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Time out for GMOs; seed patents in Iraq; other news

(Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Below are seven biotech and patent oriented information pieces.

1. Australian farmers brand GM canola a failure
2. IUCN urges time out for genetically modified organisms
3. New FDA policy to approve contamination of food supply with experimental genetically engineered crops
4. Seeds become big transnational business in Iraq
5. Death of the Central Dogma and beyond
6. After GM Food, here comes nano food: UK food regulators challenged to remove Nanotech foods from the shelves.
7. German farmers to be liable for GM contamination

1. Australian farmers brand GM canola a failure

ABC News Online - Australia

A farming group says Australia's first commercial genetically engineered (GE) canola crop is not only a failure, it also threatens the viability of the organic produce industry.

The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) says aerial photographs show most of the nine hectares of plantings at Lucindale and Naracoorte, in south-eastern South Australia, have died because of water logging.

NCF spokesman Geoffery Carracher says his concern is that flooding has carried GE seeds into the surrounding area. He says contamination would destroy the local organic industry which must be 100 per cent GE-free.

"Pierre Aprisol, who owns land at Minemae, Frances and Lucindale, is converting 10,000 hectares to organic...he feels very strongly against the release of GE crops because it can ruin what he's trying to do and any other organic grower in Australia," he said.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200411/s1250576.htm

2. IUCN urges time out for genetically modified organisms

by Environmental News Service

BANGKOK, Thailand, November 22, 2004 (ENS) — Members of the world's largest conservation organization today called for a halt to the release of genetically modified organisms. Meeting in Bangkok, delegates from 1,000 organizations at the IUCN World Conservation Congress are debating 114 motions to decide the future direction of IUCN ­ The World Conservation Union.

IUCN Director General Achim Steiner is leading 4,000 delegates from governments and nongovernmental organizations through two weeks of heated debates and tough decisions.

The question with respect to genetically modified organisms boiled down to whether the IUCN should encourage a moratorium on genetically modified organisms, or help establish a sound body of knowledge on their environmental risks and impacts. At the Members Business Assembly today, delegates from both the government and the NGO sectors approved a moratorium by a wide margin.

Note: IUCN is made up of governments, organizations and individuals from around the world the world.

What is the IUCN?

IUCN [The World Conservation Union] is a unique Union. Its members from some 140 countries include 77 States, 114 government agencies, and 800-plus NGOs. More than 10,000 internationally-recognised scientists and experts from more than 180 countries volunteer their services to its six global commissions. Its 1000 staff members in offices around the world are working on some 500 projects.

For more than 50 years this Green Web of partnerships has generated environmental conventions, global standards, scientific knowledge and innovative leadership.

"IUCN builds bridges between governments and NGOs, science and society, local action and global policy. It is truly a world force for environmental governance." ­ Achim Steiner, IUCN Director General

The full motion text (minus ammendment) is CGR3.RES011 in a PDF:

3. New FDA policy to approve contamination of food supply with experimental genetically engineered crops

Friends of the Earth
Bill Freese, Friends of the Earth, 301-985-3011, billfreese@prodigy.net

Nov. 23, 2004 -- Washington ó A new policy to be published tomorrow in the Federal Register by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would allow contamination of the American food supply with experimental genetically engineered (GE) material that escapes from GE crop test plots [1]. The policy sets out loose "safety assessment" guidelines under which companies may voluntarily consult with the FDA to have their experimental biotech traits deemed ìacceptableî as contaminants in food.

"With this policy, the government is condoning the contamination of our food and seed supply with genetic material from thousands of biotech crop experiments," said Bill Freese, a research analyst with Friends of the Earth.

Government records reveal that over 40,000 separate GE crop field tests have been authorized on over half a million acres since 1987 in the US. Roughly 1,000 field trial authorizations are currently in effect, spanning over 56,000 acres.

