The GMO Cover-Up

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was getting lots of appreciative applause and head nods from the packed hall at the Community Food Security Coalition conference today, held in Des Moines, Iowa. He described the USDA’s plans to improve school nutrition, support local food systems, and work with the Justice Department to review the impact of corporate agribusiness on small farmers. But then, with time for only one more question, I was handed the microphone.

“Mr. Secretary, may I ask a tough question on GMOs?”

He said yes.

“The American Academy of Environmental Medicine this year said that genetically modified foods, according to animal studies, are causally linked to accelerated aging, dysfunctional immune regulation, organ damage, gastrointestinal distress, and immune system damage. A study came out by the Union of Concerned Scientists confirming what we all know, that genetically modified crops, on average, reduce yield. A USDA report from 2006 showed that farmers don’t actually increase income from GMOs, but many actually lose income. And for the last several years, the United States has been forced to spend $3-$5 billion per year to prop up the prices of the GM crops no one wants.
“When you were appointed Secretary of Agriculture, many of our mutual friends—I live in Iowa and was proud to have you as our governor—assured me that you have an open mind and are very reasonable and forward thinking. And so I was very excited that you had taken this position as Secretary of Agriculture. And I’m wondering, have you ever heard this information? Where do you get your information about GMOs? And are you willing to take a delegation in D.C. to give you this hard evidence about how GMOs have actually failed us, that they’ve been put onto the market long before the science is ready, and it’s time to put it back into the laboratory until they’ve done their homework.”

Read entire article here.

Biotech industry wants organic farmers to pay for GMO contamination of their own crops

Thursday, November 29, 2012 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) committee dominated by representatives from the biotechnology industry, seed companies, and academia has decided to make an official recommendation to the public agency that organic farmers be forced to bear financially responsible for the genetic contamination of their own organic crops by genetically-modified (GM) crops.

The USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture, also known as AC21, is largely of the persuasion that agricultural coexistence means organic farmers should have to foot the bill when their fields are destroyed by unintentional GMO drift. According to an advisory report recently issued by the committee, this means requiring that organic farmers purchase their own crop insurance to pay for potential damages resulting from transgenic contamination.

“Of particular concern in the report is the recommendation that organic and non-GE conventional farmers pay to self-insure themselves against unwanted GE contamination,” said a recent statement issued by the National Organic Coalition (NOC). “This proposal allows USDA and the agricultural biotechnology industry to abdicate responsibility for preventing GE contamination while making the victims of GE pollution pay for damages resulting from transgenic contamination.”

Organic and conventional farmers have long had to deal with the threat of transgenic contamination from nearby GM crop fields, the pollen of which occasionally drifts or is carried by bees into organic crop fields. In the past, violated farmers have had to basically suck up their resultant losses, or even face litigation from the company whose seed materials trespassed onto their properties.

Real coexistence between GMOs, organic crops is impossible

The contamination issue has become so problematic in recent years that a number of industry groups have tried to pursue so-called coexistence measures that, in some sort of alternate universe, would allow GMOs, conventional crops, and organic crops to peacefully coexist in harmony with one another. But as anyone with any knowledge of GM crops already knows, it is virtually impossible to contain GMOs and prevent their eventual spread.

With this in mind, AC21 seems fully aware of the fact that GMO spread and contamination is inevitable. Its solution to the problem; however, is not to restrain GMOs in any way, but rather to set them free and leave it to organic farmers to clean up the mess. And this, of course, is the apparent position of the federal government as well, which continues to unleash new and unnecessary GMOs like Monsanto’s GM alfalfa into the wild without any concern for the irreversible damage this will cause.

“We urgently need meaningful regulatory change that institutionalizes mandatory GE contamination prevention practices,” added the NOC about the inherent failures of the committee proposal. “USDA needs to stop dragging its heels, get serious and focus on making this happen.”

 

Miriam DeShield answers Wilmot

— 01 November 2011 — by Miriam DeShield – Original post on Amadala

Dear Editor,
  
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to agro-business’ representative in Belize, Mr. Wilmot Simmons, corn seed salesman of Prosser Fertilizer and Agrotec Co., Ltd., the agent for Monsanto in Belize, the pioneer corn that was imported and destroyed, was developed and the life forms patented by Monsanto who then sold the patents to agri-business’ DuPont’s Pioneer.
  
Firstly, comparison of the use of Bt as a naturally occurring organic pesticide sprayed on visible pest insects, and Bt as the CRY1Fa2 gene inserted by particle acceleration is worth discussion.   
  
Though often hailed as a precise method, the final stage of placing the new gene is rather crude, lacking precision and predictability, hence the name bio-ballistics. The construct is literally fired with a gene gun at the genetic code of the material it will manipulate.
  
