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Altered  crops in Europe: At what cost?

(Thursday, June 1, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Missouri GMO bill pushed back by agriculture
2. Genetically engineered crops may produce herbicide inside our intestines
3. Altered  crops in Europe: At what cost?
4. BASF drops plan to test GM potatoes in Ireland
5. Argentina to take legal action against U.S. biotech giant Monsanto in Spain
6. Vermont governor vetoes GE seed liability bill
7. World Council Of Churches: Take action to stop Terminator seeds
8. Furor over 'biopharming': Small firm's rice project chased out of two  states
9. WTO confirms ruling against EU GMO moratorium

1. Missouri GMO bill pushed back by agriculture

By David Bennett Farm Press Editorial Staff
June 1, 2006

  Until it was pulled from consideration late in the Missouri  legislature’s spring session, Senate Bill 1009 had promised a vigorous  tussle between farmers, politicians and biotech lobbyists. SB 1009 called  for giving the state power over the “regulation, labeling, sale, storage  and planting of seeds.” Before the bill’s language was changed late in the debate, it would  also have prohibited the state from enacting any seed regulation exceeding  federal requirements.

Many farmers, an independent lot by nature, were not happy at the  prospect of turning over local controls to the state or federal  government. But the ceding of local control over crops planted —  “pre-emption language” is the term favored by proponents — isn’t just  happening in Missouri. More than 10 state legislatures have passed similar  bills in recent sessions. Opposition to the wave of pre-emption legislation hasn’t been  especially loud. But Bootheel rice farmers had their antennae up because  just last year a crisis erupted when GMO/pharmaceutical rice was to be  planted near commercial fields. Rice farmers claimed the pharma rice — to  be grown by Ventria BioScience — was a threat to their markets.

(For more, see _http://deltafarmpress.com/news/050525-ventria-rice/_ (http://deltafarmpress.com/news/050525-ventria-rice/) )

Their claims gained little traction with leading state politicians  despite backing from Riceland, the largest rice co-op in the nation. Plans  to grow the pharma rice were scuttled only after St. Louis-based Anheuser  Busch, the largest buyer of Delta rice, threatened to stop buying the  home-grown commodity over fears of a beer consumer backlash.

“If (SB 1009) had passed, we’d have had no say about what could, or  couldn’t, be planted,” says Sonny Martin, a prominent Bootheel rice  producer and chairman of the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising  Council. “If (the bill) had been in place last year, Ventria could have  come in here and planted their rice within 50 feet of all the commercial  rice in the Bootheel. There would have been nothing we could’ve done about  it.”

Labeling the charge “absolutely untrue,” Kelly Gillespie, who heads  MOBIO (a trade organization funded by private corporations like Monsanto,  Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson), says after consultations with Anheuser  Busch and other companies, the amended bill dropped the “no stricter than  federal” provision. In doing so, “Busch agreed to endorse and support the  county pre-emption bill. They didn’t have a problem with it.”

Asked for comment, Anheuser Busch sent Delta Farm Press this  statement: “ Anheuser-Busch was willing to support a compromise version of  SB 1009 that would have contained a state pre-emption on regulations  pertaining to research, development and use of seed technologies and that  maintained the state’s authority to regulate in these areas.”

According to Gillespie, others supporting the bill included the  Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Corn  Growers Association, Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer, Pioneer and Dupont.

On the other side, it wasn’t only rice farmers who were opposed.  Farmers and ranchers from around the state were also part of the  pushback.

“This would have affected wheat, cattle, hog farmers and everyone  else,” says Greg Yielding, a field representative with the U.S. Rice  Producers Association. “When it comes to making a living, farmers know  what works. They don’t want some… bureaucrat with a lobbyist in his ear  making decisions on what can be planted next door.”

“Right now,” says Tim Gibbons, communications director for the Missouri  Rural Crisis Center, “(Bootheel) counties could enact some kind of  regulation to keep GMO rice out. This bill would take that possibility  away.”

Gibbons says the crisis center is focused on family farms. “We try to  defend the rights of family farmers. It’s important to keep up with  legislation because nowadays many politicians are chipping away at local  control of agriculture. We try and keep that from happening. We’re for  local control, for government that’s closer to the people.”

Bill proponents said, “‘we don’t need a patchwork of different  ordinances around the state,’” says Yielding. “Well, from our standpoint,  that takes the farmers — especially in the Bootheel — out of the equation.  As we saw in the (Ventria situation), they have a hard enough time getting  the state’s attention, much less defeating companies with a bunch of money  behind them. “If there’s no possibility southeast counties can pass an ordinance  saying, ‘we want no pharmaceutical rice,’ then (these companies) can come  in and do whatever they want. There would be no threat the farmers could  muster.” Those arguing for the bill claim a desire to head off GMO-growing bans  like those enacted in California.

“The bill was more a direct response to activities that occurred in  2003 in Mendocino County, Calif.,” says Gillespie. “An initiative passed  there specifically related to the selling of GMO seed — something as basic  as Roundup Ready soybeans (would be prohibited).”

The move to pass pre-emption language across the nation is a response  to the actions of that single county?

“Absolutely,” says Gillespie. “(Such bans) would be devastating. What  happens if a farmer’s land is on the border of two counties? He could put  one set of seeds here and not over there?”

Martin laughs at the comparison. “They’re pointing to California as an  example to scare everyone into this. But California is off by itself in so  many ways, you know? This is Missouri! We’re not against GMOs here —  farmers are growing Roundup Ready crops all over this state. But we can’t  let someone else decide what does or doesn’t (constitute) a threat to our  markets.”

Not surprisingly, Yielding agrees. “There hasn’t been any movement in  California’s rice-growing area to pass anything like this. Actually, what  they want to do is make Missouri essentially a regulatory-free zone for  GMOs. These politicians think biotech will be Missouri’s savior and there  will be a business boom.

“But from the rice farmers’ perspective, we can’t have pharma-rice  grown near commercial. This was just an attempt by the GMO companies to do  what they want in Missouri. And it’s so shortsighted. No one was thinking  about what it means to markets in the long run.”

Gillespie concedes it is unlikely county GMO bans will pop up in the  Bootheel. But he says such a ban in a “liberal community” that is “easily  guided by an outside national organization…is a possibility.”

“We’re not trying to close markets for any farmer. We’re trying to  expand them, open them, and leverage the technologies as they become  accepted. “We want to give farmers another option. There are many farmers who’ll  choose to grow organic. Others will grow conventional. Yet others will  choose to grow biotech crops. We think the coexistence among those camps  is a strong suit for American farmers.”

Actually, not one but three California counties have passed GMO bans.  Are they really a countrywide threat? In a column last November, Harry  Cline, Western Farm Press editor, addressed the situation.

“Of course, the anti-GMO crowd gloats about victories in Mendocino,  Marin and Trinity counties,” wrote Cline. “They won in Mendocino with a  sneak attack where no grassroots opposition was mounted. They won in Marin  by default. There was no organized opposition because there is no  agriculture there. The ‘ victory’ in Trinity was an ordinance hastily  passed by the board of supervisors partly to avoid a costly county  referendum.

