Flotsam & Jetsam
Life on Mars: Courtesy of Planet Earth, Mendocino Mashes Monsanto, As Goes Vermont, So Goes the Nation?, Cows Eat Genetically Modified Maize and Die, and more ...
April 12, 2004

Flotsam & Jetsam

Life on Mars: Courtesy of Planet Earth
The Mars Rover. The Martian Invasion has finally occurred -- in reverse -- with Earth microbes landing on Mars. Credit: NASA
There may be life on Mars, the New Scientist reveals, but it's not the kind we were looking for. "I believe there is life on Mars," Andrew Schuerger of the University of Florida told the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas. "It's unequivocally there, because we sent it."

Of all the space probes sent to Mars, only the two Viking craft in 1976 were adequately heat-sterilized, Schuerger claims. All missions since (including NASA's celebrated twin rovers and Europe's Beagle 2) most likely carried Earth microbes as celestial stowaways. Shuerger believes there is a good chance some made it to Mars and might be living there.

Evidence suggests that briny, acidic water may exist in Martian soil so Earth organisms might just find their way to a moist environment where they could grow. "They are probably not going to survive in 200 Kelvin conditions and in sulfuric acid," says Jeff Kargel of the US Geological Survey. But, he pauses to add, "Maybe they could. And maybe we've just done a really terrible thing."

Mendocino Mashes Monsanto. Marin Set to Battle GMOs
California grows more than 350 different crops and, with the sole exception of some cotton grown in the Central Valley, the state remains one of the world's largest "genetic-engineering-free zones." Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and their biotech brethren would like to change that. Genetically engineered (GE) cotton is their "root in the door." Next up: GE grapevines and GE rice.

So imagine Monsanto's chagrin, when the March elections saw Mendocino County's upstart Measure H voted in as the law of the land. Measure H bans the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms." Despite an unprecedented spending binge by Monsanto and other genome-tweaking heavy-hitters, the measure romped to a decisive win, making Mendocino the first county in the US to erect legal roadblocks to GE crops and animals.

It wasn't a sure thing. First, the California Plant Health Association (read: Dow AgroSciences and a swarm of pesticide and chemical fertilizer companies) tried to halt the printing of the Measure H ballot arguments.

When that failed, members of CropLife America, an agri-biz lobby, carpet-bombed Mendocino with a $600,000-plus onslaught of radio, print and TV ads maligning the initiative as "badly written," "too costly," and "unenforceable."

CropLife argued that a GE ban would put local farmers at a global disadvantage, but H-backers countered that the worldwide revolt against "Frankenfood" would actually make Mendocino's organic crops more attractive to consumers.

Finally, the desperate pro-GMO crowd pulled a flip-flop and argued that Measure H would be "enforceable" and would unleashed heavily armed seed-troopers into everyone's backyards. (This scare tactic wasn't targeting peoples' potted plants: It was aimed at Mendocino's planted pot. In a county where marijuana is a billion-dollar industry, this was seen as a real poison-pill for Measure H.) But the scare tactic failed.

"We beat the biotech bullies," Measure H's Laura Hamburg hollered. "We're sending Monsanto and the rest of the biotech corporate club packing." H-backer Doug Mosel called the vote a "great day for local democracy" that clearly revealed "No amount of money can replace the love and commitment of people who care passionately about the place where they live."

It has not been a good year for Monsanto. On February 27, governments in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America voted for stricter controls on the trade of GMOs (over the strenuous objections of the Bush White House).

Nine other California counties are now contemplating similar moves. On April 5, a group of Marin County activists began work on a petition campaign to raise 12,000 by June 16 to qualify a "GMO-free Marin" initiative on the November ballot. The measure is backed by Fairfax Mayor Frank Egger, Fairfax council member Larry Bragman, Good Earth Natural Foods president Mark Squire, Straus Creamery head Albert Straus and Fresh Run Farms owner-operator Peter Martinelli.

