Posts Tagged ‘GMO’

GMO apples that never brown could hit stores soon

January 22, 2017

http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/health/apples-genetically-modified-on-sale-soon/index.html

Story highlights

  • The USDA approved the GMO apples nearly two years ago
  • Non-browning apples will only be available in Midwest stores for now, company says

(CNN)For a select few apple lovers in the US, a Golden Delicious slice will no longer turn brown as the first genetically modified apples are expected to go on sale early next month.

A small amount of Arctic brand sliced and packaged Golden Delicious apples, produced by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in British Columbia, Canada, will hit the shelves of 10 stores in the Midwest in February and March, Neal Carter, the company’s founder and president, told the agricultural news website Capital Press. Arctic’s website lists the apples as being available early this year in some test markets.
Carter said Midwestern stores were the first choice because they seemed like a good fit demographically and in size. He wouldn’t name the stores, stating it’s up to retailers to announce that they’ll be selling the non-browning apples.
“We’re very optimistic with respect to this product because people love it at trade shows,” he said earlier this month. “It’s a great product and the eating quality is excellent.”
Along with not turning brown, the apples should also be crispier in texture — possibly winning over some picky eaters.
Nearly two years ago, the US Department of Agriculture approved the US’s first genetically modified apples.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service granted its approval based on “a final plant pest risk assessment that finds the GE (genetically engineered) apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States … [and] deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment,” as stated in their report.
The Food and Drug Administration is not required to approve genetically engineered crops for consumption. Most companies engage in a voluntary safety review process with the FDA, and Okanagan did that.
The US Apple Association was wary of Arctic’s apple after the USDA approval, but the group has since taken a more neutral stance.
“US Apple supports consumer choice in the apples and apple products they select. Consumers will be able to decide whether to try the new, “non-browning” apples, and ultimately, the marketplace will determine whether there is a demand for them,” state the association on their website.

Browning is natural, but…

There’s nothing technically wrong with an apple that browns.
It all comes down to oxygen being introduced into plant tissue when an apple is sliced, bruised or bitten.
The US Apple association explains: “The degree to which an apple browns depends upon that variety’s natural levels of polyphenoloxydase (PPL) and Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The lower the level of PPL, the less the variety will brown.
But Okanagan Specialty Fruits describes the process a bit differently: “Polyphenol oxidase (PPO) found in one part of the cell mixes with polyphenolics found in another part of the cell. (PPO is a plant enzyme. Polyphenolics are one of the many types of chemical substrate that serve various purposes, including supplying apples with their aroma and flavor.) When PPO and polyphenolics mix, brown-toned melanin is left behind,” they state on their website.
When brown, an apple isn’t necessarily rotten, but Okanagan claim the benefits of non-browning apples go beyond the visual appeal and a reduction in waste. The company says stores or producers often use expensive chemicals to delay the browning of apples and many shoppers frown at the idea of chemicals or pesticides on their produce.
The consensus among scientists and nutritionists is that GMOs are safe, but some consumers are still turned off by GMO labels.
Though the apples are only being trialed in the Midwest, the company have faith they will soon become a welcome option elsewhere.

Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops

November 7, 2016

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.

Graphic

Broken Promises of Genetically Modified Crops

About 20 years ago, the United States and Canada began introducing genetic modifications in agriculture. Europe did not embrace the technology. This is how it has played out.

OPEN Graphic

At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides.

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.

Profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades. Although American protesters as far back as 1987 pulled up prototype potato plants, European anger at the idea of fooling with nature has been far more sustained. In the last few years, the March Against Monsanto has drawn thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, Switzerland, and opposition to G.M. foods is a foundation of the Green political movement. Still, Europeans eat those foods when they buy imports from the United States and elsewhere.

In Rowland, N.C., a worker loads G.M. corn seed into a planting machine on Bo Stone’s farm. Mr. Stone values genetic modifications to reduce his insecticide use. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

Fears about the harmful effects of eating G.M. foods have proved to be largely without scientific basis. The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design — weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany — and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer.

“These chemicals are largely unknown,” said David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, whose research has attributed the loss of nearly 17 million I.Q. points among American children 5 years old and under to one class of insecticides. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.”

The industry is winning on both ends — because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons. Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half. The two companies are separately involved in merger agreements that would lift their new combined values to more than $100 billion each.

When presented with the findings, Robert T. Fraley, the chief technology officer at Monsanto, said The Times had cherry-picked its data to reflect poorly on the industry. “Every farmer is a smart businessperson, and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don’t think it provides a major benefit,” he said. “Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously.”

Uncertain Harvest

Articles in this series examine the globe-spanning relationship of chemical companies, academics and regulators, and the powerful toxins and genetically modified seeds used to grow food in many parts of the world.

    Regarding the use of herbicides, in a statement, Monsanto said, “While overall herbicide use may be increasing in some areas where farmers are following best practices to manage emerging weed issues, farmers in other areas with different circumstances may have decreased or maintained their herbicide usage.”

    Genetically modified crops can sometimes be effective. Monsanto and others often cite the work of Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany, including a meta-analysis of studies that he helped write finding significant yield gains from genetically modified crops. But in an interview and emails, Dr. Qaim said he saw significant effects mostly from insect-resistant varieties in the developing world, particularly in India.

    “Currently available G.M. crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” he said. And regarding herbicide-resistant crops in general: “I don’t consider this to be the miracle type of technology that we couldn’t live without.”

    A Vow to Curb Chemicals

    First came the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994, which was supposed to stay fresh longer. The next year it was a small number of bug-resistant russet potatoes. And by 1996, major genetically modified crops were being planted in the United States.

    Monsanto, the most prominent champion of these new genetic traits, pitched them as a way to curb the use of its pesticides. “We’re certainly not encouraging farmers to use more chemicals,” a company executive told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. The next year, in a news release, the company said that its new gene for seeds, named Roundup Ready, “can reduce overall herbicide use.”

    Arnaud Rousseau holds non-G.M. corn seed, produced by Pioneer, a unit of DuPont. Credit Ed Alcock for The New York Times

    Figures from the United States Department of Agriculture show herbicide use skyrocketing in soybeans, a leading G.M. crop, growing by two and a half times in the last two decades, at a time when planted acreage of the crop grew by less than a third. Use in corn was trending downward even before the introduction of G.M. crops, but then nearly doubled from 2002 to 2010, before leveling off. Weed resistance problems in such crops have pushed overall usage up.

    To some, this outcome was predictable. The whole point of engineering bug-resistant plants “was to reduce insecticide use, and it did,” said Joseph Kovach, a retired Ohio State University researcher who studied the environmental risks of pesticides. But the goal of herbicide-resistant seeds was to “sell more product,” he said — more herbicide.

    Farmers with crops overcome by weeds, or a particular pest or disease, can understandably be G.M. evangelists. “It’s silly bordering on ridiculous to turn our backs on a technology that has so much to offer,” said Duane Grant, the chairman of the Amalgamated Sugar Company, a cooperative of more than 750 sugar beet farmers in the Northwest.

    He says crops resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s most popular weedkiller, saved his cooperative.

    But weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup around the world — creating an opening for the industry to sell more seeds and more pesticides. The latest seeds have been engineered for resistance to two weedkillers, with resistance to as many as five planned. That will also make it easier for farmers battling resistant weeds to spray a widening array of poisons sold by the same companies.

    Growing resistance to Roundup is also reviving old, and contentious, chemicals. One is 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, the infamous Vietnam War defoliant. Its potential risks have long divided scientists and have alarmed advocacy groups.

    Another is dicamba. In Louisiana, Monsanto is spending nearly $1 billion to begin production of the chemical there. And even though Monsanto’s version is not yet approved for use, the company is already selling seeds that are resistant to it — leading to reports that some farmers are damaging neighbors’ crops by illegally spraying older versions of the toxin.

    High-Tech Kernels

    Bo Stone, a sixth-generation farmer, in Rowland, N.C. The seeds on Mr. Stone’s farm brim with genetically modified traits. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

    Two farmers, 4,000 miles apart, recently showed a visitor their corn seeds. The farmers, Bo Stone and Arnaud Rousseau, are sixth-generation tillers of the land. Both use seeds made by DuPont, the giant chemical company that is merging with Dow Chemical.

    To the naked eye, the seeds looked identical. Inside, the differences are profound.

    In Rowland, N.C., near the South Carolina border, Mr. Stone’s seeds brim with genetically modified traits. They contain Roundup Ready, a Monsanto-made trait resistant to Roundup, as well as a gene made by Bayer that makes crops impervious to a second herbicide. A trait called Herculex I was developed by Dow and Pioneer, now part of DuPont, and attacks the guts of insect larvae. So does YieldGard, made by Monsanto.

    Another big difference: the price tag. Mr. Rousseau’s seeds cost about $85 for a 50,000-seed bag. Mr. Stone spends roughly $153 for the same amount of biotech seeds.

    For farmers, doing without genetically modified crops is not a simple choice. Genetic traits are not sold à la carte.

    Two Corn Seeds, but Very Different

    Manufacturing the corn seed on the left involves gene modifications by three additional companies. The seed on the right is created using only conventional breeding methods.

    A GENETICALLY

    MODIFIED CORN SEED

    A NONGENETICALLY

    MODIFIED CORN SEED

    Pioneer                                                          Pioneer Seed brand

    (serial no. P8613)

    Seed brand                                                    (serial no. P1916)

                                                                             Lumivia

                                                                          Coated with PPST 250 and DuPont Lumivia,

                                                                               an insecticide and fungicide.

