgánicos o convencionales es un espejismo legal que no tiene su correlato en la realidad. Y en Uruguay el caso de contaminación de maíz no transgénico con polen de cultivos transgénicos así lo demuestra. Pero lo que parecía claro y previsible desde el comienzo, se encuentra ahora corroborado por una investigación científica que fuera presentada los días 2 y 3 de marzo últimos por parte de integrantes de REDES - Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay y de las facultades de Ciencias, Química y Agronomía.

La investigación llamada “Detección de Contaminación de Cultivos de Maíz Convencionales y Orgánicos con Transgénicos” fue llevada a cabo en convenio con los Departamentos de Estadísticas y Producción Vegetal de la Facultad de Agronomía, la Sección Bioquímica de la Facultad de Ciencias y con la colaboración de la Cátedra de Bioquímica de la Facultad de Química de la Universidad de la República Oriental del Uruguay. Para las pruebas se tomaron muestras de maíz en 24 chacras, diez de éstas con producción transgénica y once de maíz no transgénico.

Radio Mundo Real dialogó con Pablo Galeano, bioquímico integrante de Redes - Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay y uno de los responsables del estudio. Una de las chacras estudiadas en las que se encontró contaminación estaba a más de 330 metros del origen de la misma, o sea, a más de los 250 metros establecidos por la ley. Pero además, según se comprobó, esta distancia no se respeta a nivel de muchos predios productivos.

Galeano puntualizó que por la escasez de recursos el estudio se vio limitado en su extensión, a pesar de lo cual se continuará con el mismo en los próximos meses.

En Uruguay existen dos variedades de maíz transgénico autorizadas: el MON 810 de la trasnacional Monsanto y el Bt 11 propiedad de Syngenta. Galeano señala en la entrevista que la contaminación registrada proviene de las dos variedades de transgénico.

“Después de la moratoria que se levantó en julio de 2008 el gobierno definió una política de coexistencia controlada señalando que mediante la misma se iba a poder respetar los derechos de todos: productores y consumidores, profundizándose la discusión. Esta investigación viene a demostrar que aún con los pocos eventos transgénicos que hay no existen garantías de ningún tipo para aquellos que busquen conservar materiales criollos libres de transgénicos u orgánicos. Por lo tanto la coexistencia regulada no es coexistencia”, precisó el científico.

En otro tramo de la entrevista Galeano describió los riesgos que como país encierra esta contaminación en materia de derechos de propiedad intelectual. “En la zafra pasada participaron unos 2800 productores (de maíz) de los cuales 2400 son pequeños productores que representan sólo el siete por ciento del área y casi ninguno de ellos planta semillas transgénicas que son un 50 por ciento más caras. Si con los materiales criollos que hay, Uruguay quisiera realizar un programa de mejoramiento y hubiera contaminación, no podría porque esos genes son propiedad de Monsanto o Syngenta y los tratados de libre comercio protegen a las corporaciones por lo cual el país debería pagarles por derechos de propiedad intelectual”, alertó el científico uruguayo.

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jueves, marzo 12, 2009

México: las incongruencias de Sagarpa y Semarnat sobre el maíz transgénico

De manera deliberada e incongruente, las secretarías de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat), y la de Agricultura, Ganadería, Pesca y Alimentación (Sagarpa), aseguran que al aprobarse las siembras experimentales en México no se viola la Ley de Bioseguridad de Organismos Genéticamente Modificados (LBOGM), a pesar de que no se seguirán los procedimientos estipulados en esta legislación y tampoco los preceptos del Protocolo de Cartagena, firmado por nuestro país, denunció Greenpeace.

A pesar de que la LBOGM estipula la necesidad de atender el principio precautorio ante la posibilidad de cualquier riesgo de contaminación de cultivos tradicionales de maíz con transgénicos, el cual implica el establecimiento de una moratoria a la liberación de dicho grano, tanto la Sagarpa como la Semarnat insisten en que sólo con la autorización de permisos para siembras experimentales se podrá controlar en flujo de transgénicos en el país.