Meanwhile, on March 29, the California Rice Commission granted approval for the planting and milling of GE rice spliced with synthetic human genes. The ruling would permit the planting of a strain of rice genetically engineered by Ventria Biosciences to produce a drug-laded food stock for infant formula and poultry feed. The Franken-rice would be grown and sold by drug companies as the world's first commercial "pharmaceutical food crop." Californians have organized to stop this plan.

What You Can Do: For more information on the campaign, go to: http://www.thecampaign.org/california.php
To contact California Agriculture Secretary A. G. Kawamura, call the CDFA at (916) 654-0433 or contact Kuwamura by email at secretary@cdfa.ca.gov.

As Goes Vermont, So Goes the Nation?
On March 10, the Vermont Senate unanimously passed the Farmer Protection Act to indemnify any farmers whose crops become contaminated by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Existing patent laws allow corporations to sue farmers whose crops illegally incorporate patented GM pollen that drifts across farmyard fences. If these GMO-protection laws were applied to civil law, they would allows rapists to sue their victim for child support. Applied to the shipping industry, they would empower a company that spills oil on a beachfront could sue the besmirched municipalities for theft!

"Vermont is showing that a little state can make a big statement," said Doyle Canning, a campaigner with GE-Free Vermont. Canning expressed a common fear among organic gardeners that multinationals actually have a vested interest in causing genetic pollution since they can use "their patented GMOs as a tool to contaminate and control farmers." If enough GE pollen is "accidentally" released into the environment, eventually nothing could be called organic.

The Vermont statute is uniquely threatening to the Frankenfood industry because it specifies that GMOs are "different" from natural seeds, crops and organisms. The bio-food industry likes to promote the idea that its products are "no different from natural foods."

Save Organic Food Campaign www.saveorganicfood.org Genetic Engineering Action Network www.geaction.org GE Free Vermont Campaign www.gefreevt.org.

Cows Eat Genetically Modified Maize and Die
The Institute of Science in Society (I-SIS)

UNITED KINGDOM -- Could this be the "Three Mile Island" or the "thalidomide" of genetically modified (GM) food technology: the clinching evidence that there is something seriously wrong with most if not all GM food and feed? Twelve dairy cows died in Hesse, Germany after being fed Syngenta's Bt176 GM maize and other cows had to be slaughtered due to mysterious illnesses. Protestors in front of the Robert Koch Institute suspect a cover-up.

There has been no coverage in the mainstream media; not even after ISIS circulated a detailed report, showing how Bt176 has the worst of features common to practically all commercially approved GM crops. Not only is Bt176 unstable (like all GM varieties analyzed so far), it is also non-uniform, so that different samples of the variety gave different results. Either of those features would make the GM crops illegal under European law.

The dead cows in Hesse are not an isolated case. In 1999, Pusztai and colleagues reported that a GM potato adversely affected every organ system of young rats; in particular, it made their stomach lining twice as thick. Scientists in Egypt found similar effects in mice fed a Bt potato. Several years earlier, the US Food and Drug Administration found that rats fed a GM tomato that contained an antisense gene to delay ripening, developed holes in their stomach.

Add to that the report from Aventis (now Bayer) which showed that glufosinate-tolerant T25 GM maize (about to be approved for growing by the Blair government) killed twice as many broiler chickens compared to non-GM maize. There also is a host of anecdotal evidence that livestock, wildlife and lab animals avoid GM feed when given the choice and, when forced to eat it, either failed to thrive or died.

The US Department of Agriculture's own data found that: GM crops increased pesticide and herbicide use by more than 50 million pounds between 1996 and 2003; Roundup Ready herbicide was linked to sudden death of GM soya and fusarium head blight in wheat; and regulatory lapses have allowed synthetic, altered toxins of both known and unknown toxicities to enter our ecosystems and food web.

There needs to be a public enquiry, not only into the safety of GM food and feed, but also on why this alarming evidence has been systematically misrepresented, suppressed, ignored and denied.