    Also coated to protect the

    seed against soil-borne diseases and insects.

    $153   For about 50,000 seeds.

    Roundup Ready

    A gene resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s main glyphosate-based herbicide.

    ~~~

    $85

    For about 50,000 seeds.

    YieldGard

    A genetically modified trait that is harmful to some insects.

    LibertyLink

    A gene that makes crops impervious to another herbicide.

    Herculex I

    A genetic trait developed by Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer that breaks down the gut wall of insect larvae.

    Mr. Stone, 45, has a master’s degree in agriculture and listens to Prime Country radio in his Ford pickup. He has a test field where he tries out new seeds, looking for characteristics that he particularly values — like plants that stand well, without support.

    “I’m choosing on yield capabilities and plant characteristics more than I am on G.M.O. traits” like bug and poison resistance, he said, underscoring a crucial point: Yield is still driven by breeding plants to bring out desirable traits, as it has been for thousands of years.

    That said, Mr. Stone values genetic modifications to reduce his insecticide use (though he would welcome help with stink bugs, a troublesome pest for many farmers). And Roundup resistance in pigweed has emerged as a problem.

    “No G.M. trait for us is a silver bullet,” he said.

    By contrast, at Mr. Rousseau’s farm in Trocy-en-Multien, a village outside Paris, his corn has none of this engineering because the European Union bans most crops like these.

    “The door is closed,” says Mr. Rousseau, 42, who is vice president of one of France’s many agricultural unions. His 840-acre farm was a site of World War I carnage in the Battle of the Marne.

    As with Mr. Stone, Mr. Rousseau’s yields have been increasing, though they go up and down depending on the year. Farm technology has also been transformative. “My grandfather had horses and cattle for cropping,” Mr. Rousseau said. “I’ve got tractors with motors.”

    He wants access to the same technologies as his competitors across the Atlantic, and thinks G.M. crops could save time and money.

    “Seen from Europe, when you speak with American farmers or Canadian farmers, we’ve got the feeling that it’s easier,” Mr. Rousseau said. “Maybe it’s not right. I don’t know, but it’s our feeling.”

    Feeding the World

     Brazilian soybean plants at the end of their life cycle at Bayer’s research center in Durham, N.C. The plants have “stacked” traits, meaning they have been genetically modified for more than one specific trait, like bug resistance. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

    With the world’s population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, Monsanto has long held out its products as a way “to help meet the food demands of these added billions,” as it said in a 1995 statement. That remains an industry mantra.

    “It’s absolutely key that we keep innovating,” said Kurt Boudonck, who manages Bayer’s sprawling North Carolina greenhouses. “With the current production practices, we are not going to be able to feed that amount of people.”

    But a broad yield advantage has not emerged. The Times looked at regional data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, comparing main genetically modified crops in the United States and Canada with varieties grown in Western Europe, a grouping used by the agency that comprises seven nations, including the two largest agricultural producers, France and Germany.

    For rapeseed, a variant of which is used to produce canola oil, The Times compared Western Europe with Canada, the largest producer, over three decades, including a period well before the introduction of genetically modified crops.

    Despite rejecting genetically modified crops, Western Europe maintained a lead over Canada in yields. While that is partly because different varieties are grown in the two regions, the trend lines in the relative yields have not shifted in Canada’s favor since the introduction of G.M. crops, the data shows.

    Stink bugs raised by Bayer for experimental purposes at its research center in Morrisville, N.C. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

    For corn, The Times compared the United States with Western Europe. Over three decades, the trend lines between the two barely deviate. And sugar beets, a major source of sugar, have shown stronger yield growth recently in Western Europe than the United States, despite the dominance of genetically modified varieties over the last decade.

    Jack Heinemann, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, did a pioneering 2013 study comparing trans-Atlantic yield trends, using United Nations data. Western Europe, he said, “hasn’t been penalized in any way for not making genetic engineering one of its biotechnology choices.”

    Biotech executives suggested making narrower comparisons. Dr. Fraley of Monsanto highlighted data comparing yield growth in Nebraska and France, while an official at Bayer suggested Ohio and France. These comparisons can be favorable to the industry, while comparing other individual American states can be unfavorable.

    Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said that while the industry had long said G.M.O.s would “save the world,” they still “haven’t found the mythical yield gene.”

    Few New Markets

    Battered by falling crop prices and consumer resistance that has made it hard to win over new markets, the agrochemical industry has been swept by buyouts. Bayer recently announced a deal to acquire Monsanto. And the state-owned China National Chemical Corporation has received American regulatory approval to acquire Syngenta, though Syngenta later warned the takeover could be delayed by scrutiny from European authorities.

    A research assistant at a Bayer center in North Carolina, where experiments are carried out to find new toxins to eradicate pests like stinkbugs, a problem at farms like Mr. Stone’s in Rowland. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

    The deals are aimed at creating giants even more adept at selling both seeds and chemicals. Already, a new generation of seeds is coming to market or in development. And they have grand titles. There is the Bayer Balance GT Soybean Performance System. Monsanto’s Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete corn. Dow’s PhytoGen with Enlist and WideStrike 3 Insect Protection.

    In industry jargon, they are “stacked” with many different genetically modified traits. And there are more to come. Monsanto has said that the corn seed of 2025 will have 14 traits and allow farmers to spray five different kinds of herbicide.

    Newer genetically modified crops claim to do many things, such as protecting against crop diseases and making food more nutritious. Some may be effective, some not. To the industry, shifting crucial crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and rapeseed almost entirely to genetically modified varieties in many parts of the world fulfills a genuine need. To critics, it is a marketing opportunity.

    G.M.O. acceptance is exceptionally low in Europe,” said Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division, in an interview the day the Monsanto deal was announced. He added: “But there are many geographies around the world where the need is much higher and where G.M.O. is accepted. We will go where the market and the customers demand our technology.”

    Correction: November 2, 2016
    A chart on Sunday with the continuation of an article about the unmet promises of genetically modified crops misstated the mode of action of Herculex I, a genetic trait developed by Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer. It breaks down the gut wall of insect larvae; it does not create a bacterium that does so.

    FDA Finds Monsanto’s Weed Killer In U.S. Honey

    September 17, 2016

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/fda-finds-monsantos-weed_b_12008680.html

    The Food and Drug Administration, under public pressure to start testing samples of U.S. food for the presence of a pesticide that has been linked to cancer, has some early findings that are not so sweet.

    In examining honey samples from various locations in the United States, the FDA has found fresh evidence that residues of the weed killer called glyphosate can be pervasive – found even in a food that is not produced with the use of glyphosate. All of the samples the FDA tested in a recent examination contained glyphosate residues, and some of the honey showed residue levels double the limit allowed in the European Union, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. There is no legal tolerance level for glyphosate in honey in the United States.

    Glyphosate, which is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used weed killer in the world, and concerns about glyphosate residues in food spiked after the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Other international scientists have raised concerns about how heavy use of glyphosate is impacting human health and the environment.

    Records obtained from the FDA, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, detail a range of revelations about the federal government’s efforts to get a handle on these rising concerns. In addition to honey, the records show government residue experts discussing glyphosate found in soybean and wheat samples, “glyphosate controversies,” and the belief that there could be “a lot of violation for glyphosate” residues in U.S. crops.

    Even though the FDA annually examines foods for residues of many pesticides, it has skipped testing for glyphosate residues for decades. It was only in February of this year that the agency said it would start some glyphosate residues analysis. That came after many independent researchers started conducting their own testing and found glyphosate in an array of food products, including flour, cereal, and oatmeal. The government and Monsanto have maintained that any glyphosate residues in food would be minimal enough to be safe. But critics say without robust testing, glyphosate levels in food are not known. And they say that even trace amounts may be harmful because they are likely consumed so regularly in many foods.

    The residue issues are coming into the spotlight at the same time that the EPA is completing a risk assessment to determine if use of this top-selling herbicide should be limited. The agency has scheduled public meetings on the matter Oct. 18-21 in Washington. The EPA’s risk assessment report was initially due out in 2015, but still has not been finalized. The agency now says it will be completed in “spring 2017.”

    In the records released by the FDA, one internal email describes trouble locating honey that doesn’t contain glyphosate: “It is difficult to find blank honey that does not contain residue. I collect about 10 samples of honey in the market and they all contain glyphosate,” states an FDA researcher. Even “organic mountain honey” contained low concentrations of glyphosate, the FDA documents show.

    According to the FDA records, samples tested by FDA chemist Narong Chamkasem showed residue levels at 107 ppb in samples the FDA associated with Louisiana-based Carmichael’s Honey; 22 ppb in honey the FDA linked to Leighton’s Orange Blossom Honey in Florida and residues at 41 ppb in samples the FDA associated with Iowa-based Sue Bee Honey, which is marketed by a cooperative of American beekeepers as “pure, all-natural” and “America’s Honey.” Customers “can be assured that Sue Bee Honey is 100% pure, 100% all-natural and 100% American,” the Sioux Honey Association states.

    In a Jan. 8, 2016 email Chamkasem pointed out to fellow FDA scientists that the EU tolerance level is 50 ppb and there is no amount of glyphosate allowed at all in honey in the United States. But Chris Sack, an FDA chemist who oversees the agency’s pesticide residue testing, responded by reassuring Chamkasem and the others that the glyphosate residues discovered are only “technically a violation.”

