Feb 07, 2012
Public resistance to genetically modified crops has ensured that the area grown in Europe in 2011 remained at 0.1 per cent of all arable land, shows figures released by Friends of the Earth Europe. In comparison, organic farming accounted for 3.7 per cent.
A ripening field of organic barley in the United Kingdom with hedges for diverse plant and animal life. The figures follow recent announcements of the biotech industry retreating from parts of Europe.
Mute Schimpf, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said:
“The public’s rejection of genetically modified crops has ensured that they are confined to small pockets of the European Union. Politicians need to listen to public opinion and throw their weight behind the demand for greener and safer farming. Genetically modified crops should play no role in the future of Europe’s farming.”
Last month the world’s biggest chemical company, BASF, announced that it was halting the development and commercialisation of genetically modified crops in Europe. It said its decision was due to, “lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe – from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians”.
Similarly Monsanto announced that it would not sell its genetically modified maize, MON810, in France in 2012, and beyond.
Resistance to genetically modified crops isn’t restricted to Europe. People worldwide are objecting to the power of the biotech companies and their push to control the global food chain.
“The evidence against genetically modified crops continues to grow. Since their introduction in the Americas, herbicide use has rocketed as farmers try to control fast evolving super-weeds, now resistant to many chemicals. Communities and nature are paying the price of the resulting pollution. The biotech system of farming is a dead-end and will fail to meet the needs of the future,” Mute concluded.
Jan 17, 2012
Friends of the Earth International is delighted to hear that Germany-based BASF is halting the development and commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe.
Speaking on 16 January, the day of the announcement, Adrian Bebb, from Friends of the Earth Europe said:
"This is another nail in the coffin for genetically modified foods in Europe. No one wants to eat them and few farmers want to grow them. This is a good day for consumers and farmers and opens the door for the European Union to shift Europe to greener and more publicly acceptable farming."
In its announcement BASF states that it has stopped the commercialisation of the Amflora potato, the GM crop licensed by John Dalli, Health and Consumer Commissioner in 2010. However, in the first year of cultivation the potatoes were contaminated with an unlicensed GM variety by BASF and withdrawn from the market.
Adrian Bebb continued:
"This is an embarrassment for Commissioner John Dalli. On coming into office he nailed his name to the GM mast, and approved BASF’s GM potato for commercial growing. Two years later, BASF has pulled the plug and the decline of GMOs continues."
further informationFind out more about Friends of the Earth Europe's GM campaign
Jan 12, 2012
European banks, pension funds and insurance companies are increasing global hunger and poverty by speculating on food prices and financing land grabs in poorer countries, according to a report by Friends of the Earth Europe.
The report analyses the activities of 29 European banks, pension funds and insurance companies, including Deutsche Bank, Barclays, RBS, Allianz, BNP Paribas, AXA, HSBC, Generali, Allianz, Unicredit and Credit Agricole. It reveals the significant involvement of these financial institutions in food speculation, and the direct or indirect financing of land grabbing. Environmental and development organisations are calling for strict regulation to rein in these destructive activities.
Read the report
Daniel Pentzlin, sustainable finance campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Food speculation and the financing of land grabbing leads to a catastrophic instability in global food prices – forcing millions of people into poverty and hunger. European banks, insurers and funds that speculate with food and land are gambling with peoples’ lives whilst reaping huge profits. This industry needs strict regulation to protect the poorest in society.”
Friends of the Earth Europe is calling on financial institutions to investigate, publish and reduce their involvement in food speculation and investments in land. Banks, pension funds and insurers should phase-out and refrain from speculating in financial products based on staple foods, which threatens the human right to food. European regulators should introduce caps on the size of bets speculators can make to curb excessive speculation.
Oct 31, 2011
In October Eric Hoffman from Friends of the Earth US took to the road for a week in Atlantic Canada to discuss the risks of genetically engineered fish.
Eric began his tour on Prince Edward Island, Canada, home to a facility that will create genetically engineered Atlantic salmon eggs to be raised into food for the US public. This would be the first-ever genetically engineered animal to be approved for human consumption and could open the floodgate to other genetically engineered animals, such as trout, tilapia, cows, pigs, and even chickens.
Sep 07, 2011
Declaration from the European Forum for Food Sovereignty, Krems, Austria.
