Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

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11.05.2018 |

These Farmers Switched to Organic After Pesticides Made Their Families Sick

Some farmers transition to organic production to earn premium prices. Others switch to make their farms more sustainable. But for some farmers, transitioning to organic is a necessary way to protect their family’s health—and even save their lives.

Blaine Schmaltz, who farms in Rugby, North Dakota, is a good example. One day in 1993, Schmaltz was spraying an herbicide on his field. He stopped to check the level in the sprayer tank. While looking inside, he lost control of his legs and passed out. He was later hospitalized for several months with asthma, muscle aches and pains, and insomnia. A doctor diagnosed him with “occupational asthma.”

“The doctor told me to leave agriculture,” Schmaltz says. “He said, ‘if you don’t, you probably won’t live 10 years.’”

While recovering, Schmaltz read about organic farming and decided to transition because he wanted to continue farming. The next spring he started the transition, and over time his symptoms disappeared. Today, Schmaltz continues to grow certified organic wheat, beans, flax, and other specialty grains.

“I didn’t switch to organic farming for the money or a utopian dream,” he says. “I did it for myself and my family in order to stay in agriculture.”

09.05.2018 |

Brazil’s National Cancer Institute names GM crops as cause of massive pesticide use

After the WHO’s classification of glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”, Brazil’s cancer institute condemns GM crops for placing the country in the top ranking globally for pesticide consumption. Claire Robinson reports

The release of GM crops in Brazil has helped make it the largest consumer of agrochemicals in the world, according to a hard-hitting new report from Brazil’s National Cancer Institute José Alencar Gomes da Silva (INCA), part of the country’s Ministry of Health.

The report says that national consumption of agrochemicals is equivalent to 5.2 litres of agrochemicals per year for each inhabitant. Agrochemical sales increased from USD 2 billion in 2001 to 8.5 billion in 2011.

The report names GM crops as a key cause of the trend: “Importantly, the release of transgenic seeds in Brazil was one of the factors responsible for putting the country in first place in the ranking of agrochemical consumption – since the cultivation of these modified seeds requires the use of large quantities of these products.”

08.05.2018 |

Weedkiller products more toxic than their active ingredient, tests show

After more than 40 years of widespread use, new scientific tests show formulated weedkillers have higher rates of toxicity to human cells

US government researchers have uncovered evidence that some popular weedkilling products, like Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup, are potentially more toxic to human cells than their active ingredient is by itself.

These “formulated” weedkillers are commonly used in agriculture, leaving residues in food and water, as well as public spaces such as golf courses, parks and children’s playgrounds.

The tests are part of the US National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) first-ever examination of herbicide formulations made with the active ingredient glyphosate, but that also include other chemicals. While regulators have previously required extensive testing of glyphosate in isolation, government scientists have not fully examined the toxicity of the more complex products sold to consumers, farmers and others.

Monsanto introduced its glyphosate-based Roundup brand in 1974. But it is only now, after more than 40 years of widespread use, that the government is investigating the toxicity of “glyphosate-based herbicides” on human cells.

07.05.2018 |

Monsanto challenges Indian court’s decision that undermines its GMO cotton monopoly

Agro-biotechnology giant Monsanto has appealed Delhi High Court’s ruling which, based on national laws, prevents the world’s largest GMO seed producer from claiming patents on its genetically modified cotton varieties in India.

Looking to break down Monsanto’s monopoly on the Indian market, in April the Delhi High Court banned the St. Louis-based company from enforcing its patents on genetically modified ‘Bollgard’ and ‘Bollgard II’ cottonseed varieties in India. The decision was taken after Indian Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd (NSL) argued that the US seeds company was not eligible to claim patents and demand royalties from Indian seed companies.

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Following April's court ruling, 107 patents could soon be void, which could force the company to leave the market, Ram Kaundinya, of the Federation of Seed Industries of India, which represents Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta foreign companies, cautioned.

“The decision of the Delhi High Court has made biotechnology companies cagey about investing in their businesses because they apprehend that they will lose patents on their expensive technologies,” Kaundinya said.

07.05.2018 |

DBT panel seeks destruction of HT cotton seed

Illegal variety of seeds pose threat to crop biodiversity and is also a health hazard

The Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee (FISEC) constituted by the Department of Biotechnology to investigate the cultivation of unapproved hybrid cotton variety with herbicide-tolerant trait has decided to recommend its eradication, considering its adverse impact on crop biodiversity in the long run.

After collecting samples of the illegal variety of cotton seed, the committee has concluded that it is prevalent in all cotton-growing States in the country and the only viable solution is identifying and destroying the seed at producer, processor, seller and cultivator level, where it is found through field inspection. The high-level meeting was held at New Delhi on Thursday.

The high-level committee is headed by K. Veluthambi and comprises about a dozen officials from Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Telangana State Seed and Organic Certification Authority (TSSOCA).

07.05.2018 |

In Blow to Monsanto, India's Top Court Upholds Decision That Seeds Cannot Be Patented

In an another legal blow to Monsanto, India's Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the Delhi High Court's ruling that the seed giant cannot claim patents for Bollgard and Bollgard II, its genetically modified cotton seeds, in the country.

