genetically modified

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what’s going on with our food?

Submitted by turbosprout on Mon, 2007-08-20 11:19

Sudan red in our spices. Antibiotic chloramphenicol in our honey. rBST in our milk. Ethylene glycol in our pet food. Genetically modified organisms in our non-gmo soya milk. Trans fats in our bread. Sugar promoted as a way to "manage diabetes"! Cloned meat on the FDA's agenda in the US. Cadmium pineapples in South Africa!

pic: super size mepic: super size meYou’re not wrong in thinking it sounds like a frankenfood freakshow – something is happening to our food supply chain. Why all the adulteration, hidden and disease-causing ingredients?

We can blame the modern industrial food complex for the complicated system of moving food from the fields to your table in the name of convenience and profit, but we're now entering an era where the large players in the system are no longer just motivated by profit but by total control.

The farmer is squeezed from all sides: by supermarkets that will drop him like a hot potato should he not fulfill orders; agri-chemical companies who supply toxic chemicals that damage the land with no liability; and biotech GM seed companies who will sue him for the shirt on his back should he infringe on their patent rights.

Consumers also feel the pinch. We're not told...

safm debate on gm foods

Submitted by turbosprout on Wed, 2007-05-09 20:38

SAfm's After 8 Debate last Friday morning was on Genetically Modified Foods - are they the answer to alleviating poverty in Africa?

tobacco plant: expressing firefly genetobacco plant: expressing firefly genePoverty alleviation is probably the most quoted reason I hear for why GM foods should be supported. It is also a complete sham that GM foods will alleviate poverty. Genetically Modified foods will not enrich Africans, they will however enrich the multinational biotech companies who produce the GM seed that is marketed to African farmers.

The debate was extremely interesting and the sentiment of most callers phoning in was anti-GM. It is a darn shame that transcriptions of debates are not available from SAfm. So as a service to green bloggers and interested readers here goes with my shamelessly biased version of the debate. :-) My mom-in-law let me know about the program just as it was starting and fortunately I was on the train to work with a mobile radio and notepad, so I jotted down what was being said as the debate unfolded....

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we're still holding thumbs for biowatch

Submitted by turbosprout on Wed, 2007-05-02 22:52

I read the article published on IOL this morning about the Biowatch court costs appeal case and had to scoff at Monsanto's legal counsel, Frank Snyckers, defending Judge Dunn's decision.

...Dunn had been given no option but to administer the "healing balm of a costs award" to punish Biowatch for submitting legally incoherent and "unintelligible" requests for information.

Healing balm indeed!! What utter tripe. We know corporate lawyers can be unscrupulous at the best of times, but really! I just hope the current Judges presiding will have more sense than either Snyckers or Dunn. The implications of their decision is huge. Should they uphold Judge Dunn's original ruling that Biowatch pay Monsanto's legal fees this will cripple Biowatch, probably forcing it to close down.

The counsel for Biowatch, Richard Moultrie, did cite a ruling by former chief justice and deputy president of the Constitutional Court that groups acting in the public interest "should not be discouraged from doing so by the risk of having to pay the costs of their adversaries", which is encouraging and should bear positively on the outcome.

It was also good to hear that the case was featured on a Bush Buzz insert on 50/50 and that many individual and organisations, locally and abroad have come out in support of Biowatch.

The Inkatha Freedom Party also took the opportunity to issue a media statement.

To send your comments of support to Biowatch go here.

will you choose to eat GM potatoes?

Submitted by turbosprout on Wed, 2007-04-25 13:26

An article appeared in the Business Report on Monday essentially about the choices retailers are soon going to have to make if the SA government continues with it's GM-friendly policies thereby allowing GM produce to get to market. Are food retailers going to allow GM produce on their shelves or not?

Woolworths and Pick 'n Pay are following international food retailer trends and putting more weight behind their organic lines. Woolworths recently announced it's Good Business Journey which aims to increase it's organic food offering four-fold and Pick n' Pay is involved in the Organic Freedom Project to create 100 000 jobs on 20 000 hectares by 2014.

