Friday, December 30, 2011
Another Bt-cotton variant falls to fraud charges
By Zia Haq
December 30, 2011
In what could be a significant fraud in India’s publicly funded biotech research, a second Bt cotton variant – NHH 44 — claimed by government scientists as indigenous technology has been found to be sourced from US firm Monsanto’s original patented product, sources have confirmed to Hindustan Times.
While Bikaneri, a Bt cotton technology developed by University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, has already been traced to Monsanto’s genes, NHH 44 is a hybrid variant, but both essentially are based on a “proprietary technology” created by Monsanto.
The first fraud came to light on the basis of disclosures made under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Together, “Bikaneri” and “NHH 44” were the only genetically-modified varieties of the Bt cotton developed through government-funded research to provide cheaper alternatives to poor farmers, while numerous other privately-developed varieties crowd India’s royalty-driven Rs 2,000-crore cotton seed market.
Much of the flak is being heaped on UAS scientist BM Khadi, one of the lead scientists involved in the research. He headed the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, until May 2008 and it was during his tenure that NHH 44 was initiated. He is also part of India’s biotech regulator, pointing to a potential conflict of interest. Khadi could not reached for comments.
However, what were deemed to be original products, involving heavy government investment, have turned out to be not entirely indigenous. Relying on Monsanto’s technology could have possible because its intellectual property rights protection of 15 years had ended, freeing violators from legal tangles, sources said.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s “network programme on transgenics” had a budgetary provision of R100 crore in the XI Plan.
The revelations have led critics opposed to GM crops to question government funding for technologies that are suspect. “This puts a question mark on whether capabilities to produce ‘indigenous’ GM crops exist, not that we want these,” Kavitha Kuruganti, who represents the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture, said.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Under Industry Pressure, USDA Works to Speed Approval of Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Crops
By Mike Ludwig
December 12, 2011
For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.
This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.
The USDA launched the pilot project in April and, in November, the USDA announced vague plans  to “streamline” the deregulation petition process for GE organisms. A USDA spokesperson said the streamlining effort is not part of the pilot project, but both efforts appear to address a backlog of pending GE crop deregulation petitions that has angered big biotech firms seeking to rollout new products.
Documents obtained by Truthout under a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that biotech companies, lawmakers and industry groups have put mounting pressure on the USDA in recent years to speed up the petition process, limit environmental impact assessments and approve more GE crops. One group went as far as sending USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a timeline of GE soybean development that reads like a deregulation wish list. [Click here  and here  to download and read some of the documents released to Truthout.]
Saturday, December 3, 2011
More Monsanto corn showing pest damage
By Georgina Gustin
December 3, 2011
Corn plants genetically engineered by Monsanto to repel pests are suffering severe damage from insects in more areas than previously reported, according to government scientists, who called the company’s monitoring of the problem “inadequate.”
In a memorandum posted this week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, scientists reported that corn plants genetically engineered to kill the corn rootworm are showing signs of severe damage in Minnesota and Nebraska fields.
This past summer, researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Illinois reported damage in their states. At the time, those appeared to be the only states with reported damage. But the EPA memo, dated Nov. 22, said that reports of severe damage in Minnesota and Nebraska actually surfaced three and four years ago.
“Producers are reporting greater-than-expected damage, and investigators are trying to pinpoint the cause,” said Mike Gray, an entomologist with the University of Illinois, who this summer found evidence of damage in Illinois fields. “EPA is saying: ‘Hey. What’s going on? We need to take these reports seriously.’”
Monday, November 14, 2011
Why is the State Department using our money to pimp for Monsanto?
By Jill Richardson
November 14, 2011
People in India are up in arms about eggplant. Not just any eggplant — the fight, which is also raging in the Philippines, is over Monsanto’s Bt eggplant. Even as increasing scientific evidence concludes that biotechnology and its arsenal of genetically modified crops may be doing more harm than good, companies like Monsanto are still pushing them hard and they are getting help from the U.S.
The State Department is using taxpayer money to help push the agenda of Monsanto and its friends all across the world. Here’s a recent example: Assistant Secretary of State Jose W. Fernandez, addressing an event of high-level government officials from around the world, agribusiness CEOs, leaders from international organizations, and anti-hunger groups said, “Without agricultural biotechnology, our world would look vastly different. One of our challenges is how to grow more crops on the same land. This is where biotechnology plays a role.”
Many scientists would disagree with these statements, which are more controversial than Fernandez let on. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that biotech crops did not lead to reliable yield increases compared to conventional, non-GMO crops and that biotech crops actually required more pesticides than conventional crops. These conclusions are reiterated by the scientists who authored the “International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development” (IAASTD) report, a 2008 study written by 400 scientists from around the world concluding that agroecology was the best way to feed the world. And a recent 30-year study by the Rodale Institute found that organic methods provided excellent drought protection, whereas drought-tolerant GMOs are mostly still an idea of the future.
So why is Fernandez making speeches that sound like Monsanto talking points? His background prior to working at the State Department was as a lawyer specializing in international finance and mergers and acquisitions, particularly in Latin America. Now he heads up the State Department’s Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), which works “to promote economic security and prosperity at home and abroad.” And part of such prosperity, according to EEB, includes promoting GMOs around the world.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Maine farmer heads group challenging genetics giant Monsanto
By Avery Yale Kamila
Portland Press Herald
November 10, 2011
A fight to maintain consumer choice and farm independence has landed Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen on Utne Reader’s list of “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” published in the November/December edition of the magazine on newsstands now.
Organic seed potato farmer Jim Gerritsen heads a trade association that is suing chemical giant Monsanto. (photo: Charlotte Hedley ) Gerritsen, wife Megan, and their four children run the Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, which produces and sells organic seed potatoes to kitchen gardeners and market farmers in all 50 states. Gerritsen is also president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and it was that role that led to the Utne recognition.
The nonprofit organization created a stir in food and farming communities when, with legal backing from the Public Patent Foundation, it filed a lawsuit in March against the chemical and biotechnology giant Monsanto. OSGATA has since been joined in the lawsuit by 82 other seed businesses, trade organizations and family farmers, which together represent more than 270,000 people.
The lawsuit questions the validity of Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seeds, and seeks protection from patent-infringement lawsuits for the plaintiffs should their crops become contaminated with Monsanto’s transgenic crops.