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Sam Burcher, news views and bits inbetween......

22nd December 2016

At the Tribunal Against Monsanto in the Hague in October, lawyers, witnesses and civil society gave evidence of global harm from Roundup, Monsanto's over-the-counter weedkiller, containing a probable human carcinogen.


Monsanto Ecocide Banner 1smThis landmark Tribunal, desgined to enact the procedures of an International Court of Justice and to hold the defendant accountable, comes at a time when transnational companies are failing to adhere to basic codes of conduct, have failed to clean up after themselves and are creating a dirty planet with poisonous sprays, the result of which has wiped out the monarch butterfly and is on the brink of destroying the bees. The imminent merger between Big Pharma Bayer and agri-giant Monsanto, faciliated to make greater profits from pushing the world's bestselling herbicide Roundup, presented a timely opportunity for a panel of five international judges to hear the testimony of some of Roundup's victims.

Monsanto would have us believe that Roundup is non-toxic and say it is as 'safe as table salt.' In 2016 there is no labelling to explain any health risks or precautions, yet just two days' exposure may double or triple the risk of harm. Roundup contains glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen, which is often combined with a compound in Monsanto's Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed by the US military during the Vietnam War, to destroy crops and jungle cover. Bayer supplied the nerve gas, Zyklon B, used in the extermination camps during World War II.

Read more: Corporation Taken to International Tribunal

On the 25th May 2013 around two million members of global civil society gathered in over 400 cities in 52 countries to protest against the giant corporation Monsanto. It’s been more than fifteen years since the whistle was blown on the safety of GM foods, so why are we still marching against them?

Fancy a glass of Agent OrangeHere are four good reasons:

  1. GM crops do not feed the poor. The fact that all GM seeds are patented means that Monsanto and not the farmer is profiting hand over fist from royalties on those patents.  Small farmers used to being able to save and swap heritage seeds are often left worse off as they spiral into debt to buy more seed and pesticide spray packages for each growing season [1] [2].
  2. GM crops consistently under-perform and have failed to live up to the hype that they would increase yields. Instead, these crops have significantly increased the use of herbicides and pesticides [3]. And newer strains have pesticides built into the seeds. This means that the poison is systemic throughout the plant and can be taken up by the soil and leach into groundwater.
  3. Uncontrollable super-weeds or hybrid plants containing genes for herbicide resistance are produced by accidental crossing of GM crops with wild plants. This has necessitated the use of Monsanto’s older chemicals such as DDT and Agent Orange in combination with their newer and even more toxic herbicide Roundup. Usage on mutant cultivars has increased 25% each year since 2001.
  4. Soils have been degraded by the accumulative effects of chemicals which kill the beneficial microbes and switch off the plants ability to take up key nutrients [4].  Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup causing unprecedented environmental and human health problems throughout South America where the majority of glyphosate tolerant GM soya is grown. An up to date MIT review of all the independent studies suggests that glyphosate is far from harmless. It states that the suppression of enzymes and amino acids in the gut is a pathway for gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, heart disease, depression, autism, Alzheimers and cancer [5].

Read more: March Against Monsanto

November 28th 2012

Sam Burcher met Paraguay’s Oscar Rivas, who described a recent GM-driven, political coup there

oscar rivas by sam burcherOscar Rivas is now Paraguay’s ex-environment minister because in June a de facto coup took place which ousted him and President Fernando Lugo, who were working to reform the takeover of agriculture by the multi-national corporations. Some 2,000 government workers sympathetic to the reforms were also sacked, while the vice-President Frederico Franco was quickly sworn in.

There is massive conflict over land ownership and land invasion in Paraguay where, one week before the coup, the attempted eviction of campesinos, or peasant farmers, on a farm in Caraguatay in the south, sparked a shoot-out between police and peasants resulting in 17 deaths.
The campesinos were protesting about lands that they say were illegally handed over to private ownership by President Lugo’s predecessor, General Alfredo Stroessner. Lugo had promised to return land to 87,000 landless peasants before he was elected in 2008.