Will we have genetically modified produce sitting alongside organic produce on supermarket shelves? Well Pick 'n Pay said it would not stock the government endorsed GM potato which the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) hopes to commercialise later this year "until the council could provide conclusive scientific evidence on the biosafety of the product." [Business Report]

So this doesn't rule out the possibility of GM potatoes finding their way on to Pick 'n Pay shelves, just that the science would have to be convincing. And who will be providing the impartial convincing science, I ask? It certainly can't be the ARC who have a commercial interest in seeing their potatos proliferated! I just hope that the supermarkets and the public won't be duped by sham science.

Biowatch's Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss said, back in 2004, "We got scientists from the University of the Western Cape to analyse data from previous trials and they found it to be flawed." [IOL]

Will we as consumers even know we are buying GM-modified potatoes? No we won't as food labelling laws in this country don't require the disclosure of genetically modified food unless there is a "significant difference" between the GM and the non-GM product.

greening it up - mon 23 apr 07

Submitted by turbosprout on Mon, 2007-04-23 13:44

Will the order for Biowatch to pay Monsanto's costs be overturned in the Pretoria High Court today? Environmental groups across the country will be giving the case their attention as it will affect whether they will be able to take on big corporates in future without fear of bankrupting themselves with legal fees. Read more about Biowatch's case here.

Genetically Modified Lucerne a threat to the Organic Dairy Industry. Is it co-incidental that Monsanto, producers of Posilac (the trademark for rBST - the growth hormone fed to dairy herds to increase milk production) is now producing genetically modified (GM) lucerne (alfalfa) seed? In the US organic dairy farmers are joining the Center for Food Safety in a fight against the sale of Monsanto's GM alfalfa seed. Organic alfalfa is a staple feed for organic dairy herds and should it become contaminated by GM alfalfa this would threaten the integrity of certified organic milk. organic consumers association

Woolworths announces "Good business journey". Some good news for the SA organics industry: Woolworths is committed to increasing it's sales of organic food four-fold to over R1-billion per annum and also increase sales of it's organic-content clothing range to over R1-billion pa. These are just two items that are part of a broader 5 year plan (journey) which include acclerating transformation, driving social development, enhancing environmental focus and addressing climate change. Quite a tall order, but a bold move by Woolworths and one which, hopefully, other SA companies will emulate. woolworths holdings

high stakes on biowatch appeal

Submitted by turbosprout on Thu, 2007-04-19 18:05

Will Biowatch succeed in it's appeal against the court costs order or will democracy and consumer advocacy in South Africa be dealt an expensive blow?

There is a lot at stake here, so please read the rest of this and support Biowatch on Monday 23rd April!

The story so far, in fast forward. (Sources: GMWatch, SafeAge and Biowatch)

1997 – first GM crops are commercially released in South Africa.

Dec 1999 – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Act comes into operation.

pretoria high courtpretoria high courtJul 2000 - Biowatch makes requests for information about how decisions to allow GM crops are made. The organisation makes further requests on another three occasions up to February 2001 but receives inadequate responses from the Registrar of Genetic Resources. The information requested included:

· access to a selection of risk assessments;
· information on legislation governing field trial licences before the implementation of the GMO Act;
· an update on what permits had been granted;
· permission to inspect permits granted;
· permission to inspect records regarding compliance with public participation provisions of the GMO Act;
· details about pending applications for permits for GM crops, exact coordinates of field trials and crops approved for commercial release.

Aug 2002 – Biowatch serves court papers on the Department of Agriculture, naming the Registrar for Genetic Resources, the Executive Council for Genetic Resources and the Minister of Agriculture as respondents.

Feb 2003 – Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd, along with two companies that distribute Monsanto seed, apply to join the court proceedings as co-respondents, on the grounds that they have a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the proceedings. The Open Democracy Advice Centre joins proceedings as a friend of the court to advance arguments in support of Biowatch's constitutional right of access to information.

May 2004 – the case is heard in the Pretoria High Court.

