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By Reynard Loki
Editor's note: The terms GE (genetic engineering) and GMO (genetically modified organism) are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are different. GMOs, which are produced when plant breeders select genetic traits that may also occur naturally, have been around for centuries. Common examples are seedless watermelons and modern broccoli. The subject of much recent debate are GE foods, which have only been around in recent decades and are produced by transferring genes between organisms. The resulting GE organisms—either plant- or in the case of GE salmon, animal-based—would not otherwise occur in nature. This article is about GE foods.
A New York Times report concluded that, compared to Western Europe, the United States and Canada have "no discernible advantage" in yields after embracing GMOs.Flickr
Investigative reporter Danny Hakim's piece argues that in the last two decades GMO crops have been a mainstay in conventional agriculture and the technology has not led to larger yields nor reduced pesticide use, despite the biotech industry's promises of both. He also notes that the fear that GMOs are unsafe to eat are "largely unsubstantiated."
Using United Nations data, Hakim compared the yields of GMO corn and sugar beets in the U.S. and Canada with their non-GMO counterparts in Europe, which is
largely suspicious of GMOs and strictly regulates its cultivation.
"The United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields—food per acre—when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany," he wrote.
Hakim's conclusion, he points out, is similar to a report from the National Academy of Sciences that found GMO crops have not, to date, increased actual yields and should not be exclusively relied upon to meet long-term food security needs.
As per the New York Times article:
"One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.
"By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage—65 percent—and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent."
The article also highlighted the tragic cycle of ever-stronger herbicides to combat herbicide-resistant superweeds. For instance, 10 states have reported devastating crop damage after farmers illegally sprayed their GMO soybeans and cotton with drift-prone dicamba in order to beat back weeds that have evolved against Monsanto's flagship product, Roundup.
"The NYT has finally admitted what a number of us have been saying for 20 years," Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association, told EcoWatch via email. "GMOs are designed to increase the sales of the proprietary toxic pesticides and patented seeds of Monsanto and the other gene giants, and offer nothing in the way of increased nutrition, yield, adaptation to
climate change, nor reduction of pesticide and chemical inputs."
In September, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant appeared in a joint appearance of their proposed
$66 billion merger which would create the world's largest seed and pesticide company.
Both chiefs echoed Big Ag's mantra that GMOs increase crop yields in an environmentally friendly way and is one solution to feed a global population that will reach 10 billion by 2050.
"We are fully committed to helping solve one of the biggest challenges of society, and that is how to feed a massively growing world population in an environmentally sustainable manner," Baumann said. "What we do is good for consumers. We help produce efficient, safe, healthy and affordable food. It is also good for our growers because they have better choices to increase yields in a sustainable way."
The New York Times report, however, makes it clear that this narrative needs much further scrutiny.
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As expected, the European Commission has extended the license for glyphosate for 18 months. Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis announced the last-minute re-licensing on June 28 despite failing three times in a row to secure a majority decision from the European Union's member states.
The EU's current approval of glyphosate had been set to expire on Thursday but due to the member state gridlock, the EU's executive body had the final say on whether or not the controversial weedkiller remained on Europe's shelves. Had glyphosate's license been allowed to expire, manufacturers would have been given six months to phase out products containing the chemical, such as Monsanto's Roundup and other herbicides.
"The commission will follow our legal obligation. We know very well that we have a deadline of June 30. We will adopt an extension for glyphosate of 18 months," Andriukaitis said at a news conference.
Europe's opinion of the widely used pesticide has been sharply divided ever since March 2015 when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. To complicate matters, other regulatory agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority, declared glyphosate as safe in November.
Andriukaitis noted that the 18-month extension will allow the European Chemicals Agency to further assess the product's safety.
However, the fact that the commission originally proposed to extend glyphosate for another 15 years but has now whittled it down to a temporary approval highlights the chemical's uncertain fate on the continent.
"This decision by the commission to extend the approval of glyphosate in spite of last week's vote shows a disdain for the opposition by the public and EU governments to this controversial toxic herbicide," Green Party MEP Bart Staes said.
