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Size Really Does Matter; Iowa Bills Fight GM Free Zones and Farmer Choice; other news

(Friday, March 4, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. New kind of biotech corn gets close look
2. China Seen Opening Door Soon to Biotech Rice
3. Size Really Does Matter
4. GM specialist increases technology fees in USA
5. Iowa Bills Fight GM Free Zones and Farmer Choice
6. Dairy co-op rejects Monsanto proposal to drop hormone ban
7. GE-Free Sonoma Proponents Release Report On Economic Costs of Bio-Contamination

1. New kind of biotech corn gets close look

Philip Brasher
Des Moines Register, March 1, 2005

Washington, D.C. - The government is again investigating the safety of genetically engineered corn.

This time, the issue isn't StarLink, the corn variety that spawned nationwide food recalls in 2000, but a variety developed by Des Moines-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Dow AgroSciences. The new variety produces corn resistant to rootworm.

Like StarLink, the Pioneer-Dow product contains a protein that takes longer to break down in the human gut than many other proteins. That's a characteristic of foods that cause allergic reactions.

"At this stage, any kind of reasonably cautious approach would say hold off on their protein until we get data that is more definitive," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a former scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency who doesn't believe the EPA should approve the new corn variety, which could end up in food.

Gurian-Sherman, who worked on the StarLink issue while at the EPA, is now senior scientist with the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group critical of agricultural biotechnology.

The EPA believes the corn is safe, based on research provided by Pioneer and Dow, as does the Food and Drug Administration, which also assesses the safety of biotech foods.

However, the EPA is convening a panel of scientific advisers today and Wednesday to look into the companies' data.

Officials with Pioneer and Dow were cited as saying there are crucial differences between their corn and StarLink and expect the scientists to agree that it is safe.

The Pioneer-Dow product, which contains a bacterium gene that makes the plants toxic to insect pests, would be the second line of biotech corn that is resistant to rootworm.

The EPA approved the first rootworm-resistant corn, a Monsanto product, in 2003.

In initial tests, the protein at issue in the Pioneer-Dow product took up to 30 minutes to disappear. Most similar proteins break down within 30 seconds to five minutes.

2. China Seen Opening Door Soon to Biotech Rice

By Jeremy Smith, Reuters, 02/28/05

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - China could open the door to biotech rice within two years, paving the way for the GMO crop to enter the food stream across Asia, the head of a trade group said Monday.

"Rice is likely to be approved in China in the near term, maybe in two years," said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA, a group with industry and public foundation support that promotes biotech as a way to halt global hunger.

"And once China approves rice, this will move through the rice countries of Asia -- like India, Pakistan and the Philippines -- where rice is king," he said in an interview.

Knocking down the barriers to using GMO (genetically modified organism) rice would be a major coup for industry and other backers of GMO crops.

Rice is the staple of half the world's more than six billion people. China has long been seen as the pioneer in GMO rice, and is the world's top producer and consumer of the commodity.

As yet no GMO rice is produced commercially, but China is at the forefront of developments and is poised to approve the commercialization of modified strains that can resist insects and diseases.

Many governments are wary about authorizing GMO crops due to consumer concern over possible risks to human and animal health. But the global biotech industry says GMO crops can help feed millions of the world's hungry, particularly in developing countries.

Pressure to launch GMO rice comes at a time when Beijing faces a tough task in raising the country's grain output and in narrowing the income gap between farmers and urban citizens.

China's 2004 rice crop is expected to rise to about 180 million tons from 161 million last year, the lowest since 1994. The country's supply deficit is around 10 million tons.

"Once China does (approves) rice, it's a momentous decision. It's the most important food crop in the world. They've worked on this very carefully and had large-scale field trials for several years, so there's a substantial database," said James, the full name of whose organization is the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

China is already the world's top grower of insect resistant GMO cotton, known as bacillus thuringiensis cotton, which has been effective in controlling damage from the bollworm pest.