    The bee farmers are not breaking any laws; rather glyphosate is being introduced by the bees,” Sack wrote in response. “While the presence of glyphosate in honey is technically a violation, it is not a safety issue.

    Sack said the EPA had been “made aware of the problem” and was expected to set tolerance levels for honey. Once tolerance levels are set by EPA – if they are set high enough – the residues would no longer be a violation. When contacted this week, the EPA said there are currently no pending requests to set tolerance levels for glyphosate in honey. But, the agency also said: “there is no dietary risk concern from exposure to glyphosate residues in honey at this time.”

    Sioux Honey Vice President Bill Huser said glyphosate is commonly used on farm fields frequented by bees, and the pesticide travels back with the bees to the hives where the honey is produced.

    “The industry doesn’t have any control over environmental impacts like this,” Huser said. Most of Sue Bee’s honey comes from bees located near clover and alfalfa in the upper Midwest, he said. Beekeepers located in the South would have honeybees close to cotton and soybean fields. Alfalfa, soybeans and cotton are all genetically engineered to be sprayed directly with glyphosate.

    The FDA results are not the first to find glyphosate in honey. Sampling done in early 2015 by the scientific research company Abraxis found glyphosate residues in 41 of 69 honey samples with glyphosate levels between 17 and 163 ppb, with the mean average being 64 ppb.

    Bee keepers say they are innocent victims who see their honey products contaminated simply because they might be located within a few miles of farms where glyphosate is used.

    “I don’t understand how I’m supposed to control the level of glyphosate in my honey when I’m not the one using Roundup,” one honey company operator said. “It’s all around me. It’s unfair.”

    The FDA did not respond to a question about the extent of its communications with Monsanto regarding residue testing, but the records released show that Monsanto has had at least some interaction with the FDA on this issue. In April of this year, Monsanto’s international regulatory affairs manager Amelia Jackson-Gheissari emailed FDA asking to set up a time to talk about “enforcement of residue levels in the USA, particularly glyphosate.”

    The FDA routinely looks for residues of a number of commonly used pesticides but not glyphosate. The look for glyphosate this year is considered a “special assignment” and came after the agency was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2014 for failing to test for glyphosate.

    The FDA has not released formal results of its testing plans or the findings, but Sack made a presentation in June to the California Specialty Crops Council that said the agency was analyzing 300 samples of corn; 300 samples of soy; and 120 samples each of milk and eggs. He described some partial results achieved through April that showed glyphosate levels found in 52 samples of corn and 44 samples of soybeans but not above legally allowed levels. The presentation did not mention honey. The presentation also stated that glyphosate testing at the FDA will be expanded to “routine screening.”

    The USDA also will start testing for glyphosate, but not until next year, according to information the agency gave to the nonprofit group Beyond Pesticides in a meeting in Washington in January. Documents obtained through FOIA show a plan to test in syrups and oils in 2017.

    Soybeans and Wheat

    Like the FDA, the USDA has dragged its feet on testing. Only one time, in 2011, has the USDA tested for glyphosate residues despite the fact that the agency does widespread testing for residues of other less-used pesticides. In what the USDA called a “special project” the agency tested 300 soybean samples for glyphosate and found more than 90 percent – 271 of the samples – carried the weed killer residues. The agency said then that further testing for glyphosate was “not a high priority” because glyphosate is considered so safe. It also said that while residues levels in some samples came close to the very high levels of glyphosate “tolerance” established by EPA, they did not exceed those levels.

    Both the USDA and the FDA have long said it is too expensive and is unnecessary to test for glyphosate residues. Yet the division within the USDA known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) has been testing wheat for glyphosate residues for years because many foreign buyers have strong concerns about glyphosate residues. GIPSA’s testing is part of an “export cargo sampling program,” documents obtained from GIPSA show. Those tests showed glyphosate residues detected in more than 40 percent of hundreds of wheat samples examined in fiscal 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. The levels vary, the data shows. GIPSA has also been helping FDA access soybeans to test. In a May 2015 email, GIPSA chemist Gary Hinshaw told an FDA food safety official that “it isn’t difficult to find soybeans containing glyphosate.” In a December 7, 2015 email from FDA chemist Terry Councell to Lauren Robin, also a chemist and an FDA consumer safety officer, Councell said that glyphosate was present even in processed commodities, though “way below tolerance.”

    The fact that the government is aware of glyphosate residues in food, but has dragged its feet on testing for so long, frustrates many who are concerned about the pesticide.

    “There is no sense of urgency around these exposures that we live with day in and day out,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

    Was a USDA scientist muzzled because of his bee research?

    March 6, 2016

    http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/was-a-usda-scientist-muzzled-because-of-his-bee-research/article_7513caa5-77e4-5038-8467-480e0bbaf4d2.html

    Jonathan Lundgren is buying a parcel of land — a scrubby, 30-acre plot just north of Brookings, S.D. —  from which he hopes to lead a revolution. An entomologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, based in a South Dakota lab, Lundgren plans to start two businesses: Blue Dasher Farm, a for-profit enterprise he describes as a model for sustainable farming; and Ecdysis, a nonprofit science lab for independent research.

    The land, rolling hillocks and flatlands alive with wildflowers and blooming weeds, includes a large house for his family and storage facilities he can convert into a lab. Even as this future beckons, however, his recent past still stings.

    U.S. agriculture, says Lundgren, is in crisis. A lack of diversity in farming and a related overreliance on pesticides have triggered a host of negative effects, including the decline of pollinators, such as butterflies and bees.

    Bees are vital to U.S. agriculture, pollinating foods that make up roughly a third, and the most nutritious portion, of our diet, such as fruits and leafy greens. But commercial beekeepers continue to report escalating losses of 42 percent or more, jeopardizing $30 billion in annual revenue and our health.

    A couple of years ago, the now 40-year-old Lundgren — running a government lab, winning awards from both his agency and President Barack Obama — occupied the right position to aid in this crisis. He says he was doing just that when the trouble started: a pair of suspensions — one for conduct unbecoming a federal employee and another for violating travel regulations.

    In October, Lundgren filed a whistleblower suit alleging that he was disciplined to suppress his science. The government says the suspensions had nothing to do with his research. Today, he is the most outspoken of several scientists who say they feel muzzled by the government.

    The lawyers who filed Lundgren’s suit allege that nine additional USDA scientists have been ordered to retract studies and water-down findings, or have faced discipline in retaliation for their work. They further allege that three of those scientists, beyond Lundgren, were also working on pollinator-related research. The USDA’s inspector general just announced an audit, to take place later this year, in response to the “significant volume” of complaints they’ve had on their office’s hotline, alleging scientific censorship on pesticides and other issues.

    This dynamic of government scientists claiming suppression extends across institutions. Just a few months ago, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration alleged that the House Science Committee, led by Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, was attempting to intimidate researchers who had produced data indicating that global warming hadn’t slowed.

    Such disputes show how complicated the intersection of government, science and industry can become when billions of dollars are at stake.

    Lundgren, a husband and father of two, is tall and slim, passing into middle age with a sparse beard and steady demeanor. A native of Lakeville, Minn., 25 miles south of Minneapolis, he remarks on his troubles with studied Midwest politeness. Where others might drop expletives, he says “holy buckets.”

    Close associates, however, say he bears a profound stubborn streak. “When Jon thinks he is right about something, he’ll dig in,” says his old doctoral adviser at the University of Illinois, Rob Wiedenmann. “He’ll shift when he finds that he is wrong, but you need to prove it to him.”

    As a USDA-ARS employee, Lundgren has run his own lab and staff for 11 years, wrote a well-regarded book on predator insects, published nearly 100 scientific papers and acted as a peer reviewer for dozens of publications. For years, his body of research was either neutral or favorable to farming policy and the chemical industry. But three years ago, he started cautioning against the overuse of pesticides. That shift, he says, triggered his suspensions and the downturn in his professional fate.

    He believes the problem began in 2012, when he published findings in the Journal of Pest Science suggesting that a popular class of pesticides called neonicotinoids don’t improve soybean yields. He also served as a peer reviewer for a Center for Food Safety report on the dangers of neonics. The next year, he published a paper suggesting that a new genetic pest treatment, dubbed RNAi pesticides, required a new means of risk assessment.

    The publications drew media interest, and after an interview with an NPR affiliate, Lundgren was brought into a conference call with his supervisor, Sharon Papiernik, and an area director above her, Larry Chandler.

    “You shouldn’t talk to the press anymore without prior approval,” Lundgren says Chandler told him. “We’re trying to protect you.”

    As a regulatory scientist, Lundgren believed that discussing his research was part of his job.

    Neither Papiernik nor Chandler responded to requests for interviews. A USDA spokesman said the agency would handle all responses. The spokesman said that Chandler doesn’t remember the conversation and that ARS scientists often receive guidance or approvals from supervisors and can present peer-reviewed research results but cannot speculate on policies.

    A few months later, in 2014, Lundgren gave an interview to Boulder Weekly. Within two weeks, he was the subject of a misconduct investigation over his office behavior. Lundgren was cited for dancing around the office and pretending to hump a chair. He allowed two employees with the same name to differentiate themselves by “AP” and “EP,” for “average penis” and “enormous penis.” He teased one employee about being so old she dated Napoleon. He was suspended for three days.