For more information, contact: www.i-sis.org.uk

World's Second-largest Rainforest Faces Destruction
CONGO (March 18, 2004) -- The World Bank and United Nations are seeking to increase logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo's priceless ancient rainforests by 60 times. They are doing so without a government in place and against local opposition. Please take one minute to protest turning Congo's rainforest wilderness into diminished tree farms. Similar protests in Papua New Guinea helped reduce industrial logging of primary rainforests by 80 percent. If industrial logging becomes established in the Congo to the degree it has elsewhere, there is little hope that Congolese rainforests -- and their ecosystems, species and peoples -- will be able to survive. Please take action by going to the following link: http://forests.org/action/africa

For more information, see:

  • Forest Conservation Portal http://forests.org
  • Eco-Portal www.EnvironmentalSustainability.info
  • Climate Change Portal www.ClimateArk.org
  • Water Conservation Portal www.WaterConserve.info

    FAO Fears 'Genetic Erosion' of Earth's Animals
    On March 31, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that the loss of the world's domestic animal breeds is continuing at such an alarming rate that 1350 of the around 6300 breeds registered by FAO on its World Watch List in 2000, are threatened by extinction or are already extinct.. The trend of animal genetic erosion was first outlined in the FAO's World Watch List in 2000.

    A preliminary assessment of data from more than 80 country reports shows that the number of breeds facing extinction due to "genetic erosion” is increasing. FAO expects more than 140 country reports to be submitted by June 2004. Final results will be published in FAO's first State of the World Report on Animal Genetic Resources, to be issued in 2006.

    Around 130 national coordinators on animal genetic resources met in Rome (March 31-April 2) to discuss national and regional action plans and to debate a global strategy for the better management of farm animal genetic resources.

    "Genetic diversity is an insurance against future threats such as famine, drought and epidemics," said Irene Hoffmann, Chief of the Animal Production Service. "The existing animal gene pool may contain valuable but unknown resources that could be very useful for future food security and agricultural development. Maintaining animal genetic diversity allows farmers to select stocks or develop new breeds in response to environmental change, diseases and changing consumer demands," she said.

    Ninety percent of the human food supply is dependent on just 14 out of the about 30 domesticated mammalian and bird species. "Yet, the value of the vast majority of animal genetic resources is poorly understood. Agriculture has concentrated in the past only on a very small number of breeds worldwide. Neglecting the utilization and conservation of this biological treasure has led to substantive animal genetic erosion. The development and conservation of valuable breeds must be improved," Hoffmann said. "Domestic animal diversity is unique and cannot be replaced. ”Loss of diversity is forever."

    Threats to genetic diversity include wars, pests and diseases, global warming, urbanization, intensification of agriculture and global marketing of exotic breeding material. But by far the greatest cause of genetic erosion is failure to appreciate the value of locally adapted breeds. In many countries, farmers rely on a very limited number of modern breeds that are most suited for intensive agriculture systems.

    "Many developing countries still consider breeds from industrialized countries to be more productive, although they have difficulties in coping with the often harsh environment," Hoffmann said.

    FAO favors genetic improvement of local breeds, including the utilization and sustainable intensification of the local gene pool. "Developing animal genetic resources on-farm in their production environment is the most effective approach to maintain genetic diversity," Hoffmann said.

    In Latin America, Zebu and Criollo cattle produce more milk fat than European breeds, but they continue to be crossbred with imported breeds. Some Criollo breeds are now threatened by extinction. In Brazil, only 12 of 32 native pig breeds are left, and they are all under threat.

    In Africa, the Kuri cattle concentrated around Lake Chad are threatened by the shrinking size of the once-massive lake. Desertification pushes nomad breeders towards the banks of the lake in search of new pastures. Meanwhile, contact with Arab and M'Bororo zebu breeds has lead to uncontrolled crossbreeding.

    For more information: www.fao.org/english/newsroom

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