GMO Rice Safe Without Oversight, USDA Says

By Missy Ryan


WASHINGTON (Nov. 25) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday formally approved a strain of genetically engineered rice whose discovery in commercial stocks earlier this year triggered a food market dispute with the and Japan.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today announced that after a thorough review of scientific evidence it will deregulate genetically engineered LLRICE601 based on the fact that it is as safe as its traditionally bred counterparts," USDA said in a statement.

Rachel Iadiciccio, a USDA spokesman, said the LLRICE601 rice had been found to be safe for the environment and could now be grown without USDA oversight.

In August, the Food and Drug Administration and USDA announced that testing by Bayer CropScience, a division of Bayer AG, had discovered the genetically modified rice in bins in Arkansas and Missouri.

USDA said then there were no environmental or health concerns with the genetically modified rice and it did not plan to recall or destroy the contaminated commercial product.

The genetically engineered rice has a protein known as LibertyLink, which allows the crop to withstand applications of an herbicide used to kill weeds.

Some of that rice made its way to Europe, where consumers are more suspicious of biotech foods than in the United States. The discovery of the engineered product prompted the European Union and Japan to tighten import rules for U.S. rice.

In order for a product to be sold commercially, the genetically modified crop is supposed to be tested extensively by the manufacturer before USDA reviews its application.

In a statement on its Web site, Bayer CropScience said it does not intend to commercialize the rice.

Iadiciccio stressed that USDA is still investigating the company's release of the LLRICE601 into the commercial supply stream and said the finding on Friday would not preclude prosecution of violations of USDA rules if any took place.

USDA had already deregulated two other strains of LibertyLink rice in 1999. The department also collected public comments on LLRICE601 until October 10.

The United States is expected to produce a rice crop valued at close to $2 billion in 2006, about half of which is expected to be exported. U.S. rice growers are responsible for about 12 percent of world rice trade.

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11/24/06 19:01 ET

USDA approves genetically engineered rice that contaminated U.S. food supply; safety tests skipped

Wednesday, November 29, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser

(NewsTarget) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that it has deregulated a genetically engineered variety of rice that contaminated the U.S. rice supply over the summer. The rice -- a special long-grain variety created by Bayer CropScience called LL601 -- invaded non-genetically modified crops in nearby fields after Bayer abandoned its test plots in 2001. Bayer applied for approval of LL601 with the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shortly after the contamination was reported in August. Bayer is currently facing a class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of farmers in Missouri and Arkansas over the approval of the GM rice, which has contaminated non-GM rice supplies and severely affected rice exports. Because European officials refuse to accept imports of U.S. genetically engineered rice -- dubbed "Frankenfood" -- farmers whose crops have been invaded by LL601 have seen a 10 percent drop in prices since September. Total export losses are estimated at $150 million. The USDA's decision to deem LL601 safe was based on the rice's similarity to previously approved rice varieties. Essentially, the USDA permitted Bayer to skip several of the standard safety tests because LL601 -- which is designed to resist Bayer's Liberty weed killer -- is similar to two types of approved Bayer biotech rice that the company never commercialized because farmers did not want them in their crops. "The protein in the company's herbicide-tolerant rice varieties ... is well known to regulators, who have affirmed the rice poses no human health or environmental concern," said Bayer spokesman Greg Coffey, who confirmed that the company does not plan to sell LL601. However, according to Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, the USDA's rapid approval of LL601 highlights the agency's protection of the biotechnology industry. "USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesn't matter if you're negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we'll bail you out," Mendelson said. "In effect, the USDA is sanctioning an 'approval-by-contamination' policy that can only increase the likelihood of untested genetically engineered crops entering the food supply in the future." Consumer advocate Mike Adams, author of "Grocery Warning," said the approval is "yet another blatant example" of the USDA's willingness to protect the business interests of influential food producers. "Rather than declaring an ecological emergency due to widespread crop contamination by this unnatural strain of rice, the USDA simply rubber-stamped it as safe for everyone, bypassing the safety testing required by law and effectively whitewashing the ecological ramifications," Adams said. Though the rice has been found safe to eat and is found in a number of varieties of GM corn, cotton and canola, the 300 farmers who are suing Bayer say approving LL601 as "safe" does nothing to change Europe's stance on not allowing GM rice imports. "Unless the U.S. export countries change their view and begin to regain a sense of confidence in U.S. rice, the U.S. rice farmers are still hurt and this whole ruling is illusory in its effect," said Adam Levitt, an attorney for roughly 300 of the farmers suing Bayer. "It's not a victory at all, because at the end of the day people are not purchasing U.S. rice and the exports markets are absolutely closed still." Though the USDA's ruling on LL601 means Bayer cannot be held responsible for introducing an illegal variety of GM rice into U.S. crops, the company is still under investigation for allowing the engineered rice to escape its abandoned test plots. USDA spokeswoman Rachel Iadicicco said Bayer might have violated the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulations for handling the genetically altered rice. APHIS was designed to protect ecosystems, natural resources, agribusiness, agricultural exports and consumer health and safety from threats such as non-compliant biotechnology events and invasive species. "The deregulation [of LL601] doesn't preclude any legal action against the company for violation of APHIS regulations," Iadicicco said. "Violators of APHIS regulations can face criminal penalties, civil penalties and remediation costs."


