Greenpeace website, June 24, 2010

Bayer finally gets the message – we don’t want GE!

It has taken a long time - 8 years to be precise. In 2002 Bayer first applied for approval for Brazilian farmers to be allowed to grow their genetically engineered (GE) rice. The only problem with their plan is that Brazilian rice farmers and producers don’t want GE rice. Bayer has finally gotten the message, and yesterday they finally withdrew their application.

Bayer is saying publically that they have withdrawn their application “to broaden the dialogue with key members in the production of rice in Brazil”. I would think 8 years would be more than enough time to broaden the debate on how GE crops are becoming less effective in the face of weeds that are resistant to herbicides, how rice producers have lost financially due to GE rice and how we continue to see unexpected side effects from GE crops.

It might have been more than just the Brazilian’s rejection of GE rice that made Bayer act. They are also currently taking a pounding in the US courts, having to pay out tens of millions of dollars to rice producers affected by their contamination of the US rice supply in 2006.

Despite this, the message from Brazilian rice producers is clear – GE rice is not wanted in Brazil. To broaden the debate Bayer will need to do some serious searching for other players in the Brazilian rice production chain, as already most of these players have voiced their opposition to GE rice. Amongst these groups is the Rice Federation of Rio Grande do Sul, the region which accounts for 60% of Brazilian rice production.

It’s time for governments everywhere to stand up for what people and producers want and stop GE rice.

Campaign: Stop Liberty Link Rice!

GM-FREE BRAZIL | July 7 2010

Bayer retreats and suspends its application for approval of Liberty Link rice in Brazil

At Bayer’s request, the company’s application for commercial release of its Liberty Link rice (LL62), genetically modified for tolerance to glufosinate ammonium herbicide, has been temporarily dropped. In a communiqué to the CTNBio (National Technical Biosafety Commission, the official body responsible for approving GMOs in Brazil) Bayer claimed that it needed more time to reach an agreement with leading rice producers, who are opposed to the product’s release.

Bayer had already lobbied for release of the product last year, but a public hearing held at the order of the Brazilian courts clearly showed that main sectors linked to rice research and production were against its approval.

At this hearing the representative for Embrapa Rice and Beans (the largest public research centre in the area) set out its official position, ‘authorized by the presidency,’ emphasizing that the company is not opposed to transgenics, but that in this case Bayer’s product “will worsen pre-existing problems.” He added: “We shouldn’t use technologies that will only work for a few crop seasons.”

The principal technical hurdle faced by rice growers is controlling red rice, an ancestral species of commercial rice that competes with the crops. Their worry is that the transgenic plant will inevitably cross with its red relative, producing herbicide-resistant transgenic red rice. The latter can germinate after years lying dormant in the soil. According to the researcher, “contamination is irreversible.”

Other researchers point to failures in the studies presented by Bayer to prove the rice’s safety, including the possible deletion of a nucleotide (adenine) in the gene section regulating the protein expression that provides tolerance to the herbicide. After the hearing, the company admitted the existence of the deletion, identifying an alteration to one of the protein’s amino acids. This alteration means that the protein produced by LL rice differs from the protein produced naturally by the Streptomyces bacteria, the gene donor. Since no study was presented relating to this issue, no information exists on the effects of this unintentional genetic alteration. The protein has not lost its function of providing tolerance to the glufosinate ammonium herbicide, but it may generate unanalyzed risks.

During the same public hearing, representatives of Brazil’s main rice producers also voiced their concerns. They fear losing ground in both domestic and international markets if the variety is commercially released. “Given that there is no consumer demand or global market for GM rice, our organization is not in favour of release at this time,” announced the representative of Farsul (Rio Grande do Sul Agricultural Federation), Federarroz (Rio Grande do Sul Rice Growers Associations) and IRGA (Rio Grande do Sul Rice Institute).

Faced by this overwhelming rejection, in 2009 CTNBio opted to suspend debate on the release of Bayer’s rice temporarily. Its strategy was to wait for the dust to settle and return at a more opportune moment.

When the new president of CTNBio came to office in 2010, he told the press that the objectives for his mandate included the release of GM rice. Various actions were taken to achieve this goal, including the staging of a pseudo-debate at CTNBio to which researchers favourable to the product were invited. The ploy was designed to symbolically annul the positions advanced during the 2009 public hearing. In addition, voting on approval was timetabled for mid June this year when everyone’s attention would be focused on the World Cup.

