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Syngenta to let mega-genome patent lapse; herbicide resistance; other stories

(Saturday, Feb. 19, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Biotech wheat liability measure defeated
2. Farmer protection acts crop up in three states
3. Syngenta to let mega-genome patent lapse
4. Suicide seeds-- Canadian-led coup to allow Terminator technology narrowly squelched at UN meeting
5. Government forced to disclose locations of test sites of bio-pharm crops
6. U.S. may soon lead the world in herbicide-resistant weeds
7. Monsanto's big deal

1. Biotech wheat liability measure defeated

DALE WETZEL Associated Press, Tuesday, February 15, 2005

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Biotechnology supporters overrode questions in the state Senate about the proper share of legal liability for biotech wheat seed developers, defeating a bill that they believed would stifle innovation.

The legislation "would be harmful to the biotech industry," said Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr. "It would ... seriously hurt North Dakota's chances for creating a climate for research and development."

Opponents of biotech wheat fear its introduction in North Dakota would ruin the state's overseas export markets in Japan and Europe, where many consumers are skeptical about the benefits of genetic modification of food.

They supported legislation, introduced by Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, that would require biotech seed developers to bear much of the legal responsibility if their crop spread to fields or grain bins where it wasn't wanted.

Senators defeated the legislation, 30-14, on Monday. "If this bill were to pass, this puts us on an island that we can't afford to be on," said Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo. "We would be the only state in the United States to have this."

Farmers who use biotech seed are usually required to sign contracts in which they assume responsibility for damage the seed may cause to neighboring fields. Triplett said her bill was intended to give farmers more leverage in those agreements.

"I see this as a protection for all of the farmers in our state, both those who want to grow this kind of wheat, and those who do not," Triplett said. "It should not be perceived as a death knell for research, or for the introduction of new products, but rather a realistic notion that if the genie gets out of the bag, that it's out of the bag forever."

Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, said he doubted the legislation would hamper crop research.

"If it helps increase the bottom line to farmers, we want them," Bowman said. "But when it gets down to the liability issue, if the company knows that this has the potential to do damage, and then doesn't want to have any liability dealing with it, I think we have to hold them accountable."

Triplett's bill got its first Senate hearing only four days ago, and Monday's Senate debate on the legislation had an anti-climactic feel, two years after it sparked some of the Legislature's most impassioned arguments about technology and its role in agriculture.

Since the 2003 session, Monsanto Co., a St. Louis company that had been developing a biotech variety of hard red spring wheat, stopped its work and ordered its North Dakota State University research plots destroyed.

The seed was designed to withstand Monsanto's Roundup weed killer, and the company had been closest to commercial plantings.

"All planned releases for the commercialization of biotech wheat have been tabled for nearly over a year now," Erbele said. "There are no forecasts for its release any time soon. It's an issue, essentially, that doesn't exist at this time."

Triplett said questions about the potential impact of biotech wheat, and who should bear responsibility if something went wrong, were still relevant.

Bowman agreed. "This isn't going to go away," he said. "Once this product's introduced, once your neighbor gets sued by your neighbor ... they're going to run right back into (the Legislature) and say, 'What are you going to do about it?'"

The bill is SB2235.

2. Farmer Protection Acts Crop Up in Three States
Farmers Push for Shield from Biotech Crop Liability as States Try to Cope With Genetically Engineered Crops

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, February 4, 2005
CONTACT: Amy Shollenberger, Policy Director, Rural Vermont, 802-793-1114; Kevin Dowling, WORC, 406-252-9672; Dena Hoff, 406-687-3645; Todd Leake, DRC, 701-594-4275

Billings, Mont. Farmers in Vermont, Montana, and North Dakota are supporting legislation to make biotechnology companies, not farmers and grain elevators, liable for damages from genetically modified crops. These bills would also prevent the manufacturers from suing farmers whose fields are contaminated by genetically engineered crops and are unintentionally growing these crops.

Legislative committees in Vermont and Montana heard testimony today supporting Farmer Protection Acts. More hearings are scheduled in both states next week for further consideration of the legislation.

A hearing is scheduled next Thursday in North Dakota by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Senate Bill 2235.

Farm advocacy groups across the nation are working with farmers to ensure protection for farmers and by holding companies responsible for any damage caused by their products.

