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Archive for the ‘Genetic Engineering’ Category

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!

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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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By: The Center For Food Safety

Original URL:
http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/1881/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5452

Last week the Center for Food Safety filed a formal legal petition with FDA demanding that the agency require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The petition was the result of many months of legal work and raises several arguments showing why FDA must change its current policy and require labeling. Now, we are spearheading a drive with over 350 other organizations and businesses in the Just Label It! Campaign, to direct one million comments to the FDA in support of our petition.

Unsuspecting consumers by the tens of millions are being allowed to purchase and consume unlabeled genetically engineered foods, despite the fact that FDA undertakes no testing of its own, instead relying only on a voluntary consultation with industry and confidential industry data to assure safety. Internal FDA documents discovered in prior CFS litigation actually indicated the foods could pose serious risks, but those views were overruled.

Currently, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered, as are 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). According to industry, up to 95% of sugar beets are now GE, although the decision to commercialize GE sugar is currently under legal challenge by CFS. It has been estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Genetically engineered foods are required to be labeled in the 15 European Union nations, Russia, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries around the world. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require labeling of GE food!

In America, we pride ourselves on having choices and making informed decisions. Under current FDA regulations, we don’t have that choice when it comes to GE ingredients in the foods we purchase and feed our families. In fact, a recent poll released by ABC News found that 93 percent of the American public wants the federal government to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. As ABC News stated, “Such near-unanimity in public opinion is rare.”

Americans have been asking Congress to pass a labeling law for more than 10 years, to no avail. It’s time to take the fight back to FDA—bigger and louder than ever before.

Please send your comment to FDA in support of CFS’s petition and to President Obama in support of mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods!

Click on the Original URL at the top of this article and support us now!

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by Clare Leschin-Hoar

29 Sep 2011 7:45 AM

Isaac WedinAquaBounty Technology’s genetically modified salmon just got a hefty financial boost from the USDA: On Monday, the agency awarded the Massachusetts-based company $494,000 to study technologies that would render the genetically tweaked fish sterile. This would reduce the likelihood they could reproduce with wild salmon, should any escape into the wild — a scenario that has many environmentalists concerned.

The Atlantic salmon, which is branded with the name AquAdvantage, has been genetically altered with a growth-hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and a “genetic on-switch” gene from an ocean pout that will allow the fish to grow all year round, reaching market size much faster than traditional salmon.

In mid-2010, AquaBounty’s salmon appeared to be on the fast-track for approval by the FDA, which would have made it the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption. But the process has since been stalled. Lawmakers in states like California and Alaska have been actively introducing legislation that requires the fish to be labeled as a GMO product or to prohibit its production entirely. Then, this June, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit the FDA from using funds for approval of the salmon.

The same bill the House voted on (an Agriculture Appropriations amendment) is currently stalled in the Senate. Now the USDA grant is raising eyebrows. Upon FDA approval, the company would sell salmon eggs to aquaculture operations looking to farm the fish. The majority of farmed salmon are raised in open-net ocean pens, a practice environmentalists have condemned for years because of escapement, pollution, and disease. So it’s no surprise that the issue of reproductive ability is being closely scrutinized.

The FDA released a Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee report in September 2010 saying, “we have reason to believe that the population of triploid, all-female AquAdvantage Salmon will be effectively sterile,” and AquaBounty’s own website promotes the sterility of the fish. In an email to Grist, however, Ronald L. Stotish, CEO and president of AquaBounty acknowledged that their technology is not yet 100-percent effective — thus the need for the FDA funding.

Stotish says AquAdvantage Salmon are currently rendered sterile by a “pressure treatment process that has been validated to 99.8-percent effectiveness.” The fish are also all female, and will be raised in physical containment. “Because the company realizes that our detractors do not respond to reason and science,” added Stotish, “we are developing a genetics-based process that will allow us to breed 100 percent sterile offspring. That is 100 percent sterile, guaranteed.”

That certainly sounds responsible, but GMO salmon fact sheet released in June by the advocacy group Food and Water Watch suggests that the numbers may not be so airtight. According to their research, which cites an environmental assessment from the FDA briefing packet on AquAdvantage salmon, “up to 5 percent of these fish may be fertile.”

But even Stotish’s .2 percent number worries Ocean Conservancy director George Leonard, as a handful of escaped fish every year could make a big difference over time. “If AquaBounty hasn’t yet figured out how to make the salmon fully sterile, then they shouldn’t be applying to the FDA to deploy the fish,” he says. “Let’s fix the problem first, not after the salmon get out.”

Colin O’Neil, regulatory policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, an environmental advocacy group focused on genetic engineering, says this is the first time they’ve heard of the USDA being involved with the genetically engineered fish.