“Resultan inexplicables las posturas de los titulares de Semarnat, Juan Rafael Elvira Quezada, y de Sagarpa, Alberto Cárdenas Jiménez, quienes plantean que con la autorización de las siembras de maíz transgénico se evitarán más casos de contaminación en el país, ya que todas las solicitudes para estas siembras estarán controladas, cuando existen en México ocho casos de contaminación de cultivos tradicionales con variedades transgénicas (1), y han sido incapaces de resolverlos”, denunció Aleira Lara, coordinadora de la campaña de agricultura sustentable y transgénicos de Greenpeace.

A pesar de que está demostrada la imposible coexistencia de los cultivos transgénicos con los tradicionales y orgánicos, las autoridades federales le restaron peso al Régimen de Protección Especial del Maíz para darle paso a las siembras experimentales sin contar con la determinación de centros de origen y diversidad genética para este grano, como lo señala claramente la LBOGM (2). Ambas dependencias insisten en que este instrumento, así como las políticas públicas de protección, se construirán en paralelo a la autorización de cada solicitud de siembra, lo cual es ilegal y pone en riesgo las variedades de este grano existentes en todo el territorio mexicano.

Es decir, Sagarpa y Semarnat, proponen ir a ciegas sin tomar en cuenta las experiencias internacionales basadas en estudios científicos independientes que dan cuenta de los impactos negativos al medio ambiente, la imposible coexistencia de cultivos transgénicos y convencionales, al tiempo que plantean fuertes riesgos a la salud humana.

El propio reglamento de la LBOGM mandata en su artículo 16 fracción V (3) que se tomen en cuenta experiencias de otros países para que se anexe la información pertinente respecto a efectos de la liberación sobre el medio ambiente, y los estudios sobre los posibles riesgos de esta tecnología. Sin embargo, sólo retoman los casos de países como Argentina, Brasil o Estados Unidos donde se han implementado los transgénicos debido a que ya no fue posible aplicar medidas de remediación y se rebasó la capacidad de los gobiernos para contener la contaminación transgénica.

Los impactos negativos al medio ambiente y la salud humana por la liberación de transgénicos al medio ambiente han sido documentados por científicos de Francia, Grecia, Hungría y Austria, países que impusieron una moratoria a la liberación de las variedades diseñadas por la empresa transnacional Monsanto.

“Es bien sabido que las corporaciones como Monsanto, al encontrar frenos a la liberación de sus variedades transgénicas, comienzan a contaminar los cultivos tradicionales. Esto ocurrió ya en Argentina y Brasil con soya transgénica y cuando los gobiernos de estos países se dieron cuenta de su incapacidad para hacerle frente a la contaminación transgénica procedieron a legalizar lo ilegal. ¿Es esta la intención del presidente Felipe Calderón, para eso se reunió en Davos con Hugh Grant, presidente mundial de Monsanto?”, cuestionó Lara.

Si Sagarpa y Semarnat niegan que existan presiones de las transnacionales, entonces, ¿por qué pretenden autorizar las siembras experimentales sin tener concluido un marco de bioseguridad que incluya la implementación de un biomonitoreo en todo el país, con el objetivo de resguardar todas nuestras razas y variedades? ¿Por qué es necesario atender ahora las solicitudes de estas empresas que insisten en hacer siembras experimentales en los tres estados con mayor producción de maíz en México: Sinaloa, Chihuahua y Tamaulipas?

Hoy, la Sagarpa reconoció que durante 2008 la producción de maíz mexicano rompió record con 24.8 millones de toneladas en todo el país, y que esto se puede incrementar aún más con la implementación de proyectos y programas para reactivar la producción de este importante grano.

Entonces, ¿por qué tanta prisa del gobierno federal para transitar de un modelo agroalimentario dependiente de las importaciones de maíz procedentes de Estados Unidos, a otro con base en la dependencia de las grandes transnacionales que son dueñas de las variedades transgénicas, restándole importancia a la producción nacional que se sigue incrementando año con año?

