International News

2014-11-25 |

Bee populations decline due to loss of favourite pollinating plants

Bee Busy bees at work (Photo: Jack Wolf/

Bee populations have decreased in recent decades mainly due to a loss of biodiversity causing the decline of their favourite host plant, according to a study published Monday in the journal US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The scientists of Wageningen University in The Netherlands write that habitat loss is a bigger factor in bee declines than climate change. The researchers analysed the pollen found on the bodies of insects from 57 different wild bee species collected before the onset of their decline and used data to quantify population trends of bee species and their host plants. They found that the bees had certain favourite plants for pollinating. “We assessed the relative importance of a range of proposed factors responsible for wild bee decline and show that loss of preferred host plant species is one of the main factors associated with the decline of bee populations in The Netherlands”, said Dr Jeroen Scheper, an environmental specialist at the Alterra Research Institute. Another important factor was bee body size, because larger bee species require more pollen to survive than smaller species. The researchers said that diet breadth and other potential factors such as length of flight period or climate change sensitivity were not important in explaining twentieth century bee population trends. The loss of natural habitats, namely grasslands, that are increasingly used for intensive agricultural production has led to a decline in wildflowers and the loss of bees’ food sources. “These results indicate that mitigation strategies for loss of wild bees will only be effective if they target the specific host plants of declining bee species”, Scheper said. Bees are important for crop production, pollinating up to 80% of plants and flowers essential to the human diet.

2014-11-24 |

Rising suicide rate for Indian farmers blamed on GMO seeds

Corporate cotton Corporate cotton

Monsanto, which has just paid out $2.4 million to US farmers, settling one of many lawsuits it’s been involved in worldwide, is also facing accusations that its seeds are to blame for a spike in suicides by India farmers.

The accusations have not transformed into legal action so far, but criticism of Monsanto has been mounting, blaming the giant company for contributing to over 290,000 suicides by Indian farmers over the last 20 years.

The author of a documentary on Indian farmers’ suicides, Alakananda Nag, who has interviewed dozens of the relatives of those who have taken their lives, links the rise in the suicide rate to the use of GMO seeds. She believes small farms are particularly vulnerable.

“The large farms certainly have the funds to support themselves and get on, but the smaller ones are really ones that suffer the most,” Nag told RT. “Monsanto definitely has a very big hand to play. A few years ago it was illegal to grow GMO crops in India. It’s not like the suicide did not exist back then. It did, but I think there was definitely a sharp rise in the [suicide] numbers once [GMOs] were allowed.”

The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice has estimated that in 2009 alone 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide, or one suicide every 30 minutes.

Farmers’ widows, such as Savithri Devi from India’s southern state of Telangana, explain just how tough things can get for those trying to grow enough crops to earn a living.

“[My husband] initially put a bore well, then started cultivation, but we didn’t get enough water from the bore well and there were no rains, too,” Devi told RT. “So he again tried to deepen the bore well, but it didn’t work. So he borrowed money. His depression eventually led him to committing suicide. He drank pesticide and died.”

The legalization of GMO in 2002 has only added to the stress experienced by Indian farmers, according to the head of the Council for Responsible Genetics, Sheldon Krimsky.

2014-11-20 |

ADM sued Syngenta over sales of a GMO corn

GM maize: a dangerous experiment GM maize: a dangerous experiment

Nov 19 (Reuters) - Archer Daniels Midland Co sued seed company Syngenta AG on Wednesday over sales of a genetically modified corn variety not approved for import by China, joining more than 100 farmers and exporters in pursuing damages from the Swiss-based company. The lawsuit alleges that Syngenta commercialized the MIR162 corn variety, also known as Agrisure Viptera, without creating an effective stewardship program to ensure the grain would not be shipped to markets that have not approved it. China has over the past year rejected shipments of more than 1 million tonnes of U.S. corn and corn products because they contained MIR162 grain. The variety, planted on about 3 percent of U.S. corn acres during the past two years, can be found throughout the American supply chain because it has not been segregated from other varieties since its launch in 2011.

2014-11-18 |

Contamination from GE crops does happen: nearly 400 incidents since GE crops were introduced

GM Contamination Register GM Contamination Register

Blogpost by Janet Cotter and Becky Price - 12 November, 2014

Genetically engineered (GE - also called genetically modified, GM) crops raise many concerns, particularly for the environment. One of the main concerns for consumers, farmers and traders is contamination from GE crops. Now, a comprehensive review of recorded GE contamination incidents has been published in a scientific journal by Greenpeace and GeneWatch.

