Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Judge sets date for biotech arguments
By Mateusz Perkowski
August 25, 2011
A federal judge has split the difference between biotech critics and the sugar beet industry in a dispute over scheduling a lawsuit.
Though the recent order relates to procedural steps, it may have consequences for the planting of transgenic sugar beets next year.
U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C., has ordered the two sides to finish submitting court briefs by Jan. 6 — later than recommended by biotech critics but earlier than preferred by the industry.
Once those documents are submitted, the judge may hold oral arguments in the case before deciding whether the USDA violated environmental law by partially deregulating the transgenic crop earlier this year.
It’s unknown how soon that decision would come down after arguments conclude, said Nancy Bryson, an attorney for Syngenta, a biotech developer involved in the lawsuit.
“You can never predict when a district court is going to rule,” Bryson said, adding that she’s satisfied with the judge’s briefing schedule.
The Center for Food Safety, which sued the USDA to block the partial deregulation of glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready sugar beets, had argued for an expedited schedule for submitted court documents.
The group claimed the sugar beet industry was stalling the litigation to ensure sugar beet seedlings, or stecklings, are in the ground early next year. Stecklings are usually transplanted from greenhouses in January and February.
The Center for Food Safety alleges that sugar beet companies want to delay any court decision about the legality of partial deregulation — making it easier to claim that destroying the already-planted stecklings would be inequitable.
Paul Achitoff, an attorney representing the group, characterized the legal strategy as “get it in the ground, then argue it should stay in the ground.”
Achitoff said the group may still seek relief that would prevent planting but said he couldn’t talk about specific legal motions.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
USDA/APHIS Creeping towards Regulatory Shutdown
By Prof. Joe Cummins
August 30, 2011
Regulating GM crops
Genetically modified (GM) grass tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate, intended for use in golf courses, parks and athletic fields, has become a focal point for the biotech industry and academe bent on killing the regulation of GM crops.
Before going into the bluegrass saga, the basics of GM crop regulation in the United States should be outlined. First, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is entrusted to ensure the safe development of agricultural biotechnology by regulating field-testing, interstate movement, and importation of GM organisms (GMOs). APHIS determines whether a GMO is as safe for the environment as its traditional counterpart and hence can be freely used in agriculture. APHIS uses the term ‘biotechnology’ to mean recombinant DNA technology, or genetic engineering (modification) of living organisms . In addition, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates several biotechnology products, including pesticides produced by plants or microorganisms and non-pesticidal substances such as industrial enzymes, biosensors, and bioremediation agents produced using microorganisms . The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which determined that bioengineered foods should be regulated like their conventional counterparts in 1992, has not to-date established any regulations specific to bioengineered food . APHIS has undertaken regulation of the testing and release to the environment of GM crops on the basis that the GM crops must not pose a threat to unmodified crops while any threat to humans and farm animals is not considered by APHIS, or by any other agency.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Severe root damage to Bt corn confirmed in northwestern Illinois
By Jennifer Shike
College of ACES, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
August 24, 2011
Severe root damage observed in Bt corn in northwestern Illinois last week should alert growers to carefully consider 2012 seed selection choices, said Mike Gray, University of Illinois Extension entomologist.
On August 16, Gray verified severe corn rootworm pruning on some Bt hybrids that express the Cry3Bb1 protein in Henry and Whiteside counties located in northwestern Illinois. The fields were in continuous corn production systems for many years, and the producers had relied upon Bt hybrids that expressed the Cry3Bb1 protein as their primary protection against western corn rootworm injury.
Lodged plants were common in many areas of the fields, and western corn rootworm adults were numerous and easy to collect. He also found plants with two to three nodes of roots completely destroyed. A shovel was not required for removing the plants from the soil, Gray said.
“Unfortunately, yield losses will be significant in these fields,” he added. “In early July, severe storms swept through northern Illinois and caused significant lodging of many cornfields.”
Earlier this month Aaron Gassman of Iowa State University confirmed field-evolved resistance by western corn rootworm to the Cry3Bb1 protein in an Iowa study. Resistant western corn rootworm adults were collected by Gassmann from continuous cornfields in northeastern Iowa where significant root damage had occurred. These Iowa fields had been planted with Bt hybrids expressing the Cry3Bb1 protein, Gray said.
The situations in Iowa and Illinois share some common features, he said. Adults were collected from the Illinois fields in question and will be further evaluated for potential resistance.
“I urge you to be very cautious in your choice of hybrids offering corn rootworm protection in light of these developments in Iowa and northwestern Illinois,” Gray said. “Many producers have utilized a single-tactic approach for too many years, and now unfortunate consequences are beginning to emerge.”
ConAgra sued over GMO ‘100% natural’ cooking oils
by Michele Simon, Opinion
Food Safety News
August 24, 2011
If you use Wesson brand cooking oils, you may be able to join a class action against food giant ConAgra for deceptively marketing the products as natural.
These days it’s hard to walk down a supermarket aisle without bumping into a food product that claims to be “all-natural.” If you’ve ever wondered how even some junk food products can claim this moniker (witness: Cheetos Natural Puff White Cheddar Cheese Flavored Snacks - doesn’t that sound like it came straight from your garden?) the answer is simple if illogical: the Food and Drug Administration has not defined the term natural.
So food marketers, knowing that many shoppers are increasingly concerned about healthful eating, figured: why not just slap the natural label on anything we can get away with? That wishful thinking may soon be coming to an end if a few clever consumer lawyers have anything to say about it.
While various lawsuits have been filed in recent years claiming that food companies using the term natural are engaging in deceptive marketing, a suit filed in June in California against ConAgra could make the entire industrial food complex shake in its boots.
The plaintiff claims he relied on Wesson oils “100% natural” label, when the products are actually made from genetically modified organisms.
Monday, August 22, 2011
GM crops set for early start
Viet Nam News
August, 22 2011
HA NOI — Large-scale growing of genetically modified crops could start as early as next year, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Bui Ba Bong said.
Addressing a seminar in Ha Noi last Wednesday, he said genetically modified plants and trees would be able to better withstand the harsh weather conditions caused by climate change.
“Wide-spread planting of GM crops offers benefits but also presents challenges, particularly in Viet Nam where they were only recently introduced,” Bong said, adding that the planting of GM crops would be closely monitored.
“We also need to enhance co-operation with developed countries and international organisations in this field,” he added. Viet Nam has begun growing GM crops, including vitamin-rich rice, herbicide-resistant and worm-free corn and drought tolerant beans.