How Aspartame Became
Legal - The Timeline

From Rich Murray

From Norfolk Genetic Information Network (Taken from Welcome to the Spin Machine by Michael Manville )

In 1985 Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle, the chemical company that held the patent to aspartame, the active ingredient in NutraSweet. Monsanto was apparently untroubled by aspartame's clouded past, including a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry, comprised of three independent scientists, which confirmed that it "might induce brain tumors."

The FDA had actually banned aspartame based on this finding, only to have Searle Chairman Donald Rumsfeld (currently the Secretary of Defense) vow to "call in his markers," to get it approved.

On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan's inauguration, Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame in food sweetener, and Reagan's new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hayes Hull, Jr., appointed a 5-person Scientific Commission to review the board of inquiry's decision.

It soon became clear that the panel would uphold the ban by a 3-2 decision, but Hull then installed a sixth member on the commission, and the vote became deadlocked. He then personally broke the tie in aspartame's favor. Hull later left the FDA under allegations of impropriety, served briefly as Provost at New York Medical College, and then took a position with Burston-Marsteller, the chief public relations firm for both Monsanto and GD Searle. Since that time he has never spoken publicly about aspartame.

The Aspartame/NutraSweet Timeline

Aspartame/NutraSweet: The History of the Aspartame Controversy

By James Turner, ESQ. Director of the National Institute of Science, Law, and Public Policy (NISLAPP)

National Institute of Science, Law, and Public Policy 1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 330, Washington, DC 20036 (202) 462-8800 Fax: (202) 265-6564


December 1965-- While working on an ulcer drug, James Schlatter, a chemist at G.D. Searle, accidentally discovers aspartame, a substance that is 180 times sweeter than sugar yet has no calories.

Spring 1967-- Searle begins the safety tests on aspartame that are necessary for applying for FDA approval of food additives.

Fall 1967-- Dr. Harold Waisman, a biochemist at the University of Wisconsin, conducts aspartame safety tests on infant monkeys on behalf of the Searle Company. Of the seven monkeys that were being fed aspartame mixed with milk, one dies and five others have grand mal seizures.

November 1970-- Cyclamate, the reigning low-calorie artificial sweetener -- is pulled off the market after some scientists associate it with cancer. Questions are also raised about safety of saccharin, the only other artificial sweetener on the market, leaving the field wide open for aspartame.