In August the European Forum for Food Sovereignty took place in Krems, Austria. Following Nyeleni Mali 2007, the idea was to get people together from organizations already involved in the issues of food sovereignty.
The forum was attended by 400 delegates from 34 European countries (from Portugal to Azerbajan), on behalf of more than 120 organizations. The goal of the meeting was to look at food sovereignty from a European perspective.
At the end of the forum a declaration was produced which can be read here
Representatives from Real World Radio, our online radio station, were also present to interview some of those in attendance. You can listen to the interviews here.
Aug 12, 2011
Friends of the Earth Spain celebrates the suspension of GM trials with human genes after mass mobilisations by the general public.
Valencia's local government has revoked the permit of an Italian pharmaceutical company to experiment with GM rice combined with human genes in Vinaros, Castellon.
After protests from social, ecologist and peasant organizations, the Valencian Committee of Genetically Modified Organisms, which depends on the Council of Agriculture, has rejected this dangerous crop.
The aim of the GM trial was to obtain enzymes to treat Gaucher's disease. However, there are several treatments for this disease that are obtained through genetic engineering in confined environments.
The risks associated with this experiment would have been far to high for what was a commercial purpose. There are already many cases of contamination with experimental GMOs, some of them with rice crops.
The trials were opposed by various social, ecological and farmers organisations. In Castellon the 15M movement were involved in setting up information stands about GM crops in various towns in the province in order to educate citizens more on the controversial science.
Talks and open debates were also organised and a cyberaction was carried out in which 5,000 people participated requesting the annulment of the license granted to the crop. As a result of the opposition, the municipality declared the Castellon region would remain GM-free.
However, in Spain as a whole, there are still numerous experiments with GM crops taking place. The country is the only EU member state that cultivates large-scale commercial GM corn.
The following organizations participated in this campaign:
*ACSUD Las Segovias * ADP Amics de Palanques * ADV Producció Ecològica del Montsia Baix Ebre * Amigos de la Tierra * APNAL Ecologistas en Acción Vinaròs * Asociación Olea * Colla Ecologista d’Alacant/Ecologistas en Acción * Colla Ecologista de Castelló * Colla Ecologista d´Almassora * GECEN * GER Ecologistas en Acción Vila-real * Greenpeace * Grup de Ciències Meridià Zero * Intersindical Valenciana * ISF Ingeniería Sin Fronteras Valencia * La Unió de Llauradors i Ramaders * Llavors d´ací * Asociación de consumo L´Alficòs * L´Arquet Ecologistas en Acción Vall d’Uixó * Mercatrèmol Alacant * Plataforma Andalucía Libre de Transgénicos - PALT * Plataforma Ciutadana No a la Contaminació * Red de Semillas Resembrando e Intercambiando * Som lo que sembrem * Terratrèmol * Xarxa d´Agroecologia de Castelló
Check out the campaign's blog for more information: http://notransgenicsavinaros.blogspot.com/
Apr 16, 2011
"There can be no justifications for land grabbing!" social movements and CSOs tell World Bank, UN agencies and governments
Today, on the International Day of Peasant Struggles, prominent farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, human rights and research organisations have sharply criticised the World Bank, three UN agencies and governments for promoting agricultural investments that are resulting in land grabbing on a massive scale.
From 18-20 April, investors, government officials and staff of international agencies will gather in Washington DC for the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty to discuss how to operationalise a framework called Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI). Formulated by the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), RAI consists of seven principles which investors may choose whether or not to abide by when conducting large-scale farmland acquisitions.
A statement released by Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, FIAN International, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, Global Campaign on Agrarian Reform, GRAIN, La Via Campesina, Land Research Action Network, Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos and World Forum of Fisher Peoples calls instead for an outright ban on land grabbing.
According to Henry Saragih from La Via Campesina, “The food price crisis happened because of the commoditization of food. RAI will legitimize land grabbing worse than in the colonial era. All sizes and types of land will be taken by TNCs; there will be no place for peasants, peoples and communities to live. This type of agricultural production is creating a way of life that is highly dependent on a few TNCs.”
“Large-scale land acquisitions are designed to open up new spaces for export oriented, industrial, plantation agriculture” said Henk Hobbelink of GRAIN. “There is no point in sanctioning that through any set of investor 'principles' or code of conduct. This is not an agriculture that feeds people in a just and sustainable way.”
