New threats by Monsanto have led to the filing of an amended complaint by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) in its suit on behalf of family farmers, seed businesses, and organic agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed.
“Our clients don’t want a fight with Monsanto, they merely want to be protected from the threat that they will be contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed and then accused of patent infringement,” said PUBPAT Executive Director Daniel B. Ravicher. “We asked Monsanto to give our clients reassurances they wouldn’t do such a thing, and in response Monsanto chose to instead reiterate the same implicit threat to organic agriculture that it has made in the past.”
Over the years Monsanto has sued farmers alleging they have stolen the corporation’s intellectual property by saving their proprietary seed rather than purchasing new seed each year that would include a “technology fee.” Because pollen, and genetics, can be spread through the wind, or by insects, farmers are vulnerable to having their crops contaminated and then subsequently being sued by Monsanto.
Soon after the March filing of the lawsuit, Monsanto issued a statement saying that they would not assert their patents against farmers who suffer “trace” amounts of transgenic contamination. In response, and in the hope that the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys wrote Monsanto’s attorneys asking the company to make its promise legally binding.
The biotechnology giant responded by hiring former solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Wilmer-Hale. Waxman completely rejected PUBPAT’s simple request and instead confirmed that Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers whose fields become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed.
In addition to supplementing the complaint with Monsanto’s most recent actions, PUBPAT announced that a new group of 23 organizations, seed companies, and farms or individual farmers have joined the original plaintiffs in the suit bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 83, comprising 36 organizations, 14 seed companies, and 33 farms and farmers.
For more information, see www.cornucopia.org.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University is funding two research projects studying the effects of riparian buffers on agricultural water management.
More than two million miles of riparian buffers have been planted along U.S. streams and waterways. Most areas are not more than 60-80 ft. wide, with diversified plantings of native trees, shrubs and grasses. Above ground, plant biomass slows the flow of water into streams and stabilizes stream banks; below ground, plant root systems use nutrients carried by runoff from crop fields and filter water before entering streams.
Dan Jaynes, a soil scientist at the USDA’s National laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, is studying what happens when tile drainage systems are connected to riparian buffers. He said he hopes the system can divert 10 to 15 percent of the water from tile drainage, which would have gone directly into the stream. “That will take us a long way down the road to removing the critical peak of nitrate in water,” he added.
The second research project looks at groundwater quality and riparian buffers, specifically the impact of perennial vegetation in areas upslope from buffers. Principal investigators are Tom Isenhart, ISU Natural Resource Ecology and Management, and Keith Schilling from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
For more information on the studies, see www.leopold.iastate.edu.
A new study by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found canned green beans contaminated with as much as 730 parts per billion of bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic hormone and component of epoxy can linings. At that concentration, a single serving of beans could result in a dose of BPA close to those that have caused permanent toxicity in laboratory studies.
The tests, which the FDA Office of Food Additive Safety published in late May in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that 71 of 78 canned foods tested were tainted with BPA. These tests confirm Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2007 research that found the chemical in 55 of 97 cans of food.
“Federal health agencies warn parents to limit their children’s BPA exposures,” senior analyst Sonya Lunder, M.P.H., said. “But with the chemical found in canned food, store receipts and even umbilical cord blood, we think that ‘buyer beware’ isn’t good health policy. Systematic protections for children are the only solution.”
For more information from EWG, see www.ewg.org.
The new federal MyPlate food icon that recommends Americans fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables is completely at odds with federal agriculture subsidies that promote production of high-fat, high-calorie food products, doctors say. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) points out that more than 60 percent of agricultural subsidies in recent history have directly and indirectly supported meat and dairy production. Less than 1 percent has gone to fruits and vegetables.
Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s icon and its recently released dietary guidelines ask Americans to limit their intake of sweeteners and fat- and cholesterol-heavy products, including meat and dairy, and to eat more fruits and vegetables.
“The USDA’s new plate icon couldn’t be more at odds with federal food subsidies,” says PCRM staff nutritionist Kathryn Strong, M.S., R.D. “The plate icon advises Americans to limit high-fat products like meat and cheese, but the federal government is subsidizing these very products with billions of tax dollars and giving almost no support to fruits and vegetables. Congress has to reform the Farm Bill to support healthy diets.”
For the full story from PCRM, see www.pcrm.org.
The rise of drug-resistant infections in humans has been linked to the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed since the early 1970s, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has failed to meet its legal responsibility to address the mounting health threat posed by the practice, according to a suit filed by a coalition of health and consumer organizations.
The FDA concluded in 1977 that feeding animals low doses of certain antibiotics used in human medicine-namely penicillin and tetracyclines-could promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people. Despite this conclusion and laws requiring that the agency act on its findings, the FDA failed to take any action to protect human health.
The lawsuit filed by the coalition of health and consumer organizations was spurred by mounting evidence that the spread of bacteria immune to antibiotics around the world has clear links to the overuse of antibiotics in the food industry. The coalition’s suit would compel the FDA to take action on the agency’s own safety findings by withdrawing approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed.
“The FDA and Congress need to preserve these crown jewels of medicine and ensure that both current and future generations have working antibiotics when they need them,” said Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI’s executive director. “Simply improving farm practices would be an effective way of reducing farmers’ need for these precious drugs, thus protecting their effectiveness.”
For the full story from the Union of Concerned Scientists, see www.ucsusa.org.