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by DAN CHARLES
NPR
December 5,2011

Hidden in the soil of Illinois and Iowa, a new generation of insect larvae appears to be munching happily on the roots of genetically engineered corn, according to scientists. It’s bad news for corn farmers, who paid extra money for this line of corn, counting on the power of its inserted genes to kill those pests. It’s also bad news for the biotech company Monsanto, which inserted the larvae-killing gene in the first place.

In fact, the gene’s apparent failure, as reported in the journal PLoS One, may be the most serious threat to a genetically modified crop in the U.S. since farmers first started growing them 15 years ago. The economic impact could be “huge,” says the University of Arizona’s Bruce Tabashnik, one of the country’s top experts on the adaptation of insects to genetically engineered crops. Billions of dollars are at stake.

The story of how this happened is long and complicated, but the details are important, so let’s start at the beginning.

Almost the entire agricultural biotech industry has been built on just two genetic traits, and our story involves one of them.

The gene (actually a family of genes) in this story — the first pillar of the industry — was copied from an insect-killing bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. In the 1980s, scientists managed to insert a Bt gene into plants, and voila, the plant cells started manufacturing the same worm-killing toxin as the bacteria. (The other big gene for the agricultural biotech industry allows a plant to survive doses of the popular herbicide glyphosate, widely known by Monsanto’s trade name, Roundup.)

So-called Bt corn went on sale in the late 1990s. It has been astonishingly effective against the European corn borer, a common pest.

But from the beginning, scientists worried that biotech companies were overusing Bt and increasing the chances that it would eventually stop working. Why? The key word is resistance.

The more widely you spray any insecticide, the more likely you are to uncover and promote the growth of a new strain of insects that’s resistant to your insect killer. It has happened with one insecticide after another over the decades. Eventually, scientists said, the same thing would happen to a crop that carries its own insecticide. Covering fields with Bt crops would lead to a strain of insects that the crops didn’t kill.

So university researchers and federal regulators came up with a strategy to preserve Bt’s effectiveness. First of all, they said Bt crops (mainly corn and cotton) should be extremely effective. Ideally, they would kill 99.99 percent of all the target insects that fed on them.

And for those rare insects that survived, regulators came up with a second line of defense, to prevent resistant insects from mating and producing lots of resistant offspring. Farmers who grew Bt corn (or cotton) were required to grow non-Bt crops on some of their farm, as a “refuge” for normal insects. That way, the rare, surviving, resistant insects would probably find non-resistant mates, instead of each other, and their offspring still would (likely) be killed by the Bt corn.

To the surprise of some environmentalists, the strategy has worked. There’s no evidence that the European corn borer has evolved resistance to the Bt toxin. The same goes for some insects that feed on cotton, such as the pink bollworm — at least in the United States.

Continue Reading »

 

Tell the National Organic Standards Board to Reject Martek’s Petition for Life’sDHA and Life’sARA!
Organic Consumer’s Association
December 1, 2011

In 2009, a front page Washington Post article, “Integrity of Federal ‘Organic’ Label Questioned.” explained how Martek Biosciences’ synthetic DHA and ARA ended up in organic infant formula. In 2006, National Organic Program staff told Martek that its synthetic DHA and ARA couldn’t be used in organic because they were synthetic and not on the National List. But, Martek’s lawyer, J. Friedman, was able to get their decision reversed by NOP director Barbara Robinson, with just a call and an email. He told the Washington Post, “I called Robinson up, I wrote an e-mail. It was a simple matter.”

This might be how the 1% get things done in Washington, but it sure isn’t legal!

The National Organic Program is trying to remedy this situation by requiring Martek to formally ask permission to use its DHA and AHA in organic.

But Martek’s products should never have even been considered for use in organic in the first place. According to patents uncovered by the Cornucopia Institute, all of Martek’s DHA and ARA products are produced through genetic engineering and processed with solvents like hexane, two things that are expressly banned from USDA Organic.

The Cornucopia Institute also found documents submitted by Martek to the FDA, in which the company claimed their DHA was just like Monsanto’s. A Martek representative clarified that its DHA was not developed by Monsanto, but that Monsanto did briefly own the technology before it reverted back to Martek.

Martek’s patents for Life’sDHA states: “includes mutant organisms” and “recombinant organisms”, (a.k.a. GMOs!) The patents explain that the oil is “extracted readily with an effective amount of solvent … a preferred solvent is hexane.”

Continue Reading »

California is poised to be the first state with mandatory GMO labeling laws through the 2012 California Ballot Initiative process.

