Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?

Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?
Scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops. That restriction must end
By The Editors | August 13, 2009 | 37

Advances in agricultural technology—including, but not limited to, the genetic modification of food crops—have made fields more productive than ever. Farmers grow more crops and feed more people using less land. They are able to use fewer pesticides and to reduce the amount of tilling that leads to erosion. And within the next two years, agritech com­panies plan to introduce advanced crops that are designed to survive heat waves and droughts, resilient characteristics that will become increasingly important in a world marked by a changing climate.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.

To purchase genetically modified seeds, a customer must sign an agreement that limits what can be done with them. (If you have installed software recently, you will recognize the concept of the end-user agreement.) Agreements are considered necessary to protect a company’s intellectual property, and they justifiably preclude the replication of the genetic enhancements that make the seeds unique. But agritech companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta go further. For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.

Research on genetically modified seeds is still published, of course. But only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering. “It is important to understand that it is not always simply a matter of blanket denial of all research requests, which is bad enough,” wrote Elson J. Shields, an entomologist at Cornell University, in a letter to an official at the Environmental Protection Agency​ (the body tasked with regulating the environmental consequences of genetically modified crops), “but selective denials and permissions based on industry perceptions of how ‘friendly’ or ‘hostile’ a particular scientist may be toward [seed-enhancement] technology.”

Shields is the spokesperson for a group of 24 corn insect scientists that opposes these practices. Because the scientists rely on the cooperation of the companies for their research—they must, after all, gain access to the seeds for studies—most have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. The group has submitted a statement to the EPA protesting that “as a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the tech­nol­ogy.”

It would be chilling enough if any other type of company were able to prevent independent researchers from testing its wares and reporting what they find—imagine car companies trying to quash head-to-head model comparisons done by Consumer Reports, for example. But when scientists are prevented from examining the raw ingredients in our nation’s food supply or from testing the plant material that covers a large portion of the country’s agricultural land, the restrictions on free inquiry become dangerous.

Although we appreciate the need to protect the intellectual property rights that have spurred the investments into research and development that have led to agritech’s successes, we also believe food safety and environmental protection depend on making plant products available to regular scientific scrutiny. Agricultural technology companies should therefore immediately remove the restriction on research from their end-user agreements. Going forward, the EPA should also require, as a condition of approving the sale of new seeds, that independent researchers have unfettered access to all products currently on the market. The agricultural revolution is too important to keep locked behind closed doors.

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, “A Seedy Practice.”

Environmental risk assessment of genetically modified plants – concepts and controversies

Angelika Hilbeck, Matthias Meier, Jörg Römbke, Stephan Jänsch, Hanka Teichmann, Beatrix Tappeser

Background and purpose: In Europe, the EU Directive 2001/18/EC lays out the main provisions of environmental
risk assessment (ERA) of genetically modified (GM) organisms that are interpreted very differently by different
stakeholders. The purpose of this paper is to: (a) describe the current implementation of ERA of GM plants in the
EU and its scientific shortcomings, (b) present an improved ERA concept through the integration of a previously
developed selection procedure for identification of non-target testing organisms into the ERA framework as laid
out in the EU Directive 2001/18/EC and its supplement material (Commission Decision 2002/623/EC), (c) describe
the activities to be carried out in each component of the ERA and (d) propose a hierarchical testing scheme. Lastly,
we illustrate the outcomes for three different crop case examples.
Main features: Implementation of the current ERA concept of GM cropsintheEUisbasedonaninterpretationofthe
EU regulations that focuses almost exclusively on the isolated bacteria-produced novel proteins with little consideration othe whole plant. Therefore, testing procedures for the effect assessment of GM plants on non-target organisms largely
follow the ecotoxicological testing strategy developed for pesticides. This presumes that any potential adverse effect of
the whole GM plant and the plant-produced novel compound can be extrapolated from testing of the isolated bacteriaproduced
novel compound or can be detected in agronomic field trials. This has led to persisting scientific criticism.
Results: Based on the EU ERA framework, we present an improved ERA concept that is system oriented with the
GM plant at the centre and integrates a procedure for selection of testing organisms that do occur in the receiving
environment. We also propose a hierarchical testing scheme from laboratory studies to field trials and we illustrate
the outcomes for three different crop case examples.
Conclusions and recommendations: Our proposed concept can alleviate a number of deficits identified in the
current approach to ERA of GM plants. It allows the ERA to be tailored to the GM plant case and the receiving

How many gene traits can a seed have?

