Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org May 8, 2007
* Excerpts from the Hoffman Ruling
* Biotechnology A Job Machine
* New Herd to Advance Research
* Accept GM food, expert says
* Biofuels Threaten Cheap Beer
* Organic farmers may appeal ruling
Excerpts from the Hoffman Ruling
- The Court of Appeal For Saskatchewan, May 2, 2007
The full text of the decision is available at:
The question on this appeal is whether an action taken by the appellants against the respondents merited certification as a class action under The Class Actions Act, S.S. 2001, c. C-12.01. The action was ostensibly taken on behalf of numerous organic grain farmers for the recovery of damages alleged to have been suffered by them as a result of the introduction by the appellants of strains of genetically modified canola for use by farmers generally.
The appellants, Larry Hoffman, L.B. Hoffman Farms Inc., and Dale Beaudoin are farmers who grow grain without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms. As such, they are certified as "organic" grain farmers by private organizations involved in the business of marketing organically grown produce.
The respondents, Monsanto Canada Inc. and Bayer Cropscience Inc., are companies engaged in the manufacture and distribution of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, as well as the development and marketing of herbicide-resistant forms of canola. Canola is a variety of oilseed grown in Western Canada and elsewhere in North America. In the mid 1990s, following several years of Canadian field testing, each of the companies introduced a genetically modified strain of canola into the Province of Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada. They did so with the endorsement of the Government of Canada, which approved the unconfined release of these strains of canola.
The statement of claim alleges that the appellants and other organic grain farmers suffered financial losses as a result of the introduction and commercial use of Roundup Ready and Liberty Link canola. More particularly, the statement of claim alleges that these strains of genetically modified canola, which are open-pollinating, inevitably find their way onto their fields, thus preventing them from producing and marketing organically grown canola, and putting them to extra expense in producing other organically grown crops.
The fact each of the defendants, after years of Canadian field testing, obtained the approval of the Government of Canada to the unconfined release of their varieties of genetically modified canola provides a powerful policy reason for not fastening on them the duty of care as pleaded.
Moreover, the fact the standards of the several organizations involved in the certification of organic grain farmers did not extend to genetically modified organisms at the time of the commercial release by the defendants of Roundup Ready and Liberty Link canola serves to undermine the notion that the defendants could be held liable in negligence for the losses identified in the pleadings. It is of considerable significance in this regard that these were standards set by private organizations in the business of certifying under contract to organic grain farmers; that genetically modified canola is known to be open-pollinating; and that these standards were amended to include genetically modified organisms only after the commercial release of Roundup Ready and Liberty Link canola.
To suppose the defendants could be found liable in the face of these facts is to suppose too much of the law of negligence. In other words there is no plausible basis for supposing the defendants could be liable in negligence.
Indeed, the pleadings disclose that these forms of canola found widespread acceptance and that even the organizations engaged in the business of certifying organic grain farmers were not concerned about the presence of genetically modified organisms in "genetically grown" grain until well after the introduction of Roundup Ready and Liberty Link canola. Only later, some three to five years later, did they alter their certification standards in this regard. Accordingly, it is difficult to say the pleadings disclose a genuine cause of action in this respect.
There is evidence of only one instance of an organic canola crop having been rejected by a buyer due to GMO contamination, and in this case the crop was sold to another buyer as organic. Attempts to solicit additional evidence have been to no avail.
I conclude that the plaintiffs have failed to provide a factual basis upon which I can conclude that there is an identifiable class in relation to the claims asserted.
Biotechnology As The Job Machine Of The Coming Decade
By 2020 More Employment Than Today In The Chemical Industry As A Whole
- Medical News Today, May 5, 2007
Biotechnology must be applied more intensively in a wider range of uses, in order to keep up and to strengthen the competitiveness of German industry in the international arena - this is the outcome of a broad study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Fraunhofer ISI) and the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) Berlin. The study was commissioned by IG BCE (Mining, Chemical and Energy Industrial Union), DIB (German Association of Biotechnology Industries) and the foundation Hans Böckler Stiftung, with the aim of providing the first scientifically substantiated, overall picture of biotechnology in Germany today and in the future.
Germany must use the potential of this new technology in a more decisive manner and improve relevant framework conditions, so that this industry location is not left behind in dynamic international developments. Ms Edeltraut Glänzer, board member of IG BCE, emphasizes: "This is about looking ahead. The core issue is what vision we have for living and working in Germany in the next decade and beyond. Innovative forces - such as biotechnology - strengthen our economy, create jobs and secure our standard of living. To benefit from this potential, we must further focus on our strong points - for example, in industrial biotechnology -, and we must do some catching up where this is necessary. This holds true especially for plant biotechnology."
According to the study, already now between 258,000 and 443,000 jobs are influenced directly by biotechnology (persons employed directly in biotechnology, by users of biotechnology and suppliers). Depending on how fast or how slowly this future-oriented technology is accepted in the market, more than 100,000 jobs will be added over the next years. By 2020 biotechnology can secure or create between 369,000 and 596,000 jobs. Bernward Garthoff, chairman of DIB: "By 2020 the number of people in a workplace connected with biotechnology will be higher than the number of persons currently employed in the entire German chemical industry where the present staff total is around 440,000. It is essential for Germany as an industry location to drive forward the use of this potential and to benefit from the entire range of possible applications".
The number of persons working in biotechnology as core sector (R&D, SMEs, plant breeding, outfitters) is clearly exceeded by the number of staff in the user sectors of food, agriculture, chemistry, pharmacy and environmental engineering:
-- At present 169,000 - 350,000 persons are working directly in fields of application of biotechnology. By 2020 their number will rise to 272,000 - 483,000.
-- Today 89,000 - 93,000 staff are active in the core sector. By 2020 their number will increase moderately to 97,000 - 113,000.
Add to this the enormous effects on upstream supplier industries (e.g. mechanical engineering, plant construction, service sector). In supplier industries clearly more staff benefit from biotechnology than in the direct fields of application:
-- Today 217,000 - 471,000 people have jobs influenced by biotechnology in upstream industries.
-- By 2020 their number can rocket to 369,000 - 682,000.
The study gives the first comprehensive overview of the present and future employment potential of biotechnology, because it covers more than just biotechnology as core sector (which includes universities, research establishments, biotech SMEs, outfitters of the biotechnology industry and biotechnology-based plant breeding). Also included are major user industries (chemistry, pharma, food, agriculture, environmental engineering) and upstream effects in supplier industries, stemming from investment activities and spending of the core sector and user industries for purchased inputs and services. For this reason, employment figures are much higher than in other surveys.
-- In the application of biotechnology, the food industry ranks first at present (staff working directly in food and supplier industries): 193,000 - 493,000 persons employed achieve 9 - 23 percent of current sales with the help of biotechnology. Here, by 2020 staff figures will go up to 294,000 - 553,000 and the share in sales will increase to 17 - 32 percent. In agriculture, sales growth from currently 11 - 20 percent to 26 - 42 percent is forecasted for production influenced by biotechnology.
-- The greatest growth leap for biotechnology is expected in the chemical industry. With novel products and improved processes the share in sales will triple from currently 4 - 6 percent to 9 - 18 percent. Employment figures will rise by up to 200 percent from currently 37,000 - 56,000 to 82,000 -164,000. The share in sales of biotechnology in the pharma industry will rise from 11 - 18 percent to 18 - 40 percent. In the environment industry the share will grow from 13 - 18 percent to 30 - 45 percent.
New Herd to Advance Research in Beef Industry
- DiscoverMooseJaw.com, May 5, 2007
The federal and provincial governments are providing $1.1 million to replace the research herd and upgrade research equipment at the Western Beef Development Centre.
WBDC Vice President of Operations Paul Jefferson says the current herd being used for cow-calf research is a commercial, mixed breed herd with a varied background. This can sometimes diminish the certainty of the results drawn from studies done on the cattle, particularly in some of the newer research fields that are becoming increasingly popular with scientific and technological advances.