"As perhaps the first EU decision after the UK referendum, it shows the commission is failing to learn the clear lesson that the EU needs to finally start listening to its citizens again. This temporary extension must be the beginning of the end for glyphosate; we would now urge EU governments and regions to exercise their rights to impose significant restrictions on its use, so we can begin the process of phasing-out glyphosate."
"There are clear concerns about the health risks with glyphosate, both as regards it being a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor," Staes continued. "Moreover, glyphosate's devastating impact on biodiversity should have already led to its ban. The process of phasing-out glyphosate and other toxic herbicides and pesticides from agriculture must begin now, and this means reorienting the EU's Common Agricultural Policy towards a more sustainable agricultural model and a Common Food Policy."
The Green Party noted that under the legislation, EU member states are entitled to impose restrictions on glyphosate, with France and additional municipal authorities already saying they will do so.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth has also objected to the extension.
"Glyphosate has been given a stay of execution in Europe, but it remains the world's most over-used herbicide. Farmers have been told that this chemical is safe—yet there is mounting evidence of the harmful impacts on our health and environment," farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow stated.
"Despite the Brexit vote, the Government must now see that glyphosate's days are numbered and produce a phase-out plan for this and other damaging chemicals. Farmers urgently need independent advice and support on other ways of tackling persistent weeds that do not harm our water, soils and wild species."
"Longer term, the Government's Brexit plans for farming must prioritise a food and farming strategy that builds a diverse, resilient system—supporting flourishing wildlife, sustainable healthy diets and thriving farmers' livelihoods," Oxborrow said. "And local authorities should follow the lead of Hammersmith and Fulham council and stop using Roundup and other weedkillers containing glyphosate in parks, gardens and schools."
Meanwhile, glyphosate manufacturers and the farm lobby celebrated the news.
Crop Protection Association CEO Nick von Westenholz said he was disappointed that EU member states "forced the commission into this position by ignoring the science and advice of expert regulators."
"The indecision of Member States and the need for an extension demonstrates how politicized this process has become," he said. "Nevertheless, it will be a relief to farmers that they will be able to continue to use this crucial tool, at least in the short-term."
He added that the standard 15 year renewal should have been granted and urges the member states "to take the sensible, science led decision to re-licence this safe, efficient and effective product for the full 15 year period once the 18 month extension has expired."
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The European Commission failed for a third time last week to secure the support of a majority of EU governments for an extension of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and other herbicides.
Global watchdog group Sum Of Us has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures from concerned citizens seeking a ban on glyphosate in Europe.
EU sources told Reuters that France and Malta voted against the re-approval and seven countries, including Germany, Italy and Austria, abstained.
Objection to the widely used pesticide is based on the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) March 2015 assessment that “probably" causes cancer in humans.
Due to the impasse, the European Commission will now have the final say on whether or not the controversial weedkiller remains on Europe's shelves. Commissioners are meeting in Brussels today to discuss glyphosate's fate in Europe.
The clock is ticking as the EU's current approval of glyphosate is set to expire in three days. If the executives do not extend the license by June 30, manufacturers have six months to phase out glyphosate products.
Media reports indicate that the European Commission will likely settle on a “technical extension" of glyphosate for 12-18 months, an "11th hour" compromise that the commission had already proposed in early June to buy time for yet another study assessing whether or not glyphosate causes cancer.
European opinion is sharply divided on whether or not glyphosate causes cancer or if it's an environmental risk. Monsanto has consistently maintained the safety of its blockbuster product. Reuters reported that the agritech giant has not ruled out legal appeal if the license is not extended. Jonas Oxgaard, senior analyst at investment bank Bernstein, told the publication that Monsanto could lose earnings of up to $100 million if the EU were to halt glyphosate sales.
But the fact that the commission originally proposed to extend glyphosate for another 15 years but has now whittled it down to a temporary approval highlights the chemical's uncertain fate on the continent.
SumOfUs, a global consumer watchdog, is celebrating the latest failed vote. "We're one step away from a glyphosate-free EU," the group writes in an online petition urging member states to "deal the final blow and reject any extension of the glyphosate license."
