Green Genes



In 2000, activism by the Green Genes and others led to the enactment in Santa Cruz of the first county-wide punishable GMO crop law in the country.  The Green Genes Group continues the fight for food sovereignty and safety.


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With No Labeling, Few Realize They Are Eating Genetically Modified Foods

Some consumers are concerned that such foods may pose health risks and say manufacturers should be required to identify them for consumers


With no labeling, few realize they are eating genetically modified foods

Protesters demonstrate against GMOs in food at the Whole Foods Market on North Kingsbury Street in Chicago earlier this month. (Alex Garcia/Tribune)

By Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune reporter

10:28 p.m. CDT, May 24, 2011

When a team of activists wearing white hazmat suits showed up at a Chicago grocery store to protest the sale of genetically modified foods, they picked an unlikely target: Whole Foods Market.

Organic foods, by definition, can't knowingly contain genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs. But genetically modified corn, soy and other crops have become such common ingredients in processed foods that even one of the nation's top organic food retailers says it hasn't been able to avoid stocking some products that contain them.

"No one would guess that there are genetically engineered foods right here in Whole Foods," said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, which organized the protest. The activists dramatically trashed a battery of well-known health food brands outside the store, including Tofutti, Kashi and Boca Burgers.

Though people have been modifying foodstuffs through selective breeding and other methods for centuries, genetically modified crops differ in that the plants grow from seeds in which DNA splicing has been used to place genes from another source into a plant. In this way, the crop can be made to withstand a weed-killing pesticide, for example, or incorporate a bacterial toxin that can repel pests.

Some consumers are concerned that such changes may pose health risks and say manufacturers should be required to prove GMOs are safe for human consumption before putting them on the market. They also say products containing genetically modified ingredients should be identified for the consumer; the U.S. is one of the few industrialized nations that does not require such labeling or testing.

Industry representatives say that GMOs are safe and that labeling them is unnecessary, citing a 1992 statement from the FDA saying the agency had no reason to believe GMOs "differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way." No mainstream regulatory organization in the U.S. has opposed the introduction of GMOs.

"FDA has the scientific and nutrition expertise to establish food labeling and to assess food safety," said Ab Basu, the Biotechnology Industry Organization's acting executive vice president for food and agriculture. "You can look at the FDA website and see that if the corn is substantially equivalent to corn produced conventionally, there is no reason to label it as being any different."

Critics of the technology say they are concerned not only about possible health risks but also about soil and plant nutrient losses, contamination of non-GMO crops and increased pesticide use.

With an unprecedented number of genetically modified crops being greenlighted by the Obama administration in recent months amid public debate — including ethanol corn, alfalfa and sugar beets under certain conditions — some advocates say the issues may be reaching the awareness of consumers beyond the health-conscious shoppers who frequent Whole Foods.

They cite polls taken by the Pew Center, Consumers Union and Harris Interactive over the last decade that have consistently found the vast majority of Americans would like to see genetically modified foods better regulated and labeled.

"If companies say genetic engineering is fine, then OK let's label it and let the consumers make their own decisions," said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports. "That's what all the free market supporters say. So let's let the market work properly."

Michael Jacobsen, executive director for Center for Science in the Public Interest, which does not oppose GMOs, says many manufacturers see labeling as too risky. "No food company would use GMOs if they had to label them because there is no benefit to the companies," he said. "The term GMO has become a toxic term, and so if a company figures they will lose maybe 2 percent of their sales why should they? It's all loss for them."

In fact, a 2006 study for the Pew Initiative for Food and Biotechnology found that only 23 percent of women (the primary shopping decision makers) thought genetically modified foods were safe.

But knowledge on this topic also remains low. The same Pew study found that only 26 percent of American consumers believed they'd ever eaten genetically modified food, while a 2010 survey by the International Food Information Council reported that only 28 percent of respondents knew such foods were sold in stores.

Currently 14 states have introduced legislation on GMO labeling but most of it has not moved out of committee, including an Illinois bill introduced in February by Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago. She says she plans to reintroduce it next session. Only Alaska, with its huge wild salmon industry, has passed a biotech seafood labeling law.

On the issue of safety, both sides of the debate come armed with research. This year Spanish researchers published an overview of GMO food safety studies in Environment International, finding that peer-reviewed studies had found health risks and no health risks in roughly equal numbers. The paper notes, however, that many studies finding no risks were sponsored by the biotech industry or associates.

Canadian researchers this year reported that the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their umbilical cord blood samples contained a pesticide implanted in GMO corn by the biotech company Monsanto, though digestion is supposed to remove it from the body. "Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed," they wrote in Reproductive Toxicology.