The Organic Consumers Association is beginning to collect signatures. They need 504, 760 signatures to get on the ballot- if you’d like to get involved, go to:

http://organicconsumersfund.org/label/

Thanks!


By JIM SUHR AP Business Writer
ST. LOUIS November 14, 2011 (AP)

Carolyn Anderson likes to chat up the growers at her local farmers market in Missouri, at times hanging out behind the beds of pickup trucks brimming with ears of corn.

For Anderson, 29, it’s all about keeping it “local.” And there’s fresh evidence of just how big of a deal that word can mean for farmers’ finances.

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of “local foods,” whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That’s a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.

While there’s plenty of evidence local food sales have been growing, it has been hard to say by how much because governments, companies, consumers and food markets disagree on what qualifies as local. The USDA report included sales to intermediaries, such as local grocers and restaurants, as well as directly to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands and the like.

It found that farm sales to people like Anderson have just about doubled in the past two decades, from about $650 million, adjusted for inflation, in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion these days. The much bigger, $4.8 billion figure came when sales to local restaurants, retailers and regional food distributors were added in.

“Think of it as expanding what the picture looks like,” said Stephen Vogel, who helped do the study for the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. “What this report does is say, ‘Look, this market is bigger than you thought.’”

But the report also puts the local food movement in context. It’s dominated by fruit and vegetable growers. While only 5 percent of U.S. farms sell their products in local and regional markets, 40 percent of vegetable, fruit and nut farms do.

Consumers tend to assume that the produce they are buying at these markets are fresher, made with fewer chemicals and grown by smaller, less corporate farms. That may be true in some cases and not in others.

“Local” also doesn’t necessarily mean “organic,” a label that carries strict requirements for growers and is overseen by the Agriculture Department. But the word still carries plenty of cache with consumers like Anderson, a farmer’s granddaughter who sees shopping at the farmers market in Kansas City, Mo., as a ripe opportunity to get to know the growers and what went into the stuff they’re selling.

“Especially on a beautiful day, you’re chatting with them about their livelihood — I enjoy that experience as well as the food that comes out of it,” she said.

The number of farms selling directly to consumers has grown, from an estimated 86,000 in the early 1990s to about 136,000 now, according to the USDA. And the number of farmers markets has about doubled, from 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009.

Paul Gnaedinger has raised everything from organic corn and soybeans to wheat and rye on his organic farm near Pocahontas, Ill. Lately, he’s turned to grass-fed beef.

He sells regionally and wasn’t surprised in the growth in local food sales, chalking it up to consumers becoming more savvy in their purchases — and perhaps a bit greener, knowing that shorter shipping distances may lower the carbon footprint and the chances of contamination in transport.

“I don’t want to say they’re not trusting of other food sources,” said Gnaedinger, 53, who also works as a nurse. “They do tell me they don’t want to buy something in Colorado one day, then see it shipped to California before it’s shipped here.

“There’s real demand in the market for people wanting to know where their food is coming from, that it’s going through local channels.”

On his 1,800 acres near Friesland, Wis., Larry Alsum, 58, grows several varieties of potatoes that he sells mostly to grocers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He also handles wholesale distribution for farmers who grow everything from cabbage to sweet corn, squash, cucumbers and peppers.

He says his operation has blossomed into a $50 million business — roughly double what it was a decade or so ago — with a focus on locally grown food. Perhaps only one in five consumers actually cares what that means, he said, but it’s more than did just a few years ago.

“As the cost of oil and gasoline continue to rise, there are going to me more opportunities for locally grown,” he predicted. “And that just gives us a built-in advantage in marketing.”

California Ballot Initiative to Require Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods Submitted to Attorney General

Wide-Ranging Coalition Seeks to Secure Initiative on November 2012 Ballot
LabelGMOs.org and Coalition Partners, Posted Nov 10, 2011

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, a wide-ranging coalition of consumer, public health and environmental organizations, food companies, and individuals submitted the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act to the State Attorney General. The initiative requires genetically engineered foods (also known as Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs) and foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly labeled, similar to current labels with other nutritional information.

A genetically engineered food is usually a plant or animal that has had its DNA altered at the molecular level in a lab to include genes that produce foreign compounds from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. This genetic alteration is not found in nature and cannot occur naturally. Californians currently unknowingly are eating many different genetically engineered foods, because these foods are not required to be labeled.