Greenpeace has also called on the European Commission to prepare a glyphosate exit plan.
“The Commission is about to give glyphosate an unreasonable grace period, which will continue to leave people and nature exposed to the controversial weedkiller," Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said. "It should use this time to draw up a glyphosate exit plan. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in Europe and has been linked to serious health concerns and loss of wildlife. It's time for Europe to plan for a glyphosate-free future."
Commenting on the continued deadlock over glyphosate in Brussels, Green Party MEP Bart Staes said, "If the UK referendum has made one thing clear, it is that the EU needs to finally start listening to its citizens again."
"The Commission must now back down and revoke the approval for glyphosate. Forcing through the authorization would raise major democratic concerns about the EU's decision-making process. The process of phasing out glyphosate and other toxic herbicides and pesticides from agriculture must begin now, and this means reorienting the EU's Common Agricultural Policy towards a more sustainable agricultural model and a Common Food Policy."
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The House Democrats' 24 hour gun control sit-in, led by civil rights champion John Lewis (D-GA), has clearly elevated the gun issue in this fall's campaign. Republicans clearly worry the gun issue will hurt them—that's why they are so resolute to avoid duplicating the vote Senators cast last week. They don't want to be caught between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the public—and perhaps between the NRA and their unreliable presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
This agreement fails to provide any meaningful federal labeling requirement. This is not a food-labeling bill. This is a rollback of democracy at the behest of the world's largest agribusiness and biotech corporations.
This deal can still be described as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act because it will ensure that most consumers won't know how their food is produced. Vermont's law, which is about to go into effect, and with which many companies are already complying, would give consumers clear, on-package labels.
But this deal from Senators Stabenow and Roberts doesn't even come close, and would instead require consumers to have smartphones and a cellphone signal to know what they are buying. This deal seems to be designed to ensure that big food processing companies and the biotechnology industry continue to profit by misleading consumers.
People want to know if the food they buy contains GMO ingredients. It's time for Congress to create a mandatory on-package labeling requirement so people can decide for themselves whether they want to eat a food that has been produced using genetic engineering.
The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable if they vote to strip away transparency about how their food is produced. Any bill on GMO labeling that would result in anything less than mandatory on-package labeling is unacceptable.
We urge the Senate to reject this bill.
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The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the regulatory body for biotechnology in Nigeria, has issued two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited for the commercial release and market placement of genetically modified (GMO) cotton and the confined field trial of GMO maize.
The two permits were signed by NBMA director-general Rufus Ebegba on May 1, which happened to be a public holiday.
Monsanto has received permits from Nigeria's biotechnology regulatory body for its Bt cotton and GMO maize. Photo credit: Flickr
According to the Premium Times, this comes despite assurances from Minister of State for Environment Ibrahim Jibril that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country.”
The move has sparked widespread condemnation from 100 organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organizations, civil society groups, students and local community groups.
The coalition has previously expressed concerns about the human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops. They noted that Monsanto’s genetically enhanced crops are designed to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2015.
“This is extremely shocking," Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said in response to the development. "Little wonder officials of NBMA, National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA) and their pro-GMO train have been fighting tooth and nail to fool Nigerians by claiming that GMOs are safe! They approved the poorly concocted applications and issued these permits on a Sunday when government offices do not open. In fact, 2nd May was also a public holiday.”
Bassey has been one of the most prominent opponents of genetically modified foods in Nigeria, ever since former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety Management Bill into law last year, basically opening the doors to GMOs cultivation in the country.
Bassey has accused NBMA's governing board of having GMO proponents such as NABDA and the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria as members.
“Those GMO promoters are concerned with ensuring the profit of biotech entrepreneurs rather than the health and environmental concerns of Nigerians,” he told the Premium Times. “A case in point is that NABDA, a member of the Board of NBMA, is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize. We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.”
Nigeria's Guardian has published the reasoning behind group's objection to Monsanto's recent permits:
In the objection to Monsanto’s applications, the concerned Nigerians stated that in its application MON 15985, Monsanto is using genes referred to as cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac, which produce Bt toxins that have been synthetically manufactured with no history of safe use in nature.
