GM in 2010

January 2011

What were the major GM events of 2010?

There were plenty of WAVES OF GENE POLLUTION (News, January 2011).

There were also plenty of waves of uncomfortable data about 'Roundup', the herbicide widely use with GM crops. These included a GM TRAIN WRECK (News, September 2010) caused by super-weeds, the scientific proof that ROUNDUP CAUSES BIRTH-DEFECTS (News, October 2010), and the unwelcome finding that Roundup give us crops of CHRONICALLY SICK PLANTS (News, December 2010).


corn field. image on Flickr by Lars Ploughman
Around Europe


Lots of important things have been going on around Europe.

The Eurobarometer on Biotechnology showed that public opposition to GM has risen from 58% in 2007 to 61%. Notably, in Spain which is known to be the most pro-GM country in Europe, and which has been growing GM crops commercially for some years, support for GM food fell by 20%.

Planting of GM maize in Spain continued to decline, and according to seed producers, reached its smallest area since 2006. In Portugal, GM maize cultivation was reported by the agriculture ministry to be down more than 6%.

The European Patent Office is still trying to find a common-sense path to patents on life. However, it did issue an opinion that methods for conventional breeding of plants and animals cannot be considered as a technical process and cannot, therefore, be covered by patents. This decision related to one aspect of a patent application for a conventionally-bred broccoli. The broccoli may still be considered patentable on other grounds, but at least its a step in the right direction.

Germany's top court opened up an important fresh approach to liability when it confirmed the validity of new legislation. The court rejected the suggestion that the use of a public register for crops was a breach of privacy, and ruled that farmers must publicly disclose what seed they use. It also upheld the no-fault-liability rule which obliges GM farmers to compensate their neighbours for any loss in market value of their crops. This rule applies if the natural and GM variants become mixed even when all legal controls have been in place.

(COMMENT To see how important this decision is, check out Monsanto's attitude to the Australian organic pollution incident in WAVES OF GENE POLLUTION - News, January 2011)

Another major GM event was the decision by the world's second biggest supermarket , Carrefour of France, to label foods derived from animals fed a non-GM diet with a logo which declares they have been reared without GM. This label will apply to some 300 products, including pork, poultry, eggs and farmed fish, and will later extend to dairy items. The importance of this can't be understated because, as Peter Melchett said:
“It is no longer credible to claim non-GM animal feed is not available, if the world's second largest multiple retailer is demonstrating that it is”.
Clearly, claims that non-GM feed is fast disappearing are, as GM-concern groups suspected, simply a scaremongering tactic used to force us into acceptance.

In the United States

Lots of important things have been going on in America too.

A poll by The Economist magazine showed that American public opinion is neck-and-neck with Europe, with GM-scepticism running at 62%. In light of the US government suppression of awareness and labelling, and its minimal regulation of GM, this is a remarkably high level of doubt to be emerging.

US rejection of dairy products from cows injected with GM growth hormone (rBGH) continued its upward trend. It is now estimated that 75% of all yogurt and fluid milk sold in the US is rBGH-free. Fully two thirds of milk processors have rejected the use of the hormone, up 10% from last year. Companies which have gone completely rBGH-free include Danone and Yoplait. 'Bon Appetit Management Company' which offers food services to numerous universities and corporate campuses has decided “it is imperative that restaurant companies take an active role in promoting sustainable food systems”. To put its money where its mouth is it has started sourcing only rBGH-free yoghurt.

Monsanto was up to suspect 'good' deeds as usual. After getting a red face in 2009 when twenty-six US public-sector scientists lodged an official complaint that the industry was preventing them studying GM crops the Company came up with a 'solution'. It has arranged to issue umbrella licenses giving scientists the freedom to research agronomic aspects of GM crops, such as how the crops interact with local environments and which varieties perform best. This research will, presumably, lead to greater uptake of Monsanto's crops by farmers since agronomic performance will be independently evaluated. However, the umbrella license does not include breeding, which might be of more value to local farmers than being forced to confine themselves to what Monsanto wants to offer, nor DNA characterisation which would be useful for studying more fundamental aspects crop quality and safety. Not much change there, but at least it's a move in the direction of right-thinking.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), on the other hand, is considering changing its ways. After getting its knuckles rapped in court for failing to carry out the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment on the GM alfalfa grass and GM sugar-beet it had approved, the Agency has been forced to think about measures to limit contamination of non-GM fields. For the first time, it's thinking about imposing rules, including geographical restrictions and buffer zones, on how and where a GM crop may be grown. Up until now, the USDA has given only a blanket approval or rejection of any GM crop. The change it envisages could affect a wide swath of the US farm industry. What the Agency hasn't mentioned yet is the much trickier question of what remedy will apply if its containment rules fail to protect non-GM farmers.

And global things?

Finally, the global plans for the future of GM in 2010 were spelled out by the Norwegian Minister of Agriculture and Food at a seminar organised by the Norwegian Biotech Advisory Board. He said:
“I have just arrived back from the Hague-conference on agriculture, food security and climate change attended by more than 60 minister from different countries. All agreed that we need increased food production in the years to come. However, genetically modified food were barely mentioned in the conference”.

OUR COMMENT

Take note. The above newly-focused attention on absurd patents, necessary liability laws, non-GM animal feed, adulterated dairy produce, industry control of science, genetic pollution and the minimal importance of GM crops in the world as a whole, have all come about because people became aware of the shortcomings of what was being foisted upon them, and complained. Don't stop complaining about GM food.

SOURCES:

  • Europeans wary of GMO foods, Independent, 18.11.10
  • Eurobarometer – More Europeans opposed to GM food, Greenpeace, 12.11.10
  • Sean Poulter, Supermarkets urged to follow in the French footsteps and label food that isn't GM, Daily Mail. 12.11.10
  • German court approves GM crop restrictions, Earth Times, 24.11.10
  • Rick North, rBGH Trend Continues, The Milkweed, November 2101
  • Bill Tomson, U.S. Weighs Curbs on Biocrops, Wall Street Journal online,17.12.10
  • Winning the Battle on GMOs in the United States, Center For Food Safety 1.12.10
  • Stop GMO Contamination of Organic, Organic Consumer Association, Organic Bytes #256, 22.12.10
  • European Patent Office issues broccoli decision Europe rejects patents on breeding of plants and animals, No Patents on Seeds News, 10.12.10
  • Lars Peder Brekk, Genetically modified food – securing the world food supply? Seminar speech, 22.11.10
  • Emily Waltz, Monsanto relaxes restrictions on sharing seeds for research, Nature Biotechnology 28, 13.10.10
  • Emily Waltz, Under Wraps, Nature Biotechnology, 27:10, October 2009
  • GM corn crops declining Europe, ENDS Europe, 18.12.10

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