Archive for the ‘GM Foods’ Category

Public Patent Foundation Sues Monsanto on Behalf of Organic Farmers

On March 29th, 2011, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed a complaint on behalf of organic farmers, seed businesses, and organic agricultural organizations seeking to invalidate Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seeds.

Photo by bloomsberries. Some rights reserved.

One of the primary concerns of organic farmers regarding GM seeds has always been the threat of contamination – “Coexistence between transgenic seed and organic seed is impossible because transgenic seed contaminates and eventually overcomes organic seed,” argues the complaint. However, the plaintiffs take the clever route of preemptively suing Monsanto “to protect themselves” in the event of such contamination, pointing out that they might “perversely” be accused of patent infringement “by the company responsible for the transgenic seed that contaminates them.”

In their prayer for relief, the Plaintiffs ask the court for the following:

A. Declare that each claim of each patent in suit is invalid;

B. Declare that Plaintiffs cannot be held to infringe any claim of any patent in suit;

C. Declare that each patent in suit is unenforceable;

D. Declare that Monsanto is not entitled to any relief if any Plaintiff is held to infringe any valid and enforceable claim of any patent;

E. Enjoin Monsanto from taking any action to enforce any patent in suit;

F. Issue an order requiring Monsanto to pay Plaintiffs’ costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred in connection with this action; and

G. For such other and further relief as the Court deems just.

Law firm Faegre & Benson has published a very thorough article on the topic, discussing the arguments of the case as well as Monsanto’s rebuttals to date. You can also follow PUBPAT’s coverage of the case here.

Clones: Safe to Eat?

Although this document was released more than 3 years ago, it was recently modified so that it popped up in my Google reader. It is the USDA’s Statement in response to the FDA’s Risk Assessment on Animal Clones.

Photo of Dolly by Toni Barros. Some rights reserved.

And should you be wondering, the USDA’s response was positive:

“USDA fully supports and agrees with FDA’s final assessment that meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones pose no safety concerns, and these products are no different than food from traditionally bred animals.”

In fact, they compare cloning to artificial insemination:

“Many farmers and ranchers routinely use other assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer and in vitro fertilization to produce superior animals for milk, meat or breeding purposes. Cloning is another breeding technique that has evolved and has now been demonstrated to be safe. It is helpful in creating genetic twins of the very best animals who can transmit superior characteristics to their offspring and quickly improve a herd.”

However, despite the supposed safety, the USDA has not lifted the voluntary moratorium established in 2001 that urges producers to refrain from introducing meat or milk from clones or their progeny into the food supply. The USDA is supposedly in the process of determining “next steps.”

But when the moratorium lifts, ladies and gents, will you even know?

Maybe not. Sorry.

“FDA is not requiring any additional [labeling] measures relating to food derived from adult clones of cattle, swine, and goats, and the offspring of clones of any species traditionally consumed as food, including labeling. Under our current laws, FDA may require specific food labeling if there are any safety concerns, or if there is a material difference in the composition of food. We have not identified any food safety concerns, and we have found no material difference in food from clones as compared to food from conventionally bred animals […] Therefore, there is no science-based reason to use labels to distinguish between milk derived from clones and that from conventional animals.”
– FDA’s Consumer FAQs

Piqued your interest? The FDA has a whole section on their website devoted to animal cloning and answering the questions of the curious customer – find those answers here, along with the original FDA risk assessment.

NOAA Releases First National Aquaculture Policy Draft

Photo by Loozrboy. Some rights reserved.

Though it originally slipped past me, I was recently made aware (by way of a blog post on the Atlantic) of the release of NOAA’s Draft National Aquaculture Policy, which is intended to guide NOAA’s “actions and decisions on aquaculture and to provide a national approach for supporting sustainable commercial production, expanding restoration aquaculture, and researching and developing new technologies.”