“There have been at least a dozen California counties that have passed  ordinances supporting biotechnology and at least one county rejecting a  proposed anti-biotech ordinance.

“The way I figure it, the score is at least 15 to 3 and 3 is being  generous. Game’s over.”

Back in Missouri, trying to work within the bill’s framework, rice  farmers proposed several amendments that bill proponents rejected. “One  proposal was a 200-mile restriction for GMOs from commercial rice growing  areas,” says Martin. “Pass that and they could have done whatever else  they wanted. If wheat wanted to fight it more, if pork folks want to fight  it, fine. I bet (those commodity groups) were trying to cut their own  deals. We were trying to protect the rice crop and still work with (the  proponents). But they wouldn’t go for that. They wouldn’t agree to any  compromise.”

Since the blanket term “GMO” covers so many aspects of biotechnology  and only certain ones — like plant-made pharmaceuticals — are  controversial in Missouri, why lump them all together? Why not break the  pre-emption legislation into separate GMO components?

“In the world of business attraction… do you want to be known as a  science-friendly and biotech-friendly state?” asks Gillespie. “Is there a  welcoming environment for these types of companies? Thirteen or 14 states  have said, ‘ Yes,’ not only as a public policy stance but as a marketing  stance. They want such companies to know they won’t be exposed to the  wacko element from California that sees a problem where there is none.

“What kind of message (would breaking the GMO components up) send? When  you begin to carve out (such an) approach — ‘not in my backyard’ or ‘not  in my territory’ — where do you draw the line? How many others would say,  ‘Oh, me too! Make sure you exclude me, as well.’”

The counter argument, Martin points out, is counties banning pharma  crops could actually strengthen their markets. Buyers may be more willing  to buy — perhaps even pay a premium for — a crop they know has less chance  of being contaminated.

Despite the bill being pulled, many expect it to resurface during next  year’s legislative session. “This is going to haunt us again,” says Martin. “Hopefully, before it  does, common sense will catch on. This needs to be talked out so people  understand what’s going on.”

“Don’t forget, this is an election year,” says Gibbons. “(For fear of  losing votes) I think a lot of contentious issues were passed on. They’ll  bring this back.”

Yes, they will, confirms Gillespie. “We certainly intend to bring  forward the bill in 2007. But if there are legislative changes we can make  to improve it in the meantime, we will.”

2. Genetically engineered crops may produce herbicide inside our intestines

By Jeffrey M. Smith

Pioneer Hi-Bred's website boasts that their genetically modified (GM) Liberty Link[1] corn survives doses of Liberty herbicide, which would normally kill corn. The reason, they say, is that the herbicide becomes "inactive in the corn plant."[2] They fail to reveal, however, that after you eat the GM corn, some inactive herbicide may become reactivated inside your gut and cause a toxic reaction. In addition, a gene that was inserted into the corn might transfer into the DNA of your gut bacteria, producing long-term effects. These are just a couple of the many potential side-effects of GM crops that critics say put the public at risk.

Herbicide tolerance (HT) is one of two basic traits common to nearly all GM crops. About 71% of the crops are engineered to resistant herbicide, including Liberty (glufosinate ammonium) and Roundup[3] (glyphosate). About 18% produce their own pesticide. And 11% do both. The four major GM crops are soy, corn, cotton and canola, all of which have approved Liberty- and Roundup-tolerant varieties. Herbicide tolerant (HT) crops are a particularly big money-maker for biotech companies, because when farmers buy HT seeds, they are required to purchase the companies' brand of herbicide as well. In addition, HT crops dramatically increase the use of herbicide,[4] which further contributes to the companies' bottom line.

There are no required safety tests for HT crops in the US?if the biotech companies declare them fit for human consumption, the FDA has no further questions. But many scientists and consumers remain concerned, and the Liberty Link varieties pose unique risks.

Liberty herbicide (also marketed as Basta, Ignite, Rely, Finale and Challenge) can kill a wide variety of plants. It can also kill bacteria,[5] fungi[6] and insects,[7] and has toxic effects on humans and animals.[8] The herbicide is derived from a natural antibiotic, which is produced by two strains of a soil bacterium. In order that the bacteria are not killed by the antibiotic that they themselves create, the strains also produce specialized enzymes which transform the antibiotic to a non-toxic form called NAG (N-acetyl-L- glufosinate). The specialized enzymes are called the pat protein and the bar protein, which are produced by the pat gene and the bar gene respectively. The two genes are inserted into the DNA of GM crops, where they produce the enzymes in every cell. When the plant is sprayed, Liberty's solvents and surfactants transport glufosinate ammonium throughout the plant, where the enzymes convert it primarily into NAG. Thus, the GM plant detoxifies the herbicide and lives, while the surrounding weeds die.

The problem is that the NAG, which is not naturally present in plants, remains there and accumulates with every subsequent spray. Thus, when we eat these GM crops, we consume NAG. Once the NAG is inside our digestive system, some of it may be re-transformed back into the toxic herbicide. In rats fed NAG, for example, 10% of it was converted back to glufosinate by the time it was excreted in the feces.[9] Another rat study found a 1% conversion.[10] And with goats, more than one-third of what was excreted had turned into glufosinate.[11]

It is believed that gut bacteria, primarily found in the colon or rectum, are responsible for this re-toxification.[12] Although these parts of the gut do not absorb as many nutrients as other sections, rats fed NAG did show toxic effects. This indicates that the herbicide had been regenerated, was biologically active, and had been assimilated by the rats.[13] A goat study also confirmed that some of the herbicide regenerated from NAG ended up in the kidneys, liver, muscle, fat and milk.[14]

More information about the impact of this conversion is presumably found in "Toxicology and Metabolism Studies" on NAG, submitted to European regulators by AgrEvo (now Bayer CropScience). These unpublished studies were part of the application seeking approval of herbicide-tolerant canola. When the UK government's Pesticide Safety Directorate attempted to provide some of this information to an independent researcher, they were blocked by the company's threats of legal action.[15] The studies remained private.

Toxicity of the herbicide

Glufosinate ammonium is structurally similar to a natural amino acid called glutamic acid, which can stimulate the central nervous system and, in excess levels, cause the death of nerve cells in the brain.[16] The common reactions to glufosinate poisoning in humans include unconsciousness, respiratory distress and convulsions. One study also linked the herbicide with a kidney disorder.[17] These reactions typically involve large amounts of the herbicide. It is unclear if the amount converted from GM crops would accumulate to promote such responses or if there are low dose chronic effects.

