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BUSINESS & POLICY: Control over your food: Why Monsanto’s GM seeds are undemocratic



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   CONTROL OVER YOUR FOOD: WHY MONSANTO?S GM SEEDS ARE UNDEMOCRATIC

SOURCE:  Christian Science Monitor, USA

AUTHOR:  Christopher D. Cook

URL:     http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/0223/Control-over-your-food-Why-Monsanto-s-GM-seeds-are-undemocratic

DATE:    23.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Question: Would you want a small handful of government officials controlling America?s entire food supply, all its seeds and harvests? I suspect most would scream, ?No way!? Yet, while America seems allergic to public servants ? with no profit motive in mind ? controlling anything these days, a knee-jerk faith in the ?free market? has led to overwhelming centralized control of nearly all our food stuffs, from farm to fork."

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CONTROL OVER YOUR FOOD: WHY MONSANTO?S GM SEEDS ARE UNDEMOCRATIC

Christopher D. Cook is the author of ?Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.? He has written for The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, Harper?s, and elsewhere. He can be reached at www.christopherdcook.com.

Large biotech agribusinesses like Monsanto control much of the global seed market with genetically modified (GM) crops. This centralization of GM seeds threatens food safety, food security, biodiversity, and democratic ideals.

Question: Would you want a small handful of government officials controlling America?s entire food supply, all its seeds and harvests?

I suspect most would scream, ?No way!?

Yet, while America seems allergic to public servants ? with no profit motive in mind ? controlling anything these days, a knee-jerk faith in the ?free market? has led to overwhelming centralized control of nearly all our food stuffs, from farm to fork.

The Obama administration?s recent decision to radically expand genetically modified (GM) food (1) ? approving unrestricted production of agribusiness biotech company Monsanto?s ?Roundup Ready? alfalfa and sugar beets ? marks a profound deepening of this centralization of food production in the hands of just a few corporations, with little but the profit motive to guide them.

Even as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials enable a tighter corporate grip on the food chain, there is compelling evidence of GM foods? ecological and human health risks, suggesting we should at very least learn more before allowing their spread.

Numerous peer-reviewed studies suggest these crops ? the result of reformulating plant and animal genes, with minimal oversight and no food labeling disclosures ? increase allergens in the food supply. And according to the World Health Organization, ?The movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops...may have an indirect effect on food safety (2) and food security (3). This risk is real, as was shown when traces of a maize type which was only approved for feed use appeared in maize products for human consumption in the United States of America.?

Corporate-controlled seeds are undemocratic

But these corporate-controlled seeds pose an even graver threat: Both the technology and economy of GM crops are intrinsically anti-democratic.

What?s wrong with having a few corporations control virtually every aspect of our sustenance? Far from abstract, the genetic and proprietary control of our diets by a handful of companies (Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta combined own an astounding 47 percent of the global seed market) directly robs consumers and farmers of the most basic right to choose what they will eat and grow.

The entire concept of creating and selling patented GM seeds is based on proprietary corporate control: The seeds are non-replenishing and must be purchased anew each season, eliminating the time-honored farmer tradition of saving and re-using seeds.

Anyone doubting Monsanto?s obsession with control (4) can just ask just ask the thousands of farmers who have been sued and spied upon for alleged ?seed piracy? ? at least 2,391 farmers in 19 states through 2006, according to Monsanto website documents obtained by the Washington, DC-based Center for Food Safety (CFS). A report by CFS, using company records, found that ?Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.?

Or ask Monsanto. Under the headline, ?Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds?? on its website, the firm states: ?When farmers purchase a patented seed variety, they sign an agreement that they will not save and replant seeds produced from the seed they buy from us. More than 275,000 farmers a year buy seed under these agreements in the United States.?

Threats to food safety, biodiversity

The USDA, and even some leaders of the organics business such as Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farms, endorse the notion of ?coexistence? between GM and organic crops ? a comforting yet flawed claim. Numerous organic farmers have reported the unwanted arrival of GM seeds contaminating their fields, rendering organic crops unmarketable.

Even more troubling, ?Roundup Ready? and other herbicide-resistant seeds by their nature promote the use of toxic herbicides (5) ? the use of which, contrary to industry claims, has risen as GM crops have proliferated, according to USDA data.

Even with buffer zones to segregate GM and organic fields, ?Some degree of cross-pollination will occur regardless (6) of what mechanism is going to be put in place,? agronomist Jeff Wolt, of Iowa State University?s Seed Science Center, told the Associated Press.

The GM threats to biodiversity (7) and democracy are closely related. When you pair proprietary technology that?s designed to retain company control of seeds (the very lifeblood of our food supply) along with highly concentrated market control, you get a hazardous blend of ecological, economic, and political centralization.

According to research of industry statistics by the non-profit ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), ?the top 3 seed companies control 65% of the proprietary maize seed market worldwide, and over half of the proprietary soybean seed market?Monsanto?s biotech seeds and traits (including those licensed to other companies) accounted for 87% of the total world area devoted to genetically engineered seeds in 2007.?

Of course, few of us think about market control when we?re hustling through supermarket aisles getting our shopping done. But when our elected leaders (from both parties) approve the expansion of risky seeds that endanger biodiversity as well as farmer and consumer choice (8), there should be more than a little outcry.

Genetically centralized control over seeds and the future of our food supply (9) isn?t inevitable. Over 80 towns across the state of Vermont, and numerous counties across the country have approved moratoria on GM crops. Monsanto has encountered mass farmer and political resistance in India and throughout much of Africa and Europe (10).