    He says he never felt anyone on his staff was uncomfortable or he’d have stopped. “I’d lay down in traffic for my employees, and they know that,” he says.

    After contacting all 11 of Lundgren’s then-staff members, as identified by staff members themselves, a complicated picture emerges. Eight requested anonymity, one spoke on the record and two declined to be interviewed — one invoking a nondisclosure agreement many staffers claimed they were asked to sign; the other saying, “If other staff members are talking to you, you’ll find out what you need to know.”

    Collectively, Lundgren’s staff members described the work environment as loose, sometimes juvenile, but said the whole group participated. They even collaborated on a letter to management decrying the investigation.

    Lundgren says he feared they might face reprisal and declined to pass the letter to his supervisors. But a former staff member supplied a copy, along with contemporaneous emails in support of it from the two staffers who declined to be interviewed. The letter states that “what management construed as behavioral misconduct” was “not offensive to those immediately involved.”

    USDA officials cannot speak on the record about personnel matters, but a spokesman said the investigation was conducted after management received a complaint from an employee in Lundgren’s lab and bore no connection to his interviews or research. The USDA spokesman also said there was no nondisclosure agreement.

    As a manager, Lundgren couldn’t be represented by the union, but his staff sought out Sheila Sears Wichmann, a now-retired ARS union rep, to guide them as witnesses. “I was a union rep for 35 years,” says Wichmann. “I’ve seen sexual harassers and serial harassers, the kind of things where even I — as the union rep — would think, ‘Go on and knock his block off.’ But this, was nothing.”

    Wichmann believes Lundgren was the real victim. “I don’t know why they did it,” she says, “but it seemed that they wanted to get him and were out to find some way of doing it.”

    Janet Fergen, retired after 30 years at ARS and 10 years as Lundgren’s lab manager, is the one former staff member who spoke on the record. She agrees with Lundgren’s assessment that something shifted after his soybean yield study.

    “There were questions from management about how the study was conducted,” she says. “That hadn’t happened before.”

    She also questions the timing of the USDA’s investigation, saying the incidents they asked about had occurred “many months earlier, so if it was so serious where was the urgency?”

    Lundgren says the tumult left him stunned. “At first, I couldn’t believe this was happening,” he says. “But as time went on, it seemed like anytime my work got media attention, they came after me.”

    It happened again, he says, when he submitted a paper to his supervisors early last year, describing how clothianidin — another form of neonic pesticide — harms monarch butterflies. Papiernik returned the paper, asking for minor revisions. Following standard USDA-ARS procedures, Lundgren says, he made the requested changes, then submitted the paper to a scientific journal for publication. He also supplied an interview on his as-yet-unpublished results to an NPR affiliate.

    Almost immediately, an ARS national program leader in pest management emailed him for more information and compared the paper to a different scientist’s discredited study. Two weeks later, Lundgren says, Papiernik came into his office “visibly angry,” questioning why he’d given the interview and telling him the paper wasn’t approved. Lundgren says he reminded her that she had reviewed the paper and requested only minor edits.

    A week later, in March last year, he was in trouble again. Lundgren says he was late filing a travel request before a trip to Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., to address a group of farmers and the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, and forgot to sign the form. After his flight landed, Lundgren says he received a text from Papiernik advising him that his trip was not approved and declaring him AWOL. He was suspended for two weeks.

    “Dr. Lundgren failed to seek the necessary approvals for travel, thereby violating the agency’s guidelines,” a USDA spokesman said. “He submitted an unsigned request to accept contributed travel for that meeting on the day of his departure, leaving insufficient time to ensure the travel met ethical and other agency guidelines.”

    In his whistleblower complaint, Lundgren’s attorneys cite three USDA scientists who committed similar infractions without being disciplined (two took trips without having their paperwork countersigned; another filled out paperwork after the trip). A fourth scientist, Jian Duan, said in a phone interview that he forgot to fill out paperwork until after a trip but faced no penalty.

    After this, Lundgren says, he became the subject of his supervisors’ unrelenting focus: investigating his grants and his use of government vehicles, reviewing his slides for a presentation and even requiring him to retract his name from an article on the adverse consequences of increased U.S. corn production because it seemed to comment on policy.

    By this time, he says, he started thinking about his next steps.

    Lundgren, in fact, first tried working through the USDA’s standard procedures to get his career back on track. After his first suspension, he filed a scientific integrity complaint, according to USDA-ARS procedures, alleging that his research and attempts to communicate his findings to the media had been disrupted. The USDA rejected the complaint, and after an appeal, a five-member panel convened by the agency recently confirmed that decision.

    The internal report, deemed confidential by the USDA but released by Lundgren’s attorney, states that “the scientist’s written complaint did not provide credible and verifiable evidence that his research was impeded and that he was restrained from communicating with the media.”

    The report cites multiple instances in which Lundgren was allowed to publish research and give interviews or travel to present his findings.

    Jeff Ruch, the executive director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility who has been representing Lundgren, says the report reveals a systemic problem inside the agency: “No witnesses named by Lundgren were interviewed,” Ruch says. “The panel was told not to even consider allegations of reprisal. And they also repeated USDA’s position that they can prohibit any scientist from talking to the media even about already published research, which completely undermines any claim of scientific freedom.”

     A USDA spokesperson said: “The documents that this organization has released affirm that the referenced allegation of scientific misconduct at USDA is untrue and misleading. Both the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Agency scientific integrity officer and an independent USDA scientific integrity review panel have reviewed the allegation and found it to be unsubstantiated. The scientific integrity review panel has spoken, and we stand by their decision. We will have no further comment on this matter.”

    To this point, Lundgren stands largely alone in his dispute with the government. The nine other scientists cited by Lundgren’s attorneys choose to remain anonymous because they fear reprisal, according to Ruch, head of PEER, the alliance of scientists that is representing Lundgren.

    There are signs, however, that this could be changing. Data seems to be mounting suggesting that pesticides are a significant contributor to bee declines.

    A recent scientific literature review conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Italy determined that pesticide exposure renders bees more susceptible to disease and increases mortality rates. Pesticides have also been linked to harming bees’ memory and navigational capabilities.

    “No one would describe them as the driver,” says Lundgren, “but they are significant, and the government doesn’t seem to want to do anything about them.”

    Most of the attention has focused on neonicotinoids. Entering broad use here in the late ’90s, neonics’ global share of the pesticide marketplace ballooned by 2008 to roughly 25 percent and $2.5 billion. Neonics can be implanted directly on the seed and are classified as a “systemic” insecticide because they are fully incorporated into the plant’s tissue, remaining present in pollen and nectar.

    Two key studies have found that feeding neonics to bees, even in amounts so low they couldn’t be detected afterward, render them more susceptible to infection. The co-author of one of those studies, Jeffrey Pettis, is joining Lundgren in speaking out.

    Pettis is a highly respected entomologist and led the USDA’s bee laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, for nine years, through April 2014, when he testified before the House Agriculture Committee.

    Pettis had developed what he describes as a “significant” line of research showing that neonics compromise bee immunity. But in his opening remarks before Congress, he focused on the threat posed by the varroa mite, often put forward by chemical company representatives as the main culprit behind bee deaths.

    Only under questioning by subcommittee Chairman Austin Scott, R-Ga., did Pettis shift. Even if varroa were eliminated tomorrow, he told Scott, “we’d still have a problem.” Neonics raise pesticide concerns for bees “to a new level,” he said.

    About two months later, Pettis was demoted, losing all management responsibilities for the Beltsville lab.

    Dave Hackenberg, a central Pennsylvania beekeeper and longtime friend of Pettis’s, says Pettis confided in him that the official reason given for his demotion — poor performance as an administrator — wasn’t the real one. The real reason was his congressional testimony.

    Pettis, 61, has never provided a full public account of his side of the story. But with Hackenberg talking he decided to respond. “Dave and I talk a lot,” he said, “and I cannot be sure what I might have said to him around the time of my demotion.”

    But, Pettis said, the USDA’s congressional liaison told him that the Agriculture Committee wanted him to restrict his testimony to the varroa mite. “In my naivete,” he said, “I thought there were going to be other people addressing different parts of the pie. I felt used by the whole process, used by Congress.”

    The hearing was “heavily weighted toward industry,” he said, “and they tried to use me as a scientist, as a way of saying, ‘See, it’s the varroa mite,’ when that’s not how I see it.”

    As for his demotion, Pettis called himself a “bad administrator.” But did he think the hearing played a role?

    Pettis delivers an elliptical answer. He said he walked up to Scott afterward, to make small talk, and the congressman “said something about how I hadn’t ‘followed the script.’

    A spokeswoman for Scott said the congressman no longer chairs the same House agriculture subcommittee and referred questions to the committee’s professional staff. A spokesperson there declined to make anyone available for an interview.

    “In my gut,” said Pettis, “I feel I pissed someone off with my testimony. Beyond that I have not felt or seen the big hand of industry saying, ‘We’re going to make you pay for this.’ I have seen more direct evidence that Congress was influenced by industry than I ever felt with regard to the USDA.”

    A USDA spokesman said Pettis’s demotion was in no way linked to his research or testimony, and points to USDA studies on the varroa mite, sublethal pesticide effects and preserving genetic diversity as examples of “breakthrough studies” the agency has conducted.

