News

01.09.2017

GMA: GMO labeling should apply to highly refined oils, sweeteners

If consumers are to believe that the food industry is serious about transparency, highly refined oils and sweeteners derived from GM crops must be included in the new bioengineered food standard (the federal GMO labeling law), even if they are indistinguishable from their non-engineered counterparts, says the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

01.09.2017

Court Documents Reveal Monsanto Edited “Independent” Scientific Review

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that glyphosate, the main herbicide in Roundup, was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Later, on July 7, 2017, the California state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) named glyphosate as a chemical that can cause cancer and added it to the state’s list of dangerous substances. This requires Roundup manufacturer Monsanto to add new warnings to the product label for sales in the state of California, but they have taken the issue to court, claiming that the change is unwarranted.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people have filed Roundup lawsuits against the company, claiming that after long-term exposure to the herbicide, they developed cancer and other serious injuries. Now, documents uncovered in discovery suggest that Monsanto may have manipulated evidence concerning glyphosate and its risks to human health.

Monsanto Hired Help to Rebut the IARC’s Conclusions

01.09.2017

Human Embryo Editing Study Shows We Still Have a Lot to Learn About CRISPR

The first human embryos edited in the U.S. appear to have had a faulty gene repaired—but now a debate is raging as to what actually happened.

In late July, MIT Technology Review broke the story about the work, in which researchers edited about 150 early-stage embryos using the CRISPR gene-editing technique. In the subsequent paper published in Nature, the team revealed that it was able to successfully eliminate a genetic mutation that causes a deadly heart condition. Importantly, the results suggested the edits occurred with a far higher level of precision than anyone else had managed before in embryos. One of the study's authors, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, talked of clinical trials being near at hand.

But questions have emerged this week about how, exactly, the faulty gene was removed. The authors of the original study claim the gene was repaired as CRISPR cut out only the faulty DNA, which was on the paternal side, then used normal maternal DNA as a template to correct the mutation—a previously unknown phenomenon. (Watch our CRISPR explainer)

On Monday, a different group of researchers called this account into question in a paper posted on bioRxiv. They pointed out that Mitalipov's team only showed that the faulty gene is absent from embryos after editing, not that the gene had been repaired. What's more, paternal and maternal DNA are still distinct in the embryos the team was using. So how could the two have interacted?

Instead, the cross-examiners suggest—and many have subsequently agreed—that it's possible that CRISPR could have been making much larger deletions of the embryos' DNA. If that's true, then the faulty gene would fail to show up when Mitalipov's team went looking for it, but the embryos could have a great deal of genetic damage besides. Without ruling out this possibility—or else figuring out another way to avoid so-called "off-target" effects—it would be irresponsible to suggest that CRISPR-edited embryos be implanted and allowed to grow into children.

30.08.2017

France to vote against license renewal for weedkiller glyphosate

PARIS (Reuters) - France will vote against renewing the European license for weedkiller glyphosate, an official at the environment ministry said, adding to uncertainty over the future of widely-used products such as Monsanto’s Roundup in the European Union.

Concerns over glyphosate’s risk to human health have prompted investigations by U.S. congressional committees and delayed a relicensing decision in the EU.

“France will vote against the reauthorization of glyphosate due to the doubts that remain about its dangerousness,” a ministry official said.

The European Commission, the EU executive, has proposed extending approval for glyphosate by 10 years after the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) said in a study in March it should not be classified as a cancer-causing substance.

A vote on whether to renew the license is due on Oct. 4, the French official said. A qualified majority of member states is needed for the renewal to go ahead.

In previous votes, France and Germany have abstained, leading the Commission to extend the license by 18 months at the end of June 2016 to give the ECHA time to study the chemical further.

30.08.2017

Experts: Bt cotton no longer resistant to bollworm

Nagpur: Incidents of pink bollworm attack on Bt cotton this year again have alarmed the agriculture authorities. The state agriculture commissioner has taken up the matter with the Union government and has even suggested reconsideration of approval given to genetically modified Bt cotton seeds that are supposed to be resistant to bollworm and other infestations.

The chief of Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission (the state government task force to deal with farm distress) Kishore Tiwari has claimed this year the situation could be worse as it is found that the Bt cotton seeds were now susceptible to attack of not only pink worm, but also thips , mealybug and regular bollworm. With over 40 lakh hectares under cotton cultivation, Maharashtra has largest area of cotton crop in the country.

The state agriculture commissioner S Kendrekar is believed to have apprised deputy director (quality control) of Union agriculture ministry on August 1 about the situation. According to him, last year too incidents of pink worm attacks were reported and confirmed by various government agencies and experts of city-based Central Institute of Cotton Research. Following that, ban was imposed on seeds of one company that had licence from Monsanto, the multinational that pioneered and introduced genetically altered Bt Cotton seeds under brand names BG I and later BG II.