The Obama administration?s effective rubber stamp on Monsanto?s latest GM products is out of step with international thinking about food democracy and biodiversity, and an affront to that very American notion of consumer and producer choice ? and voice ? in the marketplace.

1. http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1031/p14s02-lign.html

2. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2010/1123/Food-safety-bill-101-What-are-the-facts-and-myths

3. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2011/0206/Hunger-and-food-security-Is-Africa-selling-the-farm

4. http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2010/1004/Signs-of-a-biotech-backlash

5. http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2009/1221/More-herbicide-use-reported-on-genetically-modified-crops

6. http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0831/p15s01-sten.html

7. http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0425/p14s01-sten.html

8. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/Africa-Monitor/2010/0923/How-genetically-modified-seeds-can-help-and-hurt-Africa-s-farmers>

9. http://www.csmonitor.com/No%20bumper%20crop%20of%20genetically%20altered%20plants

10. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/Africa-Monitor/2010/0804/No-more-GMO-chicken-from-South-Africa-says-Zimbabwe.-Now-to-see-if-there-is-such-a-thing



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   OBJECTIVES OF THE PUBLIC WHEAT BREEDING PROGRAM

SOURCE:  Farm & Ranch Guide, USA

AUTHOR:  Dale Hildebrant

URL:     http://www.farmandranchguide.com/news/regional/objectives-of-the-public-wheat-breeding-program/article_036aeefa-3f5a-11e0-8521-001cc4c002e0.html

DATE:    23.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Mergoum emphasized the need to maintain the public breeding programs, now that all of the attention seems to be on the private programs. He said some of the private breeders are now aggressively trying to obtain the germplasm from the public wheat breeding programs and have indicated they want to take over the seed business."

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OBJECTIVES OF THE PUBLIC WHEAT BREEDING PROGRAM

MOORHEAD, Minn. ? Wheat growers attending the recent Small Grains Update in Moorhead heard firsthand the goals of the public wheat breeding programs in the region and some of concerns those conducting the programs have about the future.

Mohamed Mergoum, spring wheat breeder at North Dakota State University, stressed that the focus on the wheat breeding programs in this region is that any new varieties that are developed meet the needs of the wheat growers and the end users, meaning the industry and export market.

?In general, the NDSU breeding program is world known for releasing high quality varieties,? Mergoum said. ?And the reason for that is we want to maintain that edge of competition, especially for exports.?

That, according to Mergoum, means there are two over-riding criteria that new varieties need to meet ? yield potential and quality. And he noted that although the industry and export markets are concerned about the quality aspect of wheat varieties, they really aren?t concerned with the factors affecting yields.

The producer, on the other hand, is interested in both aspects since the price they receive in the market place is determined by the quality of their wheat.

Many methods are now being used to develop new varieties, he explained. There are the classical methods that have been around for many decades that include field, work in greenhouses and off-season winter nurseries. However, there are new technologies that are aiding the efforts of not only wheat breeders, but breeders of all crops.

These new tools include things like molecular markers, double haploid breeding and mutation using radiation.

After going through a simplified version of the nuts and bolts of developing a new variety, Mergoum outlined the efforts now being made for a joint wheat breeding venture in the tri-state area that will feature complementary breeding programs and will eventually result in joint cultivar releases. Such an effort will sustain the public breeding programs in the long turn.

Mergoum emphasized the need to maintain the public breeding programs, now that all of the attention seems to be on the private programs. He said some of the private breeders are now aggressively trying to obtain the germplasm from the public wheat breeding programs and have indicated they want to take over the seed business. The role of the universities would then be limited to education and training.

?If we want to be competitive, if we want to have a choice between buying a public variety or a private variety, we need to preserve the public breeding programs,? he said.

At NDSU he said they are taking steps to make sure they are still there in the next 10-, 15- 20 years, and continue to dominate the market.

?NDSU varieties make up about 60 percent of the seven million acres normally planted in the state to wheat,? he said.

Instead, Mergoum is advocating a public-private partnership that would protect and preserve the value of the public developed germplasm while allowing the private companies to have access to those cultivars.

In exchange, the public breeding programs would have access to the genetically modified traits that have been developed by some of the private companies, so that when approved, these traits would be available to the public variety growers.

Mergoum also pointed to the research work done on scab resistance to strengthen his argument that public wheat breeding programs are still needed. He noted that the first hint of Fusarium head blight started showing up around 1978 and plant breeders went to work to find cultivars that were resistant to FHB. That was basically a 20-year long program before real benefits started to show up.

?Some of the private companies are now offering scab resistant varieties, but that?s because of the germplasm that they obtained from the public programs,? he said. ?I think on the average, a private breeding program wouldn?t be willing to invest in long-term research that would take 20 years to see any real benefits, but they have GM traits and can do a lot with those GM traits.?

There are benefits to bringing GM traits into wheat varieties, he said. Some of those positive impacts would be lowering the cost of wheat production; increasing the competitiveness relative to now existing GM crops such as corn, soybeans and canola; and the production of GM wheat would be concentrated in Australia and North America.

However, there are many issues that need to be worked out as well, such as the royalty stream for germplasm used by other entities; set up rules that would establish the terms under which germplasm could be exchanged; set up IP (identity preserve) protection; set up standards for the rationalization and integration of research protocols like variety release, protection and gerplasm exchange; and finally, set testing protocols that would evaluate the various protocols for GM wheat varieties.

?At this time, the public breeding programs are ahead of what the private companies are doing, but we can?t compete with the technology they now have,? he said. ?That is why we need to somehow get talking to them and make sure that we move forward in our work.?