    The dispute hit a new low for Lundgren in July, when he finished a draft of a new paper on RNAi pesticides.

    RNAi pesticides work by attaching a molecule to the target pest’s DNA, keeping specific, vital gene sequences from functioning.

    Lundgren and postdoc Chrissy Mogren used computer software to mimic the action of 21 such pesticides to determine if any threaten honeybees. What they discovered is that each pesticide might bind with some section of the honeybee’s DNA. Lundgren himself describes this result as not so dramatic as it sounds. The honeybee genome is vast, and any overlap between the pesticide and the bee’s genome might prove innocuous and unrelated to survival.

    Still, Lundgren thought of this research as a step to encourage further study. He also knew the data would likely spark more trouble with his bosses, so he sent the paper to seven colleagues for informal peer reviews. Five suggested relatively minor revisions, checking one of two boxes indicating the paper as “acceptable” for submission. Neil Hoffman and John Turner, both managers for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, referred to the paper as “trivial” and didn’t check a box.

    Hoffman and Turner said the paper offered no evidence of “meaningful” interactions between the pesticides and the honeybee genome. Lundgren’s supervisors made the same argument and refused him permission to submit the paper to an outside journal.

    “The whole process seemed tainted to me by then,” says Lundgren. “They were suppressing science. This was a ‘proof of concept’ paper” — a pointer to areas scientists might research further — “a standard part of science.”

    Greg Heck, Monsanto‘s weed control platform lead, with an expertise in RNAi technologies, believes Lundgren is too alarmist about the new technology and says Monsanto is conducting tests to make sure the pesticides are harmless to bees. But, hearing what the paper contains, he said he believes submitting it for publication was appropriate. “I haven’t seen the study, but I am a firm believer in getting research out there,” he said, “because then we can discuss the results and say, ‘Hey, is any of this truly meaningful?'”

    At this point, Lundgren started planning a lab outside USDA, with some of the people he calls his “professional family,” including a pair who worked with him when he was suspended for unbecoming conduct.

    He accompanied me to the site, a half-hour jaunt from his ranch home across the flatlands and open highways of Brookings. The farm, Blue Dasher, is named after Lundgren’s favorite dragonfly species. Ecdysis is the process of molting, when an insect sheds its skin and transforms, a period of great promise and vulnerability. The symbolism is entirely conscious.

    I don’t think science can be done, at least on this subject, in any of the conventional ways,” he says. “I think we need truly independent scientists — not funded by government or industry.”

    Bee declines, says Lundgren, are not difficult to understand. “Yes, the bees are in crisis, and we need to help them,” he says. “But what we have is not a bee problem. What we have is a biodiversity problem.”

    U.S. corporate agriculture tends toward monoculture farming — in the simplest terms, one giant farm specializing in one crop. The two key monoculture crops are corn and soybeans. Corn alone takes up 30 percent of the country’s crop space, an area almost the size of California.

    Soybean acreage is nearly as vast. The corn rootworm, the Colorado potato beetle and soybean aphids all thrive best on the crops that give them their names. And so monocultures have allowed, even caused, says Lundgren, pest populations to explode.

    “We’re using all of these pesticides because we’ve created a pest problem,” Lundgren says, “and bee health is a symptom of this underlying cause.”

    He says the solution is to diversify American farming. “Any other course is unsustainable,” he says. “Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides should be something we resort to, not a first option.”

    Lundgren says he will use Blue Dasher to prove farmers can produce high yields, big profits and enough food by rotating crops, which will suppress pest populations naturally.

    As he stands at the edge of what he hopes will be his new operations, the land spread out before him, he looks happy.

    “This,” he says, “is the future.”

    In November, when he accepted a civic courage award in Washington from the Shafeek Nader Trust for his stand against the USDA, he evoked the future as a talisman, a future in which bees and our food supply will no longer be under threat. This time, as if sensing skepticism, he goes on: “I really believe it,” he says. “We can do it through science.”

    New Federal Bill Aims to Squash State GMO-Labeling Efforts

    April 13, 2014

    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/04/new-federal-bill-aims-to-squash-state-gmo-labeling-efforts/

    Efforts to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have sprouted across more than two dozen states, including two successful bills in Maine and Connecticut, along with measures that came up short at the ballot box in California and Washington.

    But proposed federal legislation introduced on Wednesday would put an end to that by prohibiting any mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food. It would also prohibit voters from proposing initiatives for labeling genetically engineered food at the state level.

    The bill, named the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” was introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS). The bill aims to ensure that America can continue to produce an adequate amount of food to “feed the world,” Pompeo reportedly told a group of agriculture journalists.

    Pompeo added that since there exists no evidence that genetically engineered foods posed a health or safety risk to humans, GMO labels mislead consumers into thinking there may be a safety risk.

    Such legislation has received strong support from the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, a group of industry organizations including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which has been a major opponent of GMO-labeling efforts.

    Proponents of GMO labeling call the bill an affront to states’ rights and an attack on consumers who wish to know what they’re buying.

    “It’s clear that Congressman Pompeo and the GMA are willing to do whatever they can to immediately prohibit states from enacting sensible legislation for consumers to have the right to know what they’re buying and feeding their families,” Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), told Food Safety News.

    CFS is one of the leading proponents for GMO labeling, having donated $455,000 to labeling efforts in Washington state during the 2013 elections. At the same time, GMA spent $11 million to help defeat Washington’s mandatory labeling proposal.

    Pompeo’s bill would reportedly require food companies to submit new genetically modified foods to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for review. The food under review would be “base products,” such as vegetables or fruits, as opposed to the final food product.

    Pompeo added that the bill would not affect companies labeling their foods as “GMO-free.”

    O’Neil called the bill “unworkable,” saying it offered no solutions to the debate over GMO labeling. He said that the bill was unprecedented in its push to preempt state law without a federal standard in place, but that the food industry should not be underestimated in its opposition to GMO labeling.

    “The moneyed interests pushing this bill so urgently have a sizeable war chest,” O’Neil said. “It’s clear that they’re going to do whatever it takes to keep consumers in the dark.”

    Representatives for the GMA did not return calls from Food Safety News as of press time.

    As labeling efforts crop up in more states ahead of the next election cycle, the industry is seen as looking for a way to cut off new labeling measures before they make it to the ballot box, where millions more are likely to be spent on advertising campaigns.

    Money spent on opposition campaigns to California’s GMO-labeling Proposition 37 topped $46 million, while campaigns in favor of labeling raised $9.2 million. In Washington, GMO-labeling Initiative 522 saw $22 million in opposition funding and $8.2 million in support.

    Two states, Maine and Connecticut, have passed GMO-labeling laws, but the rules for both are contingent upon other states also approving labeling laws.

    A labeling law in Vermont could be the first passed without such contingencies. It has cleared votes in the state’s House and Senate, though it faces a legal battle from the food industry. Voters may also push forward with GMO labeling in Oregon and Colorado this November.

    Roughly 60 to 70 percent of processed foods in grocery stores contain at least one genetically modified ingredient, according to GMA.

    Farmer Sues Monsanto Over Illegal GMO Wheat

    October 5, 2013

    http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2013/06/05/farmer-sues-monsanto-over-illegal-gmo-wheat/

    Kansas farmer Ernest Barnes filed suit against Monsanto this week, seeking damages related to unapproved GMO wheat. Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat never gained USDA approval, but was recently found growing on an Oregon farm. That discovery prompted Japan and other countries to drop some US wheat exports like hot potatoes. In this suit, Barnes claims Monsanto’s carelessness with unapproved test crops have led to irreparable harm to US farmers. This suit marks the first action filed against Monsanto over GMO wheat — but it probably won’t be the last.

    Barnes farms 1,000 acres in southwest Kansas, and doesn’t report direct contamination of his fields by Monsanto’s unapproved GM wheat. Instead Barnes alleges Monsanto’s gross negligence damaged his business and his livelihood, by driving wheat prices down and causing some countries to suspend US imports of possibly-contaminated grains.

    Barnes filed the federal civil suit Monday, seeking unspecified damages.

    According to one AP article,

    It’s believed to be the first lawsuit stemming from the discovery. Similar lawsuits are in the works, Barnes’ attorney said, and the cases will likely be consolidated for the purposes of discovery, a process where evidence is investigated and shared among parties.

    There’s no question that growers’ have been negatively impacted by this GMO wheat incident.

    From Forbes:

    Japan and South Korea suspended some imports of American wheat, the European Union urged its 27 nations to increase testing, investors drove down the price of Monsanto shares by 4% on Friday, and the price on the Chicago Board of Trade of wheat for July delivery fell 8.25 cents to $6.945 a bushel.

    WTH-GMO: Monsanto’s Oopsie

    Unapproved Monsanto-created GMO wheat apparently escaped into the Oregon agro-sphere, creating completely predictable potential catastrophe for US wheat farmers – and highlighting our sloppy and ineffective ‘regulation’ procedures for GM crops.

    The USDA announced last Wednesday that it’s investigating the renegade appearance of unapproved Roundup Ready GM wheat on an Oregon farm. No one seems to know how it got there, or how long it’s been there — or, apparently, how to keep unwanted (untested, unapproved, virtually unregulated) biotech crops out of fields to which they’re not invited.