Monsanto's chief technology officer Robert Fraley, who just announced that he and other top executives are stepping down from the company after Bayer AG's multi-billion dollar takeover closes, lamented the news.

Fraley tweeted, "Having personally helped to launch Bollgard cotton in India & knowing how it has benefited farmers ... it's sad to see the country go down an anti-science/anti-IP/anti-innovation path..."

Monsanto first introduced its GM-technology in India in 1995. Today, more than 90 percent of the country's cotton crop is genetically modified. These crops have been inserted with a pest-resistant toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.

Citing India's Patents Act of 1970, the Delhi High Court ruled last month that plant varieties and seeds cannot be patented, thereby rejecting Monsanto's attempt to block its Indian licensee, Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd., from selling the seeds.

Because of the ruling, Monsanto's claims against Nuziveedu for unpaid royalties have been waived, as its patents are now invalid under Indian law. Royalties will now be decided by the government.

03.05.2018 |

Proposed Regulations for GMO Food Labeling Could Leave Millions of Americans in the Dark

Rules propose options which discriminate against low-income, elderly, and minorities; could allow for many GMO foods to go unlabeled

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the long-awaited proposed regulations for the mandatory disclosure of foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO), which it calls "Bioengineered foods." The regulations come out of a 2016 law signed by President Obama prohibiting existing state GE labeling laws, such as Vermont's, that required on-package GE labeling, and instead created a federal "disclosure," program, which, for the first time, creates a nationwide standard of required GE disclosure. There now will be a 60 day public comment period. The 2016 law requires that USDA issue the final rules by July 29, 2018.

Public comments will be particularly important because the proposal presents a range of alternatives for public comments and makes few decisions, leaving considerable unknowns about its outcome. For example, instead of requiring clear, on-package labeling in the form of text or a symbol, USDA proposes to allow manufacturers to instead choose to use "QR codes," which are encoded images on a package that must be scanned and are intended to substitute for clear, on-package labeling. Real-time access to the information behind the QR code image requires a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, technologies often lacking in rural areas. As a result, this labeling option would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to this technology. Last fall, CFS forced the public disclosure of USDA's study on the efficacy of this labeling, which showed it would not provide adequate disclosure to millions of Americans.

03.05.2018 |

The storm brewing in India’s cotton fields

The pests that GM Bt cotton was meant to safeguard against are back, virulently and now pesticide-resistant – destroying crops and farmers

Policymakers in every country considering introducing GM Bt cotton should read this article. It's long but revealing.

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* Bt-cotton occupies 90 per cent of the land under cotton in India – and the pests that this GM variety was meant to safeguard against, are back, virulently and now pesticide-resistant – destroying crops and farmers

The black scars dotting the green bolls of a wilting cotton plant on Ganesh Wadandre’s farm carried a message for scientists working on the "white gold": go find a new antidote.

“Those are the entry points,” said Wadandre, a five-acre farmer who is well regarded in Amgaon (Kh) village of Wardha district. The worm, he added, must have drilled into the boll from these points.

03.05.2018 |

The situation of EU sugar beet farmers made worse by a GM sugar beet from Monsanto

EU farmers need a true shift to agroecology

European sugar beet producers have been suffering in recent years from a succession of transformations of the sector and low market prices. Some Member States have been using the farmers’ difficult situation as an excuse to lift the EU ban on three neonicotinoids - the famous bee-toxic pesticides. And yet, it seems that some of the same Member States are willing to let imported GM sugar beet flood the EU market.

EU sugar beet farmers in a difficult position

The recent confirmation of the ban of the three most used neonicotinoid pesticides in the EU is without a doubt the best news of the year for biodiversity, as these insecticides have been proven to be the main cause for high mortality rates of bees in intensive farming areas. However, until the end, the sugar beet sector and some Member States have been arguing against the ban, or at least in favour of a derogation for sugar beet farmers, highlighting the current dire situation of the market as their main argument.

02.05.2018 |

Independent scientists serving the interests of industry

Untruthful assertions about new methods of genetic engineering

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

At present, biotech lobbyists are very active in the EU - and if they achieve their aims these could severely impact the environment and consumers. The lobbyists are attempting to persuade politicians and law-makers that the new methods of genetic engineering, based on methods such as the CRISPR/Cas technique, should be exempted from EU GMO regulation. They claim that changes introduced by techniques known as genome editing are not distinguishable from those brought about by conventional breeding. This is not true. Nevertheless, it is something that is repeated over and over again. Even the president of the umbrella organisation of German biologists (VBIO), Bernd Müller-Röber, is currently lobbying members of the EU Parliament with this false assertion.

In particular, the VBIO is meant to be politically, ideologically and economically independent. This is, however, evidently not the case for the president of VBIO – for years he has filed patents on genetic engineering technology, most recently on new methods of genetic engineering. Therefore, he somehow appears to be also his own best lobbyist.

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