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18.01.2018 |

ECJ opens back door to new GMOs

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) today gave the first indication of how it will classify foods and crops derived from new genetic engineering techniques.

The opinion issued by one of the ECJ's Advocates General noted that even if all food and crops derived from new GM techniques were to be considered genetically modified organisms (GMOs), he keeps the door open to some of them not being subject to the same risk assessment, labelling, and monitoring as existing GMOs.

Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Farmers and consumers across the EU expect that any new approach to producing food and crops should be fully tested to make sure they are safe for the public and the environment.They will be counting on the European Court of Justice to not uphold today's opinion, and instead makes sure that all new genetically modified foods and crops are properly regulated."

18.01.2018 |

Glyphosate: European Parliament group presidents endorse Special Committee

PRESS RELEASE

Following a Greens/EFA initiative, the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament endorsed the mandate of a Special Committee to analyse and assess the authorisation procedure for pesticides today. The decision will be endorsed by the next plenary.

The committee will be composed of 30 members and will meet for nine months. The constituent meeting is expected in March 2018.

Co-presidents of the Greens/EFA group Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts:

"Thanks to the hard work of campaigners and environmentalists, the issue of glyphosate and other harmful pesticides has been brought to the forefront of the political debate. Through this committee, the Green/EFA group will seek to analyse the failings in the process that led to the renewal of the authorisation of glyphosate. In particular, we want to look at the work of the European agencies (EFSA and ECHA) and the German agency Bfr. We want Europe's agencies to be irreproachable in their assessment of potentially dangerous substances. The protection of public health and our environment must take precedence over any other consideration and requires total independence of scientific work."

17.01.2018 |

Syngenta fails at the European Patent Office

A patent on the breeding of maize will not be granted

17 January 2018

At a public hearing, the European Patent Office (EPO) today rejected an appeal filed by Syngenta. The company wanted the EPO to grant a patent on the breeding of higher-yield maize plants (EP2121982). At the same time, Syngenta also wanted the EPO to abolish existing restrictions in the field of plant and animal breeding that have only recently been put in place. The EPO also rejected this attempt.

Decisive for the EPO’s decision were technical reasons. Therefore, the content of the patent claims was not defined clearly enough. With this specific patent, maize plants with hereditary factors were to be crossed to achieve higher yielding offspring. However, as the description of the patents shows, the specific genes required to achieve these characteristics were unknown. In this particular instance, sequences of marker DNA that can indicate the presence of the desired genes were to be used for the selection of suitable plants.

16.01.2018 |

Growing opposition to patents on seeds

Seed giants still trying to expand their monopolies

16 January 2018

As a new report published today by No Patents on Seeds! shows, the European Patent Office (EPO) continues to grant patents on plants derived from conventional breeding – even though the contracting states urged the enforcement of relevant prohibitions in 2017. Around 25 patents were approved last year, despite the EPO officially claiming that it no longer grants such patents. The patents cover crops such as lettuce, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, grapes, sunflower, sorghum and soybeans. In response, there is growing opposition to EPO practice. And for the first time, a joint letter written by COPA/COGECA, No Patents on Seeds! and organisations from the organic sector has been sent to the EU Commission. COPA/COGECA is the largest farmers’ organisation in the EU and also represents many breeders.

Despite growing criticism, the seed giants are still trying to push their agenda of misappropriation of natural resources: Syngenta has asked the EPO to abolish existing restrictions. The company filed an appeal in August 2017, and this will be the subject of a public hearing at the EPO tomorrow.

10.01.2018 |

EU Commission uses the Christmas period to grant authorisation for imports of genetically engineered soybeans

A gift made to Bayer and Dow without anyone knowing

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The EU Commission has granted six further authorisations for genetically engineered plants, including some controversial genetically engineered soybeans with triple herbicide resistance.

The decision to grant authorisation was made on the quiet by the EU Commission during the Christmas holiday period. Testbiotech has proven that the real risks from consumption of these soybeans were not investigated. But the EU Commission failed to respond to any of these scientific arguments. Instead, a letter dated 21 December was sent to Testbiotech in which the Commission set out purely formalistic arguments to the effect that no new evidence had been provided. The letter was sent at the same time the EU Commission made their decision to give green light for the soybeans, without mentioning in the letter.