Perhaps a more critical question may be whether infants or fetuses are impacted with smaller doses. A January 2006 report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Inspector General said that studies demonstrate that certain pesticides easily enter the brain of young children and fetuses, and can destroy cells. That same report, however, stated that the EPA lacks standard evaluation protocols for measuring the toxicity of pesticides on developing nervous systems.[18] Scientists at the agency also charged that "risk assessments cannot state with confidence the degree to which any exposure of a fetus, infant or child to a pesticide will or will not adversely affect their neurological development." [19] Furthermore, three trade unions representing 9,000 EPA workers claimed that the evaluation techniques used at the agency were highly politicized. According to a May 24, 2006 letter to the EPA's administrator, the unions cited "political pressure exerted by Agency officials perceived to be too closely aligned with the pesticide industry and former EPA officials now representing the pesticide and agricultural community"[20]

Although the EPA may be hampered in its evaluations, research has nonetheless accumulated which suggests that glufosinate carries significant risks for the next generation. According to Yoichiro Kuroda, the principal investigator in the Japanese project entitled "Effects of Endocrine Disrupters on the Developing Brain," glufosinate is like a "mock neurotransmitter." Exposure of a baby or embryo can affect behavior, because the chemical disturbs gene functions that regulate brain development.[21]

When mouse embryos were exposed to glufosinate, it resulted in growth retardation, increased death rates, incomplete development of the forebrain and cleft lips,[22] as well as cell death in part of the brain.[23] After pregnant rats were injected with glufosinate, the number of glutamate receptors in the brains of the offspring appeared to be reduced.[24] When infant rats were exposed to low doses of glufosinate, some of their brain receptors appeared to change as well.[25]

Glufosinate herbicide might also influence behavior. According to Kuroda, "female rats born from mothers that were given high doses of glufosinate became aggressive and started to bite each other?in some cases until one died." He added, "That report sent a chill through me."[26]

Disturbing gut bacteria

If the herbicide is regenerated inside our gut, since it is an antibiotic, it will likely kill gut bacteria. Gut microorganisms are crucial for health. They not only provide essential metabolites like certain vitamins and short fatty acids, but also help the break down and absorption of food and protect against pathogens. Disrupting the balance of gut bacteria can cause a wide range of problems. According to molecular geneticist Ricarda Steinbrecher, "the data obtained strongly suggest that the balance of gut bacteria will be affected"[27] by the conversion of NAG to glufosinate.

When eating Liberty Link corn, we not only consume NAG, but also the pat and bar genes with their pat and bar proteins. It is possible that when NAG is converted to herbicide in our gut, the pat protein, for example, might reconvert some of the herbicide back to NAG. This might lower concentrations of glufosinate inside of our gut. On the other hand, some microorganisms may be able to convert in both directions, from glufosinate to NAG and also back again. If the pat protein can do this, that is, if it can transform NAG to herbicide, than the presence of the pat protein inside our gut might regenerate more herbicide from the ingested NAG. Since there are no public studies on this, we do not know if consuming the pat gene or bar genes will make the situation better or worse.

But one study on the pat gene raises all sorts of red flags. German scientist Hans-Heinrich Kaatz demonstrated that the pat gene can transfer into the DNA of gut bacteria. He found his evidence in young bees that had been fed pollen from glufosinate-tolerant canola plants. The pat gene transferred into the bacteria and yeast inside the bees' intestines. Kaatz said, "This happened rarely, but it did happen."[28] Although no studies have looked at whether pat genes end up in human gut bacteria, the only human GM-feeding study ever conducted did show that genetic material can transfer to our gut bacteria. This study, published in 2004, confirmed that portions of the Roundup-tolerant gene in soybeans transferred to microorganisms within the human digestive tract.[29]

Since the pat gene can transfer to gut bacteria in bees, and since genetic material from another GM crop can transfer to human gut bacteria, it is likely that the pat gene can also transfer from Liberty Link corn or soybeans to our intestinal flora. If so, a key question is whether the presence of the pat gene confers some sort of survival advantage to the bacteria. If so, "selection pressure" would favor its long term proliferation in the gut.

Because the pat protein can protect bacteria from being killed by glufosinate, gut bacteria that take up the gene appears to have a significant survival advantage. Thus, the gene may spread from bacteria to bacteria, and might stick around inside us for the long- term. With more pat genes, more and more pat protein is created. The effects of long-term exposure to this protein have not been evaluated.

Now suppose that the pat protein can also re-toxify NAG back into active herbicide, as discussed above. A dangerous feedback loop may be created: We eat Liberty Link corn or soy. Our gut bacteria, plus the pat protein, turns NAG into herbicide. With more herbicide, more bacteria are killed. This increases the survival advantage for bacteria that contain the pat gene. As a consequence, more bacteria end up with the gene. Then, more pat protein is produced, which converts more NAG into herbicide, which threatens more bacteria, which creates more selection pressure, and so on. Since studies have not been done to see if such a cycle is occurring, we can only speculate.

Endocrine disruption at extremely low doses

Another potential danger from the glufosinate-tolerant crops is the potential for endocrine disruption. Recent studies reveal that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can have significant hormonal effects at doses far below those previously thought to be significant. The disruptive effects are often found only at minute levels, which are measured in parts per trillion or in the low parts per billion. This is seen, for example, in the way estrogen works in women. When the brain encounters a mere 3 parts per trillion, it shuts down production of key hormones. When estrogen concentration reaches 10 parts per trillion, however, there is a hormone surge, followed by ovulation.

Unfortunately, the regulation and testing of agricultural chemicals, including herbicides, has lagged behind these findings of extremely low dose effects. The determination of legally acceptable levels of herbicide residues on food was based on a linear model, where the effect of toxic chemicals was thought to be consistent and proportional with its dosage. But as the paper Large Effects from Small Exposuresshows, this model underestimates biological effects of EDCs by as much as 10,000 fold.[30]

In anticipation of their (not-yet-commercialized) Liberty Link rice, Bayer CropScience successfully petitioned the EPA in 2003 to approve maximum threshold levels of glufosinate ammonium on rice. During the comment period preceding approval, a Sierra Club submittal stated the following.

"We find EPA's statements on the potential of glufosinate to function as an endocrine-disrupting substance in humans and animals as not founded on logical information or peer-reviewed studies. In fact EPA states that no special studies have been conducted to investigate the potential of glufosinate ammonium to induce estrogenic or other endocrine effects. . . . We feel it's totally premature for EPA at this time to dismiss all concerns about glufosinate as an endocrine- disrupting substance. . . . Due to the millions of Americans and their children exposed to glufosinate and its metabolites, EPA needs to conclusively determine if this herbicide has endocrine-disrupting potential."

The EPA's response was that "glufosinate ammonium may be subjected to additional screening and/or testing to better characterize effects related to endocrine disruption" but this will only take place after these protocols are developed. In the mean time, the agency approved glufosinate ammonium residues on rice at 1 part per million.

Since glufosinate ammonium might have endocrine disrupting properties, even small conversions of NAG to herbicide may carry significant health risks for ourselves and our children.

The EPA's response was that "glufosinate ammonium may be subjected to additional screening and/or testing to better characterize effects related to endocrine disruption" but this will only take place after these protocols are developed. In the mean time, the agency approved glufosinate ammonium residues on rice at 1 part per million.

