Category Archives: Biotech/GMOs

We Never Voted for Corporate Rule

David Korten writes for YES! Magazine:

Corporate-Rule-Korten.gifLast week, Bayer, a transnational drug and pesticide company, secured funding for its $66 billion offer to acquire Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of agricultural seeds. This follows the announced $130 billion merger of chemical giants Dow and DuPont, and ChemChina’s proposed $43 billion purchase of the seed and pesticide firm Syngenta.

Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Monsanto, and Syngenta are five of the world’s six biggest pesticide and seed corporations. There are claims, which I find credible, that the “Big 6” and their products bear major responsibility for pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, and are implicated in impoverishment of small farmers, collapse of honeybee colonies, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity and soil fertility—all serious attacks on the common good. And similar consolidation continues in most every sector of the economy.

As individual corporations grow in size, global reach, and political power, we see a corresponding shift in the primary function of national governments—from serving the interests of their citizens to assuring the security of corporate property and profits. They apply police and military powers to this end, subsidize corporate operations, and facilitate corporate tax evasion. They let corporations off the hook with slap-on-the-wrist fines for criminal actions. Rarely, if ever, do they punish top executives.

We the People never voted to yield our sovereignty to transnational corporations. Nor was the corporate takeover a response to public need.

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Is the Bayer-Monsanto Merger Too Big To Succeed?

David Francis writes for Foreign Policy:

Image resultIt took $66 billion — the largest all-cash transaction in history – for German biotech giant Bayer to win control over Monsanto, the global seed market leader. The takeover creates a very unique — and to some, very unsettling — kind of corporate beast, one tasked with feeding billions as temperatures rise and farmlands shrink.

If the merger goes through — and that’s a very big if, given that both EU and American regulators are likely to carefully scrutinize the deal — the new firm would corner more than a quarter of the world market for seeds and pesticides. In the United States, it would control some 58 percent of cottonseed sales. According to Vox, the new company would be the largest agribusiness in the world, selling 29 percent of the world’s seeds and 24 percent of its pesticides.

That puts one firm in a pole position to influence, and potentially control, how the world feeds itself. Regulators are likely to investigate whether the merged company will be too big and able to squeeze farmers and shoppers at the price register. And it comes as the rest of the agribusiness industry is also consolidating, in part to counteract slumping commodity prices due to the economic slowdown in China, which trickles down and forces farmers to spend less on supplies.

The specter of greater market power for firms that make the seeds that many poor farmers need to buy each spring before planting is sparking panic in the developing world.

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Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year

Lydia Mulvany reports for Bloomberg:

Image result for monsanto bayer historyTwo giants of the farming and chemical industries agreed to merge Wednesday in a $66 billion deal: the U.S.’s Monsanto and Germany’s Bayer, the original maker of aspirin. It’s the year’s biggest deal and will create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals, with $26 billion in combined annual revenue from agriculture. If the merger goes through, it will combine two companies with a long and storied history that shaped what we eat, the drugs we take and how we grow our food.

Bayer: Then & Now

Two friends making dyes from coal-tar started Bayer in 1863, and it developed into a chemical and drug company famous for introducing heroin as a cough remedy in 1896, then aspirin in 1899. The company was a Nazi contractor during World War II and used forced labor. Today, the firm based in Leverkusen, Germany, makes drugs and has a crop science unit, which makes weed and bug killers. Its goal is to dominate the chemical and drug markets for people, plants and animals.

Monsanto: Then & Now

Monsanto, founded in 1901, originally made food additives like saccharin before expanding into industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products. It’s famous for making some controversial and highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, now banned and commonly known as PCBs, and the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. It commercialized Roundup herbicide in the 1970s and began developing genetically modified corn and soybean seeds in the 1980s. In 2000, a new Monsanto emerged from a series of corporate mergers.

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Bayer Bids $65b for Monsanto, One of the Most Hated Companies in the World

Angelo Young writes for Salon:

There are many companies whose very names have become synonymous with the evils of their industries, if not blatant examples of general corporate turpitude: Halliburton (Iraq war profiteering), Goldman Sachs (“The Vampire Squid“) and McDonald’s (a super-sized contributor to the obesity epidemic) to name but a few.

Naturally, the bioengineering sector has its own Voldemort-like villain: Monsanto Co. If liberal HBO talk-show host Bill Maher, Occupy Monsanto activists and monoculture opponents are to be believed, the St. Louis-based agricultural giant is poisoning the planet with mutant crops and herbicides and threatening the world’s food safety and security.