GeneWatch and Greenpeace maintain a website, the GM Contamination Register, that records incidents of contamination caused by GE crops dating back to 1997 (just after GE crops were first commercially grown). By the end of 2013, nearly 400 incidents were recorded. The review analyses these incidents by crop and by country. It reveals some interesting patterns of GE contamination and the limitations to what we know about how contamination happens and how it is detected.

2014-11-17 |

Rediscovering native American heritage seeds

Plansowes Dana with aboriginal seeds given to the Passamaquoddies by the Abenaki tribe of Vermont. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer Plansowes Dana with aboriginal seeds given to the Passamaquoddies by the Abenaki tribe of Vermont. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

A retired professor and Abenaki native hunts for the seeds so the crops can be grown again. Frederick M. Wiseman has gone down many paths to track down heirloom crops grown by New England’s indigenous peoples. Wiseman, an Abenaki native and retired professor of humanities at Johnson State College, is director of The Haven Project in Swanton, Vermont. He and his colleagues recently gave some of the heirloom seeds they’ve discovered to the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine, a gift that will help the tribe move forward with its food sovereignty project. The project, called “Seeds of Renewal,” has so far recovered 20-25 crops indigenous to the Wabenaki area, which includes the Passamaquoddy and ranges from Lake Champlain into the Canadian Maritimes. Often, Wiseman has found seeds that records show were given to white settlers by the Indians. In that way, his group has unearthed heritage ground cherries and “a very interesting, completely white-seeded sunflower.” The Passamaquoddy received those, along with seeds for Jacob’s cattle and marfax beans, commercial varieties that are believed to be indigenous to Maine. Wiseman has gathered crops from indigenous seed savers all over North America, including one bean from Colorado and several items from Manitoba. He found two crops – Norridgewock beans and Abenaki rose corn – from an area where the Abenaki village of Norridgewock used to stand. The English destroyed the village in the early 1700s, “and many Passamaquoddy are descended from refugees from that massacre,” he said. In Manitoba, Wiseman found a “tiny little” variety of corn called gaspe, like the Gaspe Peninsula, that doesn’t grow anywhere in the United States. Early explorers along the coast of Maine mentioned it, however. “The Passamaquoddy lived along coast, possibly all the way down to the Kennebec River, so I made the argument to them that (the corn) is probably also ancestral to them,” he said. Some of these indigenous crops can be tricky to grow, so Wiseman advised the food sovereignty group that, for example, they’ll have to keep their indigenous corn and squash at least a mile away from modern varieties so they don’t cross pollinate.

2014-11-11 |

No must mean no, as MEPs vote to strengthen GMO opt-outs for member states and regions

GMO cultivation report by Frédérique Ries adopted with 53 votes to 11 and 2 abstentions GMO cultivation report by Frédérique Ries adopted with 53 votes to 11 and 2 abstentions

The European Parliament's environment committee today voted on a proposal for a new scheme for the authorisation of genetically-modified organisms in the EU. The vote by MEPs strengthens the grounds on which member states or regions could opt-out from GMO authorisations under the proposed new system. After the vote, Green food safety spokesperson Bart Staes said:

“MEPs have today voted to strengthen the hand of member states or regions wanting to opt-out of EU authorisations of GMOs, under a proposed new scheme, even if major concerns remain about the overall proposal. No must mean no: countries wanting to opt out of GM authorisations must have a totally legally watertight framework for doing so. However, the Greens are still very concerned that this new opt-out scheme is a slippery slope for easing EU GMO authorisations and does not fundamentally change the flawed EU approval process in itself.

Today's vote would offer much greater certainty by allowing opt-outs on the basis of environmental grounds complementary to the ones assessed by the European Food Safety Authority, something that was rejected by EU governments in Council. MEPs have also voted for the inclusion of mandatory measures to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops, with the myriad of issues this raises. The committee also rejected a proposal from EU governments, which would have obliged member states to directly request that corporations take them out of the scope of their GMO applications, before being allowed to opt out."

2014-11-07 |

MON810: Suspected manipulation in the outcome of EU research

Greenpeace in an action against GM maize Greenpeace in an action against GM maize

Testbiotech: Evaluation of data from feeding trial with genetically engineered maize MON810 indicates negative health impact in rats.

Friday, 7. November 2014
Testbiotech has today published an independent evaluation of data from feeding trials with rats that were conducted under the GRACE project funded by the EU Commission. The rats were fed over a period of 90 days with genetically engineered maize MON810, which produces an insecticidal protein. The results were published in October 2014 in the journal Archives of Toxicology. The authors conclude that there were no relevant observable toxicological effects. However, an evaluation by Testbiotech has now revealed indications of negative health impacts on kidneys, liver and pancreas. Furthermore, the failure in this study to determine a concentration of MON810 at which there were no observable toxic effects, makes the entire study more or less invalid. For the evaluation of the data, additional external expertise was made available by a toxicologist with long-term experience in regulatory toxicology.
Testbiotech also criticizes the authors purposely published the results of the study in a scientific journal with close affiliation to industry.