Around 20 percent of China's annual investments in crop biotechnology were earmarked for rice, and the country looked set to become the world's second largest investor in this area after the United States, he said.

"There's fairly good evidence that in China, they are investing $200 million minimum a year, with the intention to increase that to $500 million. And that's only in crop biotechnology -- China is already a very significant player."

Maize was another area where China was likely to develop GMO strains since demand was expected to jump by 80 percent between 1997 and 2020, he said, adding that consumer demand for a richer diet meant that more maize would be used in animal feed.

"China and India alone have tremendous opportunities," said James. "The policy of China is to be least dependent on outside territories: rice, maize and, maybe in the medium term, wheat."

3. Size Really Does Matter

By Paul Beingessner
Canadian farmer, writer

Okay, so we all know there is a lot of controversy about genetically modified organisms and food production. We know that demand for organic food is growing rapidly in developed countries. And we know that many consumers want to know what is in the food they eat.

So it doesn't seem a big stretch if a dairy wants to tell consumers that its farmers are not using bovine growth hormones produced by manipulating DNA. This was the case a few years ago for the Oakhurst Dairy in Maine, USA. It wanted to tell its customers that Oakhurst milk came from cows that were not given bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

This hormone, produced by Monsanto and called Posilac, is used to increase production in milk cows. It is legal in the U.S. but banned in most other countries, including Canada.

Monsanto sued Oakhurst, claiming the label on its milk cartons saying its farmers did not use artificial hormones was damaging to Monsanto, since it implied there was something wrong with rBGH. Eventually the dairy backed down, agreeing to change the label somewhat and to include the statement that milk from cows treated with Posilac is no different that any other milk.

So much for free speech in the U.S., I guess. But now, Monsanto has stepped up the milk wars to a new level. It is going after a cheese company in Oregon that wants to ensure its farmer-owners don't use Posilac. The Tillamook County Creamery Association has a policy that prohibits its 150 farmer members from using Monsanto's growth hormone. The policy, says Tillamook, is a response to consumer complaints about the use of rBGH in milk production.

While Monsanto has not sued anybody yet, it has written directly to the farmers who own Tillamook, urging them to toss out the rule. According to Tillamook, Monsanto's lawyer helped some farmers prepare a bylaw that would prohibit the company from ever banning the use of Posilac.

So, now we've gone from you can't say it to you can't do it. If Monsanto's attempt to intervene in internal dairy policies should fail, can a lawsuit be far behind? And if Tillamook, with annual sales of $260 million, is sued by the giant Monsanto, annual sales in the billions, will it fight in court for years, absorbing huge legal costs, or will it give in, and make some accommodation to Monsanto?

If past history is any predictor of future behaviour, we can guess that Tillamook will eventually give in. Of the many lawsuits Monsanto launches each year, almost all are settled out of court. And the settlements are always a secret.

The reason Monsanto nearly always gets what it wants is, quite simply, because of its size. Monsanto can win, simply by holding out the threat that, win or lose in court, it will suck its opponents into a financial black hole.

This is one of the major problems with the legal system in almost all countries. The guy with the biggest pockets wins. He wins because he can hire better lawyers, sharper accountants, and nastier private detectives. He wins because the laws are generally conceived in the interests of those with power and wealth, and ultimately, he wins even if he loses.

This is one more reason farmers should fear the power of the corporations that control nearly every transaction they undertake. At an alarming rate, the companies that buy the farmer's production and that sell him inputs are consolidating. Two companies, Tyson and Cargill, control the meat packing industry in Canada. Two companies, Saputo and Parmalat, control the dairy industry. A handful control seed and chemical sales. A handful market grains.

There was a time when we worried about the size of corporations. Anti-trust laws were created to deal with the overwhelming market power of near-monopolies. But in recent years, large companies have been glorified as "efficient" and "able to compete in global markets". While this may be good for shareholders and consumers, it has been nothing but bad for producers.