Sukhdeep Kaur Tags : genetically modified maize, SmartStax, Farm Progress Show, agri biotech company Posted: Fri Sep 09 2011, 01:26 hrs Decatur, Illinois:

At Springfields in the state of Illinois of the United States, the corn fields this year seem to be staring at a possible drought. In nearby Monmouth, field trials are on for drought-resistant corn. It will be the ninth trait after SmartStax, the genetically modified (GM) maize that has eight GM traits ‘stacked’ together — six for insect resistance and two for herbicide tolerance.
As food demand soars with the growing world population, the debate at the Farm Progress Show at Decatur in the US last week hinged on how many gene traits can a seed possibly possess in the times to come. Interestingly, amid the big machines that crop and harvest 1,000 to 10,000-acre US farms, the corporates were betting big on smallest amongst all that goes into farming — the seed.

As per the forecast of world’s biggest agri-biotech company, Monsanto, which has invested USD 1.2 billion last year on research in GM crops in 29 countries across the globe, by 2030 its GM corn may have more than 20 gene traits.

“In addition to the existing eight traits for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance, there may be a dozen other gene traits for improving yield, nitrogen use, nutritional value and next generation insect control,” said the chief technology officer of Monsanto, Dr Robb Fraley at the show.
Also in the pipeline are new gene traits in other major crop, soyabean. The new products promise weed control, zero-transfats and fungal resistance besides ensuring more beans per plant and more beans per pod. The other thrust areas for the corporates are cotton and vegetables.

The case for GM was once again argued on the basis of food security challenge.

“By 2011, there will be 7 billion people on the planet. But only 20 per cent of the world’s land is used to grow crops. The world’s population is growing by one per cent each year and food demand by 1.8 per cent. How do we grow all that food? The answer lies at the intersection of multiple technologies such as plant breeding, biotechnology and better agronomic practices,” Dr Farley said.

The Indian scene

India is among the top five countries in terms of GM crop acreage along with the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and China. India’s first and only commercialised GM crop so far is Bt cotton. Monsanto is currently holding field trials for its second crop in India, GM corn, in Gujarat. The other state that allowed field trials was Haryana but sowing in the 2011 kharif season could not take place as approval came late. After trials, commercial approval will be sought.

Other than Monsanto, agriculture genetics MNCs in the regulatory process are Dow Agrosciences for insect-resistant cotton and insect-resistant corn, Bayer for insect-resistant rice, Pioneer (DuPont) and Syngenta for insect-resistant and herbicide tolerant corn. Biotech research is also underway in many crops, both in private and public sector laboratories in India.

The Indian Regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), had in June this year cleared applications and had since directed the companies to first get a no objection certificate from respective state governments for field trials before they get a final approval.

While states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana have already granted approval for field trials of many of these seeds, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar have either denied or deferred decision on GM crops.

But the state approvals will not be required after the Biotech Regulatory Authority of India, a five-member body, comes into place. The BRAI bill, likely to be tabled in Parliament next session, is being awaited by the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group, a consortium of biotech companies as it will provide them a single window clearance. Currently, biotech companies have to get approvals from agriculture, environment and science and technology ministries.

‘Not in public interest’

Several agriculture groups say GM crops are not in national and public interest. “Currently, over 93 per cent of Bt cotton seed is controlled by Monsanto in India. We need to first address the issue whether Bt crops are needed, when non-pesticide management is already giving us good yields as witnessed in Andhra Pradesh. The argument that it cuts pesticide use has been disproved in a study conducted in Gujarat that found pesticide use going up in Bt cotton. We have to look at long-term solutions to depletion of productive resources besides addressing concerns of biodiversity and biosafety. We tried to present our views on the BRAI bill to the government in 2008 but the subsequent versions are getting worse. It is clearly aimed at making things easier for biotech companies by bulldozing resistance,” says Kavitha Kuruganti, national convenor, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, a network of 400 farmers and consumer groups.

Karuganti argues that even at biotech hubs in US such as Illinois, farmers are facing herbicide resistance in the form of “superweed”. “It would be foolish for India not to learn lessons, “ she adds.

(The writer was on a Monsanto-sponsored tour to the Farm Progress Show at Decatur, Illinois)

GM Feed Toxic, New Meta-Analysis Confirms

A meta-analysis on 19 studies confirms kidney and liver toxicity in rats and mice fed on GM soybean and maize, representing more than 80 percent of all commercially available GM food; it also exposes gross inadequacies of current risk assessment Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji

Courtesy: Institute of Science in Soceity

A team of independent scientists led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at Caen University in France carried out a meta-analysis combining the results of 19 previous studies [1] (for complete report, and their report concluded: “From the regulatory tests performed today, it is unacceptable to submit 500 million Europeans and several billions of consumers worldwide to the new pesticide GM-derived foods or feed, this being done without more controls (if any) than the only 3-month-long toxicological tests and using only one mammalian species, especially since there is growing evidence of concern.”

Multiple organ abnormalities revealed on re-analysis

The nineteen feeding studies performed to date were performed by both industry and independent scientists on either Bt maize or RR soybean, which constitute 83 percent of commercially available GM food. The Bt maize varieties all contain a specific pesticidal protein from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), one variety was also glufosinate herbicide tolerant; the RR soybean is tolerant to Roundup Ready (glyphosate) herbicide. The data were re-analysed with new biological and statistical methods, including the meta-analysis. Meta-analyses allow a more objective appraisal of the evidence and provide a more precise estimate of a treatment effect, giving greater statistical power, and reducing the significance of false-positive or false-negative results.

Although none of the findings are new, the meta-analysis gives further strength to the previous evidence. Importantly, it found that nine percent of tested parameters were disrupted, which is almost double the five percent that could be obtained by chance alone.

Forty-three percent of significant abnormalities were found in the kidneys of males. The liver was more affected in females and the kidney was more affected in males.

Kidney pathology in animals fed RR soybean included significant ionic disturbances resulting from renal leakage. This is consistent with results from cell cultures treated with glyphosate [2] (see [3] Death by multiple poisoningglyphosate and Roundup, SiS 42), suggesting that the presence of the herbicide in the GM food was responsible.

Rats fed Bt maize had significantly decreased kidney size as well as focal inflammation. This was acknowledged by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) even though they went on to approve the products.

Liver pathology of animals fed RR soybean included the development of irregular hepatocyte nuclei, more nuclear pores, numerous small fibrillar centres, and abundant dense fibrillar components, indicating increased metabolic rates. These features were consistent with previous findings in cell cultures treated with herbicides [4].

GM maize-fed animals showed significant abnormal blood protein levels, indicative of disturbed liver metabolism. Histopathological features were also found in some cases. Again, this was acknowledged by the EFSA.

EFSA risk assessment totally inadequate

Current risk assessment of GM foods is based on the ‘substantial equivalence’ concept, where the genetically modified food is deemed equivalent to other products already consumed with regards to components such as fats and oils, carbohydrates and proteins, in which the GMO can be compared, not to the non-GM variety from which it was created, but to an arbitrary combination of conventional varieties or produce. This practice has been thoroughly criticised since the beginning (see [5] The Principle of Substantial equivalence is Unscientific and Arbitary, ISIS scientific publication).

On that already shaky basis, animal feeding experiments are not always required for regulatory tests, and those that have been performed have been analysed with very dubious methods.

Feeding experiments by Monsanto deeply flawed

While studies carried out by independent scientists all reported significant effects due to GM-feeding, those carried out by Monsanto on MON863, MON810 (both Bt maize lines), and NK603 (glyphosate-tolerant soybean line) reported no evidence of toxicity. The results were kept confidential by Monsanto and the EFSA, until Séralini and his colleagues gained access to the raw data through court action, and found the experiments deeply flawed at every stage, from experimental design to data analysis and interpretation.

Statistical power was greatly reduced by the small number of animals in GM-treated groups, while unmatched groups on 7 different diets were inappropriately included as controls. The findings lack generality as only one species (rat) was used, and tests were performed just once for each GM line. The trials lasted at most 90 days, which is insufficient to pick up chronic effects. No developmental, carcinogenic, reproductive, multi-generational or endocrine parameters were tested. Only two doses of GM foods were used, making it inadequate for detecting dose-dependent effects.

The statistical methods for analysing the data were inadequate, and EFSA had suggested a revision of the methods, highlighting current inadequacies in risk assessment. Statistical comparisons of GM-fed animals to ‘historical’ control groups from previous unreferenced studies were sometimes used instead of control groups from the same study, thereby introducing large variations that hide actual treatment effects. Séralini’s team re-analysed the data comparing treated groups to the closest control group, as is standard scientific practice.

Significant effects were often ignored by Monsanto, and were only taken into account if seen across both sexes. This is unjustified as sex differences are expected for certain pathologies including endocrine-related disturbances, carcinogenesis and liver and kidney abnormalities. As is the case with non-diabetic renal disease, females show protective effects compared with males [6]. Monsanto dismissed differences that were not dose-dependent, but their experimental design precluded the detection of such effects.

Correlations between significant effects were required by Monsanto for accepting disturbances, even though many of them are not expected until long after the beginning of GM-feeding. For example, in the MON863 study, Monsanto noted anatomic signs of “chronic progressive nephropathy” on GM-fed male rats’ kidneys. However, they stated that this was normal in aging rats, even though they were only 5 months old, and these signs were not reported in similar aged rats used for the MON810 and NK603 studies. The animal tissues in question are not available for independent re-analysis as they belong to Monsanto.

There was no assessment of the chemical composition of food. The food was not analysed with regards to herbicides, pesticides or genetic modification, making it impossible to determine whether it was the pesticide/herbicide or the genetic modification that caused the toxicity.

Séralini and his colleagues also suggested that bias of interpretation could be expected as all the studies were performed by the very industry that was hoping to get their product onto the market.

Proposals to improve risk assessment studies for GM foods

With millions of people being subjected to GM foods, Séralini and his colleagues said, more thorough experiments are necessary.

One suggestion is the toxotest approach for chronic environmental, as well as reproductive and developmental effects. They last two years, are multigenerational, and include testing pregnant females, adding information on endocrine, carcinogenic, neural and hormonal dysfunctions. The existing 90-day trials on adult animals cannot match the sensitivity of these developmental tests on neonates. Developmental parameters such as disturbances in genomic imprinting, which determines whether maternal or paternal copy of the gene is expressed, may not be apparent until the second generation. Such abnormalities have been observed with endocrine disrupters such as bisphenol A and estrogenic compounds [7, 8] and are important unanswered questions with regards to GM foods.

Toxotests should also be performed on three animal species (same species as used in pesticide studies), with three doses of GM diet of 11, 22 and 33 percent. These should then be compared to control GM-free diets with equal sample size that are genetically identical, or as similar as possible to the GM lines. To deduce whether the toxic effects are due to herbicides or the genetic modification itself, it would be more informative to feed animals with GM foods both treated and untreated with herbicides. Lastly, statistical experimental design needs to be improved.

Post-market monitoring of GM diets on the human population should be employed to deduce unexpected effects such as allergenicity.  Blood samples could be banked and screened for antibodies against the transgene and its products. For such human studies, the labelling of all GM products is necessary.

Finally, all raw data from industry studies must be made publicly available so they can be objectively scrutinised and analysed.

To conclude

Current risk-assessment studies are inadequate in detecting and acknowledging the toxicity of GM food consumption. Previous independent studies have clearly indicated the hazards of GM crops to human health, with widespread pathologies including birth defects and spontaneous abortions; (see for example [9] EU regulators Regulators and Monstanto Exposed for Hiding Glyphosate ToxicitySiS 51) infertility, stunting and sudden deaths (see [10] GM Soya Fed Rats: Stunted, Dead, or SterileSiS 33); immune reactions and allergenicity, (see [11] More Illnesses Linked to Bt CropsSiS  30), and as highlighted here, kidney and liver toxicity.  This review provides clear improvements to current study designs that need to be upheld by industry as well as the EU government.


1. Séralini G-E, Mesnage R, Clair E, Gress S,Vendômois J, Cellier D. Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements. 2011. Environmental Sciences Europe, 23, 10-20

2. Benachour N and Séralini G-E. 2009. Glyphosate formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental CellsChemical Research. Toxicology, 22, 97–105

3. Ho MW and Cherry B. Death by multiple poisoningglyphosate and RoundupScience in Society 42, 14, 2009

4. Malatesta M, Perdoni F, Santin G, Battistelli S, Muller S, Biggiogera M. 2008. Hepatoma tissue culture (HTC) cells as a model for investigating the effects of low concentrations of herbicide on cell structure and function.  Toxicology In Vitro, 22, 1853-1860

5. Ho MW and Steinbrecher R. Fatal flaws in food safety assessment: critique of the joint FAO/WHO biotechnology and food safety report.Environmental & Nutritional Interactions 1998, 2, 51-84.

6.  Cherney DZ, Sochett EB and Miller JA. 2005. Gender differences in renal responses to hyperglycemia and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibition in diabetes. Kidney International, 68, 1722–1728

7. Braun JM, Yolton K, Dietrich KN, Hornung R, Ye X, Calafat AM, Lanphear BP. 2009. Prenatal bisphenol A exposure and early childhood behavior.Environmental Health Perspectives, 117, 1945-1952

8. Anway MD, Cupp AS, Uzumcu M, Skinner MK. 2005. Epigenetic transgenerational actions of endocrine disruptors and male fertility. Science, 308, 1466-1469

9. Sirinathsinghji E and Ho MW. EU regulators Regulators and Monstanto Exposed for Hiding Glyphosate Toxicity. Science in Society 51, 46-48, 2011

10. Ho MW. GM Soya Fed Rats: Stunted, Dead, or Sterile. Science in Society 33, 4-6, 2007

11. Ho MW More illnesses linked to GM crops. Science in Society 30, 8-10, 2006

There are 5 comments on this article so far. Add your comment
David R.(Canada) Comment left 5th September 2011 22:10:08
Suddenly,two of my favourites; liver and onions or steak and kidney pie do not sound very appetizing!
Caroline Senter Comment left 6th September 2011 09:09:03
I very much hope that this study will be reported in the broadsheets since it potentially affects us all. I find it particularly disturbing that the EFSA has not carried out robust independent studies on GM toxicity and published them, since it should be protecting the health of society.
Evelyn Ransley Comment left 6th September 2011 17:05:49
About time for the truth to come out. Please keep it going to hopefully put a stop to all this nonsense.
Jose Bulatao, Jr. Comment left 6th September 2011 16:04:46
Even if there were robust independent studies on GM toxicity published and distributed, protecting the health of society (in the United States) must also include some major paradigm shifts in Congressional intestinal fortitude to legislate the laws and regulations to enforce effective and prohibitive measures that will safeguard our food supply.
Peter Brenton Comment left 8th September 2011 20:08:10
This should be circulated to all health and safety departments throughout the country so they understand what illegally non-labelled GM soya oil used in the majority of food establishments might be doing to the customer amd why it should be banned.Also all those using GM animal feed suppliers .

Approvals for GM crop field-trials run into delays


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Companies are mandated to conduct field-trials before they get final approvals to market their biotech agri-product locally
Companies are mandated to conduct field-trials before they get final approvals to market their biotech agri-product locally

More than 100 applications pile-up




Over the last few months, there has been a pile-up of more than 100 applications seeking regulatory approvals to conduct field-trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had, in June, directed industry applicants to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from respective State Governments before undertaking open field trials.

Companies are mandated to conduct field-trials before they get final approvals to market their biotech agri-product locally.

With several States taking time to give an NOC, there has been a pile-up of over 100 applications at State Agriculture Ministries, said Mr V.R. Kaundinya, Chairman of the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises – Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG).

There have been a few approvals from States such as Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana, but others like Karnataka and Bihar have indicated they would not give approvals, he told Business Line.

Other States where companies have applied for field trials and are awaiting approvals include Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

In fact, the agri-biotech industry has sought a meeting with the new Environment Minister, Ms Jayanthi Natrajan, seeking clarity on this and other issues facing the industry.

Timely approvals are necessary “to generate reliable data about the efficacy, safety and agronomic performance of the product without losing one year”, the Association had said, in an earlier letter to former Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh.

The Government needs to spell out clearly its position on GM products, instead of changing the eligibility criteria after agri-companies have invested in research and field-trials, says an industry representative, concerned about the delay.

Mr Kaundinya said the delays hurt domestic companies more, as they do not have deep pockets like the multinationals. The delay also upsets the company’s cycle for an entire year, as the seed company would have missed the kharif period (in the monsoons), he added.

The applications for both kharif and rabi (winter) season trials were for maize, cotton, and rice made by companies including Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Overseas Corporation, Bayer and Dow AgroSciences.

New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

Submitted by Kevin Hansen on August 26, 2011 – 17:48

Although I am not really surprised, the scope of official US government effort to promote Monsanto’s products is really astounding.


New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

Original Link:

Thursday 25 August 2011 by: Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report

Dozens of United States diplomatic cables released in the latest WikiLeaks dump on Wednesday reveal new details of the US effort to push foreign governments to approve genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont.

The cables further confirm previous Truthout reports on the diplomatic pressure the US has put on Spain and France, two countries with powerful anti-GE crop movements, to speed up their biotech approval process and quell anti-GE sentiment within the European Union (EU).

Several cables describe “biotechnology outreach programs” in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials.

Truthout recently reported on front groups supported by the US government, philanthropic foundations and companies like Monsanto that are working to introduce pro-biotechnology policy initiatives and GE crops in developing African countries, and several cables released this week confirm that American diplomats have promoted biotech agriculture to countries like Tunisia, South Africa and Mozambique. Cables detail US efforts to influence the biotech policies of developed countries such as Egypt and Turkey, but France continues to stand out as a high-profile target.

In a 2007 cable, the US embassy in Paris reported on a meeting among US diplomats and representatives from Monsanto, DuPont and Dow-Agro-sciences. The companies were concerned about a movement of French farmers, who were vandalizing GE crop farms at the time, and suggested diplomatic angles for speeding up EU approvals of GE Crops.

In 2008 cable describing a “rancorous” debate within the French Parliament over proposed biotech legislation, Craig Stapleton, the former US ambassador to France under the Bush administration, included an update on MON-810, a Monsanto corn variety banned in France. Stapleton wrote that French officials “expect retaliation via the World Trade Organization” for upholding the ban on MON-810 and stalling the French GE crop approval process.

“There is nothing to be gained in France from delaying retaliation,” Stapleton wrote.

Tough regulations and bans on GE crops can deal hefty blows to US exports. About 94 percent of soybeans, 72 percent of corn and 73 percent of the cotton grown in the US now use GE-tolerate herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup, according to the US Agriculture Department.

A 2007 cable, for example, reports that the French ban on MON-810 could cost the US $30 million to $50 million in exports. In a 2007 cable obtained by Truthout in January, Stapleton threatened “moving to retaliate” against France for banning MON-810. Several other European countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, have also placed bans on MON-810 in recent years. MON-810 is engineered to excrete the Bt toxin, which kills some insect pests.

New GM Crop Sparks Concerns about the Negative Effects of Biofuels

Farmers in the United States are growing the first genetically modified plants grown specifically for putting for fuel rather than producing food.

However, the new GM corn has been met by a barrage of criticism, namely by aid organisations that warn the crop, by diverting more corn into energy production, could worsen the global food crisis – exposed as a significant issue by the famine in Somalia.

Also in opposition of the new corn is the food industry as, not only is it unsuitable for the manufacture that commonly uses corn, but many farmers are concerned about cross-contamination into crops used for human consumption.

The genetically modified corn is being grown on a 5,000 acre site on the edge of America’s “corn belt” in Kansas. It has been developed by the Swiss pesticide company, Syngenta.

Gene Speeds Production of Ethanol

The corn contains an added gene, which speeds up the breakdown of starch into ethanol and therefore produces more ethanol to be put in fuel tanks.

The development of biofuels have been blamed for pushing up the price of food across the globe. The World Bank has reported that food prices are today close to their peak in 2008, and that highly priced food has contributed to the famine in Somalia.

“The temptation to look at food as another form of fuel to use for the energy crisis will exacerbate the food crisis,” says Todd Post from the anti-hunger charity, Bread for the World.

Corn ethanol production has enjoyed a five-year boom, but amidst concerns of the negative effect biofuel production is having on drought and famine in Africa, and with the US debt crisis and the $1.3 trillion in budget cuts forcing Congress to re-think three decades of government subsidies for corn ethanol, this boom could be coming to an abrupt end.