” Genetic engineering adds completely new elements into our food. Because the FDA has failed to require labeling of GMO food, this initiative closes a critical loophole in food labeling law. It will allow Californians to choose what they buy and eat and will allow health professionals to track any potential adverse health impacts of these foods.” says Andy Kimbrell, Director of the Center for Food Safety. “Genetically engineering food can cause unintended consequences and because there have been no long term studies, we are unsure of how GMOs may affect our health.”

Manipulating genes in a lab is imprecise and unpredictable and the results aren’t always controllable. Genetically engineering food can create new, unexpected toxicants, increase allergies, lower nutrition, and create other health risks. The two most common genetically engineered traits are the expression of an insecticide in “Bt Corn” and the expression of a compound in “Roundup Ready Soy” which enables high doses of Monsanto’s Roundup® weed killer to be sprayed while the plant survives. A genetically engineered salmon with genes from an eel that doubles growth rate is likely to be approved for sale soon in the US.

“Californians have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our children,” says Robyn O’Brien, author and founder of the Allergy Kids Foundation. “I support labeling genetically engineered foods because allergy-sensitive people can exercise caution with essential information to make informed decisions about what they eat.”

Fifty countries including the European Union and Japan have laws mandating that genetically engineered foods be labeled, but the United States does not have such a requirement. Public opinion polls indicate that over 90 percent of California voters support the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Efforts to enact labeling laws in Congress and the California legislature have been blocked by big food and chemical company lobbyists. This measure will take the issue directly to the people to decide whether genetically engineered foods should be labeled.

The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act was carefully and specifically written to avoid any unnecessary burden or cost to consumers or producers. California voters are expected to have the chance to vote on the initiative in November 2012.

Thanks to the hard work of you, The Just Label it Campaign, and more than 450 partner businesses and organizations from across the nation, more than 300,000 comments have been submitted to the FDA in support of labeling genetically engineered food.

Three hundred thousand is a great start, but we have a long way to go. It’s time to build on the great momentum we’ve created. Our efforts are working and it’s not too late for those who haven’t taken action to still get involved. Just leave your comment at Just Label It today!

LA Times, 9/20/2011

The agribusiness giant already has quietly stepped into the marketplace with vegetables grown from its seeds. The goal is to use its technology to create produce that tastes better and plants that yield more product, while letting farmers use fewer resources.

Monsanto aims to dominate today’s $3-billion global market for produce seeds, much as it already has done with corn and soybeans. Above, Martin Stoecker, a corn scientist at Monsanto, walks along rows of biotech corn inside a greenhouse at the company’s research facilities in Chesterfield, Mo. (P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times / August 4, 2011)

Reporting from Creve Coeur, Mo.

Monsanto Co., whose genetically modified corn and soybeans have reshaped America’s heartland and rallied a nation of fast-food foes, wants to revolutionize the produce aisle.

The agribusiness giant already has quietly stepped into the marketplace with produce grown from its seeds.

Grocery customers in California and elsewhere are chopping its onions that produce fewer tears, stir-frying its broccoli that decreases cholesterol and biting into tiny orange tomatoes that last longer on the shelf.

Soon, people will be thumping melons bred to be a single serving and shucking sweet corn genetically modified to enable farmers to spray the fields with the company’s weed killer, Roundup.

To do this, it’s marrying conventional breeding methods with its vast technological resources to bring about changes in fruits and vegetables in months or years, rather than in decades.

Monsanto’s goal: to dominate today’s $3-billion global market for produce seeds, much as it already has done with corn and soybeans.

“This isn’t a hobby…. We’re serious about it,” said Monsanto Chief Executive Hugh Grant, who expects the company’s vegetable seed revenue to rival its $1.5-billion soybean business in the coming decade.

The move has raised the hackles of some environmental and organic farming groups that fear it will ultimately squeeze out smaller, independent vegetable seed firms.

They also worry that the company will use technology to introduce revolutionary new genes into vegetable plants, just as Monsanto scientists have done in corn, soybeans and cotton.

“Clearly, the company wants to keep its options open,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist with the food and environmental program at Union of Concerned Scientists. “But I think they understand it’s a dicey proposition to move into [genetically engineered] foods that are widely consumed, rather than foods that are highly processed or used as animal feed.”

Monsanto officials said the opportunities for growth in the vegetable seed market were too good to ignore. They said there were plenty of ways to use technology to design better-tasting vegetables, yet avoid the financial and consumer hurdles that would inevitably come with rolling out genetically engineered produce for a grocery store.