Since glufosinate ammonium might have endocrine disrupting properties, even small conversions of NAG to herbicide may carry significant health risks for ourselves and our children.

Inadequate animal feeding studies

If we look to animal feeding studies to find out if Liberty Link corn creates health effects, we encounter what independent observers have expressed for years?frustration. Industry-sponsored safety studies, which are rarely published and often kept secret, are often described as designed to avoid finding problems.

If we look to animal feeding studies to find out if Liberty Link corn creates health effects, we encounter what independent observers have expressed for years?frustration. Industry-sponsored safety studies, which are rarely published and often kept secret, are often described as designed to avoid finding problems.

In a 42 day feeding study on chickens, for example, 10 chickens (7%) fed Liberty Link corn died compared to 5 chickens eating natural corn. Even with a the death rate doubled, "because the experimental design was so flawed," said bio-physicist Mae-Wan Ho, "statistical analysis failed to detect a significant difference between the two groups." Similarly, although the GM-fed group gained less weight, the study failed to recognize that as significant. According to testimony by two experts in chicken feeding studies, the Liberty Link corn study wouldn't identify something as significant unless there had been "huge" changes. The experts said, "It may be worth noting, in passing, that if one were seeking to show no effect, one of the best methods to do this is would be to use insufficient replication, a small n," which is exactly the case in the chicken study.

Without adequate tests and with a rubber stamp approval process, GM crops like Liberty Link corn may already be creating significant hard- to-detect health problems. In Europe, Japan, Korea, Russia, China, India, Brazil and elsewhere, shoppers have the benefit of laws that require foods with GM ingredients to be labeled. In the US, however, consumers wishing to avoid them are forced to eliminate all products containing soy and corn, as well as canola and cottonseed oils. Or they can buy products that are organic or say "non-GMO" on the package. Changing one's diet is a hassle, but with the hidden surprises inside GM foods, it may be a prudent option for health- conscious people, especially young children and pregnant women.

Jeffrey Smith is the author of the international bestseller, Seeds of Deception. The information in this article presents some of the numerous health risks of GM foods that will be presented in his forthcoming book, Genetic Roulette: The documented health risks of genetically engineered foods, due out in the fall.

Membership to the Institute for Responsible Technology costs $25 per year. New members receive The GMO Trilogy, a three-disc set produced by Jeffrey Smith (see www.GMOTrilogy.com). Donations to the Institute are tax deductible.

[1] Liberty Link is a registered trademark of Bayer CropScience.

[2] http://www.pioneer.com/canada/crop_management/fsllink.htm

[3] Roundup is a registered trademark of Monsanto

[4] Charles Benbrook, "Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years," October 2004 http://www.biotech-info.net/Technical_Paper_6.pdf

[5] Colanduoni JA and Villafranca JJ (1986). Inhibition of Escherichia coli glutamine-synthetase by phosphinothricin. Bioorganic Chemistry 14(2): 163-169, and Pline W A~ Lacy GH~ Stromberg V ~ Hatzios KK (200 I). Antibacterial activity of the herbicide glufosinate on Pseudomonas syringae pathovar glycinea. Pesticide Biochemistry And Physiology 71(1): 48-55

[6] Liu CA; Zhong H; Vargas J; Penner D; Sticklen M (1998). Prevention of fungal diseases in transgenic, bialaphos- and glufosinate-resistant creeping bentgrass (Agrostis palustrls). Weed Science 46(1): 139-146, and Tada T~ Kanzaki H~ Norita E~ Uchimiya H~ Nakamura I (1998). Decreased symptoms of rice blast disease on leaves of bar-expressing transgenic rice plants following treatment with bialaphos. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 9(8): 762-764

[7] Ahn Y -J, Kim Y -J and Yoo J-K (2001). Toxicity of the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium to predatory insects and mites of Tetranychus urticae (Acari: Tetranychidae) under laboratory conditions. Journal Of Economic Entomology 94(1): s157-161

[8] Watanabe T and Sano T (1998). Neurological effects of glufosinate poisoning with a brief review. Human & Experimental Toxicology 17(1): 35-39

[9] Bremmer IN and Leist K-H (1997). Disodium-N-acetyl-L-glufosinate; AE F099730 - Hazard evaluation of Lglufosinate produced intestinally from N-acetyl-L-glufosinate. Hoechst Schering AgrEvo GmbH, Safety Evaluation Frankfurt. TOX97/014. A58659. Unpublished. (see FAO publication on www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpp/pesticid/jmpr/Download/98/glufosi3.pdf)

[10] Kellner H-M, StumpfK and Braun R (1993). Hoe 099730-14C Pharmacokinetics in rats following single oral and intravenous administration of3 mg/kg body. Hoechst RCL, Germany, 01-L42?0670-93. A49978. Unpublished.

[11] Huang, M.N. and Smith, S.M. 1995b. Metabolism of [14C]-N-acetyl glufosinate in a lactating goat. AgrEvo USA Co.Pikeville, PTRL East Inc., USA. Project 502BK. Study U012A/A524. Report A54155. Unpublished. http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/FAOINFO/AGRICULT/AGP/AGPP/Pesticid/JMPR/Download/98_eva/glufosi.pdf

[12] In one study, for example, protein produced from a gene found in E. coli turned NAG into glufosinate. G. Kriete et al, Male sterility in transgenic tobacco plants induced by tapetum-specific deacetylation of the externally applied non-toxic compound N-acetyl-L- phosphinothricin, Plant Journal, 1996, Vol.9, No.6, pp.809-818

[13] Bremmer IN and Leist K-H (1998). Disodium-N-acetyl-L-glufosinate (AE F099730, substance technical) - Toxicity and metabolism studies summary and evaluation. Hoechst Schering AgrEvo, Frankfurt. TOX98/027. A67420. Unpublished. (see FAO publication on www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpp/pesticid/jmpr/Download/98/glufosi3.pdf)

[14] Huang, M.N. and Smith, S.M. 1995b. Metabolism of [14C]-N-acetyl glufosinate in a lactating goat. AgrEvo USA Co.Pikeville, PTRL East Inc., USA. Project 502BK. Study U012A/A524. Report A54155. Unpublished. http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/FAOINFO/AGRICULT/AGP/AGPP/Pesticid/JMPR/Download/98_eva/glufosi.pdf

[15] Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, Risks associated with ingestion of Chardon LL maize, The reversal of N-acetyl-L- glufosinate to the active herbicide L-glufosinate in the gut of animals, Chardon LL Hearing, May 2002, London (Note: This work is an excellent summary of the risks associated with NAG conversion within the gut.)

[16] Fujii, T., Transgenerational effects of maternal exposure to chemicals on the functional development of the brain in the offspring. Cancer Causes and Control, 1997, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 524-528.

[17] H. Takahashi et al., "A Case of Transient Diabetes Isipidus Associated with Poisoning by a Herbicide Containing Glufosinate." Clinical Toxicology 38(2), 2000, pp.153-156.

