World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


GM Weekly Watch

WEEKLY WATCH number 134
from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor

Dear all:

This week brings news of the UK's first GM superweed. In the wake of the deluge of publicity surrounding this event, it's emerged that Bayer has withdrawn all its applications to grow GM oilseed rape (canola) in the EU.

We also have some devastating Indian government research demonstrating Bt cotton's poor pest resistance (ASIA). It seems the findings were known back in 2003 but were kept under wraps, allowing more releases of a crop that continues to harm the livelihoods of poor farmers.

We've always said that inheritance is about more than just genes, and that's being borne out in research that shows toxic insult can be passed down through generations without any alteration of genes (TOXICS AND GENETICS).

And there's lots more interesting stuff, from the reported ban on GMOs coming into Ghana to the extraordinary contamination problems besetting Austalasia, so make sure you check out all the different sections below.

Claire /









New government research, revealed 25 July, reports on the discovery of the first GM superweed in the UK - the result of GM oilseed rape cross-breeding with a common weed, charlock, during the UK's GM farm scale trials.

The revelation raises yet more concerns about the impact of growing GM oilseed rape in the UK. It also comes less than a month after the UK tried to persuade other European countries to lift their own bans on growing GM oilseed rape. The UK government claimed to be acting on scientific grounds but it now seems it was already aware of this study at the time of the votes. The UK's Environment Minister was the only Minister to vote against all of Europe's GM bans.

What has given this news particular impact is that scientists had dismissed this problem as virtually impossible. In a review of the evidence by the European Environment Agency in 2000, it was concluded that "there appears to be general agreement that natural gene flow is not likely to occur between B. napus and S. arvensis." (Brassica napus is oilseed rape, Sinapis arvensis is charlock)

Friends of the Earth's Emily Diamand said: "The Government's trials have already shown that growing GM crops can harm wildlife. Now we're seeing the real possibility of GM superweeds being created, with serious consequences for farmers and the environment. What is disturbing is the way the Government appears to have ignored its own evidence in trying to force GM crops onto countries that have a real cause for concern. The Government must stop acting as cheerleader for GM crops, and start paying attention to its own research, and above all, to the British public."


Britain cannot afford to take the risk of spreading GM genes to wild plants and should ban GM crops that have wild relatives in the countryside, the former UK environment minister Michael Meacher said.

Mr Meacher said French research which showed that one herbicide resistant weed introduced into a crop had multiplied to 103,000 plants in four years, was "frightening". "The safe option is to say simply that the risk of these GM crops is too great and we will not grow them," he said.


Bayer has withdrawn its applications to grow GM oilseed rape in the EU. The move comes as public calls for GM-free zones spreads across Europe and follows a series of research findings which have uncovered environmental damage resulting from the GM crop being grown.


Dr Les Firbank, co-ordinator of the GM farm-scale evaluations (FSEs) claims "there are no environmental consequences" from GM crops interbreeding with wild relatives like charlock and that it is simply a problem for farmers in terms of weed management. But bizarrely, Fairbanks claim is directly contradicted by his own research! The clear conclusion from the FSEs which he oversaw is that different forms of weed management have a critically different impact on wildlife.

In other words, weed management can have major environmental consequences. The herbicide regime used with GM oilseed rape, for instance, was shown to have a significantly more damaging effect on wildlife than that used with the non-GM crop, which was why Bayer was not allowed to proceed with GM rape commercialisation.

This makes it ludicrous to argue that a problem such as herbicide resistant weeds that forces farmers to intensify their herbicide regimes by the addition of yet more toxic herbicides is something that has "no environmental consequences"!


"The likelihood of transfer of the introduced genes from the GM canola to the less closely related brassicaceous weed species Raphanus raphanistrum, Hirschfeldia incana and Sinapis arvensis [charlock] is very low". Elsewhere the risk is described as "negligible".

- The Australian government's Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, in assessing the application for commercial release of Bayer's GM Liberty Link canola (oilseed rape)

"I have no worries about GM technology producing superweeds."

- Sir Robert May, chief government scientist, April 1999

"The concept of a superweed is very interesting. We have all seen The Day of the Triffids and I guess that can cause some alarm but frankly I do not believe it is a problem."

- Dr David Evans, Zeneca research director, June 1998


"Millions of pounds and thousand of hours research from skilled scientists have been wasted trying to establish if GM oilseed rape was safe. Much of this was publicly funded despite the public's rejection of GM crops in the late 1990s. The lesson for politicians from this fiasco is that they need to listen and involve people more in decisions about food and farming. If they did we might end up with a regulatory system and approach to farming that commands public respect and meets their demand for high quality food that is produced in a way to minimise its environmental impact".