Cabe destacar que, la Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente (Profepa) reconoció recientemente que es innecesario sembrar maíz transgénico en México para resolver los problemas de producción en el campo mexicano, ya que existen en el país variedades híbridas que responden a las demandas agronómicas del campo nacional y que no ponen en riesgo el medio ambiente ni nuestras variedades tradicionales de maíz (4).

Greenpeace exige a la Sagarpa y a la Semarnat dar prioridad para contener y remediar los casos de contaminación transgénica de maíz mexicano, antes de autorizar las siembras experimentales. Si se autorizan estas siembras, México perderá el centro de origen del maíz y se afectará de manera irremediable a las futuras generaciones al entregar el maíz mexicano a empresas transnacionales.


1. Casos de contaminación México:

2. Artículo 2 y 86 de la Ley de Bioseguridad de Organismos Genéticamente Modificados.



Fuente: Greenpeace México

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miércoles, marzo 11, 2009

Do GM Crops Increase Yield? The answer is No

Devinder Sharma

Ground Reality, March 10 2009

Lies, damn lies and the Monsanto site.

Tell a lie a hundred times, and the chances are that it would appear to be a truth. Monsanto makes that effort, probably for the umpteenth number of time. And the chances are that you too could be duped to accept these distortions as truth.

My attention has been drawn to an article "Do GM crops increase yield?" on Monsanto's web page. I must confess this is first time I am visiting Monsanto's site. This is what it says: Recently, there have been a number of claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically-modified (GM) crops don't increase yields. Some have claimed that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM crops.

Both claims are simply false.

And then, it goes on to explain what germplasm is, what is breeding, biotechnology, and finally comes to yield. This is what it says:

The introduction of GM traits through biotechnology has led to increased yields independent of breeding. Take for example statistics cited by PG Economics, which annually tallies the benefits of GM crops, taking data from numerous studies around the world:

Mexico - yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybean of 9 percent.

Romania - yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybeans have averaged 31 percent.

Philippines - average yield increase of 15 percent with herbicide tolerant corn.

Philippines - average yield increase of 24 percent with insect resistant corn.

Hawaii - virus resistant papaya has increased yields by an average of 40 percent.

India - insect resistant cotton has led to yield increases on average more than 50 percent.

This is not amusing. It can't be taken lightly anymore. I am not only shocked but also disgusted at the way corporations try to fabricate and swing the facts, dress them up in a manner that the so-called 'educated' of today will accept them without asking any question.

At the outset, Monsanto's claims are simply flawed. I have seen similar conclusions, at least about Bt cotton yields in India, in an IFPRI study. But then, I have always been saying that IFPRI is one organisation that needs to be shut down. It has done more damage to developing country agriculture and food security than any other academic institution.

Nevertheless, let us first look at Monsanto's claims.

The increases in crop yields that it has shown in Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, Hawaii and India are actually not yield increases. In scientific terms, these are called crop losses, which have been very cleverly repacked as yield increases. What Monsanto has done is to indulge in a jugglery of scientific terminologies, and taking advantage of your ignorance, to build up on claims that actually do not exist.

As per Monsanto's article: The most common traits in GM crops are herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (IR). HT plants contain genetic material from common soil bacteria. IR crops contain genetic material from a bacterium that attacks certain insects.

This is true. And still more, herbicide tolerant plants and insect resistant plants in a way perform the same function that chemical pesticides do. Both the GM plants and the chemical pesticides reduce crop losses. Come to think of it. Doesn't the GM plants work more or less like a bio-pesticide? The insect feeds on the plant carrying the toxin, and dies. Spraying the chemical pesticide also does the same.

In the case of herbicide tolerant plants, it is much worse. Biotech companies have successfully dove-tailed the trait for herbicide tolerance in the plant to ensure that those who buy the GM seeds have no other option but to also buy the companies own brand of herbicide. Killing two birds with one stone, you would say. Exactly.


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