“If the FDA was so assured of the scientific merits of this application, they would have approved it by now,” he says. “The mere fact that it has taken this long tells me that the jury is still out.”

The grant comes on the heels of the company’s interim report released on Friday, which announced a net loss of $2.8 million, and a reduction of three board members. In other words, it’s clear that AquaBounty is under the gun to roll out their business and begin “literally own[ing] salmon farming,” as Paul Greenburg put it in a recent article.

Stotish says the delays in approval are because of groups who have “intimidated regulators with threats of lawsuits” and “misled the public ” He adds that the company remains optimistic that congress will will not shrink from what he calls “their commitment to science-based regulation,” and that it will “stand up to the pressure from the anti-technology groups.”

According to O’Neil, however, a great deal of the scientific community is actually weighing in on the side of caution. “It would be reckless for the FDA to approve genetically engineered salmon given the large number of environmental, human health, animal welfare and economic risks that have been raised by scientists, members of Congress and members of the FDA’s own Advisory Committee,” he says.
Clare Leschin-Hoar covers fishing and sustainable seafood. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, Scientific American, Eating Well, and many more. In May, she was selected as a 2011 Seafood Champion by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2011–The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded eight research grants to study the agricultural effects of genetic engineering. The projects support the development of science for regulatory decisions and other USDA policies and programs related to biotechnology. USDA awarded the grants through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

“All types of agriculture – conventional, organic and genetically-engineered – play important roles in our agricultural system,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting NIFA director. “These grants will help inform sound, science-based decisions.”

USDA awarded the grants through the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) program, which was established in 1992. In addition to supporting research that assists federal regulatory decision-making, the BRAG program also supports conferences that bring together scientists, regulators and other stakeholders to review assessment data.

BRAG funding supports research in the following areas: identifying and developing practices to minimize risks associated with genetically engineered organisms; developing methods to monitor the dispersal of genetically engineered organisms; increasing knowledge about the characteristics, rates and methods of gene transfer that may occur between genetically engineered organisms and related wild and domesticated organisms; and providing analysis which compares impacts of organisms modified through genetic engineering to other types of production systems.

NIFA awarded $4 million for projects in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington. Project highlights include:

A project in Washington to examine the flow of pollen between “Roundup Ready” genetically-engineered alfalfa and conventional and organic varieties

A project in North Carolina to investigate the potential risks of releasing the transgenic New World screwworm fly Cochliomyia hominivorax in the United States, Mexico and South America

A project in Connecticut to study pollen flow in perennial grasses intended for biofuel use, such as switchgrass and miscanthus

A full list of awardees can be found online at:www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2011news/brag_awards.html

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is available at: http://www.nifa.usda.gov.

Media Contact: Scott Elliott, (202) 720-7185

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).

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You Don’t Have to Stand Alone Against Genetically Engineered Food (GMOs)!

Together Let’s Demand GMO Labeling Now!

Join the GMO Right2Know March Oct 1-16, 2011

Most Americans agree we have a right to know what’s in our food, and a right to choose safe, healthy food for our families and ourselves. And yet 80% of the packaged foods in America contain Genetically Engineered ingredients that have not been proven safe, and are not labeled!

Between October 1st and October 16th of this year, marchers from all across the country will be walking from New York City to the White House, in Washington DC, demanding labeling of all Genetically Engineered Foods, in what has come to be called the GMO Right2Know march. Come walk with us – step-by-step we will take back our Right to Know!

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) endanger our health, the environment, and our farmer’s livelihoods. For too long, biotechnology companies like Monsanto have lobbied against labeling products containing their patented plants – plants which are specially designed to be sprayed with cancer-causing weed-killers, and plants which produce pesticides in every one of their cells.

The GMO Right2Know March is the first of it’s kind in America, and will have daily events between its kickoff in New York City and its finale at the White House, in Washington, DC. Come for the knowledgeable speakers, fun presentations, camping, and much, much more! Now is your chance to make your voice heard. We will win back our Right to Know what’s in our food – one step at a time!

Sign up, bring a group, and join the Right2Know community! We are looking for walkers, bikers, drivers, volunteers, cheerleaders, hosts, and any other supporters out there!

Join us as we march from New York City to the White House in Washington DC from October 1 – October 16, 2011 for this historic march.

Why Get Involved?

These recent actions have created momentum to rally for the right to know about GMOs:

The decisions by the USDA to approve genetically modified Round-Up Ready™alfalfa seeds to be grown without restrictions.
The court decision to hold Bayer responsible for the LibertyLink contamination of rice.
The pre-emptive action by organic farmers and seed sellers to sue Monsanto for protection from patents on genetically
modified seed.
The growth of the U.S. organic industry to $28.6 billion in 2010
The participation of hundreds of companies in the Non-GMO Project Grassroots organizing of the March 26th Right to Know Rallies and the response of 68,478 letters to Congress asking for GMO Labeling.