Treading on Monsanto's corns!

"We are taking action now. Industrial genetic engineering tries to create irreversible facts. Now is the time. We will stir into action. Germany and Europe will remain GMO-free." The action is taking place near Berlin - lots more info:

Voices of support for the action:

Sven Giegold

Attac, Germany

I support the action because:

"A vast majority of consumers do not want GMOs in agriculture. Politics is propagating it nevertheless. Therefore civil disobedience is now a legitimate method which supports our successful consumer boycott."

Zafrullah Chowdhury

Physicist, Founder of The Peoples' Health Center, Bangladesh

I support the action because:

"The Third World doesn't need genetic technology. What's most important for us is sustainable agriculture, which can cope with local conditions and manages without growth-retarding substances or insecticides. Gentech is only going to produce new crop failures and insecticide poisons."

Vandana Shiva

Prizewinner of the Right Livelihood Award, India

I support the action because:

"Hunger and misery will increase if we allow agro-genetic technology to spread. World food supplies can only be secured through seeds adapted to local conditions."

Jose Bove

Farmer, France

I support the action because:

"GMOs are a problem for the whole of Europe. We can only prevent agricultural gentech by not letting the seeds enter Europe at all."

Percy Schmeiser

Farmer, Canada

I support the action because:

"I've been using my own seeds for years, and now farmers like me are being told we can't do that anymore if our neighbours are growing (genetically modified) crops."

Melaku Worede,

Seeds of Survival,

Prizewinner of the Right Livelihood Award, Ethiopia

I support the action because:

"It is naive and irresponsible to go for genetic technology, as long as hundreds of thousands of human beings are starving in this world because of political chaos, problems of distribution, the privatisation of the right of access to water and through corruption."

Prof. Dr. Michael Succow

Uni Greifswald, Deutschland

I support the action because:

"What the world needs more urgently than ever are healthy soils and healthy plants. This can only be done through environmentally sensitive farming. This is the only way to safeguard employment in agriculture. With the 'miracle cure' of genetic technology we only make the ecological and social problems of our times even worse, resulting in damage to human beings and nature."

Tewolde Berhan Egziabher

Minister of the Environment, Ethiopia

I support the action because:

"Genetic technology is no remedy for the poor countries of this world, because the profit-oriented gentech companies will not be able to do good business there in the long term. The genetic diversity available today is more than sufficient to solve the problems of feeding the poorest.

Badly informed governments and corrupt members of governments everywhere in the world are the main obstacle to an objective discussion of the true problems of world food supplies.

The merciless forces of the free market, which in the wake of globalisation is taking on a cynical, inhuman character, deprive the poorest of the poor of any basis for making a living.

We have to ask the questions of the future: our governments have to give priority to the longterm protection of the earth's atmosphere and to biodiversity, and then we will be able to solve the problems of globalisation: poverty, exodus of employment, energy use, radicalisation and climate change. Time is pressing."





Canada and the US have virtually no special legal or regulatory requirements for the safety of labs that work with GM bacteria and viruses, says an excellent article at

EXCERPTS (slightly edited for flow):

The main confinement and disposal rules are voluntary guidelines. The hundreds of Canadian and US labs that make GM microbes are on the honour system. Regulators in both countries don't even know how many such labs exist or what they are creating. And neither country requires labs to report any but the most serious GM lab accidents.

At the EPA in Denver, Suzanne Wuerthele says lab safety is a big worry for her. "There are no [government] inspections to my knowledge of the facilities that do this, and we don't even know who they are."

A troubling survey of 400 GM labs at universities, private companies, and government institutions that got US grants for research on bioterror found only four percent fully complied with safety guidelines.

Joe Cummins, professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, says, "We have grown very careless. It is as if workers and the public are really insignificant."

Geneskool, sponsored by UBC and Genome B.C., is just one of dozens of places - mostly high schools and colleges - where Canadian teenagers are being encouraged to try their hand at genetic engineering, using E. coli kits.

It all leaves Joe Cummins stunned. He thinks letting teens create drug-resistant bacteria is one of the craziest things he has heard. Cummins is one of Canada's most prominent geneticists. "I think it's spectacularly stupid," he says. "Any way you cut it, these high-school kids will get it [E. coli] on them. That's inescapable among these young kids."

... The lack of government oversight, Cummins says, has allowed GM drug-resistant microbes to escape from labs for many years. And that, he believes, may be a big reason for the rise of drug-resistant diseases around the world in the past 30 years.