"FDA's new proposal has nothing to do with food safety, it's designed to provide biotech companies with legal cover for contaminating the food supply with experimental biotech traits," said Freese.

FDA's proposed "safety assessment" is based on paperwork and two inadequate tests that FDA estimates will take companies just 20 hours to complete. The proposed review does not involve safety tests in animals, and it excludes testing for unintended effect caused by genetic engineering. It also sets no limits on the amount of contamination allowed in foods.

The field tests include crops genetically engineered for herbicide or insect resistance, altered nutritional properties for use as animal feed, and sterile pollen or seeds. Others are engineered to produce pharmaceuticals or anti-fungal compounds that resemble proteins that cause food allergies.

"Nearly half the genes in experimental biotech crops in the ground right now are kept confidential as trade secrets of the biotech companies," said Freese.

Government data compiled by Friends of the Earth reveals that 47% of the genes in current field trials are listed as "confidential business information."

The FDA's proposal comes in response to a 2002 directive from the Bush Administration. FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford described it as "a high priority for the Administration and the industry, to enhance public confidence, avoid product recalls, and provide an international model" for similar policies around the world [2]. The US biotechnology and grain industries are calling on the US government to "vigorously promote global adoption" of similar rules [3].

In January, the US Dept. of Agriculture proposed a similar policy for its sphere of GE crop regulation (plant pest risks). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to issue a corresponding proposal applicable to pesticide-producing GE crops in the near future.

A briefing paper with more information is available at:

[1] FDA release of the policy was announced at: http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/ANSWERS/2004/ANS01327.html
A draft is available at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/bioprgui.htm.
[2] "US Grain Industry, BIO Urge US Government to Expedite 'Trace-Amounts' Policy for Biotech Products," press release, Biotechnology Industry Organization, National Grain & Feed Association, and other trade groups, April 7, 2004, www.bio.org/newsroom/newsitem.asp?id=2004_0407_01.
[3] Lester M. Crawford, Acting Commissioner of the FDA. Speech before The U.S. Vatican Mission's Conference "Feeding A Hungry World: The Moral Imperative Of Biotechnology," September 2004

4. Seeds become big transnational business in Iraq

By Michel Fanton

As violence rages on in Iraq under the US-led military coalition, the occupation's corporate backers are waging a less visible but as deadly economic war against the Iraqi population. In the frontline of this assault, less visible than the butchery of Fallujah, are the country's subsistence farmers who are losing the rights to use saved seed and their right to produce their local food.

A recent report issued by international NGOs GRAIN and Focus on the Global South1, scrutinises the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rules that were included in a new patent "order", one of 100 orders that were imposed on Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority of Paul Bremer, in April 2004, with the aim of opening the country to the full onslaught of globalised "free for all trade".

The PVP provisions are designed to suppress traditional seed-saving and exchange practices going back to the neo-lithic ten thousand years ago, in favour of commercial rights that presage a takeover of Iraq's agriculture and food supply by transnational corporations that control the agricultural pesticide and seed business. The FAO estimated in 2002 that 97% of Iraqi farmers used their own saved seed or bought seed from local markets.

Their main crops are wheat, barley, date and pulses, which is as big a part of their diet and very much at the base of their food network. But under the new regime, states the report, "farmers can neither freely legally plant nor save for re-planting seeds of any "protected plant variety" that enters the country.

The rights of corporate plant breeders, (seed corporations who develop seed using genetic engineering, who own the seed, all or part of their gene sequences, lease genes and seeds as a software, and shamelessly harvest royalties worldwide), extend to harvested material, including plants product obtained from the protected variety. For instance, if the protected variety is a type of wheat, a registered cultivar, that requires less kneading as flour to make bread, then the seed company could claim rights over the final product, in this case it could be a "copyrighted" french stick, brioche, croissant, or pizza base.