    As Reuters reported last Friday,

    The incident joins a score of episodes in which biotech crops have eluded efforts to segregate them from conventional varieties. But it marks the first time that a test strain of wheat, which has no genetically modified varieties on the market, has escaped the protocols set up by U.S. regulators to control it…

    The discovery instantly roiled export markets, with Japan canceling a major shipment of wheat, a quick reminder of what is at stake – an $8 billion U.S. wheat export business.

    Monsanto tested a genetically modified strain of wheat from 1998 through 2005, but discontinued it due to global opposition to the idea of GMO cereal grains. The USDA has never approved any strain of GM wheat for sale or agricultural use, making the April discovery of Monsanto’s test strain growing on an 80-acre Oregan farm a puzzling and disturbing mystery.

    According to an article from RT.com news,

    The discovery of a Monsanto-created, genetically modified strain of wheat in the US that was never approved by the United States Department of Agriculture has imperiled US exports of a staple world food commodity.

      Japanese authorities have already opted to cancel part of a  tender offer to buy US western white wheat and have suspended  imports of both that variety and feed wheat, Reuters reported on  Thursday.  

    “We will refrain from buying western white and feed wheat  effective today,” Toru Hisadome, a Japanese farm ministry  official in charge of wheat trading, told the agency.  

    The Monsanto-staffed USDA says it’s investigating the ongoing GM wheat debacle.

    This unsavory wheat incident reveals the sloppy non-regulation of GM crops that we’ve allowed to become the norm in the US — it’s a national embarrassment, spotlighting just how far we lag behind other nations in terms of regulating GMOs. Contamination and corruption are inevitable when we allow Monsanto to write its own rules, staff our (alleged) regulatory agencies, and escape all accountability under the law.

    Maybe we should stop: our citizens, our children, and our farmers deserve better.

    Give ‘em heck, Mr. Barnes!

    New Bill Would Protect The Poisoning of Paradise

    October 5, 2013

    http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2013/09/27/pesticides-kauai-poisoning-paradise/

    The long-revered tropical paradise of Kauai, Hawaii has become ground zero for GMO plant and pesticides testing over the past decade. Now, residents are fighting back.

    Over 18 tons of pre-diluted, restricted-use pesticides are dumped on the paradise of Kauai, Hawaii annually by GMO giants Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, BASF and Dow AgroSciences R&D seed operations. Kauai residents are fighting
    back with Bill 2491.

    This open-air testing of experimental GMO crops requires large volumes of pesticides, including restricted use pesticides (such as Lorsban and Atrazine), which can have disastrous health consequences. Often these chemicals are used in amounts several times higher than any other conventional farming methods, and due to Kauai’s high winds and wet environment, these activities have great risks of contaminating the surrounding land, air, water, crops and residents.

    The Effects of Pesticides Abuse on the Kauai Community

    Hawai’i has had 5.4 times more GE crop field releases per unit area than Illinois. This means that in general, more people in Hawai’i live in close proximity to field test sites than residents of Midwestern states like Illinois, putting them at a much higher risk for pesticide exposure.

    Residents have reported pesticide drift into their homes and being hit by drift while driving public roadways, and healthcare professionals have voiced concerns over possible cancer clusters, widespread irregular respiratory issues, and many other health issues relating to children and pregnant women.

    Through Bill 2491, residents are demanding disclosure and preventative measures that protect pregnant mothers, fence-line communities and children from the risks of exposure to restricted use pesticides.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics research shows pesticide links to delays in neurological development, endocrine abnormalities, behavioral issues and an increase in childhood cancers such as leukemia. Dr. Eveslin, a Kauai pediatrician for over 30 years says:

    A growing number of Kauai’s pediatricians are concerned with the massive pesticide exposure on Kauai. These are important and reasonable measures that are long overdue.

    Area residents are, especially small children, exposed to these high levels of pesticides are seeing negative health effects. Malia Chun, a local mother and native Hawaiian describes her family’s situation:

    We’re exposed to restricted pesticides through our air, water and  food. My daughters and I have experienced symptoms of asthma, burning in our throat and eyes and unexplained allergies. If this abuse continues, what will be left for the future of our keiki? Why should I leave? I do my best to fulfill my kuleana (responsibilty) as a steward of my ancestral land. No amount of money in this world is worth the health and well being of our ‘ohana and our community.

    Over 150 residents are suing Pioneer/DuPont for unlawfully allowing pesticide drift into their homes for over a decade, and there have been several incidences at a local middle school where children and teachers got sick. One incident resulted in at least 10 children being taken to the hospital. Earlier this month, over 3,500 residents marched in support of the bill and thousands more have submitted testimonies to the County Council in support of bill 2491.

    Bill 2491: Protect Our Community from Pesticides

    Currently County Bill 2491 is under consideration by the County Council which will require buffer zones to protect sensitive areas (schools, hospitals, waterways, public roadways, etc.) and the completion of an Environment Impact Statement (EIS) to investigate the impact these operations have on Kauai. In the meantime, it puts a moratorium on new operations until Kauai has a deeper understanding of the health, economic, and environmental risks of these experimental
    activities.

    In response, the biotech and chemical companies are threatening layoffs and lawsuits if the bill gets passed. However, Bill 2491 has been reviewed by several attorneys and public interest experts specializing in pesticide and GMO regulation who have encouraging words on the Bill’s legal standing, and the County’s powers to protect the health and welfare of its residents and natural resources. Paul Achitoff, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Honolulu office, comments,

    I believe the Bill’s key provisions are legally sound and stand an excellent chance of withstanding a legal challenge.

    Earthjustice and others are exploring the possibility of defending the Bill pro bono if it is challenged in court. According to the Center for Food Safety, at least seven states have established no-spray buffer zones, eight states have established notification requirements for agricultural pesticide applications, and California counties play a leading role in local pesticide regulation.

    There has been documented large-scale failure of state and federal agencies responsible for the regulation, monitoring and protection of people’s health in relation to pesticide use by the agrochemical/GMO operations on the island. Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst for the Center for Food Safety agrees:

    We would all like to believe that EPA protects us from pesticide harms. But sadly, this is often not the case.

    In fact, only two months ago, Earthjustice took EPA to court for failing to comply with EPA’s legal duty to assess risks to children from drift, restrict pesticide uses accordingly, and create buffer zones around schools to minimize drift exposure.

    Pesticides on Kauai: What Residents Can Do

    There are a couple of ways that you can get involved to support Bill 2491:

    1. Today – September 27th – the Kauai County Council will be meeting again to discuss amendments to the bill and its possible passing.
    2. Learn more about this issue at Stop Poisoning Paradise and connect with us on Facebook or Twitter to learn more about how to support Bill 2491 to protect Kauai.

    GM crops won’t help African farmers

    June 27, 2013

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/jun/24/gm-crops-african-farmers

    The UK’s environment minister says GM crops will help combat hunger in developing countries. But Owen Paterson is wrong

    Last week we heard that Owen Paterson, the UK’s environment minister, is claiming that GM crops are necessary to help address hunger in developing countries, and that it would be immoral for Britain not to help developing countries to take up GM. Millions of small-scale farmers in Africa would disagree. African farmers and civil society have repeatedly rejected GM crops, and asked their governments to ban them.

    Paterson does not appear to understand the complex realities and challenges of farming in Africa. Nor does he seem to grasp the limitations of GM crops. He fails to recognise that farmers in Africa already have effective approaches to seed and agriculture, which are far more environmentally and farmer-friendly than GM. Most of all, he fails to acknowledge the devastating impact that GM crops will have on African farmers and farming systems.

    In the UK, Africa is often talked about as a failing continent where the hungry apparently wait around for northern benefactors to save us. Talk of Africa seems to imply that we have little or no food production, that our farmers are clueless, our seed unproductive. We won’t go into how patronising and insulting this attitude is. Instead, we will focus on how this failure to acknowledge African farming systems and seed is being used to wipe them out.

    Traditional African farming systems have developed an incredible diversity of seed varieties, which are able to deal with the multiple challenges of farming. Seed breeding is a complex art, and scientists who really listen and engage will realise that African farmers have a vast amount of ecological knowledge. Having many different types of seed – bred for their flavours and better nutrition, and which have evolved with local pests and diseases and are adapted to different soils and weather patterns – is a far better strategy of resilience than developing a single crop that is bound to fail in the face of climate change.

    It is a myth that the green revolution has helped poor farmers. By pushing just a few varieties of seed that need fertilisers and pesticides, agribusiness has eroded our indigenous crop diversity. It is not a solution to hunger and malnutrition, but a cause. If northern governments genuinely wish to help African agriculture, they should support the revival of seed-saving practices, to ensure that there is diversity in farmers’ hands.

    But GM crops pose an even greater threat to Africa’s greatest wealth. GM companies make it illegal to save seed. We have seen that farmers in North America whose crop was cross-pollinated by GM pollen have been sued by the GM company. About 80% of African small-scale farmers save their seed. How are they supposed to protect the varieties they have developed, crossed and shared over generations from GM contamination? This will be a disaster for them.

    Paterson refers to the use of GM cotton in India. But he fails to mention that GM cotton has been widely blamed for an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers, plunged into debt from high seed and pesticide costs, and failing crops.

    Paterson also refers to the supposed potential of GM crops developed to be drought-tolerant. These crops are not yet on the market, and we don’t know if they ever will be. The only two varieties of GM that have been sold in the past 15 years are resistant to a particular type of pest and a particular type of herbicide. Ask farmers if stalk borers or weeds are a cause of hunger in Africa, and they will laugh at you.