Accounts pouring in from Asia, Africa and Latin America reveal that local communities are being dispossessed as never before of their sole sources of food and livelihood security. Reports indicate that at least 50 million hectares of good agricultural land – enough to feed 50 million families in India – have been transferred from farmers to corporations in the last few years alone. Investment brokers estimate that US$25 billion have already been committed globally, and boast that this figure will triple in a very near future. RAI will offer such large-scale land deals a cloak of respectability.
“RAI is dangerously deceptive” said Shalmali Guttal from Focus on the Global South. “Corporations and governments will win, but local communities, eco-systems and future generations will lose; the takeover of rural peoples lands is completely unacceptable no matter what guidelines are followed.”
“The breaching of international human rights law is an intrinsic part of land grabbing,” stated Sofía Monsalve from FIAN International. “Forced evictions, the foreclosure of vast stretches of land for current and future use by rural peoples, the introduction of models of land use and agriculture that destroy natural environments, the blatant denial of information, and the prevention of meaningful local participation in political decisions that affect people's lives are all human rights violations.”
“The new wave of land grabbing will have a devastating effect in the Amazon and Cerrado by giving the green light for illegal activities of large cattle ranchers, agribusinesses, mining and lumber companies to destroy protected forests and biodiversity in food production by small farmers and indigenous land,” said Maria Luisa Mendonça, Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, Brazil.
According to Ibrahim Coulibaly from the National Coordination of Peasant Organisations in Mali, member of La Via Campesina, “Land grabbing is state banditry; it's about seizing or taking over the only resource that poor people have left and giving it those who already have too much, those who are already extremely rich. And that is not acceptable.”
The joint statement calls instead for a renewed focus on genuine agrarian reform and agricultural investment that supports small-holder farmers to produce on their own lands through agro-ecological means.
The statement, “It's time to outlaw land grabbing, not to make it 'responsible'!” can be found online here
Henry Saragih, La Via Campesina, Indonesia: +62-811655668
Devlin Kuyek, GRAIN, Canada: +1-514-5717702
Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South, Thailand: +66-2-2187383/4/5
Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth Interantional, UK : +44-79-61986956
Sofia Monsalve, FIAN, Germany: +49-62216530030
Maria Luisa Mendonça, Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, Brazil: +55-11-81679951
Mar 14, 2011
The costs of segregating genetically modified (GM) and conventional crops are much higher than originally thought, and could push up food prices, warns Friends of the Earth Europe in a new briefing.
'The socio-economic effects of GMOs' reveals the hidden costs of GM crop cultivation that are being unfairly pushed onto conventional and organic sectors – risking further GMO-contamination and increased food prices – and comes as environment ministers meet to discuss GM-crops in Europe.
Environment ministers will assess the legality of banning the cultivation of GM-crops on their territories, but the discussion must take into account the full social and economic impacts of growing GM crops, and not be based on industry-biased models.
Mute Schimpf food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe says:
"The true environmental and economic costs of GM-crops must be taken into account when discussing GM-crop cultivation in Europe. The biotech industry must be held accountable for damage done through cross contamination – the costs must not be unfairly pushed onto farmers, consumers and taxpayers."
European policy relies on the assumption that non-GMO stakeholders in the food industry pay for all measures to secure their GMO-free status. Official EU research concludes that the segregation of GM-crops from conventional products could increase product costs by up to 13%, but the real figure is far higher.
New research from Friends of the Earth Europe shows key costs involved in segregation are not reflected in EU research. The costs incurred for maintaining GMO and conventional separation, including monitoring and testing, far outweigh any projected economic benefits of lower production costs.
Mute Schimpf added:
"99.9 percent of European land remains GM-free, and widespread opposition to genetically modified crops and foods in Europe continues to grow. GM-crops will hinder, not help, in the challenge to ensure we can feed a growing global population. Decision makers must call for an end to further GM-crop cultivation in Europe – ensuring a vibrant rural economy and greener farming."
Friends of the Earth Europe calls for a moratorium on all GMO cultivation approvals until the socio-economic impact assessment of GMOs is integrated into the EU approval system, alongside strict and compulsory anti-contamination measures in all European countries. All costs to prevent GM-contamination must be covered by the polluters.
Mar 01, 2011
Governments are being forced to protect farmers and citizens from genetically modified crops (GM crops) to combat biotech corporations’ stranglehold over farmers, and health scares from escalating pesticide use, according to our latest report.