[18] Ohn J. Fialka, EPA Scientists Pressured to Allow Continued Use of Dangerous Pesticides, Wall Street Journal Page A4, May 25, 2006 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114852646165862757.html

[19] EPA SCIENTISTS PROTEST PENDING PESTICIDE APPROVALS; Unacceptable Risk to Children and Political Pressure on Scientists Decried, Press release, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. May 25, 2006, http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=691

[20] EPA SCIENTISTS PROTEST PENDING PESTICIDE APPROVALS; Unacceptable Risk to Children and Political Pressure on Scientists Decried, Press release, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. May 25, 2006, http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=691

[21] Bayer's GE Crop Herbicide, Glufosinate, Causes Brain Damage, The Japan Times, 7 December 2004

[22] Watanabe, T. and T. Iwase, Development and dymorphogenic effects of glufosinate ammonium on mouse embryos in culture. Teratogenesis carcinogenesis and mutagenesis, 1996, Vol. 16, No. 6, pp. 287-299.

[23] Watanabe, T. , Apoptosis induced by glufosinate ammonium in the neuroepithelium of developing mouse embryos in culture. Neuroscientific Letters, 1997, Vol. 222, No. 1, pp.17-20, as cited in Glufosinate ammonium fact sheet, Pesticides News No.42, December 1998, p 20-21

[24] Fujii, T., Transgenerational effects of maternal exposure to chemicals on the functional development of the brain in the offspring. Cancer Causes and Control, 1997, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 524-528.

[25] Fujii, T., T. Ohata, M. Horinaka, Alternations in the response to kainic acid in rats exposed to glufosinate-ammonium, a herbicide, during infantile period. Proc. Of the Japan Acad. Series B-Physical and Biological Sciences, 1996, Vol. 72, No. 1, pp. 7-10.

[26] Bayer's GE Crop Herbicide, Glufosinate, Causes Brain Damage, The Japan Times, 7 December 2004

[27] Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, Risks associated with ingestion of Chardon LL maize, The reversal of N-acetyl-L- glufosinate to the active herbicide L-glufosinate in the gut of animals, Chardon LL Hearing, May 2002, London (Note: This work is an excellent summary of the risks associated with NAG conversion within the gut.)

[28] Antony Barnett, New Research Shows Genetically Modified Genes Are Jumping Species Barrier, London Observer, May 28, 2000

[29] Netherwood, et al, Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract, Nature Biotechnology, Vol 22 Number 2 February 2004.

[30] Wade V. Welshons et al, Large Effects from Small Exposures. I. Mechanisms for Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals with Estrogenic Activity, Table 2,Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 111, Number 8, June 2003

[31] Glufosinate Ammonium; Pesticide Tolerance, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Register: September 29, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 188), 40 CFR Part 180, ACTION: Final rule, http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-PEST/2003/September/Day-29/p24565.htm

[32] S. Leeson, The effect of Glufosinate Resistant Corn on Growth of Male Broiler Chickens, by Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, University of Guelph. Report No. A56379; July 12, 1996. [33] Mae-Wan Ho, Exposed: More Shoddy Science in GM Maize Approval, ISIS Press Release 13/03/04, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/MSSIGMMA.php

[34] Testimony of Steve Kestin and Toby Knowles, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol on behalf of Friends of the Earth, before the Chardon LL Hearings of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, November 2000

[35] Testimony of Steve Kestin and Toby Knowles, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol on behalf of Friends of the Earth, before the Chardon LL Hearings of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, November 2000

Spilling the Beans is a monthly column available at www.responsibletechnology.org.

3. Altered  crops in Europe: At what cost?

International Herald  Tribune, USA. by Elisabeth Rosenthal

ALBONS, Spain Enric Navarro was  dumbfounded when the letter arrived from the testing lab of the  Spanish organic farmers association in late February, informing  him that his organic crop contained 12 percent genetically  modified corn. Hearing that his plants had been modified by   biotechnology was almost as traumatic for Navarro as finding they contained nuclear waste.

For four years, he has  lovingly planted hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, flowers  and herbs to attract just the right mix of insects so that he  would not need fertilizers or weed- killers on his precious seven  hectares. "If I could not farm organic, I would not farm," Navarro   said. "I could not sleep at night if I sold that  crop."

He burned the corn in the field to rid his farm  of what he calls a "contaminant." But he does not know how the  genetically modified seed blew in. He cannot claim compensation  for his losses. Also, since pollen lingers, he is not sure when,  if ever, it will be safe to use the field to farm organic corn  again.

As the European Union cracks open the door to  genetically modified crops, Navarro's tale serves as a caution  about the risks, scientific uncertainties and the hazy policies  now in place to deal with problems that will almost certainly  arise.

For eight years, Spain was the only EU member  state to allow commercial cultivation of genetically modified  crops. In the last 18 months, the European Commission has approved  11 genetically modified seeds for planting in the bloc. In 2005,  France, Germany, Portugal and the Czech Republic began planting  small commercial plots.

The cornerstone of the EU's  policy is the political conviction that genetically altered crops  and conventional crops can coexist as long as proper safeguards  are in place - such as keeping a distance between the two types of  fields and imposing a liability scheme for accidents.

But scientifically, there are strong disagreements about whether coexistence is possible, and at what cost.

  "Coexistence is feasible in the vast majority of places, so long  as farmers talk to each other and cooperate," agreeing, for  example, not to place GM and conventional seeds of the same crop  in adjacent fields, said Simon Barber of EuropaBio, an industry  group in Brussels. Ordeals like Navarro's, he said, should be  rare.

But many scientists - not just those with Green  credentials - believe that the small, closely spaced farms of  Europe make such coexistence difficult if not prohibitively  expensive.

"My experts all agreed that coexistence  often just doesn't work, it isn't possible," said Chantal Line  Carpentier, an agricultural economist who assembled an independent  panel of international experts to study the issue in North  America.

The study was requested by Mexico in 2002,  after GM corn was discovered contaminating fields of native crops  in Oaxaca, hundreds of miles south of the United States. Mexico  had not permitted GM cultivation, for fear that the heartier, but  more uniform, genetically modified variants would edge out its  dozens of unique strains of maize.

That report, "Maize  and Biodiversity," prepared by the North American Council on  Environmental Cooperation, concluded that the GM corn - which came  from the United States - might have a long-term effect on Mexico's ecology and biodiversity and should be more thoroughly studied and monitored.

The United States and Canada attacked its  conclusions. "We are deeply disappointed that the CEC secretariat  has produced a report that ignores key science about  biotechnology," reads a letter of protest from the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency.

But some farmers  believe the report did not go far enough. "Saying that GM and  non-GM farming can coexist is nonsensical," said Julian Rose, an organic farmer from England who has helped organize Polish farmers against modified crops. "It's like saying that noise and silence  can coexist in a room."

