by Common Ground staff
US maize ban could continue in Europe
The European Union might extend its conditional ban on imports of US maize if it finds more products contaminated by an illegal gene-altered maize, the EU’s food safety chief said on April 26.
Earlier last month Europe blocked imports of maize animal feed and grain from the United States unless there was proof they were untainted by Bt-10, a genetically modified maize made by Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta. Bt-10 maize is not authorized for use either in Europe or the US. Exporters send 3.5 million tonnes of US corn gluten feed to Europe each year, a trade worth Cdn.$585 million.
Don’t rush GMO use in Tanzania, says organic body
As the Tanzanian parliament is scheduled to debate and approve the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) mid this year, the secretariat of the committee for the establishment of the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement, called it “an unnecessary rush.”
Jordan Gama, the secretary to the committee, said that there was an unnecessary rush on the part of some government officials and local scientists, especially the Arusha-based Tropical Pesticides Research Institute, to introduce GMOs in the country before the biosafety law is in place.
“We should stop the rush to introduce GMOs in Tanzania until proved safe and conducive to smallholder farmers, our health and to our environment, Gama stated. The economic impact on small-scale farmers and Tanzania’s exports, especially to the European Union, and the possible health and environmental risks are all unknown to Tanzanians.
About five years after 350 University of Guelph students signed a petition to have a course on organic agriculture taught there, the university is introducing Canada’s first major in the subject.
The major in organic agriculture, contained within the bachelor of science in agriculture program, was approved by the university’s senate recently, and will begin full operation next fall.
“I’m delighted,” said Ann Clark, a plant agriculture professor who has long felt the need for organic agriculture programming at the university.
Clark said five new courses will be added for the major, but the other 35 additional classes are agricultural courses that already exist.
She added, however, that professors in other departments who teach some of those classes have indicated a willingness to upgrade their courses to include an organic component.
Clark began teaching the university’s first and only organic course nearly four years ago because of the 1999 petition, and while she is pleased with gains made in the area, she said it still takes a lot of work to have organics accepted, even at the U of G.
“I think organic agriculture is a perceived threat,” she said, adding mainstream farming methods tend to be skewed towards problem-solving, while organic agriculture focuses on “problem avoidance through design.”
Clark added it has been tough to promote organic programming in certain quarters on campus, since the university relies so heavily on research dollars from industries that promote the problem-solving (chemical) method of farming.
Some of these companies fund research at the university.
“It puts the university, more or less, at the mercy of industry.”
But Rob McLaughlin, who was dean of the U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College from 1990 to 2000, said those characterizations are unfair.
“Certainly while I was dean, organics was a growing phenomenon,” he said recently, adding, however, that when you have finite resources and funding, “the research money gets directed to the mainstream.”
He added that the school’s agricultural research stations are owned by the province, and “our responsibility is not to any corporate investor but the province of Ontario.”
McLaughlin said the university’s agricultural college in Alfred, northeast of Ottawa, is looking at converting its dairy herd to organic.
Peter Purslow, chair of the food science department, said while he and his faculty are “extremely supportive” of the new major, “we are not in the business of making new courses for organic food.”
Purslow said while some of his department’s existing courses will be taken by students in the major, the department will not create “bogus standards” specifically for organic food in areas of food safety and quality.
He added that the new major is a good addition in that it addresses a specific component of the farming industry, “and we should be addressing it as that, not as a fringe element.”
Monsanto fined for bribery
In January 2005 it was announced that Monsanto is to pay $1.5 million in fines to the US government over a bribe paid in Indonesia in a bid to bypass controls on the screening of new GM cotton crops.
According to the department of justice under US anti-bribery laws, the company paid $50,000 to an unnamed senior Indonesian environmental official in 2002, in an unsuccessful bid to amend or repeal the requirement for the environmental impact statement for new crop varieties. The bribe in question was just the tip of the iceberg and the trail of corruption leads back to the US.
A senior Monsanto official based in the US ordered the bribing of the environmental official. According to the Security and Exchange Commission, “When it became clear that the lobbying efforts were having no effect on the senior environment official, the senior Monsanto manager told the consulting firm employee to “incentivize” the official with a cash payment of $50,000.” The Monsanto manager then concocted a scheme involving false invoices to hide the bribe.According to the Financial Times, “The company also admitted that it had paid over $700,000 in bribes to various officials in Indonesia between 1997 and 2002, financed through improper accounting of its pesticide sales in Indonesia.”
The bribes were financed, at least in part, through unauthorized, improperly documented and inflated sales of Monsanto’s pesticide products in Indonesia, the company admitted.
The Financial Times notes, “The attempt to circumvent environmental controls on genetically-modified crops in a developing country is a significant embarrassment for Monsanto, which is engaged in an ongoing campaign to win public support in the European Union for its genetically modified crops.”
Over a five year period, it seems, Monsanto gave bribes to “at least 140” current or former Indonesian government officials and their family members.
The recipients are said to have included a senior official in the environment ministry, a senior official in the agriculture ministry, and an official in the national planning and development board.
The largest single set of bribes was for the purchase of land and the design and construction of a house in the name of a wife of a senior ministry of agriculture official, which cost Monsanto $373,990.
Fined for advertising GM-free
Australian farmer Julie Newman of the Network for Concerned Farmers in Australia has drawn our attention to a report about a New Zealand vegetarian food manufacturer who has been fined for “positively promoting the absence of GM content” in a non-GM product that was found to be GM contaminated.
“Non-GM” or “GM free” must mean what they say, the court said. The judge during sentencing also noted that “many consumers only bought goods they understood contained no genetically modified products.”
Julie points out, “This is a critical bit of news, as coexistence is based around definitions that claim that 0.9 percent is accepted in non-GM produce (for the EU) when the reality is that 0.9 percent is merely what triggers a GM label in the EU.
“In order to legally sell something as GM-free or as non-GM, the produce can not have any trace of GM contamination. Coexistence is proven to be impossible to maintain at a zero tolerance level, therefore coexistence plans are worthless.”
And zero tolerance, Julie points out, is exactly what the market wants. For instance, the Grainpool of Western Australia, the Australian Barley Board, and the Australian Wheat Board have all indicated a zero tolerance requirement is essential for their markets. In other words, there will be problems if any material from GM contaminated canola (oilseed rape), which has been given federal approval in Australia, contaminates their grain shipments.
The Australian dairy industry similarly requires a guarantee that stock have not been fed any GM grain. While some dairies have tolerance levels for GM contamination, others do not. Producers of pork, lamb and beef have also indicated there is no tolerance for their stock being fed GM contaminated grain and contracts will need to be signed to verify this.