The Union of Concerned Scientists' Margaret Mellon explains the group's concerns about the dangers of GM pharming in food crops:




+ GHANA STOPS IMPORTATION OF GM FOODS According to an article in the Ghanaian Chronicle (July 28, 2005), Ghana has taken a strong stance against the importation and cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) foods in Ghana.

The Food and Agriculture minister, Mr. Ernest Debrah said last Friday in Accra that the country would reject, without hesitation, the importation of any Genetically Modified (GM) foods, crops and materials into the country even where there was famine.


Paul Desmarais, director of the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in Zambia, reports: "We have successfully grown organic cotton for two years now at Kasisi. We have good control of insects and there is not resistance built in the system as there is even with Bt cotton. Our yields are double the national yields.

"Farmers using the conventional route are barely ekeing out an existence with the price of cotton dropping and the price of inputs climbing up. We have just had the seed cotton tested for fibre length, micronair, etc. and our cotton did very well on all the scores. Let us pursue the growing of organic cotton. It is possible and it is sustainable."

Meanwhile, Andrew Taynton reports: "There are allegations circulating in South Africa at the moment that where NGO's have taught organic and sustainable methods of farming, government officials come in and tell these farmers they will never make money that way and distribute chemicals and GM seeds."


For an interesting commentary + links on how the US is pushing Africa to accept GM on American terms, see:





Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) officials are trying to work out how a big maize consignment has tested positive for GM seed. The maize - all grown for food in one region of New Zealand - was tested by a food manufacturer.

No GM maize has been approved for commercial crops in New Zealand, and tests before or at the border are supposed to pick up GE seed in maize sent from overseas for planting. But this is about the sixth such incident in the past three years, according to a MAF official.

Farmers are "frustrated" by the news of the contamination, which they fear will endanger export markets. Around 13,500 tonnes of maize may have to be dumped.


The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) have revealed evidence of deliberate GM canola contamination in New South Wales. The Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) funded research undertaken by CSIRO that involved contaminating 140 tonne of non-GM canola with GM canola from a field trial.

"GM canola is meant to be banned because of the risk to our industry but it was deliberately bought into New South Wales and added to our non-GM canola," explained Juliet McFarlane, NCF spokesperson and farmer.

The contaminated seed was handled by Graincorp who sold it to an unnamed farmer somewhere in Australia, even though there is a section in the relevant New South Wales Act that specifically prohibits this.


Here's an extract from a scorching speech by Julie Newman of Australia's Network of Concerned Farmers at an event called 'Meeting of the Minds' which was held recently in Canberra. Read it and you'll see why GM proponents have tried so desperately to silence farmers like Julie.


GM crops are the biggest threat to the agricultural industry we have ever faced and industry leaders have no right to accept GM contamination and industry sabotage on behalf of farmers that can not afford to accept it.

...millions of dollars have been invested by governments in GM technology in the hope that the scientific sector will be self funding. No real benefits have been forthcoming and market risk is rapidly worsening.

No government should sacrifice a viable industry in order to prop up a high risk, failing, fledgling industry and if they do, somebody other than farmers or taxpayers should be liable for the consequences.


In response to the pro-GM statements made by Dr Jim Peacock of CSIRO/Australian Academy of Science, the Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) are asking farmers not to trust scientists that have a vested interest.

"It is rubbish to say that GM crops are going to feed the world when non-GM varieties appear to be yielding more," said Julie Newman of the Network of Concerned Farmers. "The last people farmers should be listening to for direction and advice is the scientists and industry players that have a vested interest in this patented product. We need to listen to our marketers who clearly state the advantage of being GM-free."

The NCF claim Mr Peacock should have revealed the financial ties that scientific sectors such as CSIRO have with companies such as Monsanto.

An article in the journal Australasian Science by a former CSIRO senior executive accused the head of CSIRO of subverting its traditional role of public research in favour of lucrative consulting work for government and the private sector. Research into GM crops, with its promise of intellectual property and revenue streams, is 'in' at the CSIRO, he reported; research into organic farming is 'out'. He described morale among staff as at rock bottom.

+ ASIAN FLOUR MILLS DON'T WANT AUSTRALIAN GM WHEAT Asian flour mills say they are unlikely to buy Australian GM wheat because it would affect their ability to sell to their markets, yet GM contamination of wheat in Australia ia a real possibility because of ongoing GM wheat trials.






Sales of GM soybean seeds, which were legalized earlier this year in Brazil, are very slow, industry sources said. Royalties charged by Monsanto are seen as one of the main reasons.


Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide which is used with Monsanto's herbicide-resistant GM crops. University of California scientists have just reported finding glyphosate-resistant horseweed in California. As the article below notes, "Glyphosate-resistant horseweed was first reported in 2000 in Delaware. It has since been found in ten other states. This is the first confirmation of the resistant weed in California."

It's not just horseweed that's proving a problem: "The scientists believe that another weed, hairy fleabane, may also be evolving glyphosate resistance, a phenomenon that has been confirmed in hairy fleabane in only two other areas worldwide."

More examples of Roundup resistant weeds:


Resistance to the imposition of untested GM technology keeps growing - even within the countries that are the supposed bastions of GM production, like the US and Canada. The Quebec government is to try to convince other Canadian governments that mandatory labelling for GM foods should be the law in Canada.

"The Quebec government considers that it (mandatory labelling) is necessary and the right thing to do," said Quebec agriculture ministry official Claude Gregoire. "Quebec would like to see other governments adopt this position as well. It is what the minister said when he met other ministers."




+ U.S. BRINGS GMOs AND NUKES TO INDIA In a new US-India move to increase scientific cooperation, the US has pledged to provide India with nuclear reactors and materials and technology to deal with crop pests and diseases and food storage problems. That translates as GMOs.

+ INDIA: GOVT STUDY SHOWS GM COTTON FAULTS Indian government scientists have acknowledged flaws in the GM Bt cotton plants under commercial cultivation, endorsing what NGOs have long claimed and contradicting Monsanto's hype.

In a study released 25 July, scientists at the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur said the amount of protein varies across different varieties and, in some plants, decreases to levels inadequate to protect the plants 110 days after sowing.

Their experiments also revealed that production of the protein is lowest in the bollworms' most favoured sites of attack - the plants' ovaries found in the flowers and the thick green peel of the cotton boll from which cotton blooms.

"This study validates our findings and proves that Bt cotton in India was approved without adequate field testing," said Suman Sahai, director of Gene Campaign.

Sahai said India's regulatory agencies should have ascertained whether the plants produce the protein in the right amounts and on the right sites in the plant before approving it for commercial cultivation. "Why weren't rigorous studies such as this one conducted earlier?" she asked.

"We're now asking ourselves the same question," a government entomologist said.

However, the government scientist's statement may be disingenuous, as it has emerged that the shocking findings in the CICR's study have been known about since 2003!

Because the findings have been kept under wraps and apparently not passed on to regulators, a series of fresh releases of Bt cotton in India have been made possible. These approvals, says the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), must now be revoked to protect farmers. CSA fears the release of the delayed findings may be part of a deliberate strategy.


An article for CounterPunch explains how corporations destabilize traditional farming, leaving farmers with only one option: to use its own harmful and expensive products. This tactic has been used in the Philippines and is now being implemented in Iraq.


Throughout southeast Asia, destabilization of traditional farming practices from corporate agribusiness intervention has been rampant. In the late 1980's, for example, I spent time with rice farmers in the Philippines. They told me that they were encouraged to grow a new higher yielding rice plant developed by the International Rice Institute, and its affiliated corporate agribusiness companies. They were excited about growing and potentially exporting more rice. It made no sense to them that they could not set the seed aside for next year's crop, as Filipino farmers have done for hundreds of years. It also made no sense that the only way the crop would be fertile was through use of fertilizers supplied by agribusiness companies. Such chemical use was also an unknown practice for these farmers.

The next year, hundreds of the small rice farmers went out of business because they couldn't afford to purchase the seed or fertilizer. I asked them why they didn't go back to planting their old rice crops. They told me they couldn't because they didn't have the seeds anymore as the seed had always been set aside for the next year's crop. As a result they were dependent on agribusiness for their seeds there was no option. Most of the traditional Filipino rice seeds are now in US seed banks.

... Most of the world has resisted, in some way, the wholesale invasion of GMO crops. No country in their right mind would turn over their food sovereignty to US corporate agribusiness. Not to be defeated, corporate agribusiness has sought loopholes in vulnerable areas in the world. They seek regions where the implementation of their insidious schemes is virtually a given and from which they can force the world to accept their devastating and destabilizing agricultural model. Currently, the US military occupied Iraq is a prime area and the continent of Africa is another.





The US federal government suffers from a "severe disinformation syndrome" in which agency specialists are pressured to alter reports by managers who are promoted for breaking the law, according to congressional testimony delivered by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a consequence, scientific and technical papers, particularly within environmental agencies, are routinely censored, altered or manipulated for political purposes.

In one survey of scientists in a federal agency more than half of all respondents (56%) reported cases where "commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention".