December 18, 1970-- Searle Company executives lay out a "Food and Drug Sweetener Strategy' that they feel will put the FDA into a positive frame of mind about aspartame. An internal policy memo describes psychological tactics the company should use to bring the FDA into a subconscious spirit of participation" with them on aspartame and get FDA regulators into the "habit of saying, "Yes"."

Spring 1971-- Neuroscientist Dr. John Olney (whose pioneering work with monosodium glutamate was responsible for having it removed from baby foods) informs Searle that his studies show that aspartic acid (one of the ingredients of aspartame) caused holes in the brains of infant mice. One of Searle's own researchers confirmed Dr. Olney's findings in a similar study.

February 1973-- After spending tens of millions of dollars conducting safety tests, the G.D. Searle Company applies for FDA approval and submits over 100 studies they claim support aspartame's safety.

March 5, 1973-- One of the first FDA scientists to review the aspartame safety data states that "the information provided (by Searle) is inadequate to permit an evaluation of the potential toxicity of aspartame". She says in her report that in order to be certain that aspartame is safe, further clinical tests are needed.

May 1974-- Attorney, Jim Turner (consumer advocate who was instrumental in getting cyclamate taken off the market) meets with Searle representatives to discuss Dr. Olney's 1971 study which showed that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of infant mice.

July 26, 1974-- The FDA grants aspartame its first approval for restricted use in dry foods.

August 1974-- Jim Turner and Dr. John Olney file the first objections against aspartame's approval.

March 24, 1976-- Turner and Olney's petition triggers an FDA investigation of the laboratory practices of aspartame's manufacturer, G.D. Searle. The investigation finds Searle's testing procedures shoddy, full of inaccuracies and "manipulated" test data. The investigators report they "had never seen anything as bad as Searle's testing."

January 10, 1977-- The FDA formally requests the U.S. Attorney's office to begin grand jury proceedings to investigate whether indictments should be filed against Searle for knowingly misrepresenting findings and "concealing material facts and making false statements" in aspartame safety tests. This is the first time in the FDA's history that they request a criminal investigation of a manufacturer.

January 26, 1977-- While the grand jury probe is underway, Sidley & Austin, the law firm representing Searle, begins job negotiations with the U.S. Attorney in charge of the investigation, Samuel Skinner.

March 8, 1977-- G. D. Searle hires prominent Washington insider Donald Rumsfeld as the new CEO to try to turn the beleaguered company around. A former Member of Congress and Secretary of Defense in the Ford Administration, Rumsfeld brings in several of his Washington cronies as top management.

July 1, 1977-- Samuel Skinner leaves the U.S. Attorney's office and takes a job with Searle's law firm. (see Jan. 26th)

August 1, 1977-- The Bressler Report, compiled by FDA investigators and headed by Jerome Bressler, is released. The report finds that 98 of the 196 animals died during one of Searle's studies and weren't autopsied until later dates, in some cases over one year after death. Many other errors and inconsistencies are noted. For example, a rat was reported alive, then dead, then alive, then dead again; a mass, a uterine polyp, and ovarian neoplasms were found in animals but not reported or diagnosed in Searle's reports.

December 8, 1977-- U.S. Attorney Skinner's withdrawal and resignation stalls the Searle grand jury investigation for so long that the statue of limitations on the aspartame charges runs out. The grand jury investigation is dropped.

June 1, 1979-- The FDA established a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) to rule on safety issues surrounding NutraSweet.

September 30, 1980-- The Public Board of Inquiry concludes NutraSweet should not be approved pending further investigations of brain tumors in animals. The board states it "has not been presented with proof of reasonable certainty that aspartame is safe for use as a food additive."

January 1981-- Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of Searle, states in a sales meeting that he is going to make a big push to get aspartame approved within the year. Rumsfeld says he will use his political pull in Washington, rather than scientific means, to make sure it gets approved.

January 21, 1981-- Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President of the United States. Reagan's transition team, which includes Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of G. D. Searle, hand picks Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. to be the new FDA Commissioner.

March, 1981-- An FDA commissioner's panel is established to review issues raised by the Public Board of Inquiry.