The new gene can end up anywhere, next to any gene and even within another gene, disturbing its function or regulation, which can actually turn on or turn off other genes in the region, to unknown effects.
  
An example is salmon, genetically engineered with a growth hormone gene, which grew too big too fast, and also turned green. Other effects have included an increase in the production of toxins by the organisms.
  
Make no mistake, the genetically Bt corn is a pesticide and should not be compared to organically grown maize sprayed with naturally occurring Bt.
  
Mr. Simmons’ claims that public statements made in the press were “wild” does not refute the research, studies and other authoritative documents of many scientists and environmentalists who caution against GMOs, the information Mr. Simmons refers to as “junk” science.
           
Contrary to industry claims, GM foods are not properly tested for human safety before they are released for sale. In the US, the country from whom this recent importation was made, safety assessment of GMOs is voluntary and not required by law. Monsanto should be presenting its research in peer-reviewed journals.
           
The animal feeding studies conducted by GM crop developers are short in duration and use too few subjects to reliably detect harmful effects. Mr. Simmons would do well to realize that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  
Studies on humans have not been done, but scientists are reporting a growing number of studies that examine the effect of GM foods on laboratory animals. These studies, which Monsanto goes to great lengths to discredit, are all reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They include problems with rats fed GM tomatoes, GM rape oilseed, GM potatoes, GM corn; mice fed GM soya, GM peas, GM corn, GM soya; and rabbits fed GM soya.
  
Long-term studies in livestock indicate that GM feed does have adverse effects. Liver and pancreas problems are found in sheep fed Bt GM corn over three generations; GM DNA is surviving processing which raises the possibility of antibiotic resistance and horizontal gene transfer.
  
GM DNA in feed is appearing in the milk and meat that people eat. In spite of these studies, GM crops that caused ill effects in experimental animals have been approved for commercialization.
  
While the industry conducts less than rigorous studies on its own GM products, it has systematically and persistently interfered with the ability of independent scientists to conduct more rigorous and incisive independent research on GMOs. 
  
Comparative and basic agronomic studies, assessments of safety and composition and assessments of environmental impact have all been restricted and suppressed by the biotechnology industry.
  
Patent rights are used to restrict access of independent researchers to commercialized GM seed. Permission to study patented GM crops is either withheld or made so difficult to obtain that research is blocked. The industry discredits and or muzzles scientists who do publish research that is critical of GM crops.
  
Aside from the possible ill effects on health with GMOs, we contend that genetically modified products do harm the environment. Farm scale trials sponsored by the UK government showed that herbicide resistant GM crops can reduce wildlife populations.
  
The massive conversion to GM soya in Argentina has caused a range of environmental problems, including problems for farmers in the spread of herbicide resistant weeds, soil depletion and increased pests and diseases. There is increasing worry that Bt insecticide producing Gm crops harm non-target populations, including butterflies and beneficial pest predators.
  
It is documented that Bt in GM crops can be toxic to water life and soil organisms.
  
While Mr. Simmons touts the benefits of GM products in greater yield, what he fails to acknowledge is the long recognized increase in production because of hybridization, a science which has been used for years. GM products are produced from proven hybrids with a long record of increased production.
  
What Mr. Simmons fails to tout are the real benefits of soil fertility and the fact that building soil has much longer positive effects on yields than does genetic modification. The USDA itself reports that after 30 years of GM “GE crops available for commercial use do not increase the yield potential of a variety.
  
In fact, yield may even decrease. Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative.
  
At best, GM crops have performed no better than their non-Gm counterparts, with GM soya giving consistently lower yields for over a decade. Field tests of Bt insecticide producing corn hybrids showed they took longer to reach maturity and produced up to 12% lower yields than their non-Gm counterpart.
           
Bt insecticide-producing GM crops have led to resistance in pests, resulting in rising chemical applications, thus negating the supposed benefits of GM technology. Secondary pests which are on the increase because of the absence of Bt vulnerable pests devastate Bt cotton.
  
In 2007, the first reports of field resistance by the stem borer to BT corn and by the sugarcane borer were published; however, the increase in resistance to GM crops relates mostly to resistance of weeds to Roundup in GM fields. Common Roundup resistant weeds include pigweed, ryegrass and marestall. Herbicides in the US are on the increase as a result.
           
Mr. Simmons’ lack of concern for organic, niche, and indigenous farmers over the issue of pollinization prompts a basic lesson in the birds and the bees. Besides those and other animals as nature’s pollinators, man causes contamination during product transportation.
  
   
I refer to the recent study of GM canola bordering the highways in Canada and the US where new, unpatented strains of GM canola are showing up as GM canola is mutating and cross-breeding.
  