The report, launched on the eve of the release of industry-sponsored figures on the adoption of GM crops, highlights how even pro-GM governments in South America and the United States have been forced to take steps to mitigate the negative impacts of GM crops on farmers, citizens and the environment.
In South America, the Brazilian Government has launched a GM-free soy programme to help farmers access non-GM soy seeds. In Argentina new research has exposed that the herbicide Glyphosate, used on the majority of GM crops grown worldwide, could have severe negative impacts on human health. This has led to bans on spraying of the herbicide near people’s homes. In Uruguay, local areas are declaring themselves GM-free.
Friends of the Earth International Food Sovereignty coordinator Martin Drago said,
"Farmers and citizens in South America are bearing the burden of ten years of GM crops with widespread health disasters and rising costs. The myths on which the biotech industry is built are crumbling.
The havoc wreaked across South America shows that this technology is not compatible with sustainable farming. It is a wake up call for the rest of the world to move towards more ecological methods of farming."
Read "Who Benefits from GM crops? An industry built on myths"
Dec 08, 2010
In the last years hundreds of organizations and movements have been engaged in struggles, activities, and various kinds of work to defend and promote the right of people to Food Sovereignty around the world. Many of these organizations were present in the Nyéléni Forum 2007 and feel part of a broader Food Sovereignty Movement, that considers the Nyéléni 2007 declaration as its political platform. The Nyéléni Newsletter wants to be the voice of this international movement.
Following the International Forum on Food Sovereignty held in Mali in February 2007, the social movements that brought this initiative to life have decided to create a tool for communication and exchange in order to continue the fight for food sovereignty and to defend the interests of disadvantaged groups as small-scale farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples and those living from pastoralism. The situation of these groups continues to deteriorate due to the ongoing assaults of an increasingly inhuman capitalism.
A new wave of landgrabbing can now be added to the problems of our times, a reality which the World Bank seeks to legitimize in its latest report. It is therefore urgent and critical for social movements to regroup and to strengthen our alliances in order to deal with the offensive of neoliberalism, unprecedented in the history of mankind. This newsletter aims to bring a small stone to the edifice of resistance that will be built to counteract transnational corporations, the World Bank and their allies. We urge all organizations and all movements committed to the struggle for food sovereignty to embark with us on this journey.
The newsletter will be published every two months and is available on the Nyéléni website.
Jun 16, 2010
This June the first Forum Against Agribusiness and for the Peoples’ Sovereignty of Meso America, was held in El Salvador over two days. The forum reached the overwhelming conclusion that the capitalist system needs to be dismantled.
The Forum was organized by the World March of Women, La Via Campesina and Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean.
The social movements agreed that their most “urgent and important” task is to change the capitalist model that has led to the disappearance of human kind, as soon as possible.
"That paradigm will destroy us and we are running out of time", said Ricardo Navarro of CESTA / Friends of the Earth El Salvador at the closing event. “In order to face this challenge of changing the paradigm we will have to understand that the planet is more than a home you have to keep clean”. For that reason Navarro says that the ancestral vision that compares the earth with a mother is more accurate.
At the end of the event the social movements issued a joint declaration expressing their support for food and energy sovereignty, the right and access to drinking water for all, GM free and transnational corporations free territories. They expressed their rejection to militarization, criminalization and violence against women, metal mining, dams, land grabbing, monoculture plantations, agrofuels, agrotoxics, and junk food.
They agreed that it is not possible to change the current system without destroying the old model. The only way to break with the structure of this terror and death regime, they said, is through alliances, the promotion of a real and true land reform and food sovereignty, with the conviction that peasant farming is the only path to cool the planet.
“Only together and united are we to create new forms of livelihood, solidarity, sustainability and sovereignty, and build alternatives for the peoples and by the peoples with Mother Earth for good lving and for the common goods of our territories”, concludes the declaration.
May 21, 2010
From April 12-17 protesters across the European Union took part in a week of action against Genetically Modified (GM) crops in Europe.
The country that saw most of the demonstrations was Spain, the only EU member that cultivates GM crops on a large-scale. The cultivation of such crops in Spain is leading to problems in their countryside and their food. More than fifteen percent of Spanish soy and corn-based food is already contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and is not labeled appropriately, according to the Spanish Food Security Agency.