May 19, 1981-- Three of six in-house FDA scientists who were responsible for reviewing the brain tumor issues, Dr. Robert Condon, Dr. Satya Dubey, and Dr. Douglas Park, advise against approval of NutraSweet, stating on the record that the Searle tests are unreliable and not adequate to determine the safety of aspartame.

July 15, 1981-- In one of his first official acts, Dr. Arthur Hayes Jr., the new FDA commissioner, overrules the Public Board of Inquiry, ignores the recommendations of his own internal FDA team and approves NutraSweet for dry products. Hayes says that aspartame has been shown to be safe for its' proposed uses and says few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated close scrutiny.

October 15, 1982-- The FDA announces that Searle has filed a petition that aspartame be approved as a sweetener in carbonated beverages and other liquids.

July 1, 1983-- The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) urges the FDA to delay approval of aspartame for carbonated beverages pending further testing because aspartame is very unstable in liquid form. When liquid aspartame is stored in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it breaks down into DKP and formaldehyde, both of which are known toxins.

July 8, 1983-- The National Soft Drink Association drafts an objection to the final ruling which permits the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages and syrup bases and requests a hearing on the objections. The association says that Searle has not provided responsible certainty that aspartame and its' degradation products are safe for use in soft drinks.

August 8, 1983-- Consumer Attorney, Jim Turner of the Community Nutrition Institute and Dr. Woodrow Monte, Arizona State University's Director of Food Science and Nutritional Laboratories, file suit with the FDA objecting to aspartame approval based on unresolved safety issues.

September, 1983-- FDA Commissioner Hayes resigns under a cloud of controversy about his taking unauthorized rides aboard a General Foods jet. (General foods is a major customer of NutraSweet) Burson-Marsteller, Searle's public relation firm (which also represented several of NutraSweet's major users), immediately hires Hayes as senior scientific consultant.

Fall 1983-- The first carbonated beverages containing aspartame are sold for public consumption.

November 1984-- Center for Disease Control (CDC) "Evaluation of consumer complaints related to aspartame use." (summary by B. Mullarkey)

November 3, 1987-- U.S. hearing, "NutraSweet: Health and Safety Concerns," Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, chairman.

******************** RTM: original documents and long reviews of flaws in aspartame toxicity research 7.31.2 rmforall UPI reporter Gregory Gordon: 96K 3-part expose Oct 1987

"Survey of aspartame studies: correlation of outcome and funding sources," 1998, unpublished: Walton found 166 separate published studies in the peer reviewed medical literature, which had relevance for questions of human safety. The 74 studies funded by industry all (100%) attested to aspartame's safety, whereas of the 92 non-industry funded studies, 84 (91%) identified a problem. Six of the seven non-industry funded studies that were favorable to aspartame safety were from the FDA, which has a public record that shows a strong pro-industry bias. Ralph G. Walton, MD, Prof. of Clinical Psychology, Northeastern Ohio Universities, College of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry, Youngstown, OH 44501, Chairman, The Center for Behavioral Medicine, Northside Medical Center, 500 Gypsy Lane, P.O. Box 240 Youngstown, OH 44501 330-740-3621 ***********************************


'Only 50 years left' for sea fish
By Richard Black

Story from BBC NEWS:

Environment correspondent, BBC News website

There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the
middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a
major scientific study.

Stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of sea fisheries, and the
rate of decline is accelerating.

Writing in the journal Science, the international team of researchers
says fisheries decline is closely tied to a broader loss of marine

But a greater use of protected areas could safeguard existing stocks.

"The way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will
always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone
through the last one," said research leader Boris Worm from Dalhousie
University in Canada.

This century is the last century of wild seafood
Steve Palumbi

"What we're highlighting is there is a finite number of stocks; we
have gone through one-third, and we are going to get through the
rest," he told the BBC News website.