The biotech  industry considers that "coexistence" has been achieved if mixing  is below 0.9 percent. It argues that foods in the EU could be labeled GM- free if they contained less than that amount. The  concept infuriates advocates of organic foods, who liken it to  allowing a bit of meat in vegetarian products. But even industry  analysts admit that 100 percent GM free foods are not practical  once GM farming begins on a large scale. "Coexistence has become a  problem in Europe because some people want zero percent  tolerance," Barber said. "And that is, quite frankly,  unobtainable."

There are simply too many ways that  mixing occurs: Mills grind crops from different farms, a cookie  contains oil made from imported GM soy. The GM corn in Oaxaca was  most likely the progeny of GM ears that had been legally imported  for animal feed, whose kernels had been illegally used for  planting.

With so many routes, environmental groups  say it inevitably spreads past the 0.9 percent limit and to areas  where it is unwelcome.

"When the government of  Catalonia says there's no evidence of genetic pollution, what they  mean is they didn't look," said Anna Rosa Martinez of Greenpeace  in Barcelona. Last year, Greenpeace tested 40 organic farms, and  nearly 20 percent had some level of contamination, from 0.7 to 12  percent.

Suzette Jackson, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace  International, said: "We would like to keep Europe as a supplier  of non-GM food, and when you look at countries with a lot of GM  crops, it eventually becomes really hard, or hugely expensive, to  maintain regular farming."

Spain allowed GM  cultivation in 1998. Twelve percent of corn is now GM - 50,000 to  60,000 hectares - about half of that in Catalonia.

Farmers are free to choose what to plant, but representatives of GM  seed companies now regularly hold dinners touting the benefits of  modified seeds, which are patented. Some variants produce  pesticides, others have stalks that resist wind or need less  water.

While some farmers signed on, others - like  Navarro - said no, preferring the independence and quality they  see with traditional seeds.

Traditional farmers in  Mexico, and many in Europe, save seed from one season's crop to  plant the next. It is cheaper and allows selection of unique  varieties. Such replanting is forbidden under the agreement for GM  corn seed that farmers sign with companies like Monsanto and  Syngenta.

In 2004, knowing that GM corn was growing in  his area, Navarro planted just a small patch of land to see if he  could grow without contamination. Successful, he later planted two  large corn fields. "But it was very windy here last fall," he  said, "so perhaps it blew in some stalks from another field, and  contaminated me. I don't know, I will never  know."

His two fields are 70 and 100 meters, 230 and  330 feet, from his neighbors' farms, a distance often deemed  adequate to prevent mixing. But the GM seed could have come on the  wind or on a truck tire, from anywhere.

He  would like an investigation to prevent a recurrence. But there is  no reliable log of which farmers plant GM seeds in the area, and  farmers are not likely to confess, for fear of being  sued.

In Denmark, to prepare for GM farming, the  government is creating a liability pool that all GM farmers will  have to pay in to.

The EU agriculture commissioner,  Mariann Fischer Boel, has told EU states to try to guarantee  coexistence, but it is unclear how, or at what cost. Can farmers  afford to maintain buffer zones of 100 meters between fields?  Would it work to create zones specifically designated for GM  crops? Will the GM crops harm the  environment?

4. BASF drops plan to test GM potatoes in Ireland

IRELAND: May 25, 2006

DUBLIN - German chemicals firm BASF has decided against planting genetically modified potato crops in Ireland this year, the country's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Wednesday.

Ireland, Europe's biggest per capita consumer of potatoes, gave the go-ahead earlier this month for BASF to grow varieties of the crop modified with improved resistance to late potato blight, which brought famine to Ireland in the 19th century. "We've just been told they they are not going to go ahead this year," a spokeswoman for the EPA, which awarded the licence, said.

BASF Plant Science said in a statement that the EPA's consent had contained a number of conditions and that it had been looking for clarification in certain areas.

"Due to the limited time restrictions of the planting season, it has been decided not to conduct the field trials in 2006," the company said.

Having tested blight-resistant potatoes in Sweden in 2005, it would perform field trials in Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany this year, BASF's plant biotechnology unit added.

Previous trials of GM foods in Ireland have been disrupted by environmentalists.

Ireland's Green Party called on the the EPA to reverse its decision to allow GM trials.

"The EPA...must not give in to any demands from BASF," Green Party Leader Trevor Sargent said in a statement.

"Now is the opportunity to ensure that Ireland remains a GM-free producing island. Ireland's traditional GM-free food status is a key selling point for Irish food exports and must be protected."

The EPA said the licence would remain in place but would not be altered in any way.

"The licence is set now," the spokeswoman said.

Blight-resistant GM potatoes were first developed in 2003 after scientists discovered a wild potato in Mexico that is naturally resistant to the disease.

The field trials were to be have been carried out at a one hectare site in County Meath.

The licence gave BASF the right to conduct trials for five years from 2006 to 2010, with monitoring continuing until 2014.

5. Argentina to take legal action against U.S. biotech giant Monsanto in Spain

By David Haskel

BUENOS AIRES--Argentina will take legal action against Monsanto in Spain and in other European nations if the U.S. biotechnology giant continues to block Argentine soy shipments from reaching European Union markets, an Argentine Agriculture Secretariat official said.

"What Monsanto is doing has no legal grounds whatsoever," she told BNA May 22 after the U.S. firm, locked in a bitter dispute with Argentina over unpaid royalties for its genetically modified soy seeds, managed to stop several ships from downloading their cargo in Spanish ports over the past few weeks.

In recent months the company managed to have courts seize Argentine soy byproducts in Spain, Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands. "We will take legal action in Spain and wherever is needed in order to defend our legitimate interests," said the official, who asked not to be named.

She added Argentina has already been accepted by Danish and Dutch courts as "third party involved" after Monsanto--unable to collect royalties from Argentine producers and traders--litigated against importers of Argentine soy products at destination point. As an involved third party, Argentina can play an active role in court, championing the importers' cause, she said.

Argentina is the world's No. 3 soybean exporter behind the United States and Brazil, and 95 percent of it comes from Monsanto seed. The company says it is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid royalties.

But the Agriculture Secretariat official said most shipments arriving in Europe were of soymeal and other soy byproducts, which are not covered by patents related strictly to the seed.

Besides, the deadline for Monsanto to apply for copyright protection in Argentina expired eight years ago, one year after it first introduced the "Roundup Ready" (RR) seed, so-called because it has been genetically modified to resist Monsanto's own Roundup weed-killer.

European Legal Action

The company started to take legal action in Europe in 2005 after more than two years of fruitless attempts to have Argentine authorities clamp down on an a widespread black market of the seed. The illegal trade means that only 20 percent of the soybean planted in Argentina comes from certified seed, Monsanto complains.

RR seed has patent protection in many countries, including those of the European Union, but Monsanto has failed to get it in Argentina. The firm says its current legal strategy is focused on asserting its patent rights on Argentine seed rather than on actually collecting money from seized consignments, although it has reserved the right to demand $15 per metric ton of Argentine soybean shipments.

