Telepolis, 3. November 2006

Greenpeace and Bayer at loggerheads about GM rice and protest e-mails

The dispute between the environmental protection organization Greenpeace and the Bayer Group about the cultivation and sale of genetically modified rice is beginning to extend to the Internet as a battleground in more ways than one. According to Greenpeace statements the Leverkusen-based corporate group has recently been pressuring the provider hosting the German Greenpeace website "EinkaufsNetz" (Shopping Net). The agency responsible for managing the technical side of the site had been asked by Bayer to block the page, Greenpeace stated. The reason for the group's behavior is the ready-made protest e-mails that can be sent via "EinkaufsNetz" to individual Bayer executives.

Whereas Greenpeace considers the mails to be a legitimate means for citizens to express their disapproval of the policies of the corporate group and call on Bayer to pull out of the GM rice business, the company for its part considers them nothing but spam and has according to Greenpeace demanded that the provider prevent them from being sent. According to Greenpeace in place of "EinkaufsNetz" a "Server not found" notice appeared on the Internet at the beginning of the week for almost a whole day. Only after Greenpeace intervened did the provider once again make the site available online.

"Where would we be if major corporate groups could simply by making a phone call censor and control the World Wide Web," the Greenpeace spokeswoman Ulrike Brendel said by way of expressing the organization's anger at having its website blocked. Meanwhile protest e-mails can once again be sent to Bayer. Earlier at "EinkaufsNetz" a note had told visitors that "due to a temporary malfunction" the service was presently not available. The following sentence has meanwhile been added to the protest mail template: "I am not prepared to have anyone prohibit me from protesting against genetically modified rice." (Robert W. Smith)

Washington Post, November 22 2006

Firm Blames Farmers, 'Act of God' for Rice Contamination

The company that created the experimental variety of genetically engineered rice found this summer to have contaminated the U.S. rice supply contends that rice farmers and an "act of God" are to blame for the inadvertent release of the unapproved crop.

Those are among the assertions by Bayer CropScience of Research Triangle Park, N.C., in response to a class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of farmers in Arkansas and Missouri. The 30-page response offers the first clue to how the company plans to defend itself against the 15 class-action lawsuits filed by farmers, who allege that they stand to lose millions of dollars because of the contamination.

Lawyers for the farmers said they had expected the company to deny responsibility, but were offended by its attempt to blame farmers. The lawyers said their clients had no reason to suspect that the seeds they were planting in recent years were contaminated by Bayer's unapproved variety. "The farmers are innocent victims," said Don Downing, a principal at Gray, Ritter and Graham PC, the St. Louis firm that filed the largest suit, in U.S. District Court in eastern Missouri.

Denying any culpability, the Bayer response variously blames the escape of its gene-altered variety of long-grain race, LL601, on "unavoidable circumstances which could not have been prevented by anyone"; "an act of God"; and farmers' "own negligence, carelessness, and/or comparative fault." Asked how farmers were at fault, Bayer spokesman Greg Coffey said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Bayer conducted field tests of LL601 from 1999 to 2001 in Louisiana, then dropped the project without seeking government approval to market it. This year, LL601 was found to be widespread in U.S. long-grain rice, prompting Europe to cut off imports and throwing the rice futures market into turmoil.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating how the variety escaped from test plots into farmers' fields, where it was quietly amplified for years until its discovery. The seeds and plants of LL601 look virtually identical to those of the popular conventional variety with which they had become mixed, said Steve Linscombe, director of Louisiana State University's rice research station in Crowley.

The day the contamination was announced in August, Bayer asked the government to approve the variety. A decision is still pending. Meanwhile, lawsuits have been filed on behalf of about 300 rice farmers in the South.

The company's response to the largest of those suits asserts that Bayer's test plots were in full compliance with Agriculture Department rules. Critics of U.S. biotech regulations have said that, if true, that only proves the inadequacy of those rules and calls into question whether the department can fairly investigate the problem.