Whilst campaigners increasingly argue that turning corn into ethanol is not environmentally sound and, according to the World Bank, it has also driven up the price of food worldwide, limiting the production of corn ethanol would surely have a negative effect in helping the United States reduce its consumption of fossil fuels.

The fuel sold at petrol stations across America contains 10% ethanol, and, according to a study by environmental scientists in Freese, by 2020, corn energy will displace 7% of the energy supplied by oil.

Oil Reserves Will Not Last Forever

Many oil analysts agree that the world’s conventional oil production will peak sometime between now and 2020. Charles T. Maxwell, the senior energy strategist of C.J Lawrence Inc, wrote:

“Our country’s leaders have three main choices: Taking over someone else’s oil fields until they are depleted; carrying on until the lights go out and Americans are freezing in the dark; or changing our life style by energy conservation while heavily investing in alternative energy sources at higher costs.”

The global demand for cars is accelerating and therefore so is the demand for oil. World demand for conventional oil is outstripping world supply.

In May of this year, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi told parliament, “We have to look for our own fuel to advert the crisis.”

The viable alternative is of course biofuel, which, according to Dr Bernard Muok, Director of Programmes at the African Center of Technology Studies, could help steer Kenya’s economic growth to ‘unimaginable heights’.

“We have relied so much on oil. A lot of money has been used trying to drill oil with no success. If this money was converted to production of biofuel, we could be talking of other things by now; not a fuel crisis,” said DrMuok.

No More Money for Subsidies

Instead of channelling money into increasing the production of ethanol crops, faced with a $1.3 trillion budget cut, Congress is expected to end $6 billion in subsidies directed to the oil companies that incorporate ethanol in their products.

As revolutions in the Middle East reduces the production of petroleum, the world’s demand for biofuel is greater than ever.

In 2006, former President Clinton described of a vision of a future world without the solutions that biotechnology could bring was bleak, painting a picture of islands sinking in a rising ocean, fertile land turning to dust and more people going hungry.

Now, faced with $1.3 trillion in spending cuts, the former President’s vision appears closer to becoming a reality than ever before.

Classic Crop Breeding Outperforms Genetic Engineering

The Cornucopia Institute

August 3rd, 2011


        By 2050, the world will have to feed 9 billion people, adapt to climate change, reduce agricultural pollution and protect fresh water supplies – all at the same time.  Given that formidable challenge, what are the quickest, most cost-effective ways to develop more productive, drought-, flood- and pest-resistant crops?

        Some will claim that genetically engineered, or GE, crops are the solution.  But when compared side-by-side, classical plant breeding bests genetic engineering.  Coupled with ecologically based management methods that reduce the environmental harm of crop production, classical breeding could go a long way toward producing the food we will need by mid-century.

        Producing better crops faster certainly would help the world feed itself, but genetic engineering has no advantage on that score.  Not only can classical breeding programs introduce new varieties about as fast as genetic engineering, technical improvements are making classical practices even faster.

        Early steps in the genetic engineering process avoid the multiple rounds of cross-breeding inherent in classical plant breeding by directly inserting engineered genes into the crop.  But seed companies then use classical breeding to transfer engineered genes to the crop’s numerous varieties for different markets and climates – and that takes time.  And just as in classical breeding, new engineered varieties must be tested in the field for several years to ensure they perform as expected.

        Second, GE crops are significantly more expensive to develop. Industry estimates of the cost of developing a single GE trait are in excess of $100 million.  By contrast, a classical breeding program for similar traits typically costs about $1 million.  Most of the cost differential is attributable to GE crops’ research and development requirements, which include DNA synthesizers and sequencers and other expensive equipment, in addition to classical breeding facilities.

        Genetic engineering might be worth the extra cost if classical breeding were unable to impart such desirable traits as drought-, flood- and pest-resistance, and fertilizer efficiency.  But in case after case, classical breeding is delivering the goods.

        Plant breeders have already produced drought-tolerant varieties of sorghum, corn, rice, cassava and pearl millet – all critical for poor farmers in developing countries. Genetic engineering, meanwhile, has yet to commercialize its first drought-tolerant crop varieties.