As the biggest producer of GMO seeds and the compatible pesticide Roundup, Missouri-based Monsanto is at the heart of the GMO debate. Monsanto would not make a representative available for an interview but did offer a statement on the lack of long-term animal or human safety studies on genetically modified crops.

"Experts in the field of food safety are satisfied that (the current) approach is sufficient and reliable to assure the genetically modified crops are as safe as their conventional counterparts," the statement said. "This expert community does not see a need and thus does not recommend long-term tests in humans or animals in order to establish food safety."

While the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the sale and planting of genetically modified foods for 15 years, it has never required premarket safety evaluations of the foods.

"Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety," the FDA wrote in a statement to the Tribune, noting that manufacturers are encouraged to consult with the agency about their products.

Used in an estimated 70 percent of all American processed food, genetically modified crops make up 93 percent of all soy, 86 percent of all corn and 93 percent of all canola seeds planted in the U.S., which makes stocking only non-GMO products difficult, said Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market.

"Until there's federal government mandated labeling of GMO ingredients, there's no way to tell if packaged products contain GMO ingredients," Dickson said. "Our approach is to work in the spirit of partnership with our suppliers … to encourage them to take active steps to avoid GMO ingredients."

Basu notes that GMO crops have been embraced by farmers in many countries — although not in Japan, Europe or Britain — and cites an International Food Information Council study that found 68 percent of those surveyed believe that FDA's current labeling practices are sufficient.

"If you look at the adoption of biotech by over 24 countries and over 2 billion acres of biotech crops globally that have been grown in the last 15 years of commercialization, consumers are buying these products," he said.

Still, Nielsen announced last year that "non-GMO" was the fastest-growing health and wellness claim on store-brand foods in 2009, up by 67 percent from the previous year and representing $60.2 million in sales.

And 2010 brought a new "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal, offering third-party certification that less than 0.9 percent of the ingredients in the product came from genetically modified organisms. More than 4,000 products — including all Whole Foods store brands — have been enrolled in the program, according to executive director Megan Westgate.

Shoppers at Whole Foods last week were conflicted about whether the store should be selling genetically modified foods. But the majority said they were surprised to find it did.

"It's disappointing and disheartening. I feel like Whole Foods has established itself as a community for people who believe in healthy food and I feel like they embody that. So I would think that they would uphold standards and prevent foods like this from being sold here," said Melissa Hayes, of Chicago.

"But I don't think it's fair to just blame Whole Foods," she added. "I think it's equally important for the consumer to take an active role and find out information on GMOs and Monsanto. Every time you make a purchase it's a vote and people just need to be more conscious and aware."


Organic farmers sue Monsanto over GMO seeds

Info Source: The Watchers Website       Original Publish Date:  Apr 5 2011

A landmark lawsuit filed on March 29 in US federal court seeks to invalidate Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seeds and to prohibit the company from suing those whose crops become genetically contaminated.

The Public Patent Foundation filed suit on behalf of 270,000 people from sixty organic and sustainable businesses and trade associations, including thousands of certified-organic farmers. In Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, et al. (U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Case No. 11 CIV 2163), PUBPAT details the invalidity of any patent that poisons people and the environment, and that is not useful to society, two hallmarks of US patent law.

As Justice Story wrote in 1817, to be patentable, an invention must not be ‘injurious to the well being, good policy, or sound morals of society,’” notes the complaint in its opening paragraphs, citing Lowell v. Lewis.

The suit points to studies citing harm caused by Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, including human placental damage, lymphoma, myeloma, animal miscarriages, and other impacts on human health.

Plaintiffs condemn Monsanto for prohibiting independent research on its transgenic seeds and for its successful lobby efforts to ban GM food labeling. Many raise the specter of allergic reaction to GM foods, proof of which is hidden by lack of labeling. The suit also confronts the propaganda that transgenic seeds improve yield and reduce pesticide use, citing reports on failure to yield and increased pesticide use. The complaint mentions a 2010 lawsuit by West Virginia after several studies contradicted yield results claimed in Monsanto’s ads. And, it notes the growth in glyphosate-resistant superweeds.

Thus, since the harm of transgenic seed is known, and the promises of transgenic seed’s benefits are false, transgenic seed is not useful for society.

This means, should the court agree, that all transgenic seeds fail the test of patent law. The suit has the potential to reverse patent approval on all biotech seeds, impacting BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Dow, and Syngenta, and others. Genetic contamination of natural plants occurs where GM seeds are grown, no matter who developed them. Ingesting food which has had its DNA mucked with is dangerous, regardless of who does the mucking.