Steve Palumbi from Stanford University in California, one of the
other scientists on the project, added: "Unless we fundamentally
change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working
ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood."
Spanning the seas

This is a vast piece of research, incorporating scientists from many
institutions in Europe and the Americas, and drawing on four
distinctly different kinds of data.

Catch records from the open sea give a picture of declining fish stocks.

In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were in a state of collapse,
defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield.

Bigger vessels, better nets, and new technology for spotting fish are
not bringing the world's fleets bigger returns - in fact, the global
catch fell by 13% between 1994 and 2003.

Historical records from coastal zones in North America, Europe and
Australia also show declining yields, in step with declining species
diversity; these are yields not just of fish, but of other kinds of
seafood too.

Experiments performed in small, relatively contained ecosystems show
that reductions in diversity tend to bring reductions in the size and
robustness of local fish stocks. This implies that loss of
biodiversity is driving the declines in fish stocks seen in the large-
scale studies.

The final part of the jigsaw is data from areas where fishing has
been banned or heavily restricted.

These show that protection brings back biodiversity within the zone,
and restores populations of fish just outside.

"The image I use to explain why biodiversity is so important is that
marine life is a bit like a house of cards," said Dr Worm.

"All parts of it are integral to the structure; if you remove parts,
particularly at the bottom, it's detrimental to everything on top and
threatens the whole structure.

"And we're learning that in the oceans, species are very strongly
linked to each other - probably more so than on land."
Protected interest

What the study does not do is attribute damage to individual
activities such as overfishing, pollution or habitat loss; instead it
paints a picture of the cumulative harm done across the board.

Even so, a key implication of the research is that more of the oceans
should be protected.

But the extent of protection is not the only issue, according to Carl
Gustaf Lundin, head of the global marine programme at IUCN, the World
Conservation Union.

"The benefits of marine protected areas are quite clear in a few
cases; there's no doubt that protecting areas leads to a lot more
fish and larger fish, and less vulnerability," he said.

"But you also have to have good management of marine parks and good
management of fisheries. Clearly, fishing should not wreck the
ecosystem, bottom trawling being a good example of something which
does wreck the ecosystem."

But, he said, the concept of protecting fish stocks by protecting
biodiversity does make sense.

"This is a good compelling case; we should protect biodiversity, and
it does pay off even in simple monetary terms through fisheries yield."

Protecting stocks demands the political will to act on scientific
advice - something which Boris Worm finds lacking in Europe, where
politicians have ignored recommendations to halt the iconic North Sea
cod fishery year after year.

Without a ban, scientists fear the North Sea stocks could follow the
Grand Banks cod of eastern Canada into apparently terminal decline.

"I'm just amazed, it's very irrational," he said.

"You have scientific consensus and nothing moves. It's a sad example;
and what happened in Canada should be such a warning, because now
it's collapsed it's not coming back."

1. Experiments show that reducing the diversity of an ecosystem
lowers the abundance of fish
2. Historical records show extensive loss of biodiversity along
coasts since 1800, with the collapse of about 40% of species. About
one-third of once viable coastal fisheries are now useless
3. Catch records from the open ocean show widespread decline of
fisheries since 1950 with the rate of decline increasing. In 2003,
29% of fisheries were collapsed. Biodiverse regions' stocks fare better
4. Marine reserves and no-catch zones bring an average 23%
improvement in biodiversity and an increase in fish stocks around the
protected area

Published: 2006/11/02 19:01:25 GMT


End Big Oil Aid To Africa

November 22, 2006

By Graham Saul and Debayani Kar

[Graham Saul is the international programs director of
Oil Change International. Debayani Kar is
communications and advocacy coordinator at the Jubilee
USA Network.]

As the United Nations discussions on climate change
drew to a close in Nairobi, Kenya, last week, Secretary
General Kofi Annan faulted policymakers worldwide for a
'frightening lack of leadership' in confronting this
crucial global issue. According to the just-released
Stern Report, climate change is 'the greatest and
widest-ranging market failure ever seen,' and it will
have massive costs for the global economy. Some of the
underlying reasons for this market failure are the
perverse incentives and signals created by subsidies to
the oil industry.

