FARMERS SUE SYNGENTA OVER GMO CONTAMINATION AND LOSS OF EXPORTS
Syngenta Corp., one of the largest biotech and chemical companies, is facing multiple court challenges over its genetically engineered MIR 162 corn, including a class action suit from farmers.
Syngenta began selling this GMO corn seed (brand name Viptera) to U.S. farmers in 2011. Prior to releasing the corn for sale within the U.S., Syngenta submitted their GMO corn proposal to China for approval. But China refused to approve it. Despite this rejection, Syngenta allegedly told U.S. farmers that approval by the Chinese government was imminent.
In 2013, Chinese regulators rejected and turned away tons of U.S. corn shipments because of contamination with the unapproved Viptera GMO corn. According to the farmers’ lawsuit against Syngenta: “MIR162 corn was only planted on about 3 percent of U.S. acres for the last two seasons; however, defendants did not take steps to ensure that other U.S. corn would not be contaminated with MIR162 . . . [because of] Syngenta’s decision to continue marketing MIR162 to a small minority of U.S. corn farmers, the vast majority of U.S. corn has been effectively blocked from what was previously the third largest export market for U.S. corn….”
The lawsuit alleges Syngenta encouraged farmers to plant MIR 162 seeds side-by-side with other corn varieties, increasing the amount of MIR 162 that would appear in the U.S. corn supply because of the inevitable cross-pollination and commingling of crops. This put exports to countries that had not approved the trait, such as China, at risk—something Syngenta could have and should have predicted.
Over twenty thousand corn farmers have already joined the lawsuit according to the class action’s website. Because China’s rejection of the corn shipments affected the price of all corn by creating domestic surpluses, farmers who raised corn in 2013/2014—whether or not it was GMO—may be able to join. For more information go to iowacornlawsuit.com.
Syngenta is also facing lawsuits from Cargill and Trans Coastal Supply Company, which exports feed for livestock, for over one hundred thirty million dollars in alleged losses.
Note: China approved the MIR162 corn for import in early December of this year. But the approval is not expected to affect the lawsuits, since they are based on the events of 2013 and 2014.
GOOD NEWS: EPA REVOKES APPROVAL OF TOXIC HERBICIDE COMBINATION
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it is revoking the registration of “Enlist Duo,” a toxic pesticide developed for use with genetically engineered “Agent Orange” crops.
The agency approved this combination of glyphosate and 2, 4-D (one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange) just over a year ago. Dow Chemical, which developed the GMO crops and the herbicide combination, claimed in its application to EPA that the Enlist Duo was no more toxic than applying glyphosate and 2,4-D separately (which would be bad enough).
After the EPA’s approval was challenged in court, however, the EPA finally took note of Dow’s patent application for Enlist. When applying for a patent, an inventor needs to show that something is novel and useful. And Dow’s patent application for Enlist Duo claims that this mixture of chemicals does offer farmers something new: “synergistic herbicidal weed control.”
EPA asked Dow to explain these synergistic effects. On November 9, the company responded with what the EPA calls “extensive information.” Neither Dow nor the EPA has disclosed any details, but the EPA, after taking a look at the new information, decided to ask the court for a chance to reverse its approval of Enlist Duo until it had fully evaluated the new information.
Why were Enlist and the GMO crops that it is supposed to be used with developed in the first place? Because the biotech companies ignored the basic principles of science when they developed the first generation of genetically engineered herbicide-resistant crops, called “Roundup Ready.” The Roundup Ready crops allowed farmers to spray glyphosate on the fields during the growing season and kill the weeds, while leaving crops unharmed. Contrary to the principles of evolution and ecology, the biotech companies arrogantly assumed that nature could not accomplish what they had done in a lab, and that weeds would not become resistant to glyphosate even if it was repeatedly sprayed on a widespread basis year after year. But we now face an epidemic of “superweeds” that can withstand repeated glyphosate applications.
The logical response would be to recognize the fact that herbicide-resistant crops are not a solution, and to work on better ways to address weed control. But that doesn’t make as much money as patented seeds and herbicide cocktails. So Dow created Enlist crops, designed to resist both glyphosate and 2,4-D working synergistically. Again, basic science tells us that the new GMO crops will simply cause the same destructive cycle of increasing herbicide-resistant weeds. Although 2,4-D is already used on some crops, the approval of the Enlist Duo would have increased its use dramatically. Corn and soybeans—the crops engineered to be used with Enlist—are the nation’s largest crops, and many non-GMO farmers have been scared that the widespread use of the 2,4-D mixture would destroy their crops.