At the beginning of the week several social organisations took part in an action outside of congress protesting at the recent decision to allow German chemical giant BASF to grow GM potatoes in EU member states for industrial usage.
Environmental groups across the EU are concerned that GMOs could contaminate other crops and once they're in the food chain it will be impossible to eradicate them.
Those taking part in the action dressed as chefs and executives from BASF and Monsanto - another producer of GM technology - and offered free tortillas to passers-by giving them the option of organic or GM.
The peoples' reaction was conclusive; nobody, from the general public to congress members and their staff wanted to eat the GM tortilla.
Last year 76,000 hectares of land were cultivated with GM corn in Spain. The crop is developed with an absolute lack of transparency and control. There have been numerous cases of harvests and food contamination. Still, the government ignores the social and environmental impacts and consequences on health, which have led the other countries to ban it.
Targeting Spanish embassies
Later in the week demonstrations took place outside Spanish embassies in Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Austria, Lithuania, France and Portugal.
Finally, the week culminated in a demonstration in Madrid where 15,000 people marched under the slogan 'For a GM Free Food and Agriculture'.
Farmers, ecologists and consumers from all over Spain marched on the city calling on the government to follow the same path taken by countries like France, Germany or Austria and ban the cultivation of GM corn in Spain.
Speaking at the event David Sanches, head of the Friends of the Earth Agriculture and Food campaign said:
"The government's attitude on this issue is absolutely unacceptable. These actions show that it is clearly isolated in the EU in its position in defence of GMOs. Besides damaging our environment and endangering the public health, the Government's position is seriously damaging the image of Spain and its food abroad."
Mar 18, 2010
A decision by Europe's new health and consumer commissioner, John Dalli, to give the go ahead for genetically modified potatoes to be grown in Europe, has been condemned by Friends of the Earth Europe.
The 'Amflora' potato, designed to produce starch for industrial purposes by Germany´s chemical giant BASF, carries a controversial antibiotic resistant gene which it cannot be guaranteed will not enter the food chain.
Heike Moldenhauer, GMO spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Europe said:
"This is a bad day for European citizens and the environment. The new Commissioner whose job is to protect consumers has in one of his first decisions ignored public opinion and safety concerns to please the world’s biggest chemical company. This decision puts profit before people or the environment and will do little to increase public confidence in the Brussels bureaucracy.
"There are clear health concerns surrounding this GM potato. The antibiotics affected by Amflora are vital tools against illness and despite growing resistance to these life saving drugs, industry has added them to potatoes with no guarantees that they will not get into the food chain. This is nothing less then a crass decision that puts the public at risk."
Amflora is highly controversial mainly due to its antibiotic resistant gene. The potato was given official approval by the European Food Safety Authority but for the first time the judgment of the scientific body wasn't unanimous. Two EFSA scientists stated that the possibility of a transfer of antibiotic resistant genes to bacteria within the gastro-intestinal-tract cannot be predicted.
Two other conventional potato varieties already on the market have the same characteristics as Amflora – one developed by German plant breeder Europlant, the other by Dutch company Avebe. The existence of these non-GM alternatives means that there is no reason for farmers to have to cultivate Amflora for the European starch industry and no need to introduce the risk of spreading antibiotic resistance.
Jan 26, 2010
To mark World Food Day on October 16 Otros Mundos (Friends of the Earth Mexico) organised a festival-event in the square Plaza de Mexicanos in San Cristobal, where it provided information on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their effects and it exposed the actions of 'Monsanto' to the public.
A large stage was built for the event that included a banner with the legend: “El Santo vs. Monsanto” (The Saint vs. Monsanto) that included crucial information about the company's activities. Monsanto have a significant in the region. A 'GM stand' was also built with the packaging of products that use GMOs.
Throughout the day there was a campaign to collect signatures to demand the local government to declare Chiapas GM-free because of the risk implied by GM and biochemical contamination of native maize seeds. One of the spokespersons of the Civil Organization 'Las Abejas' (The bees) who have depended on native maize production for generations. They also backed the petition.
There were other activities such as live music, the selling of organic food by community women, children's drawings on maize and its importance, and the contribution of a drums group from Tabasco, which joined the demonstration along the main roads of town carrying banners against Monsanto and GM food in general.
Nov 12, 2009
Indigenous people from all over the world gathered at the People's Food Sovereignty Forum, where they discussed the current dire state of world hunger and what to do about it.