Governments and farmers alike have ignored the downside of monopolies. Governments will always do so since they are either closely aligned with business, or scared to act. We need to demand our governments look seriously at the damaging effects of allowing monopolies to control our industry.

(c) Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax beingessner@sasktel.net

4. GM specialist increases technology fees in USA

By Andrew Blake
http://tinyurl.com/5cbnx [Farmer`s Weekly], Friday, February 18, 2005

Seed and technology fees for genetically modified crops are on the up in the USA, as companies continue to invest in next generation traits.

Some producers are expecting Monsanto's technology fees to rise 75% this season, as the firm seeks to recoup costs. The main reason for the price rises is the need to fund work on next generation GM varieties, which will offer nutritional benefits to consumers, plus research to defend the existing traits against counter claims from anti-GM lobby groups, says Monsanto USA's technical communications manager Jim Hudson. "We are currently spending about $1.5m a day on such research and that money has to come from somewhere." But with weed populations shifting to species able to resist the total herbicide the company needs to be careful not to price the technology out of the market, stresses North Carolina consultant Billy McLawhorn.

5. Iowa Bills Fight GM Free Zones and Farmer Choice

By Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception

Whenever large agribusiness or their political representatives come up with a new farm strategy to save local farmers, watch out. It seems that more small farmers suffer while agribusiness prospers. The latest proposal is a bill before Iowa legislators that would prevent local jurisdictions from creating identity preservation zones.

Using identity preservation (IP), farmers keep crop varieties separate from others to meet purity requirements of their buyers. Iowa farmers, for example, may earn an extra $8.50 ñ $15.50 per bushel for organic soybeans. Non-GM beans bring in about $0.50 more than GM varieties, and non-GM food grade raise that to $2.00. Several specialty varieties comprise the approximately 5 percent of total US corn acreage that is IP, including an extractable starch corn grown for Japanese breweries by 60 southeast Iowa farmers.

While low commodity corn and soybean prices contributed to the 22 percent reduction of Iowaís mid-size farms between 1997 and 2002, IP niche marketing keeps many profitable. IP crops also can bypass the ìnormalî big agribusiness marketing channels.

Contamination is a key challenge to IP growers. Unwanted varieties may cross-pollinate or get mixed up in the seed, harvest equipment, or during storage and transport. Some farm regions create entire zones that exclude unwanted varieties, where all the farms, and if possible all collection and distribution points, only handle approved grain.

The current bills before the Iowa house (HF 202) and senate (1144) would disallow local jurisdictions from regulating the sale or production of seeds. The reason? They are trying to prevent Iowa farmers from creating GM-free zones. These zones, which do not allow the cultivation of genetically modified crops, are being created at an accelerated rate on all continents, including the US. They provide farmers easier access to the significant world markets that avoid the controversial technology.

The introduction of GM crops in 1996 was heralded by agribusiness as the key to greater profits, but the opposite ensued. Europe cut off its $300 million corn purchases. Japan soy orders dropped by nearly 25 percent. Lowered prices for GM commodities boosted U.S. subsidies by an estimated $2-3 billion per year. Even the threat of GM wheat being introduced rallied the industry to try to make North America a GM-wheat-free-zone.

If Iowans knew before 1996 about the loss of GM markets, they could have created GM-free zones. If they knew before 1999 that A.E. Staley and ADM would not take varieties of GM corn not approved in the EU, they could have created EU-approved zones. If they realized that StarLink was not approved for human consumption, they could have created StarLink-free zones before its discovery in taco shells prompted the recall of more than 300 brands and massive economic damage to the farm sector.

It's hard to predict the future, but there are clear trends. Organic agriculture is the only sector bounding ahead at a double digit growth rate. Iowa has about 900 organic grain farmersóone of the largest contingents in the Midwestóand many others are testing the waters.