An alliance between Friends of the Earth in Paraguay and the UK helped Oscar Rivas make a fleeting visit to Britain to explain his country’s economic situation and his concerns about the effects of the corporations on people and planet. In November he addressed the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology, which was well attended by a number of cross-party MPs and food and farm organizations.

He stated that sustainable development has been hijacked by the oligopolies, which are dividing the land in South America into three main monocultures: trees for paper, sugar for bioethanol fuel and GM soya for factory farm animal feed. Some 40% of all exports are GM soya, owned by the corporations.

Read more: GM Soy Wars Rage in Paraguay

Rudolf Kirst was an extraordinary man who cared for and helped many people in his lifetime. Firstly, as a music and German teacher at the Rudolf Steiner school in Leeds, and then as Headmaster of Whittlesea School in Harrow, for kids with multiple learning difficulties.

dad bellsRudolf was the son of two musicians and Anthroposophists. As a teenager growing up in Cologne during World War II , he was called up by the Youth Division. He refused saying, “Hitler is an evil man and I will not volunteer.”

Standing up for what he believed in became a hallmark of Rudolf's life.  He expressed his opinions as clearly as the bells he is holding.  Rudolf always stood up for the underdog, and in his later years, campaigned against the genetic modification of food, the mass medication of drinking water with fluoride, and for the care and treatment of the elderly; starting with good food and good sleep in hospitals. The bells also represent the 'small' person against the big corporations.

Rudolf’s strong convictions and determination meant that he never gave up on people or causes.  He thanked everyone that he came into contact with and remembered everyone in his greetings and thoughts.

We became great friends and had some wonderful discussions on our trips to the EU Parliament and as members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology.  Rudolf was also a member of the All Party Environment Group, a Friend of the Earth, and part of the GM Freeze campaign.  He supported the Camphill movement and was a keen biodynamic gardener. In 2002, he successfully launched the Ways to Quality symposia in the UK, which is now a recognised course.

Rudolf was an early proponent of the DIY culture, getting things done in the face of apathetic governance, and was an advocate of life-long learning. He is greatly missed.

On the 1st November 2011, Professor Don Huber, an eminent American plant pathologist,  who has raised the alarm about a new pathogen caused by GM feed and a broad spectrum pesticide called glyphosate, addressed an invited audience in Committe Room One at the House of Commons

don huber for cadDon Huber explained that glyphosate, also known as Roundup, changes soil biology and the organisms that normally provide natural biological control or disease suppressive activity are very susceptible to damage by glyphosate causing an increase in crop disease.  He warned that in the US entire groups of organisms do not exist in the soil anymore. This renders glyphosate useless because “you can’t kill off plants in sterile soil”.  And, could explain why pesticide application rates have trebled in the US in the last few years, and why the FDA has increased the level of glyphosate permitted in foods.

Glyphosate also has a devastating affect on micro-nutrients.  Manganese and zinc levels in the US have gone from excess manganese in crops, feed and food fifteen years ago to a defecit today. The levels of micro-nutrients are dropping even more dramatically in GM crops.  Don Huber reported a third less manganese available in GM alfalfa animal feed and severe deficiencies in zinc compared to non-GM alfalfa. Human inflammatory bowel disease,which is strongly linked to GM feed, has increased 40-fold since 1992 in the US.American vets say they universally find managese deficiency as a cause of disease in swine and cattle, which is forcing producers out of business.

Glyphosate has now been linked to human birth defects. This has prompted the recent Earth Open Source report, Roundup and Birth Defects, Are The Public Being Kept in the Dark?  EU offficials have delayed a 2012 review on glyphosate until 2015. Even more worryingly, the Livestock of America Cattlemans Association gave testimony before the US Senate Agricultural  Commmitte in 2002.  They were concerned that cattle fed GM feed were prematurely ageing.  Their stomach linings were yellow, which is characteristic of an allergy response, compared with the cattle fed non-GMO (pictured, Carmen et al, 2010). Their guts were leaking and high numbers of animals were experiencing reproductive failure.  A virus-like pathogen was discovered by vets, which has so far not been named.