The People's Food Sovereignty Forum held alongside the FAO Council World Summit on food security, addressed the hunger crisis affecting over one billion people and nearly one sixth of the world's population.
Participants talked about the current state of crisis in the agro-food system worldwide and the need refocus attention on the billion and a half men and women who produce the food we all eat.
The summit discussed the following key challenges:
- The eradication of hunger from the earth
- The implementation of a more coherent and effective system of governance of food security at both national and international levels
- Ensuring that farmers in both developed and developing countries can earn a sufficient income
- The mobilisation of substantial additional public and private sector investments in agriculture and rural infrastructure and ensuring farmers’ access to modern technologies to boost food production and productivity
- Reaching agreement on the most effective mechanisms to tackle food crises
- Ensuring that countries are prepared to adapt to climate change and mitigate negative effects
The People's Food Sovereignty Forum took place on November 13th - 17th in Rome, and about 600 people attended.
Jun 11, 2009
Local groups of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland show their solidarity with Sobrevivencia/Friends of the Earth Paraguay in their campaigns against agribusiness and for Food Sovereignty.
Here is a short film showing the action. Spanish starts after 42 seconds!
Jun 04, 2009
The FAO Seed Treaty would address the issues of the global agricultural system.
The International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty (IPC) met recently to decide the future of the FAO Seed Treaty (ITPGRFA), an agreement seeking to address the issues of the global agricultural system by protecting seed diversity and implementing peasants' rights. The debate was an important milestone ahead of the scheduled food crisis summit in Rome in November and the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December.
25 countries, representing peasant, pastoralist, and indigenous organizations took part in the treaty negotiations. After two days, the representatives demanded the following:
- In light of the food emergency there must be a suspension of all intellectual property rights and other regulations that prevent farmers from saving and exchanging non-GMO seed.
- There must be a major financial commitment to save seed in the field, for the conservation of genetic diversity in the field, and to prevent and monitor biopiracy.
- There must be an end to the monopoly practices of multinational seed companies who are controlling seeds.
- Governments must involve farmers in decision making every step of the way, and must implement the treaty’s decision on Farmers’ Rights.
Read the full statement released by Friends of the Earth International, the International Coordination Committee, La Via Campesina and many others here.
Feb 23, 2009
Our February 2009 report looks behind the spin and exposes the reasons why GM crops cannot contribute to poverty reduction, global food security or sustainable farming.
'Who benefits from GM crops' warns that biotech
crops are benefiting biotech food giants instead of small farmers and
the world’s hungry population, which due to the food crisis is
projected to increase to 1.2 billion by the year 2025.
The report exposes hard facts about genetically
modified (GM) crops grown today – facts that conflict dramatically
with the hype concerning speculative future GM crops that may never
The findings of the report support a comprehensive United Nations assessment of world agriculture which concluded in 2008 among other things that GM crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger.
Apr 20, 2007
Despite repeated scandals involving the contamination of rice seed stocks with GM variants, the US government has given preliminary approval for the large-scale planting of GM rice strains containing human genes.
Having apparently abandoned plans to use their GM rice as an additive to animal feedstuffs, Ventria Bioscience is initially aiming to market their human protein-producing rice as a cure for diarrhoea in developing countries. Since diarrhoea can be highly effectively and inexpensively treated with simple rehydration salts, producing a GM alternative is clearly an absurdity. This has led to speculation that sick children in developing countries are being used in a cynical campaign of pretence suggesting that Ventria Bioscience is motivated by altruism. Their longer-term plans are to include the GM human proteins in yoghurt, granola bars and sport re-hydration drinks.
Do we really need a GM cure for diarrhoea? Is it acceptable to release GM rice into the environment where it will inevitably contaminate other rice strains? Do we really find it acceptable to consume human proteins? Even Ventria’s own scientific publications have raised questions about safety.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently taken the first steps towards allowing the large-scale cultivation of three varieties of genetically manipulated (GM) rice containing human genes.1 These rice strains, created by the California-based company Ventria Bioscience, have been genetically engineered to carry the human genes encoding lactoferrin, lysozyme, or serum albumin. After a public comment period, which ended on 30 March 2007, a decision will be taken on whether to allow these GM strains to be cultivated on 3,200 acres of land in Kansas, USA. Earlier plans by Ventria Bioscience to grow the rice in Southern Missouri were blocked resulting from the safety concerns of brewing company Anheuser-Busch which threatened to boycott rice grown in the state if the plan went ahead.
Almost simultaneously with this announcement, the USDA revealed the discovery that rice seed stocks in Arkansas had become contaminated with a different GM strain, LL62, which had never been approved for commercial production. This embarrassing discovery was made during an investigation into the widespread contamination of US rice by yet another GM strain, LL601, raising serious concerns about the safety measures in place to contain GM crops.
Rice with a human touch?
Each GM strain created by Ventria Bioscience contains a human gene encoding one of three proteins: lactoferrin, lysozyme, or serum albumin. Lactoferrin and lysozyme are antimicrobial proteins found, in human breast milk, and in tears and saliva. Serum albumin is one of the protein constituents of human blood.
But what’s it for?
Initially, Ventria Bioscience tested its GM lactoferrin and lysozyme as a possible addition to animal feedstuffs, as an alternative to antibiotics.2 The widespread use of antibiotics in animal feedstuffs is well documented to have led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, potentially endangering human health.3,4 After feeding the recombinant human proteins to chicks, in Delhi, California, Ventria concluded that they had found a potential alternative to adding subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics to animal feedstuffs. They did, however, point out that“..there is no indication that bacteria have become resistant to these proteins in nature. However, the development of bacterial resistance after prolonged feeding of these proteins has yet to be examined.”2
Having apparently abandoned plans to market the GM rice for animal feedstuffs, Ventria have now tested it on children in Peru as a possible treatment for paediatric diarrhoea.5 Elsewhere, they have talked about plans to include it in yoghurt, sports drinks, and granola bars.6
Do we really need a GM treatment for Diarrhea?
Although diarrhoea causes more than 2 million deaths per year, mostly in developing countries, its causes are well understood and its treatment simple and reliable. Most cases of diarrhoea last only a day or two, and the patient fully recovers without any treatment at all. Only in more prolonged cases is treatment required to prevent the patient becoming from dehydrated. In such cases, the administration of simple oral rehydration salts is highly effective.
The GM human proteins were tested on Peruvian children as an addition to oral rehydration therapy. One third of the patients received conventional oral rehydration salts, one third received a rice-based oral rehydration salts, and the others received the rice-based therapy with the addition of the GM human proteins.5 Ventria did not claim that this led to a higher recovery rate, since all the children recovered, but that the addition of the GM proteins increased the speed with which the patients recovered. Simply put, the children treated with the oral rehydration salts plus the GM human proteins recovered in about 4 days, rather than about 5 days.5 Hardly the miracle cure that Ventria would like us to believe.
Since diarrhoea can be very effectively treated with simple and inexpensive oral rehydration salts, which are easily transported and can be stored without refrigeration, do developing countries really need to buy a more expensive, genetically manipulated alternative from Ventria Biosciences? Clearly not.
But is it safe?
Following the trial in Peru, questions have been raised whether the parents of the children were adequately informed that the experimental treatment involved GM human proteins. This has led to an inquiry in Peru.7 Safety issues were also raised when the parents of some of the children in the trial claimed that their children had subsequently suffered allergic reactions.8
The GM proteins have biological activity in human beings, but have never been tested as a drug and have never received FDA approval for use as a drug. So nobody can claim with complete certainty that they pose no danger to human health.
As stated earlier, following their own testing of the GM rice on chicks, Ventria themselves concluded that, “..there is no indication that bacteria have become resistant to these proteins in nature. However, the development of bacterial resistance after prolonged feeding of these proteins has yet to be examined.”2 Surely their own concerns apply equally to human beings? This of course, raises profound safety concerns regarding their plans to include GM proteins in yoghurt, sports drinks, and granola bars.
What about containment?
Since there are clearly safety questions concerning the consumption of these GM human proteins, how can we be sure when we buy a bag of rice that it has not been contaminated with a GM strain? We can’t. As mentioned above, there are already well documented – and very recent – examples of GM rice contaminating rice destined for human consumption. No matter what safety measures are put in place, mistakes will always happen.
Also, when a GM organism is released into the environment, it is probably going to be out there, in some form or other, forever. Cross pollination can transfer GM traits into regular strains. Do we have the right to take such decisions on behalf of future generations?
And another ethical issue...