The unstated purpose of PVPs is to allow the interests of industrialised agriculture to appropriate plant genetic material, apply scientific breeding techniques including genetic engineering, and come up with "new" varieties that meet commercial criteria. These are laid out by the UPOV convention as "new, distinct, uniform and stable".

At Seed Savers in Australia, we know from having grown thousands of farmers' varieties, that their seeds cannot meet these criteria of uniformity. Even if indigenous people without formal education or even pen and paper, wanted to--or could afford to--they don't stand a chance of registering their seeds because their varieties are cross-pollinating, loaded with genes and very diverse. The reason why farmers keep these local food varieties is because they are very resilient, adapted to local conditions, and are more likely to give a crop then the modern high-tech seeds that need pesticides, fertilisers and irrigation. These land race or farmers' varieties are the genetic base of today's food for all of us. This crop diversity is not rewarded by the formal sector only used by corporate breeders for their specialised complex genes sequences that are the base of modern patented varieties.

We share the misgivings of GRAIN and other groups supporting biodiversity and food sovereignty, that other vulnerable countries such as Cambodia and Afghanistan we have recently visited, are being coerced by the US to accept PVP regimes similar to Iraq's, which go beyond the rules even of the WTO. Inevitably included in such bilateral trade "agreements" is the obligation to accept GE crops.

GRAIN also warns of the potential of bio-piracy fuelled by IPR regimes that pander to corporate profiteering. The report mentions that Iraq's national seed bank, established in the 1970s, is feared lost, although samples of Iraqi varieties are held in trust at an agricultural institute in Syria. "These comprise the agricultural heritage of Iraq...and ought now to be repatriated," the report urges. Fat chance! The security of seed banks in Third World countries is of concern to Seed Savers members. We are appealing for help from specialists in Intellectual Property law to advise us and advocate for our partner seed and food networks, in the Solomons, Ecuador, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Now is the time for people of goodwill not only to oppose the war on Iraq but also to support indigenous populations everywhere to resist those who are profiteering from the war by naming them and boycotting their product. That was the drift of a speech by Arundhati Roy recently given in Sydney, Australia in acceptance of the Sydney Peace Prize. Now is the time for people of goodwill not only to oppose the war on Iraq, but to help indigenous populations everywhere resist attacks on their food sovereignty by naming the corporations who are privatising plant genes, and boycotting their products. -- Cobrapost News Features

The author is a co-founder of International Seed Savers.

Source: http://jang.com.pk/thenews/nov2004-weekly/nos-21-11-2004/pol1.htm#6

5. Death of the Central Dogma and beyond

No 24 Winter 2004
Edited by Mae-Wan Ho
Institute of Science in Society

The biotech industry was launched on Francis Crick’s infamous ‘Central Dogma of molecular biology’, the scientific myth that organisms are hardwired in their genes, and hence, by moving genes across species separated by billions of years of evolution, new ‘genetically modified’ organisms could be created to serve our every need.

The Central Dogma has been thoroughly exploded by scientific findings accumulating since the mid-1970s, and especially so after the human and other genomes have been sequenced (see Living with the Fluid Genome, by Mae-Wan Ho www.i-sis.org.uk).

We bring you the latest surprises that tell you why our health and environmental policies based on genetic engineering and genomics are misguided; and more importantly, why the new genetics demands a thoroughly ecological approach to life.

"GM crops are a dead end, invest in non-GM sustainable agriculture right now"

The Independent Science Panel (ISP) (see SiS 18) took its campaign for a GM-free sustainable world to the European Parliament on 20 October 2004. One hundred and twenty registered for the special briefing including 27 who crossed the channel with the scientists from the UK. The event made a big impression and the participants could not stop congratulating us afterwards. We thank all our sponsors and supporters for making it such a success. Cordis News, the official EU news service for science and technology reported the event the very next day with the title "Politicians, professors and protestors target sustainable non-GM agriculture". Further media coverage was still coming in five days later.