The insertion of the Antibiotic Resistant Marker Gene (ARMG) causes concerns regarding the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance to other living organisms.
This concern, which is dismissed by the applicant, has been raised by a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating that this particular ARMG should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market—unfortunately this is what NBMA has released into the Nigerian market.
NMBA's latest action has also provoked the NGO Global Prolife Alliance to call on Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to dismiss the agency's management and board.
"The recent actions of the management of the NBMA are clear manifestations of the undue interference by biotechnology firms who dictate the actions of their government regulators," Dr. Philip C. Njemanze, MD, Global Prolife Alliance chairman, said. "These actions of the NBMA are dangerous and unpatriotic. They are in violation of food and environmental safety laws in Nigeria. These actions of NBMA display total incompetence and unprofessionalism by the management, and calls into question their fitness to administer such a crucial job of securing the food security of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."
He called the action a "total disregard for the food safety concerns regarding GMOs crops expressed by leading governments around the world, who have had first hand experience with genetically modified maize," pointing to France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Luxemburg, Austria, Hungary and Greece that have banned the same insect-resistant corn variety citing environmental concerns.
Following the intense outcry, Egbeba, the NBMA head, announced at a press conference that no GMO product has been officially released into the Nigerian market yet. He said the agency will be assessing the potential impact of GMOs on human or animal health, the environment as well as its socio-economic impacts before its official release, according to The Leadership.
“The NBMA is poised to effectively regulate modern biotechnology for the benefit of Nigerians and to allay the fears of members of the public who so wish to consume GMOs in Nigeria," the director-general said. "It should be clear that no one would be forced to use or consume GMOs in Nigeria. GMOs would be labelled. The agency bases its decision on science, taking into consideration national interest, socio-economic issues, human health and safety to the environment."
Egbeba also dismissed safety concerns of GMOs, saying that “the controversy surrounding the food and feeds are quite germane. However, suffice it to say that [to] date there is no reliable evidence that GM crops pose any health risk whatsoever. Recent FAO, World Health Organization (WHO) and other credible authorities attest to this. The public should therefore trust the agency’s decisions and avoid unscientific information and acts capable of causing public distrust and panic.”
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In less than three weeks, Vermont will enact a historic mandate that requires labels on products containing genetically modified (GMOs) ingredients. The no-strings-attached bill, which the country's second smallest state passed on May 2014 and goes into effect July 1, has rippled across the food industry and has sparked a bitter and expensive food fight from opponents of the law.
But with only 17 days to go, it looks like Big Food has unenthusiastically surrendered despite spending millions upon millions to fight state-by-state labeling mandates in court and to lobby Congress.
In March, Congress ultimately failed to pass an industry-approved bill introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that would have prevented states from requiring labeling of GMO foods and stopped pending state laws that require labeling to go into effect.
Sen. Charles Grassley, a Senate Agriculture committee member, indicated it may be too late to enact a standard, nationwide labeling approach.
“I see it as very difficult to get a compromise,” the Iowa Republican told the Des Moines Register earlier this month. “I hope something would develop this week that we could get something passed, but frankly, I doubt it.”
According to Politico's latest Morning Agriculture blog, "Senate Agriculture committee chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow are still trying to find common ground on GMO labeling legislation amid warnings from the food manufacturing, agriculture and biotechnology industries that time is running out before Vermont's mandatory labeling law takes effect July 1."
Congress, which returned from recess on June 6, now has only 14 working days to resolve the issue before the July 1 deadline.
Big Food believes that labeling GMO products for one state without labeling them for the 49 others would be costly, warning that labels would force the buck onto the consumer, or even scare them away completely. Although the food industry has consistently maintained the health and safety of GMOs, the overwhelming majority of Americans support labels on foods with such ingredients.
As Minnesota's Star Tribune reported, these food companies appear resigned to GMO labeling despite having plenty of reservations:
In March, shortly after the Senate declined to vote on a national ban on mandatory on-package GMO labeling, General Mills said it would label products to comply with the Vermont law and distribute those products nationwide while awaiting a national standard.