What makes Monsanto different is its US seed monopoly. Well documented by market authorities, Plaintiffs point out that, “Over 85-90% of all soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets and canola grown in the U.S. contains Monsanto’s patented genes.”

 Through its monopoly, Monsanto has spiked the cost of seeds. In the past decade, corn seed prices increased 135% and soybean prices 108%, the suit asserts. As recently as 1997, soybean farmers spent only 4-8% of their income on seeds, “while in 2009, farmers who planted transgenic soybeans spent 16.4 percent of their income on seeds.” Monsanto has also used its dominant position to limit competition from other herbicide producers, as well.

Listing 23 US patents by Monsanto, Plaintiffs also accuse the firm of “double patenting” thus strengthening its monopoly over the entire field of transgenic seeds:

Although the United States patent system allows improvements on existing inventions, it does not permit a party to extend its monopoly over a field of invention by receiving a patent that expires later than and is not patentably distinct from a patent it already owns….

 “Monsanto began applying for patents on glyphosate tolerance in the mid 1980s. Its first patents on the trait were granted in 1990 and are now expired. After pursuing its earliest patents on glyphosate resistance, Monsanto continued to seek and receive patents on Roundup Ready technology for over two decades….

The suit then concludes, “Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents are thus invalid for violating the prohibition against double patenting.

Here’s the mother of all arguments, which makes the most sense to the lay public. How dare Monsanto sue farmers damaged by genetic contamination of their crops? That’s like a pugilist suing for damage to his hand after he punches an unwilling victim.

 Plaintiffs cannot be held to have infringed any Monsanto transgenic seed patent if Plaintiffs become contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed through no intentional act of their own.

Monsanto admits [Note: Monsanto removed the link] that its product contaminates natural crops. That must be why it recently altered its Technology Stewardship Agreement to transfer liability for its products to the farmers who buy them.

The suit logically asserts that genetic contamination amounts to trespass on the property of those who do not want GE seeds, causing them substantial economic harm.

When Bayer’s transgenic seeds contaminated a third of the US rice supply it results causing the European Union to close its market to US rice. Bayer has faced 6,000 lawsuits due to that contamination and market closure. On top of lawsuits already lost or settled, last month, Bayer lost a $137 million lawsuit by Riceland Foods. The new suit notes that, “The worldwide total economic loss due to the [2006 GM rice] contamination event was estimated at $741 million to $1.285 billion.

The suit argues that because “contamination is reasonably foreseeable,” Monsanto thus loses its patent rights whenever it sells its GM seeds. This wouldn’t stop it from selling the seed, but it would allow farmers to save seeds from transgenic crops. No company can stay in business without repeat customers, especially ones that spend millions on research and development. And, because transgenic contamination is not limited to Monsanto’s seeds, all biotech seed companies would likewise face dissolution of their intellectual property rights.

Other harm from biotechnology does not stop with Monsanto’s seeds or chemicals, either. To protect the world from the biotech food industry, which extends to animals, patenting life itself should be banned. This lawsuit might take us closer to a return of that legal standard, prior to the 2001 High Court decision in J.E.M. Ag Supply v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

Farm Advantage filed a patent invalidity counterclaim, arguing that sexually reproducing plants, such as Pioneer’s corn plants, are not patentable subject matter within section 101. Farm Advantage maintained that the Plant Patent Act of 1930 (PPA) and the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) set forth the exclusive statutory means for protecting plant life.

The court disagreed, and thus allowed patents on sexually reproducing life forms, which extends to animals. Of note, the decision was written by ethically-challenged Clarence Thomas, a former Monsanto attorney. Thomas also refused to recuse himself from a 2010 case involving Monsanto. (Geertson Seed v Monsanto involved contamination of natural alfalfa.)

Among the plaintiffs in the PUBPAT suit is Navdanya International, headed by Dr. Vandana Shiva who has long fought biopiracy. Genetic patents “have unleashed an epidemic of the piracy of nature’s creativity and millennia of indigenous innovation,” Shiva wrote at Navdanya.

The new lawsuit couldn’t come a moment too soon, given the USDA’s recent decision to allow rice modified with human genes by Ventria Bioscience. Such approval begs the question: At what point is the line into cannibalism crossed? Biotech and pharmaceutical companies have produced several hundred “pharma crops” – food that contains vaccines against a variety of diseases. The FDA and USDA would have us ignore that this scheme fails to consider appropriate dosage specific to a person’s age, weight and medical condition, the very foundation of pharmaceutical science.

The biotech industry is out of control, and poses a significant danger to humans and the environment. PUBPAT’s lawsuit marks a significant step toward restoring a safe, sane and consensual food supply.

 

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