"We've done our homework for Vermont's farmers and our bill is strong and clean. We must make sure that farmers are not bearing the burden for the manufacturers who are marketing a product that is designed to contaminate," stated Amy Shollenberger, policy director of Rural Vermont. "I am encouraged by the strong support for S.18."

In Montana, wheat growers lined up to support Senate Bill 218 during a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"If genetically engineered wheat is introduced, this bill will protect farmers from the liabilities associated with this crop resulting from contamination by making sure biotechnology companies are responsible for their product," said Dena Hoff, a farmer near Glendive, Mont., and representative of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

Hoff cited a recently released study, Monsanto vs. Farmers, by the Center for Food Safety that found that Monsanto has sued or is suing more than 100 farmers for patent infringement. Even farmers who have not planted the seeds are at risk of these lawsuits.

Currently, farmers who buy genetically engineered seeds must sign a Technology Use Agreements. These agreements shield the patent company from liability for contamination and place the full liability burden on farmers. Farmers contend these agreements essentially pit farmer against farmer when conflicts arise.

Farmers are equally concerned about the affects on grain elevators. "Losses to a country elevator for a 400,000 bushel train load of wheat to a west coast port could equal a half-million dollar loss of milling grade, transportation costs, and railroad charges for a train load of wheat sitting idle at the port," said Todd Leake, a wheat farmer from Grand Forks County, N.D., and member of the Dakota Resource Council. "These losses would bankrupt these country elevators."

Rural Vermont educates, activates, and advocates for living soils, thriving farms, and healthy communities.
Northern Plains is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group that organizes Montana citizens to protect water quality, family farms and ranches, and a high quality of life.
The Dakota Resource Council is a grassroots citizens group in North Dakota working for family agriculture and responsible energy development since 1978.
Northern Plains and the Dakota Resource Council are members of WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils), a grassroots organization of farmers, ranchers, and consumers in seven western states.

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3. Syngenta to let Mega-Genome Patent Lapse: "Daisy-cutter" Patent Bomb Busted

ETC Group
News Release
14 February 2005
http://www.etcgroup.org

Following 72 hours of negotiations by e-mail, telephone and in-person, the Swiss Gene Giant Syngenta confirmed to ETC Group last Friday, February 11, that it would allow its multi-genome patent application covering the flowering sequences in at least 40 plant species to lapse at the European Patent Office (EPO), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and around the world. Syngenta's announcement follows a month-long campaign launched by ETC Group and supported by farmers' organizations, trade unions and other civil society organizations.

The patent was called the "daisy-cutter" after the world's largest conventional bomb, which has parachuted from US Air Force cargo planes to clear troop-landing sites in Vietnam and during the Gulf and Iraq Wars. The daisy-cutter bomb explodes about three feet above the ground and delivers "shock and awe" by destroying everything living within a radius of 1000 feet. The Swiss company's patent application (WO03000904A2/3) claims, among other things, discovery of the DNA sequence coding for the flowering of the rice crop. Beyond rice, however, the company also claims the sequence as it appears in many other major food crops from wheat to bananas. "Syngenta's application even claimed monopoly over the flowering process in yet-to-be-discovered species that use the same sequence," says Pat Mooney ETC Group's Executive Director. Mooney met with Syngenta in Bern, Switzerland last Thursday and received a telephone call from the company Friday morning confirming it would let the patent application lapse.

Mooney and Andrew Bennett of the Syngenta Foundation debated the patent at a Swissaid Conference on Gene Technologies in the Swiss capital before an audience of 240 government- and civil society- representatives including the Minister of Agriculture of Zambia and a number of other Swiss corporation officials. Hope Shand of ETC Group wrote to Syngenta on January 25th calling upon the company to abandon its patent claims. The company replied in an e-mail dated February 8th suggesting that the company was not pursuing the patent in developing countries. "However, it was ambiguous about whether or not it would maintain its applications in Europe and the United States," Mooney said in the debate. Following the public encounter, Mr. Bennett said he would attempt to clarify the situation as soon as possible. The February 11th phone call from Syngenta made clear that the patent application will be allowed to lapse around the world. Subsequently, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) in Geneva also received a letter from the Corporation confirming that the patent application will be allowed to lapse.

More Mega-genome Patents Pending? "We're delighted that the patent is being abandoned," says Pat Mooney now back in Ottawa, "but we are concerned that there are still other mega-genome patents out there held by this company and others that could pose a major threat to food security. We need a commitment from the Gene Giants that mega-genome claims will be withdrawn everywhere."