In an e-mail exchange with the Star Tribune, a company spokeswoman called the packaging change “costly.” Asked whether General Mills would now accept a national law that requires mandatory on-package GMO labels, the spokeswoman said, “The most important thing at this point is that we set a national standard so that we have certainty moving forward.”
The editorial board of the Packer, a publication covering the fresh produce industry, came to terms with Vermont's label law in an op-ed, How to deal with Vermont.
The board reported on the United Fresh Produce Association's new white paper outlining steps that produce growers and retail members should take to prepare for Vermont's GMO law, and also bitterly huffed that shippers could simply choose not to work with the tiny state:
Shippers of GM-free product also don’t need to do anything, and it seems unwise to us to begin labeling product as GM-free, thus unnecessarily spooking the consumer.
Of course, shippers could also decline to do business with receivers in the 49th-most populous state, home to about 600,000 consumers.
The United Fresh Produce Association's white paper is similar to the road map issued by the the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a trade group which represents more than 300 food and beverage titans such as ConAgra, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg and Hershey.
As EcoWatch exclusively reported, back in October the GMA posted on its website a six page, 29-point FAQ in order “to respond to questions that companies have about compliance with the Vermont law,” Roger Lowe, the executive vice president of GMA’s Strategic Communications, told us via email.
It's clear that food companies are quietly preparing for Vermont's seemingly inevitable label law. Starting in 2017, companies that fail to comply with the state's GMO labeling law will be punished with a $1,000 fine each day if a product is not properly labeled.
Many other states are also working on their own labeling initiatives, with Connecticut and Maine enacting their own mandate when similar bills are passed by at least four other states.
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While genetically modified (GMO) foods seem to proliferate across the U.S., many other nations do not allow such products to enter or grow within their borders.
Brazil grows 29 varieties of GMO corn while the U.S. grows 43 different types, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. Photo credit: Flickr
A Bloomberg article illustrated how the world's vast patchwork of GMO regulations can deter international trade.
Case in point, even though the Brazilian chicken industry is suffering from a domestic corn shortage this year, companies refuse to buy corn from the U.S. because of Brazil’s stringent regulations on GMOs.
"In recent years, some of the largest commodity trading companies have refused to take certain GMO crops from farmers because the seeds used hadn’t received a full array of global approvals, something that can lead to holdups at ports or even the rejection of entire cargoes," the article stated.
Brazil happens to be the second largest producer of GMO crops in the world after the U.S., and grows 29 varieties of GMO corn. However, the South American country has had a contentious history over GMOs and does not allow certain varieties to enter the country—the U.S. cultivates 43 types of GMO corn. Brazil also mandates that all products containing GMO ingredients carry a label and, earlier this year, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice fined major food manufacturers including Nestle, PepsiCo and a Mexican baking company for concealing the presence of GMOs in their products.
Brazil, the world biggest exporter of chicken and grain traders, is now considering whether to request approval from the government to import GMO crops that aren’t currently permitted, Bloomberg reported.
Bloomberg's article highlights the international divisiveness over genetically altered food and the agri-tech industry, a reflection of general consumer and political unease over the safety and environmental concerns of GMOs and the pesticides they are designed to resist.
In the graphic below, the Genetic Literacy Project listed a dizzying mix of countries that have either banned or allowed GMO food cultivation or imports. The group also noted that the vast majority of genetically altered crops come from only a dozen nations that allow cultivation: the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia and the Philippines.
India received 250,000 tonnes of non-GMO corn from South Korea’s Daewoo International via Ukraine, however as experts warned to Reuters, it is difficult to ensure that the supply is 100 percent non-GMO, sparking fears of GMO contamination.
It only takes a few GMO seeds to mix with local varieties to enter India’s food supply chain, an Indian government scientist explained.
“The biggest risk of accepting anything less than 99, or 100, percent is that the imported GM corn may eventually get mixed with conventional seeds that farmers sow in India,” the scientist, who asked to not be named, told Reuters. “If, God forbid, any GM seed gets mixed here, it’ll spoil the entire Indian agriculture.”