28.08.2017

Civil society groups reject IITA’s plan to grow genetically-modified cassava

Civil society groups have rejected a plan by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to grow genetically-modified cassava in the country. The Health of Mother Earth Foundation, along with 87 others civil society groups, disclosed their position in a statement.

The HOMEF Biosafety Project Manager, Joyce Okeoghene, said the IITA admitted that such approval had never been given anywhere in the world.

According to the groups, an application for the actualisation of ‘confined’ field trial of transgenic cassava had been submitted to the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

23.08.2017

Did Monsanto Write Malawi’s Seed Policy?

In late July, a short article was published in a Malawian newspaper: “Press Release on Organization of Seed Fairs.” Issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development, in conjunction with the Seed Traders Association of Malawi, the short statement advised the public that “only quality certified seed suppliers registered with Government to produce and/or market seed should be allowed to display seed at such events.” The release was signed by Bright Kumwembe for the Agriculture Ministry.

I received this news in the United States as I prepared a research trip to Malawi, and I was shocked. Malawi is in the final stages of a multi-year effort to reform its seed policy and laws, and the largest point of contention at this point is the failure of the draft policy to recognize and protect so-called “farmers’ rights” to save, exchange, and sell the seeds they grow on their farms.

Remarkably, the policy seeks to define the word “seed” as applying only to certified seed from commercial companies. Farm-saved seed is referred to in the policy as just “grain,” unworthy even of the word seed.

23.08.2017

This merger would threaten food supplies around the world. Who will stop it?

If the Bayer-Monsanto merger is approved, the concentration of agricultural control could have major consequences for farming families and communities

• Hannah Lownsbrough is executive director of consumer group SumOfUs

It’s the worst corporate merger you’ve probably never heard of, and one that could spell disaster for our global farming system. Bayer recently started the clock for the European Union to approve its $65bn takeover of Monsanto. On Tuesday, EU regulators announced that they would now launch an in-depth assessment of the merger on anti-competitive grounds – what it calls a “phase 2 investigation” – which will take several more months.

If approved, the merger would be an extremely risky consolidation of corporate power, not to mention a serious threat to food supplies and farmers around the world. It is essential that regulators properly investigate it and take decisive action before it’s too late. Campaigns that mobilise ordinary citizens to challenge the merger will be a big part of encouraging regulators to face up to these mega corporations in the coming months.

There are good reasons to be worried. The merger would eliminate direct competition between two of the biggest players in the “traited” seed market, in other words, the market in seeds that have been developed or engineered to have certain qualities that make them more profitable. There could be major consequences for seed development, herbicide markets and robust, open research and development processes.

22.08.2017

Mergers: Commission opens in-depth investigation into proposed acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer

The Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess the proposed acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer under the EU Merger Regulation. The Commission has concerns that the merger may reduce competition in areas such as pesticides, seeds and traits.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Seeds and pesticide products are essential for farmers and ultimately consumers. We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at competitive prices. And at the same time maintain an environment where companies can innovate and invest in improved products.”

The proposed acquisition of Monsanto (US) by Bayer (Germany) would create the world's largest integrated pesticides and seeds company. It would combine two competitors with leading portfolios in non-selective herbicides, seeds and traits, and digital agriculture. Both companies are active in developing new products in these areas. Moreover, the transaction would take place in industries that are already globally concentrated, as illustrated by the recent mergers of Dow and Dupont and Syngenta and ChemChina, in which the Commission intervened to protect competition for the benefit of farmers and consumers.

22.08.2017

Bayer-Monsanto Deal Faces Deeper Scrutiny in Europe

European antitrust regulators opened an in-depth investigation on Tuesday into Bayer’s $56 billion deal for Monsanto, a transaction that would create the world’s largest integrated pesticides and seeds company.

Bayer, a German chemicals multinational, announced last year that it planned to buy Monsanto, its American agribusiness rival, but it was only this past June that it sought approval from the European authorities. The regulators had previously indicated that they would scrutinize such a deal.

“Seeds and pesticide products are essential for farmers and ultimately consumers,” Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner in charge of European competition policy, said on Tuesday in a news release. “We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at competitive prices.”

In a letter to the public, Ms. Vestager said the commission had received more than 50,000 emails and more than 5,000 letters and postcards, as well as Twitter posts, expressing concerns about the transaction.

Ms. Vestager said that many of the comments expressed concern about potential negative effects of Monsanto and Bayer products, including risks to human health, food safety and consumer protection. She said the companies would be bound by “strict rules” in place to address those issues.