    Instead of waiting for expensive GM solutions that may never arrive – and will ruin us if they do – we have worked with communities who were able to produce surplus food in times of drought by returning to their traditional varieties. A long-term study (pdf) in Ethiopia showed that crops fare much better in an environment where soil and water is conserved in composted land than on land that is pumped full of fertiliser and imported seeds. Communities increasingly understand that modern seeds often fail in these times of changing climates and unpredictable weather. The only way to ensure real food security is to support farmers to revive their seed diversity and healthy soil ecology.

    As Esther Bett, a farmer from Eldoret in Kenya, said last week: “It seems that farmers in America can only make a living from GM crops if they have big farms, covering hundreds of hectares, and lots of machinery. But we can feed hundreds of families off the same area of land using our own seed and techniques, and many different crops. Our model is clearly more efficient and productive. Mr Paterson is wrong to pretend that these GM crops will help us at all.”

    Million Belay is co-ordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa . Ruth Nyambura is advocacy officer of the African Biodiversity Network, which last year co-released the film Seeds of freedom

    US Department of Agriculture probes Oregon Monsanto GM wheat mystery

    June 26, 2013

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/22/agriculture-oregon-monsanto-gm-wheat

    Company cries foul over appearance of genetically modified wheat but scientist who found it doubts claim of sabotage

    It is a mystery that could cost the American farmer billions: how rogue genetically modified wheat plants turned up on a farmer’s field in Oregon.

    The scientist who first discovered the renegade grain – by dipping a plastic strip into a tube of pulped plant, in order to check its genetics – believes the GM wheat could have entered America’s food supply undetected years ago, and could still be in circulation.

    “There’s a lot of potential for how it could have got into the supply,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor of weed sciences at Oregon State University. “It could have already been processed. It could have gone for animal feed somewhere or it could have gone for something else. It could have gone for storage.”

    The Department of Agriculture, which is conducting a secretive investigation into the renegade GM wheat outbreak, maintains the GM wheat remained confined to a single 125-acre field on a single farm in eastern Oregon. Officials said there was no evidence the contaminated wheat was in the marketplace.

    Monsanto, which manufactured the altered gene and conducted field trials of the GM wheat several years ago, strongly suggested in a conference call with reporters on Friday that the company was the victim of sabotage of anti-GM campaigners. Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, said:

    It’s fair to say there are folks who don’t like biotechnology and who would use this as an opportunity to make problems.

    The real story is unlikely to emerge – if at all – until the publication of the final report by 18 Department of Agriculture investigators who are now scouring grain elevators, farmers’ fields and university research stations in eastern Oregon, hunting for a few grains of suspicious wheat.

    The stakes are high for America’s wheat exports, with Japan and South Korea cancelling shipments; for Monsanto, which faces lawsuits from farmers for falling wheat prices and a consumer backlash against GM products; and for the US government, which must shore up confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply.

    The crisis for wheat farmers began in late April, with a phone call from a crop consultant seeking the advice of researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The consultant had sprayed Roundup, a weed killer also manufactured by Monsanto, on some fallow land. Ordinarily, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, would be expected to clean out the entire 125-acre field. This time, however, some plants survived.

    The consultant, fearing he had come across a “superweed”, got in touch with the university and sent some plants in for testing. A clump of plants, carefully wrapped in plastic to keep them green, arrived by Fed-Ex on 30 April. Scientists separated 24 samples and tested them for the presence of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene, CP4, which was developed to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer.

    “They all came up positive,” she said. So did a second battery of tests by another lab at the university and independent testing on a different set of wheat plants collected by researchers from the Department of Agriculture. The scientists were still slightly disbelieving, however. The only chance for contamination by the GM wheat, it was thought, was from field trials Monsanto conducted in the late 1990s until 2005.

    The wheat was grown in more than 100 test plots in 16 states over several years, but the company wound down the last of the trials in 2005, because it saw little market potential. Unlike the other big crops – corn, soybeans, cotton and canolaAmerican farmers have never raised GM wheat on a commercial basis. The US exports much of its wheat to Asia and Europe, who do not want GM products. The Oregon field trials stopped in 2001.

    “Our customers have zero-tolerance for GM wheat,” said Wally Powell, president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League.

    Monsanto is currently testing a next generation of GM wheat in North Dakota and Hawaii. The company insists the seeds from those earlier trials were shipped backed to its labs in Missouri or destroyed in the field and driven deep into the earth with a backhoe.

    Most of the seed was destroyed in the field,” said Jeff Koscelny, who heads Monsanto’s wheat sales team. “It never left the site, and it was buried. To us, it’s not logical there were any seeds out there.”

    An activist protests against US biotech giant Monsanto Monsanto has faced a backlash over GM products. Photograph: Nigel Treblin/AFP/Getty Images

    While Monsanto‘s chief technology officer suggested eco-activists were to blame, Mallory-Smith said deliberate contamination was the least likely scenario:

    The sabotage conspiracy theory is even harder for me to explain or think as logical because it would mean that someone had that seed and was holding that seed for 10 or 12 years and happened to put it on the right field to have it found, and identified. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.

    She was also sceptical of Monsanto’s claims to have gathered up or destroyed every last seed from its earlier GM wheat trials. In recent years, as American farmers rely increasingly on GM crops, there have been a spate of such escapes, including rice, corn, soybean, and tomato. Oregon is still trying to contain a 2006 escape of GM bentgrass, used on golf courses, which has migrated 13 miles from where it was originally planted.

    “Once we put a trait or a gene into the environment we can not expect that we are going to be able to retract or bring back that gene and find every last gene that we put out there,” said Mallory-Smith. Tracing the course of an escape so long after Monsanto’s field trials will be even more difficult, she said. “It’s like finding a needle in a hay stack,” she said.

    One morning in late June, farmers from wheat-growing areas in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state drove their pick-up trucks to the station, to learn about the latest advances in farm technology – including toy-sized drones – and to catch up on the latest on the GM wheat escape. Some of the farmers were relatively relaxed – those whose land sits relatively high up and don’t expect to harvest their crop until August.

    Wheat prices reached historic highs before the GM discovery. If there is no further evidence of contamination, they figure they can ride out the crisis, store their wheat, and wait until Japan and South Korea place orders again. But there is also an undercurrent of suspicion and anger at the unidentified farmer who reported finding GM wheat on his land – consequently putting all of their crops in jeopardy.

    “It’s a mystery to me how they even found that GM wheat,” said Herb Marsh, 80, who has been farming in eastern Oregon his entire life. “It’s hard for me to swallow that he would go, and actually get it tested.

    “It’s just a big mystery,” he said.

    Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crops Contain Organism Causing Animal Miscarriages, Scientist Says

    June 22, 2013

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/23/monsanto-roundup-ready-miscarriages_n_827135.html

    Recent research claims that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified crops contain an organism, previously unknown to science, that can cause miscarriages in farm animals. This disturbing find comes on the heels of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s decision to deregulate Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA). Roundup Ready is designed to survive Roundup, Monsanto’s weed-killing chemical.

    Purdue University‘s Emeritus Professor Don M. Huber presented the findings of the research, which observed the new organism using a 36,000X electron microscope. According to Treehugger, the organism can cause disease in both plants and animals, a rare feat.

    Huber wrote an open letter to Vilsack requesting a moratorium on deregulating Roundup Ready crops. Huber states that Roundup Ready has a high concentration of an animal pathogen connected to “plant and animal diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions.” Huber finishes his letter by stating, “It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure.”

    A recent article in The Washington Post suggests that Roundup Ready Alfalfa is unnecessary and harmful to the farming community. When RRA is grown, reports suggest that weeds develop a resistant to Roundup. This has reportedly already happened to Roundup Ready corn, soybeans, and cottons. As The Washington Post remarks on GMOs, “You can’t recall them the way you can a car or a plastic toy. They’re out there for good. And no one knows what their full impact will be.” Although the impact of Roundup Ready Alfalfa has now become disturbingly more apparent.

    You Can’t Put the GE Genie Back in the Bottle

    June 22, 2013

    http://civileats.com/2013/06/17/you-cant-put-the-ge-genie-back-in-the-bottle/

    The surprise appearance of Monsanto’s unapproved GE wheat in an Oregon field last month dominated the “bad GE news” cycle of the day, stoking worries among farmers, millers, bakers and eaters about the extent of the contamination

    Public outcry and demands to end open-air field testing of experimental GE crops are growing louder. And the discovery of rogue GE wheat in Oregon has driven key trading partners — like Japan and Korea — to suspend some wheat imports. All this exploded just days after millions of people around the world marched against Monsanto, denouncing its control, corruption and contamination of our food systems.

    GE wheat in the loose is the latest in a series of warning signals that the systems we have put in place to ensure a vibrant and healthy food system are not working. We have had nearly two dozen other major incidents of noncompliance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s notoriously lax rules on GE crops.

    Contaminated food, fields & communities

    Several years back Bayer’s experimental GE rice contaminated our rice supply, eliciting import bans from Europe and Japan. And “Starlink corn,” a genetically engineered variety approved only for animal feed, somehow got into our tacos and corn chips.

    Undeterred by the ongoing genetic contamination of our food and farms, USDA continues to allow some 1,000 field trials to test new GE crops each year, covering thousands of acres in multiple states. This little known, searchable USDA database reveals just how extensive and widespread these field trials are.