There are some caveats, unfortunately. Some farmers are already in possession of Enlist, and it’s unclear whether or not they will be able to use it. And, most worryingly, EPA has left the door open to re-approving Enlist in the future with increased requirements for buffer zones or other restrictions on its use.
Even with those caveats, the decision by EPA to withdraw the illegally approved Enlist Duo crops is a significant victory for our farmers and the future of our food.
BAD NEWS: FDA APPROVES GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SALMON
Now for the bad news: despite insufficient testing and the vocal opposition of hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens, the FDA approved the GMO AquaBounty salmon just before Thanksgiving.
AquaBounty created this creature by inserting genes from one species of salmon and an eel-like fish called an ocean pout into the DNA of an Atlantic salmon. The goal was to produce a salmon that grows faster, to make farming the fish more efficient from a narrow cost viewpoint.
There are many reasons why approving GMO salmon is a terrible idea:
• It’s been genetically engineered to produce growth hormones year-round, but there’s been no real testing about what these increased levels of hormones will mean for the people consuming them.
• The FDA used the fiction that the genetically engineered salmon was actually a “drug,” so that public participation in the approval process was severely limited. This is a problem not only for these salmon, but because it sets a precedent for the GMO animals that are likely to be proposed soon, including a GMO pig.
• The FDA’s lax approval process included reviewing an AquaBounty study that only examined six salmon—which nonetheless showed a 20-50 percent increased allergenic potency.
• GMO salmon pose a threat to wild fish populations. Academic scientists found that GMO salmon readily breed with a different species of fish. And since they grow so fast, the non-GMO wild fish could easily be outcompeted and become extinct.
• Canadian government scientists also found that AquaBounty’s salmon are more susceptible to disease-causing bacteria, which means that they will most likely be fed even more antibiotics than typical farmed fish, threatening the health of those who eat them and the continued efficacy of these antibiotics to treat human disease.
As with GMO plants, the FDA is not requiring labeling for GMO salmon. However, there remains some hope. In response to consumer pressure, over sixty retail chains—including Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Target, and Whole Foods—have stated that they will not sell the GMO salmon.
ACTIVISM NEWS: INDUSTRY TRIES TO AVOID LABELING USING HIGH TECH BAR CODES
As the momentum for mandatory labeling of GMOs continues to grow—and as the deadline for the Vermont labeling law to go into effect draws near—biotech and major food manufacturers are becoming more desperate for a way to stop it. This summer, they were able to pass a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to overturn state labeling laws and limit all GMO labeling to voluntary only. But the bill has stalled in the Senate because of the widespread grassroots opposition.
So what do you do if you’re a huge corporation whose profits are threatened and your usual lobbying tactics aren’t winning because the politicians are scared of the public backlash? You come up with a fake solution that gives your political allies cover with the public so they can give you what you want.
In this case, it’s QR codes. What are QR codes? They’re the square-shaped bar codes on some products that can be scanned with a smart phone, and an app then takes the buyer to the company’s website.
But the use of a bar code or QR code is not a valid substitute for mandatory labels on food packages. Over a third of all Americans don’t own smartphones and could not read such codes. And most of those who own smartphones are not familiar with QR code and wouldn’t know that the information was available.
Moreover, QR codes are extremely burdensome for consumers. With on-package labeling, you can quickly find the information you need on the package—simple, fast, and practical. Under the industry’s proposal, the shopper needs to pull out his or her smartphone (while still holding the package of food), open up an app, wait for the camera to focus on the bar code, wait for a webpage to load, and then search the website for the relevant information.
QR codes do not provide any real cost savings, since food manufacturers will still have to track which products have GMO ingredients. The manufacturers’ main argument against labeling is that it is supposedly too costly to segregate and track ingredients based on whether or not they are GMO—but that cost is no different, regardless of whether the information is then provided on an in-store physical label or through a QR code.
So why do it? Because the biotech and manufacturing companies know that most people won’t realize the information is available in the QR code, much less go to the trouble of downloading the app, scanning the code and wading through their websites to find the information on GMOs. They will be able to claim that they have met the public’s demands for information about GMOs, while still effectively perpetuating market fraud on unsuspecting consumers.
At the time this article goes to print, there are reports that the QR approach is dead in the Senate for this year. We can’t be certain until Congress is recessed, however, and even then the companies will almost certainly come back early in 2016 with this or another end run around labeling. But if we can hold off federal government action until the Vermont labeling bill goes into effect in July 2016, the dynamics of the fight could change dramatically.
Please watch for action alerts and take the time to make the calls—your voice truly can make a difference.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2015