Fortunately those opposed to release were ready. The main rice producer organizations combined forces once again to block any approval. After a meeting with sector representatives in Rio Grande do Sul, the state where most of the country’s rice production is concentrated, leaders went to Brasília to hold talks with various authorities, including the Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi.

Organizations linked to the Campaign for a GM-Free Brazil also released a document highlighting the problems with LL rice, signed by 35 civil society organizations and networks.

Finally Bayer itself backtracked and withdrew its request for approval. Although this is undoubtedly an important victory, it is by no means definitive since no vote has yet been taken on releasing the rice. The request can return at any moment as quickly as it was dropped - the company simply has to wait for resistance to ebb away.

Irrespective of Bayer’s own evaluation, it remains the legal and moral duty of the National Biosafety Council - formed by 11 ministers of state and the only authority higher than CTNBio - to take a stance and make a final decision on the issue. If not, they will be basically telling society that key questions of biosafety and food security are decided by companies and producers, leaving the public authorities to watch from the sidelines.


Published by AS-PTA Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologia. The GM-Free Brazil Campaign is a collective of Brazilian NGOs, social movements and individuals.

June 16, 2010 - Forbes

Bayer Aims To Cork Mention Of BP Spill In Court

BP has an unlikely ally in capping the public relations fallout from its ongoing oil leak: Bayer CropScience, which recently asked a judge to ban references to the spill in an upcoming trial over the impact of Bayer's genetically modified rice on farmers in Louisiana.
Bayer filed its motion Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, where the third bellwether trial, involving plaintiffs from Louisiana, is set to begin June 21. The farmers say Bayer's rice contaminated the U.S. rice supply.
Juries have already found Bayer liable for $3.5 million in damages in the first two trials, which dealt with farmers from Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas.
Bayer said it was concerned plaintiffs' counsel would compare the impact of the rice contamination to the situation in the Gulf of Mexico, which Bayer argued could prejudice the jury against it.
“The spill has triggered strong emotional reactions in many people, and has even become a political lightning rod,” Bayer said. “For this reason, the subject of the oil spill is one that is inherently inflammatory.”
“Unsurprisingly, the oil spill is already the focus of litigation by the plaintiffs bar, including some of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in this case. The plaintiffs themselves are from Louisiana, one of the coastal states potentially most impacted.”
An attorney for the plaintiffs declined Wednesday to immediately comment on the motion.
Bayer and its corporate predecessors stand accused of developing and testing a genetically modified strain of rice that contaminated the U.S. commercial rice supply, leading rice companies around the world to restrict U.S. rice imports and rice prices to drop.
Although the rice strain is now deregulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was not approved for human consumption at the time of the contamination, according to complaints that began popping up in December 2006.
About 7,000 cases have been filed by long-grain rice farmers seeking to recoup income they claim they lost as a result of the drop in market price for rice. Some of the cases have also been tried in state court, where, most recently, a jury in Arkansas found Bayer liable for nearly $50 million in damages in April.
Also Tuesday, Bayer filed another motion in the MDL seeking to clarify that two environmental groups, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, are vociferously opposed to genetically modified crops. Bayer failed to strike a juror in the previous MDL trial who was a Greenpeace contributor.
In the previous trial, the court said Greenpeace's stance against genetically modified crops was not sufficiently established. Just in case Bayer seeks to strike another juror on similar grounds, it submitted material in the motion Tuesday that it said showed both groups are opposed to such crops.
“The Greenpeace website not only urges viewers to pledge to support a food system 'free from genetic engineering and chemical-intensive agriculture' but contains a YouTube video decrying genetic engineering as the 'world’s greatest scam,'” Bayer said in its motion.
“Likewise, the website for Friends of the Earth states that that organization 'has been leading the fight to protect public health from the dangers posed by genetic engineering technologies,'” it said.
The plaintiffs are represented by Gray Ritter & Graham PC, Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP and others.
Bayer is represented by Fox Galvin LLC, Watkins & Eager PLLC and Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP.
The case is In re: Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, case number 4:06-md-1811, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
Mike Cherney --Additional reporting by Jocelyn Allison, Christopher Norton, Ryan Davis, Elaine Meyer and Nick Malinowski