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The apples stirred up major controversy in February 2015 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deemed both the Arctic Golden Delicious and Arctic Granny varieties safe for human consumption. It was the first time the federal agency approved an aesthetically-improved genetically engineered food.
According to Good Fruit Grower, a publication from the Washington State Fruit Commission, after 20 years of development, Okanogan Specialty Fruits is expecting to harvest its first commercial crop of about 50 bins of Arctic Golden Delicious in Washington this year.
The Canadian company will also plant its first Arctic Granny Smiths this year and is awaiting approval from the USDA for a third variety, the Arctic Fuji. On Dec. 31, 2015, the company formally submitted a petition to the USDA requesting the deregulation of its GMO Fuji, and announced plans for its fourth variety, the Arctic Gala.
Neal Carter, company president and founder, told Good Fruit Grower that his company has planted roughly 15 acres of Goldens in Washington, which will yield a small crop this fall.
The blossoming venture plans to add more acreage mostly in Washington this year for its Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny varieties, with even more in other states and Canada in the following few years.
Carter said that the first apples will be test marketed in select stores this year. As production ramps up, more apples will by distributed to locations in the U.S. and Canada. Carter declined to name which growers, packers or retailers will be working with Arctic Apples.
Good Fruit Grower reported that once regulatory agencies have approved the apple varieties, the company may promote its flagship product like any other apple you see in the market.
“What that approval means is it’s treated like any other apple variety,” Carter said.
So why doesn't an Arctic Apple turn brown? As NPR explained:
The non-browning trait was created by inserting extra copies of genes that the apple already possessed. These genes normally create an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase, which is responsible for the chemical reaction that causes browning.
Yet when extra copies of the gene are added, the apple reacts by shutting down all of them, stopping production of the enzyme and preventing the browning reaction. (Like any apple, these apples eventually will go brown from normal rotting. It's the immediate "enzymatic browning" that's blocked.)
However, Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, warned that this method of genetic engineering, known as RNA interference, could have "unintended effects" to the apple and to the people who consume it:
This technology uses RNA to silence a target gene, but mounting evidence has shown that meddling with the genes could have unintended effects within the plant and also on organisms that eat the plant. The particular gene targeted by this technology allows the apples to be sliced without turning brown, which could mislead consumers into thinking they are eating fresh apples when they might be eating apples on the verge of rotting. Browning is an important indicator to consumers in determining the freshness of an apple or apple slice. The silenced gene is also heavily involved in a plant’s natural defense against pests and pathogens, which could lead to trees that are less healthy than non-GMO apples and rely on more chemical treatments to ward off pests and disease.
Environmental organizations and concerned consumers have also criticized the USDA's stamp of approval. The USDA's environmental review received 73,000 comments that vehemently opposed the commercialization of the apples. In an article, Friends of the Earth warned that people who buy the apples won't even know they are eating it: "Like other genetically modified organisms, the Arctic apple will not be required to be labeled as genetically engineered."
Following intense consumer backlash, a number of major food companies such as Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Gerber expressed that they had no plans to source or sell the GMO apple.
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By The Greens / European Free Alliance
"We applaud those EU governments who are sticking to their guns and are refusing to authorize this controversial toxic herbicide," Bart Staes, Green environment and food safety spokesperson, said. "There are clear concerns about the health risks with glyphosate, both as regards it being a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Moreover, glyphosate's devastating impact on biodiversity should have already led to its ban. Thankfully, the significant public mobilization and political opposition to re-approving glyphosate has been taken seriously by key EU governments, who have forced the EU Commission to back down.
"Three strikes must mean the approval of glyphosate is finally ruled out. After the third failed attempt, the Commission must stop continuing to try and force through the approval of glyphosate. Such a move would raise major democratic concerns about the EU's decision-making process. The process of phasing out glyphosate and other toxic herbicides and pesticides from agriculture must begin now, and this means reorienting the EU's Common Agricultural Policy towards a more sustainable agricultural model."