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, said, "On a daily basis, public employees in crisis contact PEER. In our D.C. office alone, we average five 'intakes' per day. A typical intake involves a scientist or other specialist who is asked to shade or distort the truth in order to reach a pre-determined result, such as a favorable recommendation on a project or approval; of commercial release of a new chemical.

"From PEER's perspective, the federal government is suffering from a severe disinformation syndrome. The level of official dissembling from federal environmental and resource agencies has never been worse.

"The cases that PEER sees increasingly involve agencies manipulating scientific or other technical conclusions to fit a preset political agenda. Moreover... employees who try to expose falsehoods often lose their careers while managers who deliberately sanction official falsehoods more often than not are rewarded or promoted and are rarely, if ever, punished."


Conflicts of interest and a broken monitoring system erode the public's trust in science, says Tim Montague of the Environmental Research Foundation in an excellent article.


It is common practice for industry to wage scientific and public relations war against the regulatory agencies whose job is to protect public health. The Wall Street Journal reports that PR firm executives openly admit to hiring university professors to put their names on ghost-written letters to the editor. The letters are written by hacks paid to put a corporate "spin" on the science, and the experts sign their names to lend credence to the spin (and to earn a fat fee).

Another common practice these days is "seeding the scientific literature" with bogus results, to create doubt and confusion. In recent years, corporations have seeded the literature with false findings related to tobacco, lead, mercury, asbestos, vinyl chloride, chromium, nickel, benzene, beryllium and others. They cook the numbers, publish misleading articles in obscure journals, and then cite their own work to create confusion and doubt.

.. In some areas of scientific endeavor, there are almost no independent researchers left because nearly every scientist in the field is funded by corporations with an axe to grind.





New research shows that the environment is more important to health than anyone had imagined. Recent information indicates that toxic effects on health can be inherited by children and grandchildren, even when there are no genetic mutations involved. These inherited changes are caused by subtle chemical influences, and this new field of scientific inquiry is called "epigenetics."

... In other words, the cancer you get today may have been caused by your grandmother's exposure to an industrial poison 50 years ago, even though your grandmother's genes were not changed by the exposure.

- Tim Montague, Rachel's Environment & Health News, June 9 2005


A new book titled Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb, says reviewer Steven Rose, "restores subtlety to evolutionary theory". Rose, who elsewhere has criticised the flawed genetic determinism on which the biotech industry is based, comments, "Genes do not exist in isolation, but as part of a web of interactions extending in time as well as space. Indeed, as more and more is learned about the complexities of these processes, the concept of 'the gene' as a reified [abstract thing being treated as concrete] DNA sequence tends to dissolve..." What's more, Rose thinks Darwin would have agreed.

- Steven Rose, "What Darwin really thought"





Greenpeace was invited by David Dennis, in a letter to Nature, to reconsider its opposition to GM crops in the light of its support for the consensus on climate science.

Doug Parr of Greenpeace replied, again in a letter to Nature: "In the case of climate change, uncertainties over the physics, measurements, modelling and historical data have generally (although sometimes erratically) tended to be resolved. In the case of GM, further investigation of genomes and gene function has led to new insights, such as alternative splicing mechanisms and the regulatory roles played by RNAi and chromatin packing, which question the fundamental understanding of gene regulation and control. This is demonstrated by the hedging on certainties in the UK government's GM science panel review in 2003, which was a far cry from the certainties expressed in the mid-1990s."


Ecologist Denis Couvet of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, contradicts David Dennis' claim in Nature (see above) that "an overwhelming majority of plant geneticists, biochemists and molecular biologists have endorsed the use and safety" of GM crops.

Couvet writes, "As questions about the use and safety of GM crops concern primarily environmental science, statements by biochemists and molecular biologists, who deal with simplified biological systems, at small scales, only add to the problem of misinformation and lead to an increase in concern about GM crops."





The right of consumers to say 'no' to GM food is under attack by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Greenpeace warned. As trade leaders gathered for the General Council meeting at the WTO's headquarters in Geneva, Greenpeace activists, imitating Monsanto, drove a 'WTO steamroller' over a map of Europe made out of non-GM food products. The activists were protesting against the Bush administration for suing the EU because it has restricted GMOs.

Links to resources:


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Rohingya Muslims Massacred: Restrictions On Aid Put 1000s At Risk

Amnesty: The Myanmar authorities’ restrictions on international aid in Rakhine state is putting tens of thousands of lives at risk in a region where mainly Rohingya people are already suffering horrific abuses from a disproportionate military campaign. More>>


Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>


Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>


  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC