In recent weeks there has been a wave of good news stories from the movement to keep GM crops (and toxic pesticides) out of our fields, out of supply chains and off our plates. From China to Croatia concerned citizens, scientists and even whole nations are standing up to say “No to GMO” despite multiple pressures. Here we share a selection of some of the boldest stories, in a top ten list that’s really worth reading. In no particular order…
1. Mom’s Across America meet with EPA to discuss grave concerns over Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide
A recent US study discovered disturbing levels of glyphosate – RoundUp’s chief ingredient – in US mothers’ breast milk, raising concerns over the health of both mothers and infants. In reaction, Moms Across America and Thinking Moms Revolution secured a meeting with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) officials to discuss concerns about RoundUp, the world’s most widely used herbicide.
Pilot tests revealed the build up (bio-accumulation) of glyphosate in Mothers’ bodies, afinding that contradicts industry claims that the herbicide does not accumulate. The assumption that glyphosate does not accumulate is a key factor in allowing companies to claim that glyphosate is safe, as they argue it does not build up to harmful levels in the body. Testing also found that levels of glyphosate in US urine samples were ten times higher than those in Europe.
After the meeting EPA spokesperson Cathy Millbourn announced that the EPA, hopes to have a preliminary risk assessment completed in 2014 and to determine by 2015 whether the use of the herbicide should continue, be limited, or halted entirely.
The EPA made no other comment about the meeting, and Founder of Mom’s Across America reported a mixed outcome: “I saw that we have EPA members on our side. They may not be able to act now, but they want to. They want us to push on and give them the reason to make a bold change. They want their children to be safe as much as you and I… (but) despite our compelling binder of studies and undeniable evidence through testimonials of mothers of risk of harm, they did not agree to our request to recall Roundup, or revoke the license of glyphosate.”
Mom’s Across America are organising marches for the 4th of July to raise further awareness of the issue.
2. Russian PM says Russia will not import GMOs, as MPs propose radical new bill to make producing GMOs a terrorist act
In April, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that his nation has no reason to grow or import GMOs as it can meet its needs through organic production. Backed by agricultural minister Nikolay Fyodorov, Medvedev stated:
“If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.”
This announcement follows a call from the State Duma’s Agricultural Committee for the government to ban the registration and use of GM in Russia. A three-year moratorium is now in place as new scientific research is conducted.
Meanwhile, a group of Russian MPs have submitted a draft bill to parliament calling for stricter punishment, including criminal prosecution, for individuals and firms who produce and distribute harmful biotechnology in the country.
Sponsors and authors of the bill have strikingly suggested that punishments should be comparable to those given to terrorists, with jail sentences from fifteen years to life for serious offences.
Co-author of the bill Kirill Cherkasov, a member of the State Duma Agriculture Committee, said: “When a terrorist act is committed, only several people are usually hurt. But GMOs may hurt dozens and hundreds. The consequences are much worse. And punishment should be proportionate to the crime.”
3. Scale of GM risk in Hawaii emerges as communities put pressure on authorities
Described as ‘Ground-Zero’ for the GMO debate, Hawaii has long been one of the world’s biggest testing grounds for both GM crops and pesticides. Biotech corporations such as Syngenta, Dow, DuPont and Bayer all own land for testing on the islands.
Fears over the health impacts of large scale testing close to communities are being increasingly substantiated with the discovery of abnormally high rates of cancer, breathing disorders and birth defects. It has been reported that companies are using twenty-two kinds of restricted-use pesticides, and withholding information about these chemicals from officials. These include organophosphates which Hawaiian doctor James Raelson referred to as akin to the chemical weapons used in Syria’s recent civil war, only in lower concentrations.
A recent Deutsche Welle documentary has highlighted both the injustices being suffered by inhabitants of Kauai, Hawaii’s fourth largest island, but also the vibrancy of the anti-GM movement on the Islands.
Community members have been taking to the streets in mass protests, and organising against GM for years. Thanks to their efforts local authorities are taking action. Last year Kauai Council passed a law, set to come into force later this year, that will force companies to create buffer zones between their fields and formally disclose the pesticides they are using.
A group called Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina Movement (SHAKA) has gathered enough signatures (19,400) in Maui County to give residents the option to vote for a temporary ban on GM crops this autumn. This is the first time a citizens initiative has collected enough support to be featured on a ballot in Maui’s history.
Hawaii County has already adopted a law banning GM cultivation, with a single exemption for a GM papaya variety.
4. India’s new Government announces that use of GMO will only be allowed if ‘absolutely necessary’
India’s new Agricultural Minister Radha Mohan Singh has announced that under the leadership of the newly elected BJP, the nation will take a more cautious approach to the use of GMOs. Speaking in a recent Q&A the minister said that his party “are of the firm view that use of GM technology will be allowed only if this is absolutely necessary.”
The new Government’s change of tact is an encouraging sign in a nation that has struggled worse than most as a result of biotechnology ‘innovations’. In the 1960’s India was a key strategic target in the ‘Green Revolution’, losing over 100,000 locally adapted rice varieties due to the importation of new hybrid species. In more recent times a shocking spate of over 27,000 farmer suicides in the country have been strongly linked to debts incurred by growing GM crops.
Alongside the Government’s new stance on GM, the green shoots of grassroots resistance continue to grow in India. In brinjal (aubergine) growing regions mass actions from farmers and civil society have led to a strain of Bt Brinjal being banned.
This is a major victory as cross contamination from the GM plant would have threatened 2,000 traditional brinjal varieties. In Malivalasa on the Andhra/Odisha State border, communities came together for an ‘Old Seed Fest’ to celebrate the diversity of local seeds, and the vital role of Indigenous communities who continue to grow and care for their varieties.
5. All twenty-one Croatian states declare themselves GMO free
Croatia is home to 2.6million hectares of arable land, making it a prime target for the large-scale cultivation of GM crops in the EU. Yet as part of a process starting in 2003, all twenty-one of Croatia’s states have declared themselves GMO free zones.
Written into the legislation in each state are rules forbidding the cultivation and import of GM seed and crops, as well as GM food products. These steps have been taken to safeguard the environment and agricultural biodiversity for future generations.
The significance of this statement is becoming more apparent in the midst of European debate and uncertainty over the approval and cultivation of Dow/DuPont’s GM corn variety, Pioneer1507. This case signifies more general turmoil over permitting GM in an EU whose members are deeply divided on GM issues. Croatia was one of the 19 EU member states to vote against the approval of the Pioneer corn crop in the EU Council, but those nations that voted against did not form a qualified majority to veto the authorisation. The decision has now passed to the EU Council, which has shown itself to be in favour.
61% of the Croatian public polled are against GMOs and concerns about their effects on ecological health and biodiversity are widespread. The country’s national Farmer’s Association argues that the nation must pursue organic agriculture if it hopes to compete and maintain healthy agricultural systems.
“We have so much untouched land and a small population, we do not need intensive growing. Organic agriculture can become our best bet: small, but strong among the giants of the European Union,” says farmer Ante Ivanika.
6. 815 concerned scientists write open letter to All Governments about GMOs
A group of 815 scientists from 82 countries have come together to express their concerns about GM to All Governments. In an open letter they announced that they are concerned about the impacts GM crops have on biodiversity, human and animal health and their role in corporate monopolies rather than sustainable agriculture practices and family farming.
It asserts that GM is undermining, rather than bolstering food security: “GM crops offer no benefits to farmers or consumers. Instead, many problems have been identified, including yield drag, increased herbicide use, erratic performance, and poor economic returns to farmers. GM crops also intensify corporate monopoly on food, which is driving family farmers to destitution, and preventing the essential shift to sustainable agriculture that can guarantee food security and health around the world.”
In response to these threats, the scientists call for an immediate moratorium on the release of GM life forms, commercially and in field trials, for at least 5 years, in accordance with the precautionary principle. They are also for a ban on the patenting of life forms and want more research funding for alternative forms of agriculture such as agro-ecology. This demonstration of anti-GM feeling and logic from the scientific community makes a mockery of GM industry claims that the ‘scientific consensus’ is that GM is safe.
7. France bans Monsanto’s GM Corn
This May the French Parliament approved a new law to ban the cultivation of any variety of GM corn, even if it is cleared for cultivation by the EU. The decision mirrors the concerns of a sceptical French public.
Backed by French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll, the new law is designed to prevent the cultivation of the one and only EU approved GM corn crop, Monsanto’s MON810, due to concerns that is poses an environmental health risk. The new legislation will also provide France with a framework to ban any such crops approved by the EU in future, such as Dow/DuPont’s Pioneer 1507 variety that is currently pending approval.
France’s strong stance highlights a more general tension between pro- and anti-GM EU member states, the EU parliament and the EU Commission. At present, in the event that a majority of EU nations cannot come together to approve or block an application, the final say in the GM crop permitting process lies with the EU Commission, with member states then obliged to comply.
In light of this political situation, by imposing their new law, France are not simply contesting the approval of GM corn varieties, but also the centralised process for GM permitting in the EU.
8. Two Oregon counties ban GMO plantings
Following Vermont’s decision to become the first US state to put GMO labelling requirements into law, more good news has emerged from the US anti-GM movement. The counties of Jackson and Josephine in Oregon have now voted to ban the planting of GMOs in their fields. In Jackson 66% of voters chose to say no to GMO, whilst in Josephine County the figure was 57%.
GMO Free Oregon called the decision “a great day for the people of Oregon who care about sustainability and healthy ecosystems.”
This victory comes despite huge pressure and an extremely expensive PR campaign from the biotech industry. Despite only containing 120,000 registered voters, in Jackson County Monsanto and other corporations are thought to have spent almost $500,000 US dollars to defeat the initiative. $1m of the total campaign spend of $1.3m was spent by opponents of the ban.
The willingness of corporations to spend big indicates their fear of losing the heartlands of GM production. That the bans were still voted in and enforced despite this magnitude of financial opposition speaks volumes about the changing US political landscape when it comes to GM. Corporate misinformation is wearing thin as new concerns over the ecological and human health risks of GM and related technologies grow by the day.
9. China continue their ban on imported GM corn
Since it discovered GM contamination of a shipment of US corn in November 2013, China has blocked all imports of US corn, at a huge cost to US Traders.
US corn imports to the country have been blocked since Chinese officials detected traces of Syngenta’s MIR162 GM corn in the shipment. This GM corn strain has not been approved by the Chinese Government since it was submitted for consideration in 2010.
In April the significance of this market blockade was revealed. According to the US National Grain and Feed Organisation, China has barred nearly 1.45 million tons of corn from entering its markets. Representing a loss of $427 million in sales for US traders.
10. Bulgaria stands against GM cultivation in Europe
Despite pressure from the EU to accept the cultivation of GM corn on its farmlands, Bulgaria has reiterated its GMO free position and says it stands categorically against the cultivation of GM in the EU.
Professor Dimitar Grekov, Bulgaria’s Minister for Agriculture and Food, said that cultivating GM corn would pose a threat to traditional and very productive local varieties: “Local varieties are a valuable source of genetic variability. In the cultivation of genetically modified and conventional maize (hybrid or local variety) at distances from each other less than those provided for in current law on GMOs, there is a theoretical risk population of conventional corn to be genetically contaminated with transgenic GMO maize.”
He added that Bulgaria’s existing agricultural system does not need GM inputs. Existing crops are well adapted to the climate and soil, with a large amount of genetic variability providing insurance against pests and other threats.