    Genetic drift aside, these test plots are typically doused heavily with pesticides that can drift from the fields where they’re applied, threatening the health of local communities and contaminating air, soil and water.

    In Hawai’i — the global center of the Big 6 pesticide/GE corporations’ open air field testing operations — a fierce battle is heating up, with Hawai’ian residents no longer willing to let the pesticide industry exploit their land and damage their health.

    Who’s in charge?

    It’s not just our food and fields that have been contaminated. Our public agencies — those that bear the serious responsibility of protecting the public interest, our health and well-being — have been over-run by corporate influence. The revolving door between Big 6 industry representatives and USDA offices spins without pause, and millions of corporate lobby dollars flow directly into congressional campaign funds.

    Recently, in a move that (on the surface) seemed to go against the grain of corporate control, USDA announced its intention to produce a full “environmental impact statement” (EIS) regarding Dow and Monsanto’s new and highly controversial 2,4-D and dicamba-resistant GE crops.

    After receiving over 500,000 public comments last year — highlighting the dangers to farmers’ livelihoods and the health and well-being of rural communities — the agency acknowledged that its decision on these crops could have a significant effect on the “quality of the human environment.” Many, myself included, welcomed this news. For one thing, the EIS process is long enough that it will delay any possible commercialization of these crops into the 2015 season.

    More importantly, the decision suggested that USDA might be preparing to pull its head from the corporate sands and began to look around at what is happening to our farmers and our rural landscape. Maybe that’s what the agency will do with the EIS. After all, USDA says it’s all about “helping rural America thrive” and “conserving the Nation’s natural resources.” But everyone’s worried.

    Safeguard food & farming

    Buried in the middle of the EIS notice, are signals from USDA that it has no intention of taking its own findings seriously. The agency warns that despite whatever the EIS might conclude regarding the GE seeds’ broader impacts on rural communities, the agency has “[no] authority to address those impacts beyond what the Plant Protection Act requires.” And the latter simply requires USDA to determine whether or not a new GE seed might be a “plant pest” that could harm another crop or plant. A “yes/no” decision on “pest status” almost always enables the agency to approve the new GE seed, a decision the Big 6 corporations have come to expect.

    It’s time for USDA to take a long, hard and honest look at the full range of impacts of GE crops on our food and farming system. And then actually use this information to guide the agency’s decisions to safeguard our collective well-being.

    Scientists Debate New Study on GMO-Fed Pigs

    June 21, 2013

    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/06/study-says-gmo-feed-may-harm-pigs/

    Study highlights issue of GM seed research restrictions

    Science commentators involved in the genetically modified food debate have weighed in on a new study that says pigs fed genetically modified grains suffered a higher rate of severe stomach inflammation and developed heavier uteri.

     

    Some experts have said the study shows evidence of a problem that warrants further study, while others have dismissed it as alarmist “junk science.” While stoking old flames, the study also highlights difficulties researchers face when patent-holders deny access to genetically modified (GM) seeds for studying.

     

    The study, conducted by Australian and U.S. researchers and published Tuesday in the Journal of Organic Systems, followed 168 pigs from weaning age to slaughter weight over the course of nearly 23 weeks. Half of those pigs (84) ate a diet based on GM corn and soy, while the other half ate as close as possible to the same diet based on conventionally grown, non-GM corn and soy.

     

    The researchers found few statistically significant differences between the two groups after comparing them based on nearly 20 different parameters, including weight gain, stomach ulcers and kidney abnormalities. The GM-fed pigs did, however, show significantly higher rates of “severe” stomach inflammation, as well as an average of 25 percent heavier uteri in relation to body weight.

     

    Stomach inflammation was graded on a scale between nil, mild, moderate and severe during blind autopsies, meaning the reporters did not know if they were examining the stomach of a GM or non-GM pig. A table of four photographs embedded in the study’s paper shows an example of each of the four degrees of inflammation, which ranged from a fleshy grey (nil) to a combination of pink and bile-yellow (severe).

     

    Here’s the number the study’s authors highlight as most concerning: 23 GM pigs had severely inflamed stomachs, while only 9 non-GM did. That much of a difference is a red flag deserving of further study, said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist for Consumers Union.

     

    Critics were not as certain. Notable climate change author and GMO critic-turned-supporter Mark Lynas pointed out that 60 of non-GM pigs had mild or moderate inflammation compared with 41 GM pigs, and only 4 non-GM pig stomachs were graded “nil,” while the GM pigs tallied up 8.

     

    Of course, fewer GM pigs can have mild or moderate stomach inflammation if a larger percentage already rate as severe, Hansen said to Food Safety News.

     

    Study highlights GMO research hurdle

     

    Another point of contention lies in the potential variance in nutritional composition between the GM and non-GM grain fed to the pigs in the study. Because of patent-holder restrictions, the researchers were required to buy each type of feed from retail distributors, as opposed to growing the feed in a controlled environment.

     

    According to the study’s authors, the GM corn and soy used in the study were considered compositionally and substantially equivalent to the non-GM varieties by government agencies. But the lack of a controlled feed-growing environment potentially calls the results into question, according to Kent Bradford, Ph.D., director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis.

     

    “These are different products,” Bradford told Food Safety News. “For example, soy beans can have a wide range of phytoestrogens. The amount varies widely by production.”

     

    But the study’s researchers had little choice but to work with retail GM grains due to one nearly insurmountable research hurdle: grower’s contracts.

     

    Anyone who buys GM seeds is required to sign a technology stewardship agreement that says, in part, that they cannot perform research on the seed. Without express permission from the biotech patent-holder, scientists and farmers risk facing lawsuits for conducting any studies.

     

    Any study you want to do with these engineered crops, you need to get the company’s permission,” Hansen said. “Could you imagine if tobacco research was only done when the tobacco companies had the final say?”

     

    In July 2009, a group of 26 public sector scientists wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complain about the restrictions imposed on them by the patent holders of GM seeds. In part, they said critical questions regarding GM foods could not be answered without more research freedom, which has still not been established.

     

    “A fishing trip”

     

    On his Science Denialism blog, Mark Hoofnagle, Ph.D., referred to the study as a “fishing trip,” as it did not set out to answer a hypothesis but instead measured a range of parameters in hope that any differences between the groups would appear. The study should have been treated as preliminary research before engaging in hypothesis-driven testing, he said.

     

    “So far, one can only conclude that it’s just as likely that this result occurred by chance as it is to be an actual effect of feeding the pigs GM corn and soy,” Hoofnagle wrote.

     

    But such feeding studies are published “all the time,” Hansen said.

     

    “When you look at a bunch of things and a lot turns out not to be statistically significant but some are, you look at those further,” he added. “You try to explain the significance.”

     

    Hoofnagle also contested the clinical — if not the statistical — significance of the 25 percent increase of GM-fed pig uterus weights over non-GM. The non-GM group had a mean uterus weight of 0.10 percent of total body weight, while the GM group had 0.12 percent. Those percentages ranged from between 0.04 to 0.31 for the non-GM to between 0.036 and 0.244 for the GM.

     

    Growing conditions questioned

     

    Institutions and scientists who came out in support of the study praised its relatively large sample size of 164 pigs, as well as its duration and farming conditions intended to match those seen in commercial pig-farming operations.

     

    Lynas, however, said the study’s data raised questions concerning the low quality of care the pigs endured. Roughly 60 percent of both pig groups had stomach erosions at slaughter, and nearly 60 percent from each group suffered pneumonia, which Lynas called “a classic indicator of bad husbandry.”

     

    The animals were indeed raised in a commercial environment and the data were similar to what is expected in such a setting, said Howard Vlieger, co-author of the study and owner of Verity Farms in Maurice, Iowa, where the study was conducted.

     

    Once they left the nursery, the pigs were raised in “Cargill-style finishing units,” which include both a straw-bedded enclosure and a fenced outdoor area where the pigs eat and drink.

     

    Vlieger told Food Safety News that while the study could not include any anecdotal behavioral observations of the pigs, the researchers did notice a marked difference in temperament between the two groups. When recording the pigs’ weights each week, researchers say that the non-GM pigs were easy-going and generally cooperative, while the GM pigs were noticeably more irritable.

     

    “For whatever reason, as soon as you brought them into confined quarters, they were fighting and biting each other,” Vlieger said. “Every time we did a weighing, the same scenario presented itself.”

     

    GM contracts still pose research problems

     

    Vlieger also lamented the challenges presented by GM patents. The research team chose not to even attempt obtaining GM seeds because of the long-established refusal by biotech companies.

     

    Hansen reiterated that the study’s findings merited further research into the influence GM grains may have on stomach inflammation and uterine weight. But for that to happen, he said, restrictions on how GM seeds can be studied need to be loosened.

     

    “That’s the way good science works,” Hansen said. “If the studies show the engineered crops are fine, fine. But let the scientists study them the way they want.”

     

    For Bradford, the main concern with the study stems from those input limitations. Until GM and non-GM grains can be grown under the same conditions and then administered in a feed test, the results come into automatic question.

     

    “It looks like they did a reasonably careful study,” Bradford said. “It’s just that if you don’t control the food going in, it’s hard to substantiate what comes out. It will be interesting to see what other studies come after this, but right now it’s hard to get too excited.”