More than half of the fish consumed globally is “produced by aquaculture,” yet domestic aquaculture supplies only 5 percent of the seafood Americans eat (and we do love our seafood, stresses Commerce Secretary Locke: we consume 5 billion pounds of it each year!). The NOAA policy – which was released jointly with a complementary draft policy from the Department of Commerce – aims to fix this imbalance by funding innovative in-house aquaculture technologies and creating job initiatives that encourage industry growth in the U.S.

The policy stresses a sustainable approach to aquaculture that includes a tip of the hat to habitat restoration and the rebuilding of wild fish stocks, but it’s the impact from fish farming on these same wild stocks that is often the concern of aquaculture opponents. Indeed, many of the comments already submitted on the policy voice this concern:

“THIS IS NOT “SUSTAINABLE”. AQUACULTURE POLLUTES VAST AMOUNTS OF WATER. WE NEED TO DRINK THAT WATER AND WE NEED CLEAN WATER, NOT DIRTY WATER FRO MFISH GROWING. AQUACULTURE PRODUCES INFERIOR FISH DISEASE RIDDEN. LICE, ETC. WILD FISH STOCKS ARE DECIMATED TO FEED TO THE AQUAFISH.”

“I am one of the millions of citizens who do not approve of developing and selling genetically engineered salmon. You must be aware of the environmental harm that was done when 600,000 nonnative fish escaped in 4 years in the Northwest so the claim to sustainability cannot be true.”

“But wait you say…everyone knows that farmed fish are bad.., bad for the ecology, bad for the wild species in the area, bad for the farmed fish themselves and bad for the consumer. Ah-ha, never fear, NOAA is here. NOAA will make sure that everything is done sustainably. Not only that but (and this is the best part of all), NOAA and the United States Department of Commerce will make sure to tell everyone how safe and environmentally sound our new grand Aquaculture Industry really is. They’ll probably have posters with rainbows and kittens and happy cartoon salmon.”

Agree? Disagree? Click here to submit a comment on the draft policy before April 11, 2011.

GM Salmon Leaves Icky Taste in Senators’ Mouths

Shortly after our initial coverage of Aqua Bounty Technologies’ genetically modified salmon, nearly forty members of the House and Senate contacted the FDA with their concerns over what could be the first GM animal approved for human consumption.

Photo by Marcel030NL. Some rights reserved.

In late September 2010, in two separate letters, 10 Senators and 29 Representatives expressed distaste for not only FDA’s failure “to disclose to the public any data relating to environmental, food safety, or efficacy concerns” until 10 days before the public meetings, but also the “egregious flaws with the data” that was released.

More than four months later and the FDA has yet to make a decision regarding the quick-to-mature AquAdvantage salmon. So some Senators are upping the ante: Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have introduced two congressional bills relating to GM salmon. The first (S.230) aims to prevent the approval of genetically modified fish altogether, while the second (S.229) would require special labeling for GM fish – should they actually make it to market.

Read the full news report here.

GE Alfalfa Gets the Go-Ahead

Photo by tina_kolesnik. Some rights reserved.

The USDA announced yesterday that so-called Roundup Ready alfalfa will be fully deregulated. After a “thorough and transparent examination,” USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service found RR alfalfa to be “as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.”

If you aren’t too disheartened, you can read the USDA Q&A on their decision or peruse their promises of support to the diverse set of stakeholders. Of course, I couldn’t help but notice that Monsanto’s stock rose over the course of the afternoon.

You can read the back story on RR alfalfa and see the original Environmental Impact Statement on which the decision was supposedly based here.

Will Genetically Engineered Alfalfa Go Unregulated?

Last week, the USDA announced the publication of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) evaluating Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa.

Photo courtesy of the US Army. Some rights reserved.

Introduction of RR alfalfa, like other genetically engineered products, triggers regulation under 7 CFR Part 340, which governs “Organisms and Products Altered or Produced Through Genetic Engineering Which Are Plant Pests or Which There Is Reason to Believe Are Plant Pests.”