The government has in the past promised to create a special fund to compensate Monsanto, but the project got stuck in Congress where it met resistance from farm lobbies. Farmers have in the past recognized Monsanto's right to seek royalties, but decry what they call its bully tactics, with the powerful Argentine Rural Society condemning its "trampling and monopolistic stance."

Soybeans are the single largest hard-currency earner for Argentina and its exports are heavily taxed, making it a key tool in the government's effort to put the country back on its feet again following a 4-1/2-year-long economic slump.

In a recent speech, Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos called on Argentines to unite in the fight against Monsanto. "We must not be afraid to defend ourselves," he said. "Not just the government, but all Argentines. Let's bear in mind that our country is now emerging from a deep crisis and that soy is a source of riches and a key helper in the fight against poverty."

6. Vermont governor vetoes GE seed liability bill

The Associated  Press, May 16,  2006
http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060516/NEWS02/ 605160307/1007/NEWS05

FAIRFIELD -- Gov. Jim Douglas on Monday vetoed a bill that would have made  seed manufacturers liable for damages caused by genetically engineered seeds  that drift into the fields of farms that do not want to use them.

Douglas  said the measure was unnecessary and divisive and would have caused  manufacturers to raise prices or restrict the seed sales in Vermont.

"It  is with regret that I veto this bill," Douglas said of legislation that passed  the House, 77-63, and the Senate, 19-8.

"I greatly respect how passionate  the arguments are around the issue of genetically engineered crops and the work  of the Legislature in attempting a compromise. However, S.18 fails to find a  middle ground between the competing interests, but instead dives into new legal  territory that may only promote needless litigation that pits farmer against  farmer and neighbor against neighbor."

The applause from the crowd of largely conventional dairy farmers showed how passionate the debate had become.  Some farmers and consumers are opposed to the use of seeds that can be  scientifically altered to resist pests or disease. Others say the seeds are  needed to control pests and keep food affordable.

"What irritated me the  most was the organic and conventional farmer were split. We'd always gotten  along before," said Bernard Dubois, who owns a 1,000-cow farm in  Addison.

"With the obstacles that we face, we certainly don't need to  have our feed taken away from us or sold to us at an elevated price," said Bill  Rowell, a dairy farmer in Sheldon.

Margaret Laggis, a lobbyist for the  biotechnology industry, which opposed the bill, said her clients had not determined whether they would change their seed sales if the bill had not been  killed.

"All the companies were really looking at the issue of selling in  that climate," she said.

Douglas said the discussion about the use of genetically engineered seeds in Vermont would continue. He said he'd asked the agriculture secretary to bring together conventional and organic farmers to try  to resolve the issues related to the seeds' use.

"I look forward to working with the farming community in continuing this discussion," he  said.

Down the road following the veto, supporters of the bill gathered  for their own news conference and accused the administration of bowing to  pressure from manufacturers.

"Gov. Douglas has chosen hypocrisy over  democracy in siding with the chemical giants and not listening to the farmers,"  said Rep. Dexter Randall, P-Troy, the primary sponsor of the bill and a dairy  farmer.

"This is a huge insult for the farm community of Vermont, only  widening the gap between conventional and organic farmers."

Advocates  said they would continue to push for farmer protection from contamination from  genetically engineered seeds.

Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm of  Westfield, who producers organic yogurt, cream and grains addressed the  crowd.

"Go home and keep doing our work and keep talking about it and  hopefully things are going to change," he said. 

7. World Council  Of Churches: Take action to stop Terminator seeds

The WCC's news release is available here:   http://www.oikoumene.org/  en/news/news-management/all-news-english/display-single-english-news/  article/1634/take-action-to-stop-termi.html
May 15, 2006

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev.  Dr  Samuel Kobia, called upon churches and ecumenical partners to  take  action to stop "terminator technology". "Applying technology  to  design sterile seeds turns life, which is a gift from God, into  a  commodity. Preventing farmers from re-planting saved seed will    increase economic injustice all over the world and add to the burdens    of those already living in hardship," stated Kobia.

He underlined:  "Terminator technology locates food sovereignty, once  the very  backbone of community, in the hands of technologists and  large  corporations. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization  estimates that  1.4 billion people depend on farmer-saved seed as  their primary seed  source. All Christians pray "Give us this day our  daily bread" (Matt  6:11). That this profoundly material request  appears in this  profoundly spiritual prayer, signals for us the  centrality of food in  our lives, as well as the indivisibility of the  material and spiritual  in the eyes of God. It is of great concern to  me that life itself is  now often thought of and used as a commodity." Governments upheld the  international de facto moratorium on  "Terminator technology," which  refers to plants that are genetically  engineered to produce sterile  seeds, about a month ago at the Eighth  meeting of the Conference of  the Parties (COP8) to the UN's  Convention on Biological Diversity  (CBD) held in Curitiba, Brazil.  They finally gave in to strong  pressure by social movements and civil  society groups and a number of  governmental delegations supporting  their claims. The UN conference  was held in Brazil only weeks after  the WCC's 9th General Assembly in  Porto Alegre, Brazil, where  delegates urged the WCC to respond to the  challenges posed by science  and technology.

The call for a ban  on sterile-seed technology had taken center stage  at the two-week  meeting in Curitiba. Thousands of peasant farmers,  including those  from Brazil's Landless Workers Movement (Movimento  Sem Terra),  protested daily outside the conference center to demand a  ban. The  women of the international peasant farmers' organization Via  Campesina  staged a silent protest inside the plenary hall on 23  March, holding  hand-painted signs with the words "Terminar Terminator  con la Vida"  ("Terminate Terminator with Life"). Brazil and India have already passed  national laws to ban Terminator  - and other campaigns to prevent  commercialization of seed  sterilization technologies will follow in  various countries around  the world. Protestant churches in Germany  lobby for a national law  and European Union legislation to ban  terminator seeds. They also  argue against the patenting of terminator  technologies. "Though the international moratorium on Terminator was upheld  at  COP8, the battle to block the technology is now moving to the    national level. This requires us to alert our member churches and    ecumenical partners to be vigilant in their respective countries,"    explains the WCC general secretary who is confident that this concern    unites Christian churches and people of other faiths who care for    small scale farmers and God's creation. 

8. Furor over 'biopharming': Small firm's rice project chased out of two  states

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - In its quest to genetically engineer rice with human genes to produce a treatment for childhood diarrhea, tiny Ventria Bioscience has made an astonishing number  of powerful enemies spanning the political spectrum.

Environmental groups, corporate food interests and thousands of farmers across the country  have succeeded in chasing the company's rice farms out of two states. And  critics continue to complain that Ventria is recklessly plowing ahead with a  mostly untested technology that threatens the safety of conventional crops  grown for the food supply.

''We just want them to go away,'' said Bob  Papanos of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. ''This little company could  cause major problems.''