Systems Failures - WIPO and EPO: Prior to the January 10th release of its Communique ( http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=493 ), ETC Group contacted the EPO, the USPTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) asking their help in rejecting the patent. "We were encouraged that both WIPO and the EPO responded quickly and rather sympathetically to our concerns," says Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group's U.S. office. "On the other hand, we were shocked to find that not only were these intergovernmental bodies powerless to intervene in a process that would attack world food security, but also that any decisions made by the EPO would not automatically be passed on to the patent offices of those developing countries giving national consideration to Syngenta's application. While we were fairly confident that the EPO would reject the most outlandish aspects of the claims - conferring a monopoly on the flowering mechanism for 40 species - if the EPO rejection was not communicated voluntarily by the company, the other countries in the Patent Cooperation Treaty associated with the EPO would have no way of knowing. It is often the case that patent offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America - not unlike their European and American counterparts - are overstretched by the sheer number and technical complexity of patent claims and sometimes approve patents without close examination. We need to talk to governments at the EPO and WIPO about how to change their monitoring systems," says Wetter.

Silence of the Lambs - FAO and CGIAR: ETC Group also wrote, in the first week of January, to the Director-General of FAO and the Chair of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) asking them to intervene against the patent in defense of world food security. "It is shameful that we heard back from the EPO, WIPO and the Company, but neither FAO nor CGIAR has yet to lift a finger to defend the interests of the world's hungry," Pat Mooney insists. "These organizations need to get their act together."

The Patent-too-far: "As much as we welcome Syngenta's offer to let this patent application lapse, we believe the company should now actively withdraw its applications in every jurisdiction to avoid risk and uncertainty. Syngenta must also examine its portfolio of pending patents and withdraw any that have similar mega-genome claims. National patent offices should also act immediately to reject any pending claims of this nature," Pat Mooney concludes from Ottawa. "The bottom line is that this company sought monopoly control over 40 major food crops. Had the patent been granted, the company's control would have been legal and enforceable and would have spelled disaster for world food security. Once a patent is granted it could take more than half the lifetime of the patent to get it rescinded."

For more information:

Pat Mooney (Ottawa)
tel: +1 (613) 241-2267
etc@etcgroup.org
Jim Thomas (Oxford, UK)
tel: +44 (0) 7752 106806
cell: +44 1865 201719
jim@etcgroup.org
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter (USA)
tel: +1 (919) 960-5223
hope@etcgroup.org
kjo@etcgroup.org

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is an international civilsociety organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC group is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. www.etcgroup.org. The ETC group is also a member of theCommunity Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC). The CBDC is a collaborative experimental initiative involving civil society organizations and public research institutionsin 14 countries. The CBDC is dedicated to the exploration of community-directed programmes to strengthen the conservation and enhancement of agricultural biodiversity. The CBDC website is http://www.cbdcprogram.org

4. Suicide Seeds - Bombshell in Bangkok
Canadian-Led Coup to Allow Terminator Technology Narrowly Squelched at UN Meeting

ETC Group News Release
Friday, February 11, 2005
http://www.etcgroup.org

Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto, spoke today at a UN meeting in Bangkok - harshly criticizing his governments' efforts to promote field-testing and commercialization of Terminator seeds (plants genetically-modified to render seeds sterile at harvest time).

"The Canadian government has acted shamefully. It is supporting a dangerous, anti-farmer technology that aims to eliminate the rights of farmers to save and re-use harvested seed," said Schmeiser. "Instead of representing the good will of the Canadian people or attending to the best interests of the Biodiversity Treaty, the Canadian government is fronting for the multinational gene giants who stand to win enormous profits from the release of Terminator seeds around the world."

Schmeiser is the 74-year old Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto for patent infringement when the company's patented, genetically modified canola seed invaded his farm - unwanted and unwelcome. A victim of genetic pollution and a champion of Farmers' Rights, Schmeiser courageously fought Monsanto all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court.

A Canadian government proposal to unleash Terminator was leaked to the ETC Group on the first day of a UN meeting in Bangkok, February 7-11 (SBSTTA, the scientific advisory body to the Convention on Biological Diversity - CBD). The news stunned farmers' organizations, government delegations, and civil society worldwide. Ottawa's instructions to the Canadian delegation in Bangkok called for an all-out push for field-testing and commercialisation of sterile seed technologies, effectively un-doing the precautionary, de facto moratorium on Terminator seeds adopted by governments in 1998. Even worse, the Canadian delegation was instructed to "block consensus" by governments attending the meeting if it didn't get its way. ETC Group has also learned that, in advance of the Bangkok meeting, Canadian embassies around the world asked governments to support a recommendation for "field testing and commercial use" of Terminator. Canada's blatant promotion of an anti-South technology does not bode well for the G8 meeting of world leaders in July in Scotland where Canada will propose to introduce nanotechnology on the G-8 agenda.

After being swamped this week by protest emails and letters, the Canadian government was forced to soften its public position on Terminator, but it continued to press a solidly pro-Terminator view in the corridors and in a committee appointed to negotiate draft text on Terminator. (The drafting group on Terminator included representatives from Canada, the European Community, Peru, Tanzania, and the Philippines.) By Thursday morning Canada and its seed industry allies had drafted text that included language promoting Terminator field trials, capacity building for the use of Terminator in the developing world and specifically invited the research participation of "private sector entities."

"The draft text on Terminator released Thursday morning was appalling - it looked like it was written by the multinational seed industry," said Jim Thomas of ETC Group, speaking from Bangkok. "It strongly reflected the Canadian government 's pro-Terminator position as revealed earlier this week in the leaked document."

Suicide Seed Squad: Canada hasn't been working alone in Bangkok. The UN meeting was crawling with representatives from the biotech industry and related trade groups - including Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land, Crop Life International, PHARMA (pharmaceutical manufacturers), the International Seed Federation and more - who lobbied against current restrictions on the development of suicide seeds. New Zealand and Australia also backed the position of industry and Canada, while a fleet of US government representatives observed from the sidelines. (The US government is not a Party to the Biodiversity Convention.)

Thankfully, disaster was averted due to key interventions by the governments of Norway, Sweden, Austria, the European Community, Cuba, Peru and Liberia, on behalf of the African Group.

The good news is that these governments managed to delete the most offensive wording. The final text and recommendations reaffirm earlier decisions, amounting to a continuing, but fragile, de facto moratorium on Terminator. The issue now bounces to another CBD advisory body (the Working Group on 8(j)) in March 2006.

Interminable Terminator? The bad news is that decisions made in Bangkok will allow the issue of Terminator to be re-examined and re-studied interminably. In ETC Group's view, the CBD continues to dilly-dally and delay decisions on Terminator while the industry is moving full-speed ahead to bring sterile seeds to market.

"The international community needs to know that Terminator technology is a real and present danger. The biotech industry is chomping on the bit to commercialize suicide seeds. Nothing short of an all-out ban on Terminator will stop it from being unleashed in farmer's fields," said Hope Shand of ETC Group.

For more information:

Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada) etc@etcgroup.org:
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA) hope@etcgroup.org: 919 960-5223
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) silvia@etcgroup.org: 52 55 55 632 664
Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK) jim@etcgroup.org: 44 (0)7752 106806 (mobile)

Note to Editors:

Terminator technology was first developed by the US Department of Agriculture and the multinational seed industry to prevent farmers from replanting saved seed. When it came to public light in 1998 massive public opposition forced Monsanto and Syngenta to disavow the technology.

SBSTTA is the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, a body that advises the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. http://www.biodiv.org

The United Nations refers to Terminator seed technology as GURTs (genetic use restriction technology).

For more information on Percy Schmeiser's court case, see: http://www.percyschmeiser.com

5. Government Forced to Disclose Locations of Test Sites of Biopharmaceutical Crops

HONOLULU - In a first step toward public disclosure of test sites of biopharmaceutical crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was forced by court order on February 4 to reveal the locations of biopharm crop test sites in Hawai'i. Following the ruling, representatives of the USDA handed over to Earthjustice (representing citizen groups Center for Food Safety (CFS), Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network North America, and KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance) information on the precise locations of open-air field tests of biopharmaceutical crops genetically engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs. This marks the first time the federal government has been forced to disclose the location of field tests of genetically engineered crops since it began systematically hiding these locations from the public. "With this order," said CFS attorney Peter Jenkins, "we may at last be able to find out how close these experiments are to conventional food crops, ecologically sensitive areas, and our homes and schools. The next step will be to compel our government to investigate the impacts from these biotech crops."

Read more at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press_release2.8.05.cfm

6. U.S. may soon lead the world in herbicide-resistant weeds

http://deltafarmpress.com/news/050210-world-resistant-weeds

By David Bennett
Delta Farm Press, Feb 10, 2005

While newly-arrived Asian soybean rust hogs the media spotlight, a home-grown monster patiently awaits its turn. If weed scientists are correct, the monster won't have long to wait.

"Very shortly, I think, the impact of herbicide resistance is going to be huge," says Ford Baldwin, veteran Arkansas weed scientist and Delta Farm Press

As the list of herbicide options shrinks, Stephen Powles points to his native Australia as a lesson to U.S. agriculture. Powles - "the international expert on herbicide resistance," says Baldwin - warns there's too little diversity in U.S. fields, there's too much reliance on glyphosate and the pipeline for new herbicide chemistries is "nearly dry."

Powles, director of the Western Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (WAHRI), is currently visiting the United States. Following a late-January meeting with weed scientists in North Carolina, he spoke with Delta Farm Press.

Among his comments:

Please describe the environment, or environments, farmed in Australia. Is it a diverse landscape akin to the United States?

"Australia is about the same size as the continental United States. The big difference is we've only got 20 million residents, compared to your 290 million. There are an awful lot of similarities culturally between the two countries.

"Agriculture is a very important part of the Australian economy. Farms are very large there. Most serious family farms are 10,000-acre enterprises and are dominated by wheat.

"But just about all other crops are grown. There's a vibrant cotton industry. There's a small, but vibrant, rice industry as well. Since it's such a big country, there are areas suited to different crops. But it isn't nearly as blessed agriculturally as the United States."

Can you offer a quick sketch of your career and what you're involved with now?

"I've worked and studied in Australia, the United States and Europe. I began to see (herbicide) resistance in weeds showing up in the United States and Europe and thought, 'Well, this must also be occurring in Australia.' I decided to work in the field and found that not only had resistance occurred in Australia but had absolutely exploded. By far, we now have the biggest herbicide resistance problem in the world."

How did it come about?

"Thinking back to how the United States was settled by Europeans, it was a march westward. They developed agriculture as they went. In Australia, the same happened. When Europeans settled in 1788 onwards, agriculture came with them. But the chief industry they brought was sheep because the animal was very well-suited to the climate. So sheep numbers built up dramatically - at one time, there were 400 million.

"The sheep had to eat something and the native prairies and pastures weren't suited to sheep grazing. So they brought in a great, valued pasture feed: ryegrass. The same grass farmers in America are familiar with was nurtured and planted in great density over 150 million acres. If you like, across half the continent ryegrass pastures were established for huge sheep farms.

"For 100 years sheep were kings, and ryegrass, by association, was, too. But about 1970 the price of sheep and wool began to drop. Eventually, cropping became king and ryegrass pastures were converted. There was always a small wheat industry in the country, but it started to really develop big-time.

"So now, imagine with me, you have a continent and across the southern half ryegrass has been planted at very high densities. Then, you convert that into one big no-till wheat field with very little diversity. Then you spray the hell out of this field with herbicides because now this plant, ryegrass, that you've encouraged for decades is your number one weed."

What products were being used to select ryegrass plants out with?

"What enabled this farming system to work was the development of the burndowns - mostly paraquat and, 10 years later, glyphosate. Then, what really made it work were the selective herbicides like Hoelon that didn't kill the crop but did the weeds.

"In Australia, the sheep industry was the reason for planting this weed, ryegrass. That was fine until there was a change in farming from livestock to cropping. When that change happened, we'd set ourselves up with the world's biggest weed problem and potential for resistance.

"Ryegrass is highly genetically variable, is cross-pollinated and can easily develop resistance. As soon as we began selecting it with good herbicides like Hoelon, it quickly developed resistance. And it didn't just develop a resistance, but multiple resistances to many herbicides. I mean, we have ryegrass that's already resistant to herbicides yet to be discovered."

By spraying so much, did weeds other than ryegrass become resistant?

"We do have other problems, but ryegrass dwarfs other weeds. It's so dominant it actually suppresses other weeds."

Can you describe how you control this? In a typical year does it sprout everywhere on a farm?

"Every farm field in Australia has ryegrass. Farmers there have learned to manage this multi-resistant weed. They're doing fine, but not without considerable cost and planning.

"The first thing Australian farmers have to do is continue making money - and they're working with no subsidies. They can't go out and do impractical things. For instance, they can't go with cultivation because the soils aren't suited for that. Plus, labor is extremely expensive in Australia. There are many constraints.

"So what are they doing? First, they use any herbicides that still work. For example, the burndown herbicides - paraquat and glyphosate - are extremely important. Thus far, there has been very little resistance of ryegrass to the burndowns. They have also found ways to use other herbicides creatively."

What methods would that include?

"All Australian farmers are using the 'yellow' herbicides. Everyone knows the yellows should be incorporated into the soil. But we can't do that since we're in no-till systems. Yet, we've learned how to use them in no-till situations. By getting a bit of soil 'throw' during seeding operations, a higher rate of the herbicide can be used. By getting just a bit of soil to cover it, it works.

"We've also learned that we must look to non-herbicide solutions. So crop seeding rates have been increased 30 percent to 50 percent. This makes the crop more competitive against ryegrass. We wouldn't do that if herbicides alone worked.

"Some farmers also use devices attached to the harvesters - sort of a trailing chaff cart. These catch the ryegrass seed instead of returning it to the field. That seed is then burned or fed to livestock.

"Ryegrass seed is small and has the advantage of not shattering. When a wheat crop is harvested, the ryegrass seed is still attached to the plant. You can get a lot of the seed going into the harvester. If you can separate that out, it's a great way to keep that seed from returning to a crop field. This practice has become very important for us.

"All of this can be summed up in one word: diversity. What was wrong - and still is wrong - with Australian cropping is a lack of diversity. That's the same thing wrong with U.S. agriculture. Weeds like ryegrass love a situation with little diversity."

You travel frequently and are very familiar with what's happening around the world agriculturally. If trends continue, what do you see for the United States and weed resistance?

"Your readership knows that the United States is the most technologically advanced nation in the world. They don't need some Australian telling them anything - we're used to receiving messages from you, not giving them.

"But there is something Australia is number one in the world at: herbicide resistance. We know about this problem and have the dubious distinction of being tops.

"However, the United States is about to take the top spot away from us. My prediction is you will be crowned king of herbicide resistance within the next few years.

What have your American weed scientist friends said when you tell them that?

"I think there's a number of university weed scientists that are incredibly concerned with this. You should seek their words rather than have me put words in their mouths. In our discussions, though, they are very concerned with the massive over-reliance on glyphosate in Roundup Ready crops.

"The advent of Roundup Ready is a fantastic technological development. It was a leap forward and was rightfully embraced by U.S. growers. The system is very attractive.

"But relying too much on any one biological system will have repercussions. The massive adoption of Roundup Ready across vast slices of the United States - along with the persistent usage of glyphosate - is a very strong selection pressure.

"Increasingly, U.S. weeds are surviving glyphosate. And a weed that can survive glyphosate is in herbicide heaven. Its competitors are killed while it can grow and reproduce. This is slowly but surely, and inexorably, occurring.

You've mentioned red flags you've seen in the United States. With those in mind, what would you do immediately and long-term to address the problem?

"In the end, this gets down to a farm-by-farm and field-by-field decision. You can't make sweeping generalizations about the United States - it comes down to specifics. But the specifics always come back to one common theme. That theme is, again, 'diversity.' There has to be diversity in cropping systems if they're to be sustainable.

"A cropping system that is a Roundup Ready crop followed by another followed by another and on and on isn't sufficiently diverse. I tell Australian farmers all the time, 'If you strike on a good herbicide, don't stick to it. If you're getting fantastic weed control with glyphosate, change it anyway. Same is true for paraquat. Rotate the herbicides and use any non-herbicide tools that make economic sense. Have as much diversity as you can stand.'

"These are well-established principles that are widely accepted as truth around the world. Of course, economic realities drive decisions and the many benefits that Roundup Ready crops have given U.S. agriculture in particular make it easy to stick with. Diplomatically, I'd tell the U.S. grower that there's a serious over-reliance on glyphosate, and that puts the world's greatest herbicide at risk.

"I believe farmers here instinctively know that. But family livelihoods are involved.

"And I say to them, 'We all live in a pragmatic world. We're used to economic realities. But there is also a biological reality here too."

"The truth is farmers are applied biologists. The biological reality is that glyphosate is a very precious resource. I'd argue that glyphosate is up there with penicillin as a once-in-a-hundred-years discovery.

"I know the vast majority of farmers want to leave their farms to their children in better shape than they found them. Those same farmers want glyphosate to work for the next generation.

"There aren't a bunch of new chemicals in the pipeline that will be available to replace glyphosate. There are none being developed anywhere near as good as glyphosate. The pipeline is, in fact, pretty dry.

"The international herbicide discovery industry - now a number of companies counted on one hand - is busy looking for new chemistries. And it will find them, although with increasing rarity. It certainly isn't finding new herbicides at the rate it used to.

"Something that I face everywhere is a belief by farmers that the next great herbicide is almost ready for release. There seems to be a desire to think that new herbicides will show up whenever needed.

"I don't blame farmers for holding that view. In large measure, that's been their experience. But the pipeline for unique, new herbicides is nearly dry.

Is Europe in the same herbicide resistance boat? India? South America?

"In general, herbicide resistance has so far occurred in big, industrialized agricultural landscape. That means Australia, the United States, Brazil, Canada and Argentina. That's where there are large fields, minimum till and lack of diversity.

"There is some weed resistance in Europe, but not at the same level. Europeans have a much more diversified agriculture. They typically work smaller fields and have a rotation of a whole range of crops, and cultivation is routine.

"That said, we're also beginning to see resistance develop in less-industrialized countries like India, China, Thailand and other rice-producing nations."

Editor's note: for more information on Powles' work, visit http://wahri.agric.uwa.edu.au/index.html

7. Monsanto's Big Deal

by Nick Parker and Karl Beitel
Published on Friday, February 11, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

Monsanto's announcement of their plans to purchase Seminis, the largest fruit and vegetable seed producer in the world, was quickly followed by a statement that Monsanto does not intend to apply biotech to develop these seeds-at least not yet. This is a curious assertion from a dominant biotech company.

Biotech crops and food remain unpopular throughout much of the world. In the United States, biotech corporations successfully fought labeling and slipped the foods into grocery stores, knowing that these products would likely have been rejected if consumers had a choice.

Europeans actively oppose genetically engineered (GE) foods to the point that major grocery chains in the European Union have vowed to remove GE ingredients from their name-brand products. Subsequently, biotech corporations have increasingly turned to the developing world to find additional markets for GE foods. Even there resistance builds.

The biotech industry promotes GE foods by claiming these technologies will help break the cycle of hunger and increase food production. These claims are not supported by available scientific evidence. Tests run by the University of Nebraska, and in Australia and Argentina, discovered significant drops in production associated with the switch to biotech crops on the order of 10 to 30 percent.

But what if production increases are not the only reason biotech companies invest in GE foods?

Many have argued that the real motive driving the development of GE seeds is expanding control over the food system. Biotech crops are not only a profitable patented product in and of themselves, they are also a vehicle to sell other products. Monsanto sells "Roundup Ready" soybeans as a proprietary package in which GE seeds are conveniently mated to their Roundup pesticide. Farmers, who traditionally save seeds each year, are prohibited from doing so with these GE seeds, which must be purchased anew each growing season.

Now Monsanto plans to acquire a seed company and conventionally breed the seeds. No biotech. Despite this, it is doubtful Monsanto is retreating from the biotech frontier.

The world's food system is quickly consolidating. Five corporations control 90 percent of the global grain market while five supermarket chains control most of the global retail trade. Monsanto knows that consolidation of the global food system in the hands of a small number of corporations is likely to continue. Wall Street analysts believe Monsanto's future is dependent on the success of GE seed development. Increasing its share of the proprietary seed market will allow Monsanto to exercise significant control over the food we grow and eat. They already control most of the biotech soy and corn markets. Now they've extended that reach to the global seed market.

What this means is you and I, not to mention the farmer, will have less choice over what we eat and grow as Monsanto's grip on the seed supply tightens. And, if the labeling issue in the United States is any indication, we will be less informed as a result. There can be no free consumer choice when one company controls so much of the seed, and, by extension, when so few companies own so much.

The Monsanto purchase has yet to be approved while anti-trust issues are investigated. We face a crucial juncture on the direction our food supply will take. This Monsanto deal certainly favors a course that those concerned with food security, equity, and real consumer choice would do well to oppose.

Nick Parker is the Media Coordinator and Karl Beitel is the Policy Analyst at Food First http://www.foodfirst.org/ .