As world leaders continue to search for solutions to
the global problem of climate change, our public funds
continue to flow into the pockets of the oil industry.
Yet, oil is playing a major role in many of the most
urgent problems facing humanity today. Volatile oil
prices are putting serious stress on many of the
world's most impoverished countries and threatening to
deepen the debt crisis. Oil is triggering and
exacerbating conflict around the world and is all too
often associated with human rights abuses and state-
sponsored repression. Pollution associated with the
production, transportation, processing and burning of
oil is also taking a tremendous toll on human health
and is responsible for undermining the livelihoods of
many local communities and the well-being of sensitive
ecosystems. These problems are now joined by the
growing crisis of climate change.

Oil and climate change complicate debt and poverty in
already impoverished countries. Soaring oil prices are
undermining the benefits of limited debt cancellation
in many of the world's most impoverished countries,
particularly those that are oil importers. For example,
the estimated cost of Tanzania's oil imports rose from
$190 million in 2002 to $480 million this year-for the
same amount of oil. In comparison, debt cancellation is
expected to only free up about $140 million for
Tanzania in 2006. Furthermore, this cancellation
doesn't even touch on the debt held by large private
banks in London, Paris and New York. At the same time,
oil companies are raking in record profits, with
ExxonMobil reporting profits of $4.7 million an hour in
July 2006.

Climate change will hurt the poor, too. Christian Aid
in the United Kingdom has estimated an astonishing 182
million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of
diseases attributable to climate change by the end of
the century. Floods, famine, drought and conflict all
resulting from climate change could threaten the
existence of millions more worldwide.

Despite these warnings, the U.S. government, along with
publicly-supported international institutions, continue
to protect the interests of private investors, whether
they are oil companies or Wall Street banks that profit
from the oil industry's activities.

Since 1992, the publicly-backed World Bank has provided
more than $5 billion in subsidies to the oil industry,
while devoting only five percent of its energy budget
to clean, renewable energy sources. The U.S. government
has spent even more money subsidizing Big Oil.
America's misguided policies have fueled global
warming, encouraged oil dependence, led to increased
conflict, and increased poverty and debt. On November
7, Americans voted for an agenda that called for an end
to the support of Big Oil and there is hope that
Congress will act on this promise in the coming months.

In Chad, the World Bank provided critical assistance to
a project led by ExxonMobil that has only exacerbated
conflict and poverty. As oil started flowing, Chad's
authoritarian president increased military spending and
ripped up an agreement with the World Bank that was
supposed to ensure that oil revenues were used to fight
poverty. At first the Bank objected, but it backed down
as soon as the president threatened to cut off the oil
if his terms were not accepted.

In Ecuador, when the government wanted to use oil
revenues to alleviate poverty, the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank withheld promised
new lending in protest, pushing the country to instead
pay its debt to the IMF, World Bank and other
creditors. The country's debt trap thus helps to fuel
the government's drive towards expanding oil production
without consideration of alternatives.

Around the world, our tax dollars have been improperly
used to subsidize Big Oil instead of providing clean
energy for the poor, combating climate change and
ending our destructive oil addiction. It is time for G8
governments and institutions like the World Bank to
stop using development assistance to support Big Oil.

This is why Rainforest Action Network, Jubilee USA
Network, Oil Change International, Bank Information
Center, Friends of the Earth, and Amazon Watch have
come together in a growing coalition working towards
making these crucial links between poverty and the
environment. Go to for ways to
make a difference.

Broader debt cancellation and additional aid money
should go where it's needed-to initiatives that fight
global warming, improve access to energy, and help
countries overcome their dependence on oil. The time
has come to end oil aid and focus instead on promoting
renewables and energy efficiency.