2014-11-03 |

Germany: Edeka leads first own-brand with label

Edeka Ohne Gentechnik Hähnchenfleisch mit "Ohne Gentechnik"-Siegel (Foto: Edeka)

Start with GOOD & CHEAP chicken products at regional level Label "GMO-Free" provides clear guidance for consumers Edeka Center is a partner of the federation "foods without genetic engineering"Hamburg, 11.03.2014. Edeka has introduced the first own-brand with the label "GMO-Free". Various chicken products with private label GOOD & CHEAP since October are available in many markets in the southwest and southeast of Germany. The GOOD & CHEAP chicken products are currently sold in the regions of Southwest (Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland Palatinate, Saarland and parts of Hesse), and in northern Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia.

2014-10-23 |

Patents on plants and animals a threat to food sovereignty, new report warns

Broccoli Patent on the severed broccoli (Photo: Cookthinker/flickr)

The European Patent Office (EPO) has already granted several thousand patents on plants and seeds, with an increasing number of patents on plants and seeds derived from conventional breeding, according to a new report published by the international coalition “No Patents on Seeds!” If politicians don’t ensure that these kind of patents are prohibited, our daily food will soon be controlled by big corporations and the patent industry, the report warns. Since the 1980s, around 2400 patents on plants and 1400 patents on animals have been granted in Europe. The EPO has granted more than 120 patents on conventional breeding and about 1000 such patent applications are pending. The scope of many of these patents often covers the whole food chain from production to consumption. The report gives an overview of patents granted in 2013 and early 2014, including a patent on conventionally bred peppers derived from wild, insect-resistant varieties from Jamaica. The patent granted to Syngenta covers the plants, fruits and seeds and even claims the growing and harvesting of the plants as an invention. The EPO also granted a patent to Monsanto on screening and selecting soybean plants adapted to certain climate zones, concerning wild relatives of soybeans found in Asia and Australia. This gives Monsanto a monopoly on the future usage of hundreds of natural DNA sequence variations in the conventional breeding of soybeans. “Industry together with the EPO is the driving factors turning the patent system into an instrument for misappropriation of basic resources needed to produce our daily food. They are selling out the future of our food”, warns Christoph Then, one of the authors of the report. According to European patent law, plant and animal varieties as well as conventional methods of plant and animal breeding cannot be patented. With its decision, the EPO has “intentionally created a situation full of legal absurdities that allows prohibitions to be circumvented”, serving the interests of multinationals such as Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta who already control more than 50% of the international commercial seed market.

2014-10-21 |

Salt-tolerant Dutch potatoes to fight salinity and world hunger?

Potato Salt was added after harvest (Photo: Guillaume Brialon)

A Dutch team has developed a potato crop through traditional breeding methods that is tolerant to salt water. Their project beat more than 500 competitors from 90 countries to win an award sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Inspired by sea kale, Dutch farmer Marc van Rijsselberghe set up Salt Farm Texel in the north of the Netherlands and collaborated with Dr Arjen de Vos from the Free University in Amsterdam to look at the possibility of cultivating crops using non-fresh water. “The world’s water is 89% salinated, 50% of agricultural land is threatened by salt water, and there are millions of people living in salt-contaminated areas. Up until now everyone has been concentrating on how to turn the salt water into fresh water; we are looking at what nature has already provided us with”, van Rijsselberghe told the Guardian. The process of desalination is expensive and requires much energy. The salt-tolerant potato plants, however, were watered with diluted sea water. The variety is four times more salt tolerant than regular potato varieties. The project used a trial and error approach and then screened different potato cultivars of which only two showed increased salt tolerance and were used for further development of the saline potato. Some of the Texel seed potatoes are already on their way to Pakistan where 4.2 million hectares of land is salt affected and farmers are often forced to use brackish groundwater to water their crops, which reduces yields and the quality of the crops. If the potatoes adapt to the Asian climate, they could transform the lives of farmers not only in Pakistan. According to Dutch team, there is no risk of overdosing on salt when eating crops fed by sea water. “What we find is that, if you tease a plant with salt, it compensates with more sugar,” said de Vos. The salt is mostly retained in the leaves of the plant. Peter Melchett, policy director of Soil Association, welcomed the new potato variety: “This is another example of conventional breeding beating GM technology by years. These non-GM salt-tolerant potatoes are already being grown yet ‘saline tolerance’ has always been one of the great (as yet unfulfilled) promises of pro-GM campaigners.”

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