A number of years ago a study attempted to use Mexican corn as a control and discovered that more than 1,000 miles away, Mexican corn had been contaminated by US GM corn.
  
It would be good of Mr. Simmons to acknowledge that the new technology he promotes puts at risk many Belizean farmers, valuable export markets and the health of all of us. He would be fair to admit that this technology has not been widely tested, is not approved in most developed nations and is openly rejected in much of the developing world.
  
To encourage the importation of a controversial, possibly harmful technology which will certainly impact trade, environment and most probably health, without full, open consultation, and without legal issues resolved is unwise at best, and likely foolish.
 
Miriam DeShield

 

The ‘Monsanto Rider’: Are Biotech Companies About to Gain Immunity from Federal Law?

The Secretary of Agriculture would be required to grant a permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, regardless of environmental impact.
July 6, 2012 | While many Americans were firing up barbecues and breaking out the sparklers to celebrate Independence Day, biotech industry executives were more likely chilling champagne to celebrate another kind of independence: immunity from federal law.

A so-called “Monsanto rider,” quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require – the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask, and the questionable crops could be released into the environment where they could potentially contaminate conventional or organic crops and, ultimately, the nation’s food supply.

Unless the Senate or a citizen’s army of farmers and consumers can stop them, the House of Representatives is likely to ram this dangerous rider through any day now.

In a statement issued last month, the Center For Food Safety had this to say about the biotech industry’s latest attempt to circumvent legal and regulatory safeguards:

Ceding broad and unprecedented powers to industry, the rider poses a direct threat to the authority of U.S. courts, jettisons the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) established oversight powers on key agriculture issues and puts the nation’s farmers and food supply at risk.

In other words, if this single line in the 90-page Agricultural Appropriations bill slips through, it’s Independence Day for the biotech industry.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has sponsored an amendment to kill the rider, whose official name is “the farmers assurance” provision. But even if DeFazio’s amendment makes it through the House vote, it still has to survive the Senate. Meanwhile, organizations like the Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, FoodDemocracyNow!, the Alliance for Natural Health USA and many others are gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures in protest of the rider, and in support of DeFazio’s amendment.

Will Congress do the right thing and keep what are arguably already-weak safeguards in place, to protect farmers and the environment? Or will industry win yet another fight in the battle to exert total control over our farms and food supply?

Biotech’s ‘Legislator of the Year’ behind the latest sneak attack

Whom do we have to thank for this sneak attack on USDA safeguards? The agricultural sub-committee chair Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) – who not coincidentally was voted “legislator of the year for 2011-2012” by none other than the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include Monsanto and DuPont. As reported by Mother Jones, the Biotechnology Industry Organization declared Kingston a “champion of America’s biotechnology industry” who has “helped to protect funding for programs essential to the survival of biotechnology companies across the United States.”

Kingston clearly isn’t interested in the survival of America’s farmers.

Aiding and abetting Kingston is John C. Greenwood, former US Congressman from Pennsylvania and now president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. No stranger to the inner workings of Congress, Greenwood lobbied for the “farmers assurance provision” in a June 13 letter to Congress, according to Mother Jones and Bloomberg, claiming that “a stream of lawsuits” have slowed approvals and “created uncertainties” for companies developing GE crops.

Greenwood was no doubt referring to several past lawsuits, including one brought in 2007 by the Center for Food safety challenging the legality of the USDA’s approval of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa. In that case, a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of GMO alfalfa violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of Roundup. The USDA was forced to undertake a four-year study of GMO alfalfa’s impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). During the four-year study, farmers were banned from planting or selling the crop – creating that ‘uncertainty” that Greenwood is so worried about.

The USDA study slowed down the release of GMO alfalfa, but ultimately couldn’t stop it. As Mother Jones reports, in 2011, the USDA deregulated the crop, even though according to its own study, the USDA said that “gene flow” between GM and non-GM alfalfa is “probable,” and threatens organic dairy producers and other users of non-GMO alfalfa, and that there is strong potential for the creation of Roundup-resistant “superweeds” that require ever-higher doses of Roundup and application of ever-more toxic herbicides. The report noted that two million acres of US farmland already harbor Roundup-resistant weeds caused by other Roundup Ready crops.

In another case – which perhaps paved the way for this latest provision now before the House – the USDA in 2011 outright defied a federal judge’s order to halt the planting of Monsanto’s controversial Roundup-Ready GMO sugar beets until it completed an Environmental Impact Statement. The USDA allowed farmers to continue planting the crop even while it was being assessed for safety on the grounds that there were no longer enough non-GMO seeds available to plant.

Who loses if Monsanto wins this one?

