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Organic news archive: May 2004

A six-year European moratorium on new GM foods has ended after bureaucrats in Brussels approved imports of GM sweetcorn despite health worries. Opponents attacked the decision for failing to protect the health of consumers. They accused the European Commission of bending over backwards to appease GM supporters in the U.S. where the sweetcorn is grown. Approval for the crop, which has been genetically modified to include a toxic insecticide in the leaves and stem, was given by Commission officials rather than elected politicians because the member states could not agree that the product is safe to eat. The governments of France, Austria, Portugal, Greece, Denmark and Luxembourg all objected to approval of the sweetcorn. Germany, Spain and Belgium abstained in a vote. (Daily Mail, 20/5/04)

The US said yesterday it would maintain its challenge against the European Union over restrictions on imports of genetically modified products. The US administration has long argued that it wants to be certain that approval of Bt-11 is not a one-off event. Nine other GM food products are awaiting clearance. (Financial Times)

Genetically modified crops were given a cautious endorsement as a means of solving world hunger by the UN's food agency yesterday. The backing, from the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), is at variance with the views of many leading aid agencies, which say that such claims made for GM are misleading. The FAO was at pains to point out that benefits from GM developments had still not reached small farmers or the world's poor, because the technology was so far concentrated on a few lucrative cash crops such as soya beans, rather than on staples such as potatoes. But it gave a favourable view of GM as a whole. Its report - "Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor?" - continues the UN's position of recognising the potential of transgenic crops to help fight world hunger, while stressing that case-by-case studies were needed to assess the risks. Its general view of the subject, however, is positive. It says that GM crops currently on the market are safe to eat, and notes that scientists disagree on their environmental impact - accepting genes from GM crops can be transferred to wild species. However, it says scientists differ on whether that in itself is a bad thing, and says that what is needed most is more research to asses the environmental consequences of the so-called "gene flow." The report also points out environmental and health benefits from GM crops, claiming that an associated reduction in pesticides and toxic herbicides has had "demonstrable health benefits" for farm workers in China. (The Independent; Financial Times)

Steven Druker, a US public interest attorney who directs the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, explains why America is being hypocritical over GM produce: "Although US law mandates that foods with new additives (such as GM foods) be proven safe, Food and Drug Administration files confirm such evidence is lacking and experts have declared that no GM food has been demonstrated safe. By emphasising these facts, the EU could highlight the US's hypocrisy and blunt the force of its lawsuit (filed at the World Trade Organisation against the European Union's restrictions on GM products). Rather than withering under the US demand for proof that GM foods are harmful, EU officials should turn the tables and demand that the US honour its own laws by proving they are safe." (Financial Times) [More information can be found at www.biointegrity.org]

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), large areas of the ocean have been deprived of oxygen, making them uninhabitable for fish and plant life. The UNEP states that the main cause of these 'dead zones' is an increase of nitrogen in seas, primarily from agricultural fertilisers. (The Ecologist)

A special section in the Ecologist focuses on polio and the controversy surrounding the vaccine. It also links the polio epidemics of the past with "the gross overuse of very dangerous pesticides." By 1952, the number of cases of infantile paralysis was three times higher than the figure for 1940. This corresponds to the liberal use of DDT (which replaced lead arsenate as a pesticide) - housewives were advised to spray DDT to stop infantile paralysis.

Organic supermarket Planet Organic (Soil Association licensees) is to open its third outlet at the end of June - a 4000 sq. ft store in Fulham. Founder Renée Elliott said the company plans to open a fourth store in Central London this year and is also looking at several other possible London sites for further expansion. (The Grocer)

Monsanto, the US biotechnology company, was yesterday accused by Syngenta, its Anglo-Swiss rival, of attempting to intimidate customers and restrict consumer choice by launching a legal action over the rights to genetically-modified corn technology. The claim was made after Monsanto launched an action in the US courts over Syngenta's purchase from Bayer Cropscience on Wednesday of Global rights for 'GA21' glyphosate-tolerant corn technology. Filing an action in a Delaware court, Monsanto said the move clearly infringed its intellectual property rights over the technology and it would seek an injunction banning sales of the corn variety in the US. (Financial Times)

Scientists are "nowhere near" understanding the health and environmental impacts of genetically modified crops, a leading critic from the United States has warned. Jeffrey Smith, founder and director of the Institute for Responsible Technology in the US, is in Britain to promote his new book 'Seeds of Deception - Exposing Corporate and Government Lies about the Safety of Genetically Engineered Food'. Mr Smith claimed there were numerous instances where results of laboratory tests showing negative effects of GM crops had been manipulated or covered up completely. "Any one of those individual studies should be sufficient to stop this dangerous technology until thorough investigations have taken place," he said. "Taken together, they paint a picture that is worthy of very serious concerns. We are nowhere near the level of understanding to be able to protect human health and the natural environment. Unfortunately, we are already feeding this technology to millions of people and released it into the environment where it can never be recalled. It is a strategy that is really, really risky."

Monsanto is withdrawing plans to grow genetically modified canola (oilseed rape) in Australia. The company says that recent legislation prohibiting the use of GM crops means further investment is unjustified. The news comes just two days after Monsanto announced it was withdrawing its GM wheat globally. (13/5/04 - BBC News)

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