But if German pharmaceuticals and chemicals maker Bayer AG is to be believed, Monsanto is a moneymaking prize like no other. On Tuesday, Bayer came one step closer to becoming the new bad boy of GM crops, upping its bid to acquire Monsanto to more than $65 billion. In response, Monsanto has agreed to allow Bayer to review its books as part of a due-diligence check, a signal that the companies are closing in on on a friendly (rather than hostile) acquisition.

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The Theranos scandal should be a wake-up call, but it probably won’t be

Rebecca Robins reports for STAT:

Not even the holiday slowdown could bring a reprieve for the beleaguered blood-testing company Theranos.

This week brought the latest installment of the Wall Street Journal’s ongoing investigation into the company, this time detailing accusations from two former employees that Theranos tampered with its data and cherry-picked its results. An opportunistic law firm then piggybacked on the newspaper’s reporting, announcing Tuesday that it was investigating whether the company made claims to investors that violate securities laws.

It’s the latest in a relentless parade of damaging news for the Silicon Valley upstart, which was valued last year at $9 billion, the most of any venture-backed company working in health care today. Its charismatic founder, 31-year-old Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes, has promised to provide quick, accurate medical test results from just a few drops of blood pricked from a finger.

Not many new companies have risen as high or fallen as far as Theranos. But it’s hardly the only firm that’s raised big bucks before proving it had the technology to back up the hype — and it’s unlikely to be the last. “I bet that it’s happening right now,” said Dr. John Ioannidis, a Stanford professor who studies scientific robustness.

STAT asked scientists who have been closely watching the Theranos scandal to predict its fallout. They expressed hope that it might be a wake-up call for the biotech industry to prioritize science over speculation — but said that the existing structures and incentives make it likely that plenty more companies like Theranos will thrive.

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The DuPont and Dow Chemical Merger: A Bad Deal for People and the Planet

Sarah Lazare writes for Common Dreams:

Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm after two of the oldest and largest corporations in the United States—DuPont and Dow Chemical—announced Friday plans to merge into a $130 billion giant, thereby establishing the world’s biggest seed and pesticide conglomerate.

The new behemoth, named DowDuPont, would then be split into “three independent, publicly traded companies through tax-free spin-offs,” according to a joint corporate statement marking one of the the largest deals of 2015.

These companies would focus on agriculture, material science, and “technology and innovation-driven Specialty Products company,” the statement continues. Together, they would form the second-largest chemical company world-wide.

The merger, if it goes through, is expected to slash numerous jobs.

And it would expand the influence of two Big Ag players, with the combined venture retaining control over “17 percent of global pesticide sales and about 40 percent of America’s corn-seed and soybean markets,” according to the calculations of Washington Post analysts.

Rights groups warn that this large share would be very bad for people and the planet—and called on the Department of Justice to block the merger.

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Protests as debate over GM crops and pesticides heats up

Monsanto earnings fall 34% after a year of global protests

The Associated Press reports:

Monsanto said Wednesday its earnings fell 34% in its first fiscal quarter, as South American farmers cut back on planting corn, reducing demand for the company’s biotech-enhanced seeds.

US farmers harvested record crops of soybeans and corn last year, sending prices on those food staples to their lowest levels in years. That has resulted in farmers in South America and elsewhere reducing the number of acres they dedicate to corn. Monsanto said its business was also affected by reduced cotton planting in Australia.

The agriculture products company’s revenue fell more than 8% to $2.87bn in the period, on lower sales of corn seeds and herbicide. Analysts expected $2.96bn, according to Zacks.’

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Ag-tech: High-tech farming poised to change the way the world eats

Heather Somerville reports for the Contra Costa Times:

‘Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming — the world’s oldest industry — with an audacious and ambitious agenda: to make sure there is enough food for the 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2100, do it without destroying the planet and make a pretty penny along the way.

Silicon Valley is pushing its way into every stage of the food-growing process, from tech tycoons buying up farmland to startups selling robots that work the fields to hackathons dedicated to building the next farming app.