Ventria, with 16 employees, practices  ''biopharming,'' the most contentious segment of agricultural biotechnology  because its adherents essentially operate open-air drug factories by  splicing human genes into crops to produce proteins that can be turned into  medicines.

Ventria's rice produces two human proteins found in mother's  milk, saliva and tears, which help people hydrate and lessen the severity  and duration of diarrhea attacks, a top killer of children in developing  countries.

But farmers, environmentalists and others fear that such  medicinal crops will mix with conventional crops, making them unsafe to  eat.

Danger deemed unlikely|

The company says the chance of its  genetically engineered rice ending up in the food supply is remote because  the company grinds the rice and extracts the protein before shipping. What's  more, rice is ''self-pollinating,'' and it's virtually impossible for  genetically engineered rice to accidentally cross breed with conventional  crops.

''We use a contained system,'' Ventria Chief Executive Scott  Deeter said.

Regardless, U.S. rice farmers in particular fear that  important overseas customers in lucrative, biotechnology-averse countries  like Japan will shun U.S. crops if biopharming is allowed to proliferate.  Exports account for 50 percent of the rice industry's $1.18 billion in  annual sales.

Japanese consumers, like those in Western Europe, are  still alarmed by past mad cow disease outbreaks mishandled by their  governments, making them deeply skeptical of any changes to their food  supply, including genetically engineered crops.

Rice interests in  California drove Ventria's experimental work out of the state in 2004, after  Japanese customers said they wouldn't buy the rice if Ventria were allowed  to set up shop.

Anheuser-Busch Inc. and Riceland Foods Inc., the world's  largest rice miller, were among the corporate interests that pressured the  company to abandon plans to set up a commercial-scale farm in Missouri's  rice belt last year.

But Ventria was undeterred. The company, which  has its headquarters in Sacramento, finally landed near Greenville, N.C. In  March it received U.S. Department of Agriculture clearance to expand its  operation there from 70 acres to 335. Ventria is hoping to get regulatory  clearance this year to market its diarrhea-fighting protein  powder.

There has been little resistance from corporate and farming  interests in eastern North Carolina. But the company's work has raised the  hackles of environmentalists there.

''The issue is the growing of  pharmaceutical products in food crops grown outdoors,'' said Hope Shand of  the environmental nonprofit ETC Group in Carrboro, N.C. ''The chance this  will contaminate traditionally grown crops is great. This is a very risky  business.''

Deeter points out that there aren't any commercial rice  growers in North Carolina, although the USDA did allow Ventria to grow its  controversial crop about a half-mile from a government ''rice station,''  where new strains are tested. The USDA has since moved that station to  Beltsville, Md., though an agency spokeswoman said the relocation had  nothing to do with Ventria.

The company, meanwhile, has applied to the  Food and Drug Administration to approve the protein powder as a ''medical  food'' rather than a drug. That means Ventria wouldn't have to conduct long  and costly human tests. Instead, it submitted data from scientific experts  attesting to the company's powder is ''generally regarded as  safe.''

Quicker recovery|

Earlier this month, a Peruvian scientist  sponsored by Ventria presented data at the Pediatric Academics Societies  meeting in San Francisco. It showed children hospitalized in Peru with  serious diarrhea attacks recovered quicker -- 3.67 days versus 5.21 days --  if the dehydration solution they were fed contained the  powder.

Ventria's chief executive said he hopes to have an approval this  year and envisions a $100 million annual market in the United States. Deeter  forecasts a $500 million market overseas, especially in developing  countries where diarrhea is a top killer of children under the age of 5.  The World Health Organization reports that nearly 2 million children succumb  to diarrhea each year.

But overcoming consumer skepticism and regulatory  concerns about feeding babies with products derived from genetic engineering  is a tall order. This is especially true in the face of continued opposition  to biopharming from the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America,  which represents food, beverage and consumer products companies with  combined U.S. sales of $460 billion.

Ventria hopes to add its protein  powder to existing infant products. There is no requirement to label any  food products in the United States as containing genetically engineered  ingredients.

The company also has ambitious plans to add its product to  infant formula, a $10 billion-a-year market.

, even though the major  food manufacturers have so far shown little interest in using genetically  engineered ingredients. But Deeter says Ventria can win over the  manufacturers and consumers by showing the company's products are  beneficial.

''For children who are weaning, for instance, these two  proteins have enormous potential to help their development,'' Deeter said.  ''Breast-fed babies are healthier and these two proteins are a big  reason why.'' 

9. WTO confirms ruling against EU GMO moratorium

GENEVA - The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has confirmed in a final ruling that a European Union moratorium on genetically-modified (GMO) foods was illegal, but Brussels said on Thursday the finding would not affect policy. The verdict, which was widely expected, also condemned six member states -- Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg -- for applying their own bans on a number of GMO products previously approved by the European Commission. "The substance of the ruling has not changed," said one diplomat with knowledge of the finding, which was issued late on Wednesday but not made public. The WTO made a preliminary ruling in February.

The decision, in a case brought by the United States, Canada and Argentina, the world's biggest GMO producers, did not touch on the sensitive issue of whether GMOs are safe or whether they can be considered comparable to conventional products. The EU, where consumers are suspicious of what are often called "Frankenfoods", said there was no need for a rule change because the six-year moratorium on approving GMOs ended in 2004.

Manufacturers have also withdrawn virtually all products covered by the individual state bans with the exception of a couple in Austria.

"The US and other complainants did not challenge the EU's regulatory framework on GMOs, which is rooted in science-based risk assessment. Nothing in this panel report will compel us to change that framework," a Commission spokesman said in Brussels. "Europe will continue to set its own rules on the import and sale of GMO foods," spokesman Peter Power told a news briefing, adding it was not the case that the EU operated a moratorium on GM foods, noting it had approved nine products since last May.


A spokesman for the United States Trade Representative said that he could not comment because the report was confidential. "When the report is made public, we expect WTO members to come into compliance and honour the rules-based trading system," said spokesman Stephen Norton. But anti-GMO activists were adamant nothing had changed.

"It is clear that the US, Canada and Argentina will not be able to use this ruling to bully other countries to accept GMOs," said Eric Gall, political adviser to environmentalist group Greenpeace in Brussels. The 1,000-page report, which will not be officially released for some six weeks, found that by not approving GMO products between 1998 and 2004, the EU was applying an effective moratorium. This constituted "undue delay" and therefore violated trade rules. In addition it said the six countries had given no scientific evidence to justify their banning GMO products -- mainly maize and rapeseed -- which the EU had declared safe. GMO-making companies such as Monsanto applauded the February ruling because they said it underlined the need for decisions affecting trade to be based on science.

"We are encouraged by the international trading community's support for science-based regulatory approvals," said Christian Verschueren, director-general of CropLife International, a global federation representing manufacturers. The United States, which said its farmers lost US$300 million a year because of the EU action, also welcomed it. Washington says it could help overcome reservations about GMO crops in other parts of the world. Both sides can appeal and it could be six months or more before the case is settled.

Story by Richard Waddington
Story Date: 12/5/2006