30.12.2017 |

Seeds must: make a sowing plan now, and reap the benefits once winter is over

There’s not a whole lot going on in the garden right now, but that’s no reason to put your feet up entirely: plot your plan of action for next year

I am a seed catalogue junkie. I used to go to bed with my favourites and highlight all my desires, even though I don’t have space for even half of them. These days, however, when you can order online, print versions seem a waste of paper. But I make an exception for Chiltern Seed Catalogue, which offers the world in seed form, from trees to tiny alpines and everything in between; and Kitazawa Seeds, the oldest such company in the US, which sells Asian vegetables and is heavenly in every way, from its yellow paper to its delightful drawings.

18.12.2017 |

Cases of Pest Resistance to Bt Crops Increased Five-fold From 2005-2016

Transgenic or genetically modified Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) crops (mainly corn, cotton and soybean) cover more than 830 million hectares worldwide. In addition to the crystalline (Cry) proteins from Bt produced by transgenic crops for the past two decades, some recently introduced types of Bt corn and cotton produce a vegetative insecticidal protein (Vip) from Bt.

The efficacy of Bt crops has been threatened by the evolu­tion of pest resistance. A recent study analyzes relevant literature on this topic from the past two dec­ades to elucidate the current status of pest resistance to transgenic crops. Compared with previous reviews on this topic, the field-moni­toring data analyzed in this study represent a more diverse set of Bt toxins (one Vip and nine Cry toxins), crops (corn, cotton, and soy), pests (15 species from two insect orders), and countries (ten countries on six continents).

The study found that the number of cases of pest resistance to Cry proteins produced by transgenic crops increased from 3 in 2005 to 16 in 2016. For the 16 cases of practical resistance, the average time for evolution of resistance was only 5.2 years. In four situ­ations, practical resistance has reduced the number of Bt toxins that are available in commercialized transgenic crops and are still effective against some pest populations to two, one, or none.

14.12.2017 |

Human exposure to glyphosate increased 500 percent since GM crop introduction in the US

Glyphosate is a key ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup. Use of this herbicide has increased approximately 15-fold since 1994 when GM Roundup Ready (RR) glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced. Used mainly on RR soy and corn, glyphosate is also sprayed on a substantial portion of wheat and oats grown in the US. In July 2017, glyphosate was listed by California as a carcinogen, following the WHO cancer research agency’s classification as glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

A study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine (report published in the journal JAMA) compared urine excretion levels of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) in 100 people living in a Southern California community who provided samples during five clinic visits that took place over a 23-year timespan between 1993 to 1996 and 2014 to 2016, starting just before the introduction of GM crops in the US.

The study found that prior to the introduction of GM foods, very few people had detectable levels of glyphosate, but as of 2016, 70% of the study cohort had detectable levels, an increase of approximately 500%. Among this 70%, the mean level of glyphosate increased from 0.203 μg/L in 1993-1996 to 0.449 μg/L in 2014-2016 while the mean level of AMPA went up from 0.168 μg/L in 1993-1996 to 0.401 μg/L in 2014-2016.

14.12.2017 |

Latest Monsanto GMO seeds raises worries of monopoly

Now some farmers say they are being forced to use the new GMO seeds to guard against dicamba.

Nathan Reed, a farmer in Marianna, Arkansas, whose crops were damaged by dicamba from fields more than two miles away, worries about his business.

"We use overwhelmingly non GMOs, not because we are anti-GMO but because we found some niche markets," Reed said at a public meeting last month. "We are in the business of making money, just like Monsanto is."

"It is going to put that ability at risk for us," he said.

Farming states Missouri, Minnesota and North Dakota have imposed restrictions on dicamba, though they permit farmers to use the herbicide one or two times at the start of the season.

12.12.2017 |

Native seeds are key to food security

For better agricultural performance, focus must be on inculcating better farming practices. Farmers must be encouraged to return to zero-budget farming, where they use their own desi seeds

In recent years, enlightened Indian farmers have begun to rethink the suitability of farming practices that involve injecting poison into the earth via fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides, and create problems of soil fertility, soil texture, soil preservation and erosion. There is a pervasive sentiment that unless the current system of intensive and uncontrolled use of chemical inputs is reversed, soil quality will worsen and our centuries-old agricultural biodiversity will be lost forever.

Chemical inputs have permeated our food-chain with deleterious impact on public health, which have not been adequately studied scientifically. But the cumulative loss due to growing expenditure on public health, insecticide resistance, crop-loss, bird-loss, pollution of ground water and pollinator decline runs into billions of dollars.

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