However, 7 CFR 340.6 sets forth procedures for petitioning USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for nonregulated status, which is exactly what Monsanto (along with Forage Genetics International) did in April of 2004. Monsanto’s petition sought determination that RR alfalfa does not pose a plant pest risk and therefore should not be regulated under 7 CFR Part 340.

The very next year APHIS published a Notice in the Federal Register informing the public of their decision to grant Monsato’s petition, based on a APHIS-prepared Environmental Assessment (EA) evaluating the potential impacts of nonregulation of the GE crop.

The triumph was short-lived, however. In 2007, organic alfalfa growers filed a lawsuit against APHIS, claiming that their EA was insufficient. The lawsuit ultimately resulted in a court order that both vacated the previous decision and required APHIS to prepare a NEPA-compliant EIS before granting any further nonregulated status to the RR alfalfa.

The EIS filed last week aims to fulfill that requirement. It also aims to grant Monsanto’s petition* and reinstate the RR alfalfa’s nonregulated status (either in part or in whole), based on the agency’s persistent conclusion that the alfalfa is “unlikely to pose plant pest risks.” Should the petition be granted, Monsanto would be off the hook for all the bells and whistles that come with 7 CFR part 340 regulation, including all related permits and limitations in the size of plantings.

While the USDA insists that this final EIS “is not a decision document” (the EIS will be available for public review for at least 30 days), it is clear that APHIS has made their decision. In their unabashedly pro-GE press release, the USDA “maintains that biotechnology holds great promise for agriculture here in the United States, and around the world. There’s absolutely no doubt of the safety of the many products USDA’s regulatory system has approved.”

Publication in the Federal Register of the EIS Notice is expected on December 23, 2010, at which point you are free to submit your comments, should you have any remaining faith in the system.

* Maybe this is unrelated, but Monsanto spent more than $8 million in lobbying expenditures last year.

GM salmon on the plate at upcoming FDA meeting

On September 19-21, the Food and Drug Administration will hold its first public hearings on AquAdvantage® Salmon, a type of genetically modified (“GM” – also called genetically engineered, or “GE”) salmon intended for food. AquAdvantage fish, developed by Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc. (“ABT”), have been shown to grow to maturation in about half the time as conventional Atlantic salmon. According to GMO Journal, manipulation of the salmon’s genes causes them to be flooded with growth hormone year-round, resulting in a full-grown salmon in about 16 to 18 months (rather than the standard 30).

However, the supposed economic benefits of GM foods such as AquAdvantage are tempered by a ton of environmental controversy. Skeptics raise concerns that the salmon could escape and possibly outcompete wild salmon for food or mates. As a part of the approval process, ABT has provided an Environmental Assessment (“EA”) for AquAdvantage Salmon.

According to ABT, the assessment of potential risks to the environment involves “consideration of the likelihood and consequences of the fish escaping, becoming established in the environment, and spreading to other areas.” In the report’s summary, ABT claims the risk of escape, establishment, and spread is “small,” and that “the production, grow-out, and disposal of AquAdvantage Salmon under the conditions described in this Environmental Assessment are highly unlikely to cause any significant effects on the environment.”

In the FDA’s analysis of ABT’s EA, they agree that “adequate containment measures appear to be in place…to insure a very low probability of escape for all life stages of salmon present.” The FDA is expected to make a final decision on approval in the following weeks. If approved, it may still be several years before the fish reach American supermarkets.

Similar controversy has recently surrounded Monsanto’s “RoundUp Ready” beets, which are modified so that they can be sprayed with the herbicide “Roundup” and make it through – supposedly unscathed – to your plate. Since it appears that these GM crops can be commercially planted without public notice, many farmers worry that seeds from the GM beets will cross-pollinate with their own, resulting in the pollution of tons of conventional and organic crops. In a post earlier this month, blogmosaic pored through SEC filings to reveal some surprising investors in Monsanto.

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