With the current approval of glyphosate set to expire at the end of June and insufficient support from EU governments for re-approval, the European Commission had proposed a "technical extension" of the current approval until after the European Chemicals Agency delivers its opinion on glyphosate (12-18 months). European Chemicals Agency is expected to deliver its opinion by autumn 2017. The "technical extension" means the commission has dropped the proposal for a longer term re-approval. The failure to agree on this today means the future for glyphosate is uncertain. The European Commission could try to force the proposal through an "appeals committee."
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By Katherine Paul
Monsanto may not be the largest company in the world. Or the worst. But the St. Louis, Missouri, biotech giant has become the poster child for all that's wrong with our industrial food and farming system.
With 21,000 employees in 66 countries and $15 billion in revenue, Monsanto is a biotech industry heavyweight. The monopolizer of seeds is the poster child for an industry that is the source of at least one-third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and is largely responsible for the depletion of soil, water and biodiversity. Not to mention the company's marginalization—and sometimes terrorization—of millions of small farmers.
Since the early 20th century, Monsanto has marketed highly toxic products that have contaminated the environment and permanently sickened or killed thousands of people around the world.
The most toxic of its products include:
• 2,4,5 T (2,4-D): a component of Agent Orange containing dioxin which was used by the US military during the Vietnam war and continues to be a major cause of birth defects and cancers
• Lasso: an herbicide now banned in Europe
• Roundup: the most widely used herbicide in the world, and cause of one of the biggest health and environmental tragedies in modern history. This highly toxic weed killer, sprayed on genetically modified or GMO crops including soybeans, corn and rapeseed for animal feed or for the production of biofuels, was recently classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
In a rare exception, Monsanto was recently ordered to pay $46.5 million to compensate victims of its PCB poisoning. Sometimes the company settles out of court, to avoid having to admit to any “wrongdoing."
But for the most part, thanks to the multinational's powerful influence over U.S. politicians, Monsanto has been able to poison with impunity.
It's time for the citizens of the world to fight back. On Oct. 15-16, in The Hague, Netherlands—the International City of Peace and Justice—a panel of distinguished international judges will hear testimony from witnesses, represented by legitimate lawyers, who have been harmed by Monsanto.
In their preparation for the citizens' tribunal, and during witness testimony, the judges will consider six questions that are relevant not just in relation to Monsanto, but to all companies involved in shaping the future of agriculture.
The six questions are:
1. Right to a healthy environment: Did the firm Monsanto violate, by its activities, the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as recognized in international human rights law (Res. 25/21 of the Human Rights Council, of 15 April 2014), taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?
2. Right to food: Did the firm Monsanto violate, by its activities, the right to food, as recognized in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in Articles 24.2(c) and (e) and 27.3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in Articles 25(f) and 28.1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?
3. Right to health: Did the firm Monsanto violate, by its activities, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, as recognized in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or the right of child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, as recognized by Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?
4. Freedom of expression and academic research: Did the firm Monsanto violate the freedom indispensable for scientific research, as guaranteed by Article 15(3) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the freedoms of thought and expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?
5. Complicity in war crimes: Is the firm Monsanto complicit in the commission of a war crime, as defined in Article 8(2) of the International Criminal Court, by providing materials to the United States Army in the context of operation "Ranch Hand" launched in Viet Nam in 1962?
6. Ecocide: Could the past and present activities of Monsanto constitute a crime of ecocide, understood as causing serious damage or destroying the environment, so as to significantly and durably alter the global commons or ecosystem services upon which certain human groups rely?
The citizens' tribunal judges will not have the power to adopt binding decisions. But they will issue opinions which will provide victims and their legal counsel the arguments and legal grounds for further lawsuits against Monsanto within their national jurisdictions.
Throughout history, citizens' tribunals have been an effective tool for highlighting the need to change international law so that victims of transnational companies have a means to legal redress. They are most successful when they are able to attract media attention, and are endorsed and supported by millions of citizens throughout the world.
If you would like to endorse the International Monsanto Tribunal and follow its progress, sign on here. To submit witness testimony, email claims (at) Monsanto-tribunal.org. You can also support the tribunal financially.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
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