24 Feb 2005 – Acting Judge Eric Dunn delivers the judgement. He orders that Biowatch South Africa be granted access to almost all the information it had requested. Specifically, Judge Dunn reaffirmed that:
· Biowatch South Africa had a constitutional right to this information.
· Access to the information was in the public interest.
· Biowatch South Africa had been forced to apply to the court to exercise this right.

Judge Dunn also said that:
· Granting access to this information was a necessary part of the proper administration of the Genetically Modified Organisms Act;
· The Registrar of Genetic Resources had adopted a passive role in assisting Biowatch with gaining access to the information it had sought.

But, obscurely, instead of applying the general principle that costs should follow the result of litigation, Judge Dunn ordered Biowatch South Africa to pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd. His reason: Biowatch South Africa had been too general in its request for information and this had forced Monsanto South Africa to come to court to protect its interests. Judge Dunn made no other costs orders.

23 June 2005 – Biowatch is granted permission to appeal the costs order.

13 Oct 2006 – Appeal date scheduled for 23 April 2007.

23 Apr 2007 - What will the outcome be in the Pretoria High Court?

seeds of change

Submitted by turbosprout on Tue, 2007-04-17 18:49

I went along to the Seeds of Change screening by Permacore last week and got more than I bargained for: I found out more about genetically modified crops, met some interesting people and ended up enjoying red wine, tequila and live irish music at the pub round the corner afterwards! So I had just a bit of a headache on Friday morning, but will be definitely be back for more Permacore meet-ups!

The movie itself was very interesting. It focused on GMO's from the perspective of several Canadian farmers, one of whom bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Gates (see right). It covered a few benefits of growing genetically modified crops, but then homed right in on the numerous problems with genetically modified crops. Overall I'd recommend seeing the Future of Food before you see this movie as the FoF tackles the GM issue from several points of view, not just the farmers. The FoF also did a better job of explaining the science behind GM and offered a positive backlash against GM's: buy organic. Nonetheless Seeds of Change was worth watching for an insight into the negative impacts GM has on farmers.

percy schmeiser: sued by monsanto over patented gm canola found in his fieldpercy schmeiser: sued by monsanto over patented gm canola found in his fieldOne of disadvantages of growing GM crops covered in Seeds of Change that I hadn't thought about before was the issue of "volunteer resistance". No this has nothing to do with consumer activism, but is rather illustrated using the example of a farmer growing two crops: genetically modified canola and conventional wheat. In the first season, the farmer plants GM canola which is engineered to resist a herbicide called glyphosate. The farmer then sprays his field with glyphosate to kill weeds that appear during the growing season without the canola being affected. The next season the farmer plants wheat, but guess what? The canola that was grown the previous season, bred, produced seed, germinated and is now technically a weed: an unwanted competitor with the wheat. The trouble is that the canola (now called a "volunteer") is resistant to glyphosate so the farmer has to resort to other more expensive herbicides, if he wants his wheat crop to succeed. By planting GM canola he has created a persistant weed that is difficult to eradicate. Farmers that use the "no-till" method of farming (they don't plough the field to get rid of weeds before sowing, thereby saving money and not disturbing the soil structure) are most susceptible to the problem of volunteer resistance.

canola fieldcanola fieldAnother major problem with growing GM canola is that it has totally wiped out any organic canola farming activity. The GM canola readily breeds with conventional canola and the resulting seeds are GM tainted. This also means that GM tainted canola, the straw of which is used as animal feedstock cannot be used as fodder for organic cattle or dairy farmers! The farmers (conventional and organic) needless to say were firmly opposed to the proliferation of GM wheat as it has the potential to create massive problems both in conventional and organic production. In fact organic farmers in Canada have instituted a class action lawsuit against Monsanto as GM crops are robbing them of their livelihoods.

Watching Seeds of Change also made me think about how disconnected we are from the food supply and hence how little we know about it. GM crops are creating huge problems that will affect not only us but generations to come, but the man in the street knows very little about what is going on and what is at stake. For me GM cropping is analogous to nuclear waste: there are some short term benefits in using the technology, but we'll leave future generations to worry about the mess we leave behind. The handful of giant biotech companies smiling all the way to the bank have no responsibility placed on them to clean up the mess. Seeds of Change illustrated that there are massive problems with GM Canola in Canada which cannot be undone. GM Canola is now in the wild and we're yet to learn what all the unintended side-effects of this will be in future.

