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Organic news archive: April 2004

Syngenta will continue with plans to develop genetically modified wheat, the agrochemicals group said on Tuesday, despite a decision by rival Monsanto to suspend its own program after protests. Syngenta has field trials currently in Germany and Spain for genetically modified wheat, and it will likely take several years for the development of its own product. (www.agprofessional.com)

Scientists have warned that GM farming could create a new generation of 'superbugs' that are resistant to pesticides. They say such indestructible insects would devastate both GM and conventional crops. Their study led by Professor Bruce Tabashnik, who helped draw up U.S. guidelines on GM crops is likely to lead to a worldwide review of GM farming. His study, at the University of Arizona, investigated a variety of corn which has been genetically modified to contain a pesticide known as Bt in its leaves and stem, because GM firms believed farmers would find it easier and cheaper than spraying. However, Professor Tabashnik now believes that the way the crop is grown may mean the insects become resistant to its lethal effects. (Sean Poulter in the Daily Mail)

Helen Steel and Dave Morris, the "McLibel two", will be back in court in September. Two years ago, Steel and Morris went to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that their epic court action with McDonald's breached their Article 6 right to a fair trial and freedom of expression. Last week the court declared their claim admissable, and in September the case will be heard in full. A ruling is expected on whether multinational corporations have the right to sue for libel. ('Eco Soundings', in the Guardian)

Monsanto, the US biotechnology company, have shelved plans to introduce GM wheat into world markets after admitting there was too little demand for the product. The move a significant reversal of company strategy follows strong consumer and farmer resistance to GM wheat in Europe and North America. This year, the Canadian Wheat Board warned that any introduction of GM wheat could devastate its wheat industry. Monsanto has spent seven years and hundreds of millions of dollars developing the product. They will now focus on GM maize, cotton and rape seeds. (The Financial Times; The Guardian; Daily Mail; The Times)

Popular soft drinks are packed with additives linked to potential health problems, according to a Daily Mail survey. Ten of the biggest-selling soft drinks in supermarkets have been found to contain more than 70 additives, many linked to behavioural problems, asthma, rotting teeth and insomnia. Although the additives have been certified safe in small quantities, critics say they may have altered effects when they are mixed together. Dr Vyvyan Howard, toxicologist at the University of Liverpool, said: "A number of these substances are related very closely to transmitter substances in the brain, with the way nerve cells talk to each other. If you interfere with that, you interfere with brain function." (Daily Mail; Daily Mirror)

Further evidence that eating vegetables protects against cancer was unveiled by Professor Ian Johnson, of the Institute of Food Research. He said millions of people put themselves at increased risk of cancer because they do not appreciated the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables. His research shows that certain chemicals in brassicas kill colon cancer cells in the same way as anti-cancer drugs. Lab tests showed that a chemical called allyl-isothiocyanate (AITC), which is released when the food is chopped, cooked or chewed and gives these vegetables their bitter flavour, stops the uncontrolled division of cancer cells that allows tumours to grow. (Daily Mail; The Sun; Daily Telegraph)

An article in the New Statesman looks at the success of the organic market but asks whether this has been at the expense of small producers: "The supermarkets still care too much for the cosmetics of food products - hence producers' wastage and rejection rates are high - and too little for the large and varied heritage of British produce and livestock. So agricultural biodiversity can go hang. The retailers' market power and ability to undercut prices by sourcing abroad also give them the whip hand over the producer - which may explain why Tesco is building more stores while farmers leave the land in their thousands.'"

The Soil Association has published a report warning about residues of the antibiotic lasalocid in chickens' eggs. Three million eggs eaten every day could contain residues and babies could be at risk, along with people who eat a large number of eggs, such as those on the Atkins' diet. Lasalocid can legally be used in the feed of chickens sold for meat, turkeys, pheasants and quail and is contained in ready-made feed sold to non-organic farmers for these purposes. However it is not licensed for use for chickens that lay eggs. It is likely that contamination is occurring at feed mills. ( (The full report and press release are available from www.soilassociation.org/antibiotics)

A critique of Tony Blair's green credentials accuses his Government of being dangerously deluded in its belief that it is making people's lives better while protecting the planet. The report, from the Government's Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), says the Government is well adrift of the path to a truly sustainable society, and does not realise the radical shift of policies required. Sir Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the SDC and principal author of the report, says the Government's central objective remains conventional economic growth, rather than the well-being of society and the planet as a whole. (The Independent 13/4/04)

Argentina has suffered an environmental crisis due to GM farming. The countryside is overrun with 'superweeds' and farmers are reporting health problems due to excessive use of herbicides. Since 1997, GM soya has been planted over almost half the country's arable land. Now farmers are having to use more and more herbicides to control the resistant weeds, damaging the soil's fertility for generations. Overuse of weedkillers is rendering the soil inert, and directly affecting human health. Farmers and their families living near Argentina's GM fields complain of rashes, streaming eyes and other symptoms. Some have seen their livestock die or give birth to deformed young. Even Argentinian advocates of GM crops admit that today's farming methods cannot be sustained. (New Scientist; Daily Mail front page story 15/4/04)

Scientists have detected first signs that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) may have crossed into sheep. (The Independent; The Guardian - 8/4/04)

Scientists at the University of British Columbia, in Canada, have discovered that the crude antibiotics fed to farm animals for decades include resistance genes. This is "creating an enormous gene pool for antimicrobial resistance in the environment." The finding could add to pressure in the US to ban antibiotic growth promoters. (New Scientist)

The Sun (1/4/04) says that "supermarkets are stinging organic food fans by charging them up to 63 per cent more for pesticide-free fruit and veg. It is generally recognised that it costs more to grow and harvest organic foods. But the much higher prices in the shops suggest some chains are cashing in on demand for them."

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