        Scientists using classical breeding enhanced with genomic information – a process called marker-assisted breeding – also have produced rice varieties that can tolerate flooding.  These varieties, now cultivated in the Philippines, Bangladesh and India, are expected to increase food security for 70 million of the world’s poorest people.

        Classical breeders likewise have developed papaya resistant to ringspot virus and corn that can fend off destructive rootworms – traits previously touted as requiring genetic engineering.     And in Uganda, scientists have successfully bred sweet potatoes to resist virus diseases, while a multimillion-dollar, multi-year project in Kenya to genetically engineer similar virus resistance failed.

        Finally, classical breeding and better farm management are responsible for all the yield increases for soybeans and most of the yield increases for corn in the United States. Recent yield increases are often erroneously attributed to genetic engineering, but data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and academic scientists show that even during the past 15 years that GE crops have been commercialized, classical breeding and crop management improvements contributed the large majority of the increases, not the newly inserted genes.

        So if the conventional wisdom is wrong, and classical breeding is superior, what does that mean for public policy?

        Federal and state governments should dramatically increase their support for tried-and-true, cost-effective classical breeding technology – including better funding for breeding programs at public universities and nonprofit institutes where breeders can work with farmers to develop a wider range of farmer-ready crop varieties.  Big biotech companies do not focus on small-acreage crops, which include most fruits and vegetables.  Nor do they market many classically improved varieties without including their patented engineered traits, which doesn’t help farmers who don’t want to pay the high prices biotech companies charge for them.

        We are not suggesting that genetic engineering has no role to play in developing improved crops.  But its modest contributions come with an extremely high price tag.  If we are going to meet the challenges of feeding a growing population and protecting the environment, the scientific evidence says we place our bets on technology that works – classical breeding.

Margaret Mellon is the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program. Doug Gurian-Sherman is a senior scientist in the program.


GM crop wing to tighten conflict of interest norms

NEW DELHI: The environment ministry’s GM crop assessment arm decided to strengthen the rules on conflict of interest in its last meeting on July 6, ensuring that members on board the genetic engineering appraisal committee do not sit on meetings where their family members are involved in projects.

The move came after TOI reported on a case in West Bengal where a GEAC member, Swapan K Datta, influenced the decision in favour of his wife Karabi Datta and got clearance for trials of GM rice to be conducted by her as faculty with the botany department of Calcutta University.

The GEAC also held a separate meeting to review the decision, this time with Datta, who is also the deputy director general at Indian Council for Agricultural Research, recusing himself.

But it decided not to withdraw the clearance given to Karabi’s project and stuck to its decision taken under Swapan Datta’s advice.

The meeting also concluded that no trials would be allowed without approval from state governments where the tests are to be carried out. The decision came after Bihar and Madhya Pradesh objected to trials being held in their states without their permission or knowledge. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had agreed with the state chief ministers on this. Recently, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee too had ordered a moratorium on all testing of GM crops till a committee set up by the state took a view on the matter.

The committee also took up the issue of alleged violations of safety norms by Monsanto during trials of GM corn in Karnataka, highlighted by Greenpeace and other civil society groups. The committee has asked the state government to carry out an inspection and send a report.

How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations

Gaëtan Vanloqueren∗, Philippe V. Baret
Earth and Life Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium
Agricultural science and technology (S&T) is under great scrutiny. Reorientation towards more holistic
approaches, including agroecology, has recently been backed by a global international assessment of
agriculture S&T for development (IAASTD). Understanding the past and current trends of agricultural
S&T is crucial if such recommendations are to be implemented. This paper shows how the concepts of
technological paradigms and trajectories can help analyse the agricultural S&T landscape and dynamics.
Genetic engineering and agroecology can be usefully analysed as two different technological paradigms,
even though they have not been equally successful in influencing agricultural research. We used a Systems
of Innovation (SI) approach to identify the determinants of innovation (the factors that influence
research choices) within agricultural research systems. The influence of each determinant is systematically
described (e.g. funding priorities, scientists’ cognitive and cultural routines etc.). As a result of their
interactions, these determinants construct a technological regime and a lock-in situation that hinders
the development of agroecological engineering. Issues linked to breaking out of this lock-in situation are
finally discussed.