There are actions we can take now though: educate ourselves, support organic food production and campaign against genetically modified food.
For more info on GMO see:
African Centre for Biosafety

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permacore screening seeds of change

Submitted by turbosprout on Tue, 2007-04-10 12:29

Adhoc, informal screenings of alternative movies have been happening at different venues around Cape Town, organised by various groups. Collectives like While You Were Sleeping, Green Drinks and Safeage have been showing films that would never be screened by mainstream cinema's. We're not talking arthouse movies here either, these movies are usually non-mainstream documentaries that make needed social, humanitarian or environmental commentry, often politically charged. They deal with controversial subject matter and are intended to challenge our assumptions.

Past screenings have included The Future of Food (genetically modified food), The Iron Wall (wall dividing Palestine and Israel), The Yes Men (satirical mockumentary in which IMF officials are impersonated by activist-pranksters) and The End of Suburbia (implications of oil depletion on the suburban lifestyle).

Now Permacore, a Cape Town group of permaculturists, are screening Seeds of Change this Thursday (12 Apr), 7pm at The Door in the Floor, Trill Rd, Obz. If you get there early food will be available to order in the couryard. Texting 084 951 5535 if you plan to eat will assist with the catering. Or email for more info.

Seeds of Change is a 70 minute fast-paced and moving documentary about the views of western Canadian farmers on both the benefits and risks associated with using genetically modified crops.

"Our film addresses the biotechnology industry and how it has changed the face of agriculture. As such it has great relevance for stakeholders around the world - activists, industry people, policymakers, and farmers not least among them," states video researcher Stéphane McLachlan.

gm maize rejected on food safety grounds

Submitted by turbosprout on Wed, 2007-03-28 17:12

cassavacassavaThe SA government's Executive Council on Genetically Modified Organisms has rejected Syngenta's application to grow GM maize in South Africa for the biofuel industry.

This is the third successive rejection by the Executive Council for applications to plant GM crops, and for good reason. The concerns expressed this time by government were:

- Syngenta failed to convincingly prove that their "maize event 3 272" was safe for human or animal consumption. Although intended for biofuel production, the maize could easily contaminate maize meant as food.

- The maize could harm our maize export industry if contaminated maize entered the food system. This was of particular concern as this strain had not been approved in any other country.

- The possibility that the GM maize contained allergens could not be ruled out as World Health Organisation evaluation guidelines were not used in assessments.

GM Cassava, also intended for the biofuels market, was given the thumbs down by the GMO Excecutive Council last week. The application by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), had it succeeded would have been Africa's first open field trials of cassava. The application was refused due to concerns over trait stability and gene flow into the environment.

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monsanto sham science exposed

Submitted by turbosprout on Tue, 2007-03-20 15:34

A study published last week provides proof that Monsanto's science does not stand up to independant peer review and highlights the need for impartial testing of GMO products. Of course any industry with a vested interest (making lots of money) in getting a product to market is going to provide the "science" to back the claims that the technology is safe (something I've blogged about here). We all know this sham science is perpetrated, but now Greenpeace has been able to prove it and place Monsanto in the spotlight once again.

The story starts back in August 2002 when Monsanto submits a claim to German authorities to import genetically modified maize MON863 into the EU. pic: Benny Goolpic: Benny GoolMON863 is genetically modified to contain a modified toxin (originating from the Bacillus thuringienses micro-organism which is aimed at protecting the maize plant from rootworm), as well as an antibiotic resistant marker gene. A 90-day rat feeding study accompanied the submission.

By Jun 2003 both French and German authorities approved the MON863 study despite only a narrow majority of French CGB (French Genetic Engineering Commission) experts approving the results of the Monsanto tests.

French group CRIIGEN (Committee for Independent Research and Genetic Engineering) and Greenpeace try for months to wrest the findings from the French and German authorities and the actual test data from Monsanto.

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