Tag Archives: GM crops

Stealing Superbly Artificial Seeds

field

A Chinese man pleaded guilty in a US court on January 27, 2016 to stealing patent-protected corn seed from agribusiness giants Monsanto and DuPont to take back to China for commercial use.  Mo Hailong, 46, participated in a plot to steal inbred corn seeds from the two US companies so that his then employer, Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group, could use them in its own seed business, the US Department of Justice said.Mo “admitted to participating in the theft of inbred – or parent – corn seeds from fields in the southern district of Iowa for the purpose of transporting those seeds to China,” the department said in a statement.“The stolen inbred seeds constitute the valuable intellectual property of DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.”..

Man admits stealing patented corn seeds from US fields to take to China, Guardian, Jan. 27, 2016

GM Food Politics: US v. China

gm papaya

Public unease about genetic modification is common around the world. In China, alongside rising concerns about food safety, it has taken on a strongly political hue. Chinese anti-GM activists often describe their cause as patriotic, aimed not just at avoiding what they regard as the potential harm of tinkering with nature, but at resisting control of China’s food supply by America through American-owned biotech companies and their superior technology. Conspiracy theories about supposed American plots to use dodgy GM food to weaken China

They are even believed by some in the government. In October an official video made for army officers was leaked on the internet and widely watched until censors scrubbed it. “America is mobilising its strategic resources to promote GM food vigorously,” its narrator grimly intoned. “This is a means of controlling the world by controlling the world’s food production.”  Peng Guangqian, a retired major-general and prominent think-tanker, echoed these sentiments in an article published by official media in August. He said America might be setting a “trap”. The result, he said, could be “far worse than the Opium War” between Britain and China in the 1840s that Chinese historians regard as the beginning of a “century of humiliation” at the hands of foreign powers.

China already uses plenty of GM products. More than 70% of its cotton is genetically modified. Most of the soyabeans consumed in China are imported, and most of those imports are GM (often from America). The technology is widely used for growing papayas. The government wants to develop home-grown GM varieties and has spent heavily on research, eager to maintain self-sufficiency in food. Officials see GM crops as a way of boosting yields on scarce farmland.

In 2009 China granted safety certificates for two GM varieties of rice and one of maize. This raised expectations that it might become the first country in the world to use GM technology in the production of a main staple. But further approvals needed for commercial growing have yet to be granted. To the consternation of GM supporters, the safety certificates for the rice are due to expire next August.

Public opinion is a big reason for the delay. Environmental groups in China have rarely succeeded in changing government policy. Officials have long treated such NGOs with suspicion and made it hard for them to register or set up offices in more than one place. The only NGO in China that devotes much time to the GM issue is an international one: Greenpeace. But the anti-GM lobby has thrived, thanks not least to the adoption of the cause by conservatives in the establishment as well as by informal groups of diehard Maoists who see America as a threat.

To the Maoists, opposing GM food is an urgent priority. Hardly a speech is made by one of them without mentioning it. “I support Mao Zedong thought,” shouted one of the protesters outside the agriculture ministry. The police usually treat them with kid gloves; unlike others who protest in public, they are ardent supporters of Communist Party rule. And on this issue, at least, the Maoists enjoy much sympathy; public anxiety about food safety has soared in recent years thanks to a series of scares. Of 100,000 respondents to an online poll in November, nearly 80% said they opposed GM technology.

Since a change of China’s leadership a year ago, however, supporters of GM food inside the government and among the public have begun fighting back. In October Chinese media reported that 61 senior academics, in a rare concerted effort, had petitioned the government to speed up the commercialisation of GM crops. The Ministry of Agriculture was also said to be preparing a new public-education campaign on the merits of GM food…One of the recent petitioners, Li Ning of China Agricultural University, laments that the issue remains ensnared by nationalist sentiment.

Excerpts, Genetically Modified Crops, Food Fight, Ecomomist,  Dec. 14, 2013, at 53

Why the United States is GM Food Happy

gm-soybeans.  image from wikipedia

Because America was a new country, argues Greg Ibach, head of agriculture in Nebraska’s state government, a primary concern was feeding a growing population and moving food large distances. Europeans fussed about appellations and where food came from. Americans “treated food as commodities”.  Such differences of history and culture have lingering consequences. Almost all the corn and soyabeans grown in America are genetically modified. GM crops are barely tolerated in the European Union. Both America and Europe offer farmers indefensible subsidies, but with different motives. EU taxpayers often pay to keep market forces at bay, preserving practices which may be quaint, green or kindly to animals but which do not turn a profit. American subsidies give farmers an edge in commodity markets, via cheap loans and federally backed crop insurance.