Read more: Top Scientist Warns Against GM And Glyphosate

30 June 2011

'Agroecology' offers real solutions to world hunger after decades of GM hype 

logo via campesina La Via Campesina (the Peasant's Way) is emerging as a potentially powerful international movement (, mobilizing resistance against the GM corporations, which have consolidated their agro-chemical companies into just five major global players; Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and Dupont.

A recent report by the Friends of the Earth [1] has highlighted the struggle between the two forces for control of the seeds. On one side are the 1.5 million members of the Via Campesina, who are demanding food sovereignty or the right to grow healthy food from local, time-honoured seeds. Opposing them are the mega-corporations, which have gained so much power through patents on GM crops, seeds and pesticides.

Spain is the last bastion of GM crops in Europe. Monsanto has cause for concern that even Spain is back-tracking as the Basque and Catalonia regions prepare to go GM-free, along with the neighbouring Canary Islands. Monsanto has urged Spanish Embassy officials to step up pressure on Brussels, ‘Because if Spain falls the rest of Europe will follow.’[1]

Europe has already spoken on GM crops with 61% of the population against them and 23% less GM crops grown in the past two years. Monsanto’s MON810 maize is banned in France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Bulgaria, where there is a total GM ban. Switzerland has a GM moratorium until 2013.

Read more: Who really benefits from GM crops?

Percy Schmeiser is a real life hero who played David to Monsanto’s Goliath, and like David, he won.

Governments approve Monsanto’s GM crops

Percy Field4Percy Schmeiser and his wife Louise are third generation farmers from the prairies of Western Canada in the province of Saskatchewan near the city of Saskatoon.  They feel really blessed not only that his grandparents moved there, but by the fact that in Central Saskatchewan so many types of grain crops can be grown; pulses, oil seeds, in what the locals call God’s Country.

The Schmeisers, like hundreds of thousands of farmers all over the world, were using their canola (oilseed rape) seed from year to year and developing new varieties suitable for climatic soil conditions on the prairies.  Percy had also been the Mayor of his town for over thirty years, a member of the provincial Parliament and an active member of agricultural committees representing his province on new agricultural policy, law and regulations for the benefit of farmers.

In 1996, the Canadian Federal Government and the US Government gave regulatory approval to four GM crops: soya, corn or maize, cotton and canola. At the time not all GM crops in Canada were herbicide tolerant except for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola and soya, both resistant to the company’s herbicide Roundup. The US Government had also approved Bt cotton and Bt corn that has the added GM toxin from Bacillus thuringenisis (Bt). The Canadian government were fully complicit in allowing Monsanto to develop GM crops on Government test plots and research stations in return for a royalty on every bushel of GM crops sold.

Read more: Who Owns Life, Not Monsanto?

The Cabinet minister betrays his true colours in a head to head with Vandana Shiva and other proponents of organic agriculture as evidence piles up against the safety of GM food and feed

hilary-benn-MPHilary Benn had failed to respond to an open letter from Dr Eva Novotny cautioning him on the safety of GM crops and food (see Letter to Hilary Benn MP on GMOs.), and was then conspicuously absent from a recent major organic food and agriculture conference he was billed to speak at, choosing instead to address the participants via telephone-link. The following is a transcript of how he responded to questions from Gundula Azeez, former Policy Manager of the Soil Association and Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, New Delhi who were present at the Bristol conference. The questions were moderated by organic gardener Monty Don, who started off by inviting Hilary Benn to talk about the recently approved application for controlled trials of GM crops in the UK, and what the benefits of GM crops might be.

Read more: Who is Anti-Science? Hilary Benn & Other GM Supporters

Ten years on, and the ‘growth’ in GM crops area is exposed to be more hype than substance as opposition heightens

PR masquerading as fact

world gm cropsThe biotech industry’s mouthpiece, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agrobiotechnology Applications (ISAAA), has been exposed for grossly inflating the figures of GM crops grown globally. Its latest report lists countries growing GM crops that do not grow them, or that have banned them. For example, Iran is down as having grown tens of thousands of hectares of commercial GM rice in 2006, despite the fact Iran has never approved or grown GM rice on any commercial scale.