"It is unfortunate that Bayer, rather than accept responsibility for its actions, is instead trying to pin the blame on the American rice farmers, the very people most detrimentally affected by Bayer's conduct here," said Adam Levitt, a Chicago lawyer who has filed five class-action suits for rice farmers. By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer

African News Dimension, November 27, 2006

Group demands withdrawal of GM rice aid to Africa

Although Germany does not allow use of GM crops, yet a German firm, BayerCrop Science carries out extensive GM technology and recently its GM product was found in rice food aid to Ghana, where it will onstensibly be allowed.

By Henry Neondo

A genetically modified (GM) rice not allowed for human consumption originated from the United states has been found in food aid and other rice supplies in West Africa. The findings were revealed today by Friends of the Earth at simultaneous press conferences in Ghana and Sierra Leone where the environmental campaign group urged the governments of Sierra Leone and Ghana to immediately recall the contaminated products. In August this year the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the presence of LLRICE601, an unapproved genetically modified rice variant owned by Bayer CropScience in the food chain.

Contaminated rice has been found in more than 15 European countries, and supermarket chains including UK-based Tesco, and Sainsbury have withdrawn American rice from their shelves. The European Union is now testing all rice imports coming from the US [1]. In September/October 2006 Friends of the Earth Ghana and Friends of the Earth Sierra Leone collected samples of US long grain rice in their countries and sent them to a US laboratory for independent testing. The results show that there is LL601 contamination in Ghana and Sierra Leone. “We are shocked that unapproved genetically modified long grain rice has been sent to our country through food aid channels,” commented Arthur Williams, a GM campaigner with Friends of the Earth Sierra Leone. “We are a nation just recovering from years of civil war and now to attack us in this manner is now making our people once more vulnerable.” Ghana is among the top 10 importers of rice from the USA and it is feared that the contamination may have spread across the West African sub-region and beyond. Ghana’s rice imports from the USA stood at 78.900 metric tonnes (MT) in 2001/2002, 117.600 MT in 2002/2003 and 166.400 MT in 2004/2005. In 2002 East African countries such as Zambia rejected GM corn as food aid despite food shortages. In Latin America, contamination of the food chain through food aid was also found when illegal corn strain, such as Star Link, was found there in 2002 and 2005.

Friends of the Earth said that serious efforts must be made by governments and international agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) to endure that food aid does not become the popular channel for GM contamination around the world. “We cannot accept a situation when food aid becomes a secret channel to ambush our peoples with illegal genetically modified food. We refuse to be used as guinea pigs in big business’s experimentations,” said Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Africa. “With the confirmation of this contamination, it is very likely that a large number of African countries are already contaminated. Africa is facing a lot of challenges and cannot afford to add this man-made problem. It must be halted at its roots.” Reacting to the contamination, Cheryl Agyepong GM campaigner with Friends of the Earth Ghana said: “We don’t want genetically modified rice in our fields and we call on our Government to take all necessary measures to prevent any possible contamination of our seeds.” She further added that African governments must preserve “the African environment in order to secure the future of humanity.”

LLRICE601 is engineered to tolerate an herbicide called glufosinate which is sold under the brand name Liberty Link. This tolerance was introduced through a Streptomyces hygroscopicus gene that codes for phospinothricin acetyl transferase (PAT), a glufosinate-inactivating enzyme. The GM rice, produced by German-based biotechnology company Bayer, was field tested between 1998 and 2001 but the contamination of commercial long grain rice has only just come to light. The US exported more than 3 million tonnes of rice in 2005. Friends of the Earth Africa calls on the government to immediately halt untested long grain rice food aid and commercial imports from the USA. The public does not want this illegal rice and even rice growers in the USA were shocked to learn that they were cultivating an unapproved rice strain, the environmental group said. The USDA must take immediate steps to examine protocols for the containment of field trails and also to ensure that every shipment to Africa is adequately screened to ensure they are free of contamination.

Open Letter to European Food Security Authority: EU urged not to approve Bayer´s GM Rice