Lexington: Farming as rocket science, Economist, Sept. 7, 2013, at 34

State Capitalism at its Best: US Support for the Biotechnology Industry

These transgenic plums called C5 contain a gene that makes them highly resistant to plum pox virus.  Image from wikipedia

American diplomats lobbied aggressively overseas to promote genetically modified (GM) food crops such as soy beans, an analysis of official cable traffic revealed on Tuesday.  The review of more than 900 diplomatic cables by the campaign group Food and Water Watch showed a carefully crafted campaign to break down resistance to GM products in Europe and other countries, and so help promote the bottom line of big American agricultural businesses.

The cables, which first surfaced with the Wikileaks disclosures two years ago, described a series of separate public relations strategies, unrolled at dozens of press junkets and biotech conferences, aimed at convincing scientists, media, industry, farmers, elected officials and others of the safety and benefits of GM products..The public relations effort unrolled by the State Department also ventured into legal terrain, according to the report. US officials stationed overseas opposed GM food labelling laws as well as rules blocking the import of GM foods. The report notes that some of the lobbying effort had direct benefits. About 7% of the cables mentioned specific companies, and 6% mentioned Monsanto. “This corporate diplomacy was nearly twice as common as diplomatic efforts on food aid,” the report said….

In some instances, there was little pretence at hiding that resort to pressure – at least within US government circles. In a 2007 cable, released during the earlier Wikileaks disclosures, Craig Stapleton, a friend and former business partner of George Bush, advised Washington to draw up a target list in Europe in response to a move by France to ban a variety of GM Monsanto corn.  “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits,” Stapleton wrote at the time.”The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices,” he wrote.

Excerpts, Suzanne Goldenberg,Diplomatic cables reveal aggressive GM lobbying by US officials, Guardian, May 15, 2013

Genetically Modified Food: contaminated fields and damages

Europeans are notoriously squeamish about genetically modified (GM) crops. In America, however, they reign supreme. Since farmers first planted GM soya in 1996, engineered crops have steadily conquered America’s vast farmland. Last year 93% of cotton and soya acres contained genetically engineered crops, as did 86% of corn acres. In the past the Agriculture Department (USDA) has placed relatively meagre limits on this expansion. This month, however, that may change.

Alfalfa, that humble feedstuff, is at the heart of an intense debate. The USDA will soon decide how to regulate Roundup Ready alfalfa, engineered by Monsanto to resist a chemical used to kill weeds. The department may allow GM alfalfa but, for the first time, set strict rules on the extent of planting allowed. This could be a model for the future, the biggest policy change for GM crops since their introduction. Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, says that the issue is not whether GM alfalfa is safe—the USDA maintains that it is. Rather, the question is how regulations might help engineered crops exist beside conventional and organic ones. It is a fraught endeavour.

The rule on alfalfa aims to ease growing trouble, on the fields and in court. America’s farms have seen two divergent trends over the past 15 years: the rise of GM crops and, on a smaller scale, an expanding market for organic products. Theirs is not a peaceful relationship. Wind has an unfortunate tendency to blow GM seed into organic fields. Farmers, like all good Americans, are stubborn and litigious. Lawsuits about contaminated fields have moved through the courts. One such case concerns GM alfalfa.

In 2005 the USDA approved Roundup Ready alfalfa. Opponents of GM crops filed a lawsuit soon after and, in 2007, a federal judge ordered the USDA to conduct a more lengthy review. After publishing a draft report in 2009 and receiving some 244,000 comments, the USDA issued its final report on December 16th. The department presented two preferred options. First, it may allow GM alfalfa to be grown freely, like GM corn or soya. In the second choice, it would approve planting with rules to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops. For example, five miles (8km) would have to separate GM alfalfa from conventional or organic alfalfa fields. The USDA will receive comments on the plan until January 24th. A decision is expected soon after, so that farmers can prepare for spring planting.

A frenzy of activity has followed December’s report, with Mr Vilsack encouraging further discussion among farm groups. At a meeting at the USDA on December 20th, organic advocates demanded more, such as compensation for farmers whose crops are contaminated. Big farm associations were horrified—by the proposed rule and by the meeting itself. “What the USDA did on December 20th was akin to the European process,” shudders Russell Williams of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Mr Williams fears that the rule on alfalfa augurs further limits on GM crops.

Mr Vilsack insists that his department does not prefer one type of farming over another. Rather, he wants to help them coexist more peacefully. Without any action, Mr Vilsack argues, courts will dictate the future of GM, organic and conventional crops. (In August a court halted planting of GM beets pending a review, and another lawsuit aims to stop GM eucalyptus trees.) Mr Vilsack’s course will not be smooth. Opponents of GM crops sued the department over its original decision on alfalfa. Now GM advocates may sue the department over its new one.

Rows over GM crops: Seed of Change, Economist, Jan. 8, 2010, at 32