GM markets continue to dry up with the consistent finding that the more people learn about the technology, the less they trust it. Now, even GM animal feed markets are shrinking overseas due to consumer demand for GM-free meat. Many EU retailers promise this to their buyers and as of February 10, 2005, three major Australian poultry producers are also refusing GM feed. An ISU economist projected that if GM wheat were introduced here, 30-50 percent of our foreign markets would go elsewhere and wheat prices would drop by a third. This could put wheat into competition with corn as a feed grain.

And we also know that Iowa hosts field trials of GM varieties unapproved for the market. The most threatening of these is the corn engineered to create pharmaceuticals. In 2002, 155 acres in Pocahontas County had to be destroyed because of "pharm" corn contamination. If drug-producing corn got mixed up in the food supply, the debacle could eclipse StarLink.

Looking at current trends, farmers may decide to create a pharm-corn free zone, an organic corridor, an approved-variety-only sector, a non-GM marketing zone, or any one of a number of zones to capitalize on any future trend, GM-related or not. Zones can give farmers greater control, greater profits, and better protection. The Iowa bills, however, would prevent all that. If they pass, biotech companies would be the winner and Iowa farms and communities would be the loser.

To view a sampling of possible future news stories with and without these laws in place, go to www.seedsofdeception.com/iowafutures.php

These bills are being debated during the first week in March, 2005 (at least). For Iowans wanting to contact state representatives on this issue, visit www.seedsofdeception.com/iowa. Non-Iowans please forward this to your Iowa friends.

© Copyright 2005 by Jeffrey M. Smith. Permission is granted to reproduce this in whole or in part.

6. Dairy co-op rejects Monsanto proposal to drop hormone ban

The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Dairy farmers whose cows provide milk for the second largest producer of chunk cheese in the nation voted Monday to ban a Monsanto Co. hormone on schedule, rejecting pressure from the chemical company.

The Tillamook County Creamery Association said its members voted 83-43 in favor of the ban on recombinant bovine somatotropin hormone, or rBST.

"I think this is a confirmation that our members believe in us," said Christie Lincoln, association spokeswoman in Tillamook. "We are a consumer-driven company, so we're keeping consumers in mind."

A Monsanto spokeswoman said the company hopes the dairy farmers will reconsider.

"For individual producers, it is unfortunate that their choice to use a product that has provided a significant economic benefit for many Tillamook family farms has been limited," said Jennifer Garrett at Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis.

The dairy association's board voted last May to phase out the hormone, sold under the brand name Posilac, following consumer complaints. It was one of the first major biotechnology-related products to enter the nation's food supply when it was approved in 1993 by the Food and Drug Administration to boost milk production in dairy cows.

Lincoln said the dairy association had been under intense pressure recently from Monsanto to withdraw the proposed ban. She noted the company sent its attorneys to Oregon to propose an amendment to association bylaws that would have prevented the ban.

But 126 of the 147 co-op members met in a special session Monday at the Tillamook County Fairgrounds to discuss the issue and cast their votes to reject the amendment.

The ban will be fully implemented by April 1.

Rick North, spokesman for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, called the Tillamook ban a victory for consumers.

"They're not only doing the right thing, they're doing the smart thing," North said of the co-op vote. "This should be great for their business."

The medical organization estimates that up to 15 percent of dairy farmers are using the rBST hormone on their herds in Oregon and nationally.

North noted the hormone is banned in a number of other countries as concerns have increased among doctors and scientists.

Canada rejected Monsanto attempts to win regulatory approval for Posilac after a Canadian Veterinary Medical Association panel concluded in 1998 that cows ran a 50 percent higher risk of lameness in the feet and legs using Posilac.

Tillamook, which had 2003 sales of $260 million, is the nation's second-largest maker of chunk cheese behind Kraft Foods Inc. Tillamook makes cheese, sour cream, butter and other dairy products.