The ISP message is crucial as GM battles are raging across the world. The high point of the briefing was the talk by Sue Edwards, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development, who helped convinced the Ethiopian government to adopt an organic composting, water and soil conservation package as its main strategy for combating land degradation and poverty throughout the country (see SiS 23). It brought home the proven successes of low-input, health enhancing agricultural practices that should be adopted all over the world.

Sustainable agriculture is particularly important under climate change when oil and water ­ on which industrial agriculture, and even more so, GM agriculture are heavily dependent - are both running out. Industrial agriculture uses up to seven times the energy per tonne of food than organic agriculture; it also turns organic soil, which is a carbon sink, into a carbon source, and generates other green house gases that exacerbate global warming. In order to feed the world, we must invest in sustainable, non-GM agriculture across the globe right now, which will also ameliorate the worse consequences of climate change.

At the same time, important changes have to be made in international agencies and institutions, which have hitherto supported the dominant model of industrial agriculture as well as policies that work against poor countries, where farmers are also desperately in need of secure land tenure.

Biological effects of EMFs still in search of a mechanism

More and more biological effects of electromagnetic fields are documented at weaker and weaker field intensities, suggesting that the current exposure standards ­ which are aimed at preventing outright heating of tissues ­ may be up to 10 million fold too high, if we are to really protect the public. Researchers are finding long-lasting brain damage in rats exposed to mobile phones, as well as a range of health problems among people living near the mobile phone masts.

Still, the regulators profess themselves powerless to lower the exposure limits because of the lack of plausible mechanisms ­ within conventional mainstream science - that could explain how fields with such minute energies could have any biological effects. Leukaemia, DNA damage in brain cells and other electromagnetic field effects cannot be explained unless scientists communicate and collaborate across the disciplines, which they are currently unable to do, partly due to the lack of interdisciplinary education, partly due to existing funding structure in research and the general culture of mainstream science that overwhelmingly discriminates against innovative people and ideas (see also SiS 17). Will our government take the radical steps needed in scientific research funding and in science education to improve both the quality of our science and its ability to protect the public?

Water, the medium of life

Entire biochemistry and cell biology textbooks will have to be rewritten to put water at the centre of living activities. It is indeed water inside cells and in the extracellular matrix that’s stage-managing the continuing drama of life. Enjoy and marvel!

Source: http://www.etcgroup.org

Publication of new report: "Down on the Farm: The Impact of Nano-Scale Technologies on Food and Agriculture"

As the government committee who first let GM Food into Britain prepares to meet again, The ETC Group (an international research and advocacy organisation) has called for an urgent public debate about the use of Nanotechnology in food and agriculture, recommending that unassessed nano-foods and pesticides be removed from the market. In a new sixty page report, "Down on the Farm" (available online), ETC Group offers the first comprehensive look at how nano-scale technologies will transform farming, food and agriculture. At today's public meeting of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) questions have been tabled calling for the withdrawal, assessment and labelling of nanotech foods in line with recommendations by the Royal Society and others. ETC will also be writing to the European Commission as well as Food, Agriculture and Environment Ministers worldwide asking them to take precautionary action.

Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, where size is measured in billionths of metres and quantum physics determines how a substance behaves. According to Hope Shand, ETC Group's Research Director, "Over the next two decades, technologies converging at the nano-scale will have a greater impact on farmers and food than farm mechanisation or the Green Revolution. Most consumers and farmers are still unaware and have never been asked whether they want these changes to the food chain"

ETC's new report "Down on the Farm" dishes out some big surprises: A handful of food and nutrition products containing invisible and un-labeled nano-scale additives are already on supermarket shelves. In addition, a number of pesticides containing nano-scale materials have been released in the environment and are commercially available. Nanomaterials exhibit different properties than the same materials at larger scales "and scientists are now finding out that some nano-scale materials are more reactive and mobile if they enter the body. Only a handful of toxicological studies exist. Because of these concerns, ETC Group believes that the use of new, nano-scale materials must be guided by the Precautionary Principle. "By allowing nanotech food and agricultural products to come to market in the absence of public debate and regulatory oversight, governments and industry may be igniting a new and more intense debate, this time over 'atomically-modified' food and farming," adds Jim Thomas, ETC Group Programme Manager based in Oxford, UK.