Among the biggest losers if Congress ignores the DeFazio amendment and passes the “farmers assurance provision” are thousands of farmers of conventional and organic crops, including those who rely on the export market for their livelihoods. An increasing number of global markets are requiring GMO-free agricultural products or, at the very least, enforcing strict GMO labeling laws. If this provision passes, it will allow unrestricted planting of potentially dangerous crops, exposing other safe and non-GMO crops to risk of contamination.

As we’ve seen in the past, farmers who grow crops that have been inadequately tested and later found dangerous, or whose safe crops become contaminated by nearby unsafe crops, risk huge losses and potentially, lawsuits from their customers. Ultimately, the entire US agriculture market and US economy suffers.

We have only to look back to the StarLink corn and LibertyLink rice contamination episodes for evidence of how misguided this provision is. In October 2000, traces of an Aventis GM corn called StarLink showed up in taco shells in the U.S. even though the corn had not been approved for human consumption because leading allergists were concerned it would cause food allergies. The contamination led to a massive billion dollar recall of over 300 food brands. The ‘StarLink’ gene also turned up unexpectedly in a second company’s corn and in US corn exports, causing a costly disruption to the nation’s grain-handling system, and spurring lawsuits by farmers whose crops were damaged.

A similar disaster occurred for US rice farmers in 2006. In august of that year the USDA announced that mutant DNA of Liberty Link, a genetically modified variety of rice developed by Bayer CropScience, a then-German agri-business giant, were found in commercially-grown long-grain rice in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri. LibertyLink rice, named for Bayer’s broad-spectrum herbicide glufosinate-ammonium, was never intended for human consumption. Following the announcement of contamination, Japan banned all long-grain rice imports from the U.S., and U.S. trade with the EU and other countries ground to a halt. Rice farmers and cooperatives were forced to engage in five long years of litigation against Bayer

CropScience in an attempt to recoup some of their losses.

All the other ways this provision is just plain bad

There’s a reason we have laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Plant Protection Act of 2000, which was specifically designed “to strengthen the safety net for agricultural producers by providing greater access to more affordable risk management tools and improved protection from production and income loss . . .”. The ‘farmers assurance provision” is a thinly disguised attempt by the biotech industry to undermine these protections. Worse yet, it’s an affront to everyone who believes the US judicial system exists to protect US citizens and public health.

Why should you be outraged about this provision? For all these reasons:

  • The Monsanto Rider is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Judicial review is an essential element of U.S. law, providing a critical and impartial check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods. Maintaining the clear-cut boundary of a Constitutionally-guaranteed separation of powers is essential to our government. This provision will blur that line.
  • Judicial review is a gateway, not a roadblock. Congress should be fully supportive of our nation’s independent judiciary. The ability of courts to review, evaluate and judge an issue that impacts public and environmental health is a strength, not a weakness, of our system. The loss of this fundamental safeguard could leave public health, the environment and livelihoods at risk.
  • It removes the “legal brakes” that prevent fraud and abuse. In recent years, federal courts have ruled that several USDA GE crop approvals violated the law and required further study of their health and environmental impact. These judgments indicated that continued planting would cause harm to the environment and/or farmers and ordered interim planting restrictions pending further USDA analysis and consideration. The Monsanto rider would prevent a federal court from putting in place court-ordered restrictions, even if the approval were fraudulent or involved bribery.
  • It’s unnecessary and duplicative. Every court dealing with these issues is supposed to carefully weigh the interests of all affected farmers and consumers, as is already required by law. No farmer has ever had his or her crops destroyed as a result. USDA already has working mechanisms in place to allow partial approvals, and the Department has used them, making this provision completely unnecessary.
  • It shuts out the USDA. The rider would not merely allow, it would compel the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately grant any requests for permits to allow continued planting and commercialization of an unlawfully approved GE crop. With this provision in place, USDA may not be able to prevent costly contamination episodes like Starlink or Liberty Link rice, which have already cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The rider would also make a mockery of USDA’s legally mandated review, transforming it into a ‘rubber stamp’ approval process.
  • It’s a back-door amendment of a statute. This rider, quietly tacked onto an appropriations bill, is in effect a substantial amendment to USDA’s governing statute for GE crops, the Plant Protection Act. If Congress feels the law needs to be changed, it should be done in a transparent manner by holding hearings, soliciting expert testimony and including full opportunity for public debate.

If we allow this “Monsanto Rider” to be slipped into the FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, consumers and farmers will lose what little control we have now over what we plant and what we eat.

If you would like to join the hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens who have already written to Congress in support of the DeFazio amendment, please sign our petition here.


Alexis Baden-Mayer is Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Ronnie Cummins is founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association. Cummins is author of numerous articles and books, including “Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers” (Second Revised Edition Marlowe & Company 2004).

Original Article