Tillamook County Creamery Association: http://www.tillamookcheese.com

Monsanto Co.: http://www.monsanto.com

7. GE-Free Sonoma Proponents Release Report On Economic Costs of Bio-Contamination: County Supervisors place measure on November 8, 2005 ballot


Santa Rosa, CA - Proponents of a 10-year moratorium on transgenic (genetically engineered) crops in Sonoma County, California released a report today highlighting the potentially costly economic losses to the county which could result from failing to pass the moratorium. The report, titled "The Costs of Contamination", assesses the potential economic impacts of transgenic contamination on local agriculture, fisheries, and public lands.

The report is available online on the campaign's website: http://www.gefreesonoma.org/press/Costs_of_Contamination_2-23-05.pdf

Key points from "The Costs of Contamination" report include the following:

  • DAIRY: Clover Stornetta, Sonoma County's leading dairy manufacturer, processes milk from 16 family-owned dairies (12 of them in Sonoma County), all of which guarantee that they do not use genetically engineered growth hormone (rBST), and many which produce organic milk for Clover Stornetta’s organic line. More than one half of the milk purchased by the all-organic Straus Family Dairy is also produced at Sonoma County dairies. While it is difficult to assess how many millions of dollars of our highest value organic dairy producers are at stake, there is a clear risk that, when GE contamination of organic pasturelands occur, domestic and international market rejection will follow.
  • SALMON: Sonoma County salmon fishermen's 2002 catch was worth more than $1 million wholesale. Contamination by transgenic salmon could decimate the native salmon population, placing the entire salmon fishing industry at risk. This would be a catastrophic loss for our local fishermen, for our tourist and sport fishing industry, and for efforts to restore our long-endangered salmon populations.
  • FRUIT & VEGETABLE GROWERS: The economic value of fruit & vegetables (excluding grapes) grown in Sonoma County in 2003 was nearly $17 million. Most of Sonoma County’s vegetable and fruit growers provide specialty crops to local markets ­ many of which are restaurants, farmer’s markets, and other buyers who are most likely to require GE-free produce. A large majority of American consumers want to avoid GE foods. Growers who plant GE varieties or become contaminated with GE become increasingly vulnerable to market rejection.
  • ORGANIC FARMERS: the major natural food processors in Sonoma County have combined revenues of over $300 million. In recent years there has been dramatic growth in certified organic acreage in Sonoma and Napa counties ­ 236% growth between 2001 and 2003, totaling 164 farms with a combined 4152 acres. If the initiative does not pass, each of the 164 registered organic farmers would be directly threatened by the introduction to Sonoma County of GE versions of the crops they grow. The potential combined market losses for these producers is clearly in the tens of million of dollars.
  • SCHOOLS: There are over 75 food and flower producing, educational organic gardens at our public elementary and high schools. Sonoma County’s school garden programs are among the most successful in the nation, providing a participatory learning environment on horticulture and ecology to thousands of students each year. All of these would be threatened by GE contamination.
  • TOURISM: Sonoma County tourism amounts to nearly $1 billion a year. The county’s main draws include the beauty of our natural environment and our unique and diverse agricultural bounty. This attraction will be severely damaged if GE crops, weeds and animals replace our diverse, locally appropriate varieties and native ecosystems, with potentially serious losses to tourism industry ­ wine tasting, fishing, outdoor activities, hospitality, retail, and more.
  • LIABILITY: Would failure to pass a GE moratorium expose the County to liability for the costs of contamination of public and private land owners, farms, gardens and schools by GE crops, weeds and other organisms? Such costs could include ecological disturbance of critical habitat or species listed as endangered or threatened; contamination of private and public property: farms, ranches, nurseries, residential landscaping and gardens, community gardens, schools, parks, etc; and seed contamination for farmers, horticultural researchers and gardeners who save their own seed.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors placed the measure on the ballot for a November 8, 2005 election. The GE-Free Sonoma County campaign had gathered over 45,000 signatures ­ a record in the county ­ to place the initiative on the ballot. The full text of the initiative can be read at http://www.gefreesonoma.org/press/0621_Initiative.pdf