The recent contamination scandals in the USA have indicated that it is very likely that Ventria’s GM rice would eventually find its way onto our plates, if their plans were allowed to proceed. Even aside from any safety issues, we all have to ask ourselves if we find it acceptable to eat human proteins in any form at all. If Ventria were to go ahead with plans to include their GM human proteins in yoghurt, would we really find it ethically acceptable to eat that yoghurt? In countries such as India, where a significant proportion of the population is vegetarian, is it ethically acceptable to introduce an ‘animal’ protein into one of the staples of their diet, let alone a human protein?
Any one of the issues raised would be sufficient to convince almost anybody that permission should not be granted for the large-scale planting of Ventria’s GM rice. But taken together, the environmental, health and safety, and ethical issues, surely add up to an overpowering argument that the plans of Ventria Bioscience to cultivate GM rice containing human genes must be stopped.
Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. Ventria Bioscience; Availability of an environmental assessment for field tests of rice genetically engineered to express lactoferrin, lysozyme, or serum albumin. Docket No. APHIS-2007-006, Federal Register Vol. 72, No. 30, Wednesday, February 28, 2007. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-IMPACT/2007?February/Day-28/i3484.htm
Humphrey, BD, Huang, N, Klasing, KC. Rice expressing lactoferrin and lysozyme has antibiotic-like properties when fed to chicks. J Nutrition. 2002;132:1214-1218.
World Health Organisation. Overcoming antimicrobial resistance: WHO report on infectious diseases (2000) WHO, Geneva, Switzerland.
World Health Organisation Fact Sheet No 194, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland.
Zavaleta, N, Figueroa, D, Rivera, J, Sanchez, J, Alfaro, S, Lonnerdal, B. Efficacy of rice-based oral rehydration solution containing recombinant human lactoferrin and lysozyme in Peruvian children with acute diarrhea. J Pediatr Gastroenterol. 2007;44:258-264.
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/04_30901r_ea.pdf. See corresponding citation for lactoferrin at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/04_30201r_ea.pdf
Leighton, P. Study on infants in Peru sparks ethics inquiry. Science and Development Network, July 18, 2006.http://www.scidev.net/content/news/eng/study-on-infants-in-peru-sparks-ethics-inquiry.cfm
Diaz, D. Transgénicos: Niños ya sufren sus efectos. La Republica, Peru, July 14, 2006.
Joint Statement on Protected Areas to the 7th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity
Friends of the Earth International - World Rainforest Movement - Oilwatch
The World Rainforest Movement, Oilwatch and Friends of the Earth International (a federation of 68 non-governmental environmental organizations from 65 countries) believe that sustainable management of protected areas is a key pillar to biodiversity conservation. However, we have noticed with regret the alarming rate at which protected areas are being lost and decimated, due to the process of planning, establishment and management, and more importantly, due to large-scale mining, oil extraction and commercial logging activities. Most government designated protected areas world-wide have been established at the exclusion of the rightful owners - local communities and Indigenous Peoples - in the planning, establishment and management of these areas. This is a clear violation of their ownership and rights.
Where then lies the protection and encouragement of customary use of biological resources (article 10(c) of the Convention on Biodiversity) when local communities and Indigenous Peoples are denied the right of access, under the flag of protection, to the very resources that belong to them, while these resources are given out eventually to large foreign conservation organizations, or to multinational corporations for large-scale mining, oil exploration and logging activities.
To achieve sustainable management of protected areas and for that matter biodiversity conservation, we urge parties to the CBD to adopt a program of work on protected areas that clearly includes and explicitly safeguards the rights and interests of local communities and Indigenous Peoples throughout the process of planning, establishment and management of protected areas. We do not and will not believe in parks without people, and we do not believe in a protected area program without explicit safeguards for Indigenous Peoples' rights and other aspects of social governance.
We also emphasize the need to include a clear reference to the rights, interests and role of women regarding protected area planning, establishment and management.
Moreover, a work program on protected areas can only be considered credible if it includes an explicit rejection of mining, oil exploration, and large-scale commercial logging activities in and around protected areas.
Also in this light, it should be ensured that sufficient funds are allocated to national conservation programmes, so that we don't need to sell out conservation to private actors like foreign conservation organizations, and oil, mining and logging corporations. We also support the call for Action of our Indonesian colleague organizations in this regard "Conservation is not for Concession".
Kuala Lumpur, 11 February 2004