"As we've been discussing more collaborative efforts with producers and our colleagues in the research community, it was identified that a herd with known genetic background would be useful for the type of work that's going forward into the future, where molecular genetics would be applied to understanding the genotypes of the animals and how this affects their performance and other aspects of beef production," Jefferson said.
As a result, a funding proposal was submitted to purchase a new purebred herd to be housed at the WBDC. The majority of the $1.1 million will be used to obtain approximately 300 new cows.
"These will be two- and three-year-old cows of known genetic background from a purebred source," explained Jefferson. "Our intent is to buy 100 cows per year over a three-year period."
He says this approach will enable the WBDC to wind up its existing research studies already underway using the current herd before they are phased out and replaced with the new animals.
The balance of the funding will go towards facility and equipment improvements necessary to conduct beef research.
Having a herd with a known background and known genetics is a terrific boost to the WBDC's efforts, Jefferson noted. It will enable researchers to study the effects of various treatments on cattle, and determine with greater certainty that their observations are a result of the treatment rather than some factor in the animal's genetic history of which they were not aware.
"While it's difficult to ever draw an absolute, 100-per-cent conclusion, we will be able to pinpoint with greater accuracy what's causing the difference in the reaction of an animal to the treatment, and make our statements accordingly," he stated.
With 21,000 producers in the province's cow-calf industry, Jefferson says the funding is not only good news for cattle research in Saskatchewan, but also for individual farmers.
"So, much of the work we do has a direct, practical application on the farm or ranch. One of the projects we've been undertaking looks at low-cost winter feeding. We've been able to show that you can reduce the cost of over-wintering a beef cow herd by up to 45 per cent. That's a significant cost reduction to the commercial cow-calf producer," he noted.
"So I think the information that will come from this research will continue to have that kind of impact - reducing production and operating costs to the average producer, and improving competitiveness."
Accept GM food, expert says
- Daily Telegraph (Sydney), May 7, 2007
AUSTRALIANS will have to accept genetically modified (GM) food if the agriculture industry is to continue in an era of climate change, a plant genetics expert says.
Professor Mark Tester of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide said today that GM food should be embraced as farmers battle the effects of global warming.
Prof Tester said a current study was focusing on improving the "toughness" genes of plants so they could survive in extended periods of drought, high-salinity areas or hotter weather.
Australian farmers who grew wheat and barley could benefit most from changes in the structure of plants, he said.
"Genetic modification can help accelerate improvements in crop plants to enable them to better cope with the rapidly changing environment," Prof Tester said.
"There is no doubt that as farmers face reduced yields, they will need all the tools they can get to help them grow our food sustainability and economically.
"Genetic modification is one of those tools."
Prof Tester said he understood opposition to GM crops because the public could not see any benefit, but technological improvements would produce better crops for the future with less stress on the environment.
He said there was no reason why people who embraced organic and clean food could not embrace GM food.
"Genetically modified food is about adapting the plant to the environment rather than adopting the environment to the plant," he said.
Germany's Cheap Beer Tradition Under Threat From Biofuels
- Deutsche Welle, April 23, 2007
Germans will have to dig deeper in their pockets to enjoy their beloved beer in the next few months as barley is increasingly displaced in the country's fields by heavily subsidized crops used for biofuels.
"Many brewers have no choice but to raise their prices," said Kai Schuerholt, a spokesman for the German brewers' association. "They decided not to pass on the three-percentage point rise in value-added tax that came into force in Germany on Jan. 1, but in this case they have no alternative."
The German arm of Belgian brewer InBev, which owns the Beck's and Franziskaner brands, confirmed it would be implementing "slight" price rises, while Germany's Radeberger said it was considering a similar move.
It is hard to overstate the importance of beer in Germany -- it is drunk in vast quantities and the market is fiercely competitive and extremely price-sensitive.
A half-liter (one pint) glass currently costs as little as three euros (four dollars) in a bar or restaurant, a price that makes drinkers in most other western European countries green with envy.
Average annual consumption of beer in Germany last year was 111.6 liters per head, equivalent to every one of the country's 82 million people drinking a 0.31-liter glass every day, according to figures released on Friday.
Energy security vs. food security?
But the price of barley, which is used to make malt, an essential ingredient in brewing, has doubled in the space of a year from 200 to 400 euros per ton on the German market.
Brewers and farmers say an extremely poor barley harvest in 2006 has exacerbated an emerging trend of converting barley fields to growing the plants used in biofuels, such as rapeseed. The amount of land used for growing barley in Germany is receding by 5 percent a year.
The march of biofuels is inexorable. Of the 12 million hectares (30 million acres) farmed in Germany, two million are already being used for plants that can be turned into biofuel.
"Biofuels are monopolizing the land," said Manfred Weizbauer, the head of the German millers' federation, which is calling for a cut in the subsidies granted to biofuel crops.
"The German government has got to be reasonable and not give more importance to energy security than to food security," he said.
The impact of the biofuels is not restricted to beer, with the price of bread likely to rise by 10 percent as a result of reduced grain production, the German bakers' federation has warned.
Sign of the times
Germany is not alone in experiencing the effects of converting arable land to new uses. Although it is not suffering the potentially catastrophic consequences felt by Mexico, where the phenomenon has caused maize prices to climb sharply, German millers fear the effects of steadily rising cereal prices.
The biofuels policy is encouraged by the European Union, which wants vehicle fuel to contain at least 10 percent of the "green" fuel by 2020.
But Jens Redemacher, the head of the cereals division of the federation of German farmers, said the brewers also had themselves to blame.
"They have demanded lower and lower prices for barley which has caused farmers to abandon growing it because it was no longer profitable. So biofuels are not the only culprits," he said.
The food industry is "just going to have to get used to having a competitor for the purchase of cereals, especially those used for biofuels," Redemacher said.
Organic farmers may appeal ruling
- Betty Ann Adam, Saskatchewan News Network via The Leader-Post (Regina), May 4, 2007
SASKATOON -- Organic farmers are considering taking their fight to bring a class action suit over genetically modified canola to the Supreme Court of Canada after their latest disappointment.
On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal of a 2005 Queen's Bench ruling that denied their attempt to have a lawsuit against Monsanto and Bayer CropScience certified as a class action.
Lawyers for the farmers are reviewing the decision to determine whether they should seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, said Arnold Taylor, chair of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund Committee.
"If there's a window there, we will try to take it. All our efforts have been to no avail to date, but we still think we have a point to make and we're going to pursue it," Taylor said.
The farmers involved want to hold Monsanto and Bayer CropScience liable for losses they say are due to the introduction of genetically modified canola and the contamination of organic crops. They contend cross pollination from neighbouring GM crops undermines their ability to claim organic status for their crops. They have not yet argued the merits of that case, because they want to proceed as a class action.
Two farmers were named as plaintiffs in the suit that aims to include all 1,200 Saskatchewan organic grain farmers. They contend the Court of Queen's Bench applied an overly rigorous test to the issue of class certification. To be certified, a case must meet five requirements, including whether a class action is the preferable procedure and whether the plaintiffs adequately represent the interests of the class.
Monsanto Canada spokeswoman Trish Jordan said Thursday she is pleased the appeal court agreed with the companies that a class action would be an inappropriate use of the provision.
"They haven't met even one of the requirements," Jordan said.
Since the effort to launch the class action began five years ago, Monsanto has brought to market new traits in soybeans, which reduce the trans fat content in soy oil, and in corn, to make it more pest resistant, Jordan said. The company is also working on bringing a new Roundup Ready canola technology it hopes to bring to market by 2011 or 2012, she said.
With almost 85 per cent of Saskatchewan canola being genetically modified, the majority of farmers find it a beneficial product, she said.
"Our customers are demanding these products. We continue to work and put the investment into (research and development) to bring forward these products," she said.
Jordan had some advice for the organic farmers: the money they're spending on their legal battle would be better spent promoting the benefits of their organic products, she said.
"That would be much more beneficial for them as an industry than trying to fight some battle that clearly, based on the first two judgments from the courts, that they're not going to win," she said.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net