Bob Phelps of Gene Ethics Network criticizes the report for making these unsupported claims and ignoring the negative impacts of GM crops: “The report emphasizes that 10.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 2006, but this is just 0.7 percent of farmers world-wide. And just 600 000 farmers grew 85 percent of all GM crops on industrial farms in North and South America. Small Third World farmers are misused as fodder in the ISAAA’s PR war.”

India’s bid to ban all GM field trials

The ISAAA launched the report in India, where the Supreme Court has recently banned any new GM crop trials until further notice. However, the exception to the ban, GM mustard developed at Delhi University, involves a genetic engineering “Terminator” technique called a GURT (Genetic Use Restriction Technology) that renders the seeds from the plant sterile. (See Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold, SiS 16). The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) group, which instigated the ban on GM crops in India, are now pursuing a ban even on GM mustard because the University failed to reveal the full scientific facts to the Court.

Read more: Global GM Crops Area Exaggerated

Why there should be a moratorium on GM trees

The threat of GM trees recognised

GM treesThe Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) passed a formal declaration at its Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8) in Curitiba, Brazil on 31 March 2006 to recognize the threats posed by genetically modified (GM) (same as genetically engineered (GE) trees, and urging all countries to approach the technology with caution [1].

This important declaration came in support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) call for an international framework to assess the safety of GM trees in 2005 [2]. Many groups are hoping that the UN involvement will finally address the environmental and socio-economic impact of GM trees on global forest diversity, and on local and indigenous communities.

Pierre Sigaud, FAO expert in forest genetics, warned against rushing to commercialise GM trees before conducting environmental risk assessments in accordance with national and international biosafety protocols. He said, “The issue goes beyond country level since pollen flow and seed dispersal do not take account of national boundaries and wood is a global commodity.” To counteract the contamination of native stands by GM trees, a robust framework to govern research and application is essential, Sigaud added.

Moratorium backed by developing countries

The increasing use of biotechnology in the forestry sector has led to the spread of GM tree planting in at least thirty-five countries. According to the FAO, most research is confined to the laboratories, but many millions of GM trees have already been released in open field trials in China, North America, Australia, Europe, and India , and to a lesser extent, South America and Africa [3].

Nine developing countries supported calls for a moratorium on G M trees proposed by government representatives of Iran and Ghana [4 ]. Among these countries are Ecuador, Egypt, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal and Madagascar, and Malawi, some of whom are home to the richest, most biodiverse forests on Earth. The motion was opposed only by Canada and Australia, both governments having vested interests in biotechnology. But they too agreed that a detailed investigation into the impact of GM trees is needed.

Read more: UN Caution over GM Trees

A resounding "No" to GMOs.

gmo-free-europe logo.gif copyThe response to GM crops in the UK's GM Nation? public debate is an overwhelming "No." A total of 36,557 people returned the questionnaire accompanying the debate. The vote is one of the largest ever to be returned by the public. The results are as follows:

  •  54% of respondents said they never want to see GM crops grown in the UK
  •  18% said they would only find GM crops acceptable if there were no risk of cross-contamination
  •  13% requested more research before government decisions are made
  •  2% said GM crops were acceptable in any circumstances.

When asked if they were happy to eat GM food:

  •  86% were not happy to eat GM food
  •  8% were happy to eat GM food
  •  6% were undecided.

The GM Nation? organisers also conducted a sub-survey of members of the general public who didn't take part in the debate to see how different their views on GM were. They found a consensus on seven key points:

  •  People are generally uneasy about GM
  •  The more people engage in GM issues, the more their attitudes harden against the technology
  •  There is little support for early commercialisation
  •  There is widespread mistrust of government and multinational corporations
  •  There is a broad desire to know more and for more research to be done
  •  Developing countries have special interests
  •  The debate was welcomed and valued.

This latest poll confirms that the public is as hostile as ever towards GM. But the government may still push ahead with commercialisation of the crops because UK ministers are keen to avoid upsetting EU-US relations. Trade secretary Patricia Hewitt is mindful of the recent US-launched legal action against the EU under World Trade Organisation rules.

Read more: Lead Us Not Into GM