“The food sector is wasteful and inefficient,” said Ali Partovi, a Bay Area investor with large stakes in sustainable agriculture startups. “Silicon Valley has a hubris that says, ‘That’s stupid. Let’s change it.”‘

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The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, speaking to Ukrainian and other business leaders at the National Press Club in Washington on Dec. 13, 2013, at a meeting sponsored by Chevron.‘A senior U.S. diplomat told me recently that if Russia were to occupy all of Ukraine and even neighboring Belarus that there would be zero impact on U.S. national interests. The diplomat wasn’t advocating that, of course, but was noting the curious reality that Official Washington’s current war hysteria over Ukraine doesn’t connect to genuine security concerns.

So why has so much of the Washington Establishment – from prominent government officials to all the major media pundits – devoted so much time this past year to pounding their chests over the need to confront Russia regarding Ukraine? Who is benefiting from this eminently avoidable – yet extremely dangerous – crisis? What’s driving the madness?’

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Brazil: GMO ‘Bt corn’ no longer resists pest attack

From The Ecologist:

‘GMO corn varieties that express insecticidal Bt toxins are failing in the field, with reports of infestations of the fall armyworm on Bt corn in Brazil and the USA. Now the EU is poised to approve one of the failing varieties for use on European farms.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region (Aprosoja-MT) has complained that its members’ genetically modified ‘Bt corn’ crops are no longer resistant to insect pests. That’s corn which has been genetically modified to produce an insecticidal toxin that repels or kills pests – principally Spodoptera frugiperda, also known as fall armyworm, corn leafworm or southern grassworm.

The Bt toxin is meant to provide protection to the crop without needing to be sprayed with insecticide. But reports from farmers allege that the Bt corn is actually less resistant to attack by Spodoptera caterpillars than non-GMO varieties. Now farmers have been forced to apply insecticides to their crops, racking up additional environmental and financial costs – after having already paid a premium price for the GM corn seeds.’

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The Corporate Takeover of ‘All Natural’ Food

Clarissa A. León writes for Alternet:

‘Walk through your local grocery store these days and you’ll see the words “all natural” emblazoned on a variety of food packages.  The label is lucrative, for sure, but in discussing the natural label few have remarked on what’s really at stake — the natural ingredients and the companies themselves.

If you take a look at some of the favorite organic and natural food brands, you’ll see they’re owned by some of the largest conventional companies in the world. Coca-Cola owns Odwalla and Honest Tea. PepsiCo. owns Naked Juice. General Mills owns Lara Bar. Natural and organic food acquisitions aside, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and General Mills all opposed California’s GMO Proposition 37 that would require GMO food labeling. Today, some of those companies touting an all-natural list of grains and sugars can be seen changing the ingredients in their natural food products as the natural foods’ distribution channels are pushed to larger and larger markets.’

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Are bioethicists tools of policy technocrats?

Michael Cook writes for BioEdge:

‘Although bioethicists are believed to provide fearless independent advice, challenging policy-makers to make the “right” decisions, a Swiss expert in bureaucracies contends that  this is often not the case. Writing in the journal Governance, Annabelle Littoz-Monnet, of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in Geneva, contends that bureaucrats use ethical experts to get their own way when they have to deal with controversies like GM foods or embryonic stem cell research.’

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Study: Organic Food Has More Antioxidants, Less Pesticide Residue

Dominique Mosbergen reports for The Huffington Post:

Organic food really is better for your health than its conventional counterparts. At least, that’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at Newcastle University and published this week. But not everyone is convinced. Specifically, the researchers said that organic fruits, vegetables and cereals contain significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown crops. They added that organic produce and cereals were found to have lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides.

For the study — said to be the largest of its kind — the researchers analyzed more than 340 international, peer-reviewed studies that looked at compositional differences between organic and conventional crops. According to the paper, researchers found that organically grown produce and cereals have between 19 and 69 percent higher concentrations of certain antioxidant compounds than conventionally grown crops.’

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GMO 2.0: genetically modified foods with added health benefits

Marc Gunther writes for The Guardian:

‘It’s easy to understand why many Americans are unenthusiastic about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although supermarket aisles are lined with foods made from biotech crops – most cereals, frozen foods, canned soups, vegetable oils, soft drinks, baby formula, tofu and even milk contain GMOs – consumers have yet to see tangible benefits from GMOs. The biotech industry has been slow to develop food that is healthier, better tasting or longer lasting – to its political detriment. As Food and Water Watch, a critic of GMOs, has argued, hyperbolically: “The only ones experiencing any benefits from GE crops are the few, massive corporations that are controlling the food system at every step and seeing large profit margins.” That is about to change.’