The amount of arable land worldwide is dwindling, while the world’s population is forecast to jump to more than 9 billion by 2050 from nearly 6.9 billion today. Shifts in weather patterns have caused recent slumps in key crops.

All this, in turn, has water-strapped countries eager to establish secure food supplies. Fast-growing economies, such as those in India and China, also are stepping up food imports to feed a burgeoning middle class.

Given these factors, Monsanto is making a multibillion-dollar bet that global farming conditions are going to get tougher and farmers are going to be hungry for their vegetable and fruit seeds.

Revenue from Monsanto’s vegetable seed business totaled $895 million for the company’s fiscal year that ended Aug. 31. That’s about 8% of its annual revenue, a figure the company hopes to grow steadily in coming years.

Monsanto moved aggressively into the vegetable business in 2005 when it bought seed powerhouse Seminis Inc. in Oxnard. Since then, it has acquired four other vegetable seed companies, opened 57 research centers worldwide and hired a slew of seed geneticists and agricultural researchers.

Today, Monsanto has about 4,000 employees — nearly a fifth of its 21,000 global labor force — working on its vegetable seed business worldwide.

It has nearly doubled the staff at its test farm and research greenhouses in Woodland, Calif., a farm community 18 miles west of Sacramento, where much of the company’s vegetable seed research happens.

Dozens of varieties of tomatoes, hot peppers and onions fill the 144-acre farm facility, where company researchers walk the fields each day, inspecting specimens and collecting samples to study under a microscope.

“A lot of technologies we’ve used for years are very applicable to vegetables,” said Marlin Edwards, chief technology officer for Monsanto’s vegetable seeds division, who is based in Northern California.

Monsanto is relying on a strategy similar to the one it tapped to dominate the world of commodity crops: Use technology to speed up the breeding process. The goal is to create produce that tastes better and plants that yield more product, while letting farmers use fewer resources.

Monsanto officials are quick to stress that they are not creating genetically modified crops. In its Roundup Ready soybeans, for example, Monsanto developed seedlings with genes from a soil bacterium to help the plant to survive being sprayed with its herbicide.

With vegetables, scientists are looking for answers in the same, or similar, varieties of plants. So a trait in one pepper, such as flavor, might be meshed with the DNA of another pepper. The technique has been helpful developing vegetable plants that can withstand certain pests, said Consuelo Madere, vice president of Monsanto’s global vegetable group.

Such techniques speed up the conventional breeding process, Madere said.

“Our researchers have found natural resistances in the DNA of wild-grown peppers,” Madere said. “So why not breed that resistance into the seed? You don’t need [biotech] for something that nature has already figured out.”

But some scientists say this is genetic modification — just a different type.

“What they really are doing is creating something where the probability is very low that it would have happened in nature without human intervention,” said R. Paul Thompson, director of graduate studies at the University of Toronto’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Although Monsanto has made billions of dollars selling biotech corn and soybeans, which are used in animal feed and processed food, it has generally shied away from investing in biotech products sold directly to consumers.

Part of the reason is simple economics. Biotech seeds typically take years to clear government regulatory systems in the U.S. and elsewhere before they are sold and sown. Non-biotech seeds can be brought to market faster.

Part of the reason, too, is to avoid the headaches of public controversy. The company ran into that problem in the 1990s and early 2000s with its NewLeaf potato.

The bio-engineered potato was developed to repel the Colorado potato beetle. But major French fry manufacturers and McDonald’s, which were worried about the public debate over whether biotech crops were safe, barred their growers from raising the genetically modified potatoes.

Monsanto ultimately shelved the product line.

Now the company is focused on its better-breeding approach.

Consumers now can buy Beneforte broccoli, which Monsanto claims has twice as much antioxidant benefit than typical broccoli varieties. There’s the company’s EverMild onion, which has lower sulfur levels and causes fewer tears when cut. And there’s the orange grape tomato, which is bred to be sweeter, with a lower acidity level and a richer fragrance than conventional grape tomatoes on the market.

Monsanto, however, hasn’t completely ruled out the idea of genetically modified vegetables. After all, genetically engineered produce has already made some inroads into U.S. grocery stores.

The University of Hawaii’s genetically modified papaya, resistant to the papaya ringspot virus, has been growing and sold for years. Biotech giant Syngenta has been selling biotech sweet corn for nearly a decade.

Monsanto’s entry into biotech sweet corn will hit U.S. farm fields later this year. The company is waiting for regulatory approval for a variety of eggplant in India that is resistant to some insects.

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