Most of the world's largest food and drink corporations, including Unilever, Nestlé and Kraft, are conducting research and development (R&D) on nano-scale technologies to engineer, process, package and deliver food and nutrients. Major agribusiness firms, such as Syngenta, BASF, Bayer and Monsanto are reformulating their pesticides at the nano-scale to make them more biologically active and to win new monopoly patents. Down on the Farm examines a wide range of current R&D, ranging from atomically-modified seeds, nano-sensors for precision agriculture, plants engineered to produce metal nanoparticles, nano-vaccines for farmed fish, nano-barcodes for tracking and controlling food products, and more.

Last month the US Patent and Trademark Office established a new classification for nanotechnology patents, notes ETC Group. "It's ironic that a company can win a monopoly patent because their nano-scale product is recognised as novel, but food and safety regulators have yet to acknowledge the novelty of the nano-scale" notes ETC Researcher, Kathy Jo Wetter in North Carolina.

Down on the Farm: The Impact of Nano-Scale Technologies on Food and Agriculture is now available on the ETC Group web site: http://www.etcgroup.org

For more information:

Jim Thomas jim@etcgroup.org ETC Group ? Oxford, UK phone: +44 1865 201719 mobile: +44 7752 106806.

Hope Shand: hope@etcgroup.org Kathy Jo Wetter: kjo@etcgroup.org ETC Group - North Carolina, USA phone: 1-919 960-5223

Silvia Ribeiro: silvia@etcgroup.org ETC Group - Mexico City phone: +52 5555 6326 64 mobile: +52 5526 5333 30

7. German farmers to be liable for GM contamination

New Scientist, 11/26/04
The German parliament has passed a controversial legal amendment that will protect farmers who grow conventional crops from any contamination by genetically modified versions.

The decision by the Bundestag on Friday means that GM farmers will be financially liable for any economic damage caused if their crops contaminate neighbouring non-GM products. The amendment now has to pass through the Bundesrat, the chamber of the federal states. The process is likely to be completed by the end of 2004.

The ruling obliges farmers of GM produce to take precautionary action to prevent "material negative effect" from their GM crops on neighbouring non-GM crops. For example, GM farmers should lay down minimum distances between fields.

A negative financial effect would include a situation, for example, where a conventional farmer was obliged to label their produce as "genetically modified" owing to cross-contamination. Under European Commission legislation, any produce which contains more than 0.9% GM material must be labelled as GM produce.

Certified organic farmers unable to label their produce as organic could also claim. The change in law will additionally demand a site register of where all GM crops are grown, as well as a compensation scheme.

"Biological experiment"

Environmentalists welcomed the law. "This law is good news for hundreds of millions of Europeans who do not wish to participate in the biggest biological experiment of our time and who want to eat food that is GM-free," says Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth Europe. "This law should now be the benchmark for similar legislation in other EU member states."

But some farmers were unhappy with the move, with the German farmer's union, DBV, expressing its "regret."

"The consequences of the law will be that research and development [of GM crops] are neglected, which are necessary to assess in an impartial way the advantages and disadvantages of this green genetic technology," it says.

"This will have catastrophic consequences," says Heinrich Cuypers, managing director of BioConValley, a federation of north German biotech companies. "It will set the use of biotechnology in agriculture back years," he told the UK's Financial Times newspaper.

The new law also introduces the idea of joint and several liability where it is not clear which farm caused contamination if several neighbouring farms cultivate GM crops. "A farmer who has sustained damage will be free to decide which neighbour to claim compensation from," states the amendment.

Shaoni Bhattacharya