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US Offers Aid to El Salvador, Pressures Them to Buy Monsanto Seeds

Paul Brown reports for Opposing Views:

The United States government is currently holding $277 million in aid over the heads of the leaders of El Salvador. The money, which was promised to the head of state of El Salvador, may not actually be given to the country after all.

Reports from El Salvador are painting a rather clear picture of the situation. It seems that the United States government is pressuring the leaders of El Salvador to purchase enormous quantities of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds (GMO’s).

The newly written Millennium Challenge Compact, which would grant the $277 million in aid to El Salvador, includes a stipulation that El Salvador begin to use GMO’s. This is a highly controversial requirement, and many environmentalists are up in arms over the stipulation.’

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Peter Mandelson: a battering ram for big business

David Cronin wrote for SpinWatch last November:

mand 199x300 Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy richPeter Mandelson’s willingness to act as a battering ram for Western multinationals knew few bounds… During his four years in Brussels, Mandelson pushed the EU’s agenda to new extremes. In the past, trade negotiators had traditionally focused on cutting or removing taxes levied on imports and exports. A 2006 policy paper called Global Europe – drawn up at Mandelson’s behest – pushed for that scope to be enlarged. It committed the EU to strive towards dismantling a range of “barriers” encountered by firms doing business abroad.  Workers’ rights and environmental standards across the world would be vigorously challenged if they harmed corporate profits, the paper inferred. Sadly, this agenda has gained more momentum than Mandelson could have dreamed.

…Having set in motion a process aimed at allowing corporations play dangerous games with nature and human health, it is perhaps only logical that Mandelson is now a grubby lobbyist himself.  In his current capacity as chairman of two consultancies, Mandelson habitually attends the annual conferences of the Bilderberg Group and other gatherings for the world’s political and business elite. To use his own words, Mandelson always appears “intensely relaxed” when surrounded by the “filthy rich”.  It is not hard to understand why.  He has worked tirelessly to allow Europe be captured by his corporate chums.’

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Around half of American adults believe in at least one medical conspiracy theory

Andrew M. Seaman writes for Reuters:

Flu vaccine drips out of a syringe as a nurse prepares for a patient at a clinic in central London November 22, 2005. - RTR1BGZ1About half of American adults believe in at least one medical conspiracy theory, according to new survey results. Some conspiracy theories have much more traction than others, however. For example, three times as many people believe U.S. regulators prevent people from getting natural cures as believe that a U.S. spy agency infected a large number of African Americans with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

J. Eric Oliver, the study’s lead author from University of Chicago, said people may believe in conspiracy theories because they’re easier to understand than complex medical information… For the new study, he and his colleague used data from 1,351 adults who answered an online survey between August and September 2013. The data were then weighted to represent the U.S. population. The participants read six popular medical conspiracy theories and then indicated whether they had heard of them and whether they agreed or disagreed with them.

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TTIP: US farmers attack Europe on trade talks impasse

James Politi writes for the Financial Times:

Agriculture was always expected to be a main sticking point in the talks to form a “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”, particularly since the goal is not just to reduce tariffs but also to reconcile the two different regulatory philosophies. The gap is especially wide on food safety, with the EU practising the “precautionary principle” – which has a much lower threshold for setting restrictions compared to the US, with its more lenient “risk assessment” model.

Agricultural policy and methods remain the subject of intense debate within the EU and divisive issues among its member states. In May, new European Parliament elections are expected to produce a big swing in favour of populists, many of them anti-American and from rural constituencies. Those lawmakers will ultimately have to approve TTIP so their political hue is vital.

The European Commission is expected soon to authorise the use of a new insect-resistant GM strain of corn/maize called Pioneer 1507. But that follows more than a decade of debate and six separate scientific studies. It also comes despite votes by 19 of the EU’s 28 member states to block approval thanks to the bloc’s weighted voting system. While the UK backed approval, France vehemently opposed it.

US corn and soyabean producers complain that it can take more than 4 years to approve certain genetically modified approved crops, when it should only take 18 months – and they also question the EU’s mandatory labelling of GMO products. “It is nothing less than a scare label for consumers,” says Mr Censky. Nick Giordano, vice-president and counsel for international affairs at the US National Pork Producers Council, acknowledges that these are “emotional issues” in Europe, but said Mr De Gucht’s comments were “troubling” and it was “preposterous” to question the safety of US food.

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