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Published on Monday, August 29, 2011 by The Wall Street Journal

Monsanto Corn Plant Losing Bug Resistance
by Scott Kilman
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/08/29-4

Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in a few Iowa fields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop.

Corn earworm larva feasting on a corn ear. Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann’s discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto’s corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields.
The discovery raises concerns that the way some farmers are using biotech crops could spawn superbugs.

Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann’s discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto’s corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields.

“These are isolated cases, and it isn’t clear how widespread the problem will become,” said Dr. Gassmann in an interview. “But it is an early warning that management practices need to change.”

The finding adds fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto andSyngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.

Monsanto said its rootworm-resistant corn seed lines are working as it expected “on more than 99% of the acres planted with this technology” and that it is too early to know what the Iowa State University study means for farmers.

The discovery comes amid a debate about whether the genetically modified crops that now saturate the Farm Belt are changing how some farmers operate in undesirable ways.

These insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops make farming so much easier that many growers rely heavily on the technology, violating a basic tenet of pest management, which warns that using one method year after year gives more opportunity for pests to adapt.

Monsanto is already at the center of this issue because of its success since the 1990s marketing seeds that grow into crops that can survive exposure to its Roundup herbicide, a glyphosate-based chemical known for its ability to kill almost anything green.

These seeds made it so convenient for farmers to spray Roundup that many farmers stopped using other weedkillers. As a result, say many scientists, superweeds immune to Roundup have spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the South and Midwest.

Monsanto became the first company to sell rootworm-resistant biotech corn to farmers in 2003. The seed contains a gene from a common soil microorganism called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, from which crop biotechnology has been used to mine several genes for making insecticidal proteins.

One of the genes Monsanto developed makes a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1. It rips apart the gut of the rootworm but is harmless to mammals, birds and most beneficial insects. Competitors, which use other Bt genes to attack the rootworm, estimate that roughly one-third of the corn grown in the U.S. carries Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 gene.

Monsanto said it generated world-wide sales of $4.26 billion from corn seed and biotechnology traits, about 40% of its overall sales, in its last full year.

Until insecticide-producing corn plants arrived, Midwest farmers typically tried to keep pests like the corn borer and the rootworm in check by changing what they grew in a field each year, often rotating between corn and soybeans. That way, the offspring of corn-loving insects would starve the next year.

Some farmers began to plant corn in the same field year after year. The financial incentive to grow corn has increased in recent years in part because the ethanol-fuel industry’s exploding appetite for corn has helped to lift prices to very profitable levels for growers.

According to Dr. Gassmann, the Iowa fields in which he found rootworms resistant to the Cry3Bb1 toxin had been producing Monsanto’s Bt-expressing corn continuously for at least three years. Dr. Gassmann collected rootworm beetles from four Iowa cornfields with plant damage in 2009. Their larvae were then fed corn containing Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 toxin. They had a survival rate three times that of control larvae that ate the same corn.

Dr. Gassmann found that Monsanto’s Bt toxin still had some lethal impact on the larvae from the problem Iowa fields, and that the bugs were still highly susceptible to a rootworm-resistant corn plant from a competitor that uses a different Bt toxin, called Cry34/35Ab1.

Scientists in other Farm Belt states are also looking for signs that Monsanto’s Bt corn might be losing its effectiveness. Mike Gray, a University of Illinois entomologist, said he is studying rootworm beetles he collected in northwest Illinois earlier this month from fields where Monsanto’s Bt-expressing corn had suffered extensive rootworm damage.

The government requires that farmers who plant the genetically modified corn take certain steps aimed at preventing insects from developing resistance. Farmers are told to create a refuge for the bugs by planting non-modified corn in part of their fields. The refuge, which can be as much as 20% of a farmer’s field, is supposed to reduce the chances that two toxin-resistant bugs mate and pass along that trait to their offspring.

Dr. Gray said the confirmation of toxin-resistant rootworms in Iowa could force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revisit its policy of allowing the size of these insect refuges to shrink to as little as 5% of a cornfield as crop biotechnology companies begin to sell seed for corn plants that can make two different rootworm-killing toxins.

Part of what has attracted some farmers to Monsanto’s new SmartStax corn line is that it allows them to plant a smaller refuge. But one of the two anti-rootworm toxins in that variety is the Cry3Bb1 protein at the center of Dr. Gassmann’s study.

The EPA said it is too early to comment on any implications arising from Dr. Gassmann’s paper.

© 2011 The Wall Street Journal

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