Weedkiller found in human urine across Europe
Thursday, 13 June 2013 08:31
NOTE: Read the full report, "Determination of Glyphosate residues in human urine samples from 18 European countries", by Medical Laboratory Bremen, here:
Weedkiller found in human urine across Europe
Friends of the Earth Europe, 13 June 2013
People in 18 countries across Europe have been found to have traces of the weed killer glyphosate in their urine, show the results of tests commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe and released today .
The findings raise concerns about increasing levels of exposure to glyphosate-based weed killers, commonly used by farmers, public authorities and gardeners across Europe. The use of glyphosate is predicted to rise further if more genetically modified (GM) crops are grown in Europe .
Despite its widespread use, there is currently little monitoring of glyphosate in food, water or the wider environment. This is the first time monitoring has been carried out across Europe for the presence of the weed killer in human bodies.
Friends of the Earth Europe's spokesperson Adrian Bebb said: "Most people will be worried to discover they may have weed killer in their bodies. We tested people living in cities in 18 countries and found traces in every country. These results suggest we are being exposed to glyphosate in our everyday lives, yet we don't know where it is coming from, how widespread it is in the environment, or what it is doing to our health.
"Our testing highlights a serious lack of action by public authorities across Europe and indicates that this weed killer is being widely overused. Governments need to step-up their monitoring and bring in urgent measures to reduce its use. This includes rejecting any genetically modified crops that would increase the use of glyphosate."
Friends of the Earth Europe is calling on the European Union to urgently investigate how glyphosate is finding its way into people's bodies; to increase the levels of monitoring in the environment and in food and water; and to introduce immediate restrictions on the use of glyphosate.
Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned laboratory tests on urine samples from volunteers in 18 countries across Europe and found that on average 44% of samples contained glyphosate. The proportion of positive samples varied between countries, with Malta, Germany, the UK and Poland having the most positive tests, and lower levels detected in Macedonia and Switzerland.
All the volunteers who provided samples live in cities, and none had handled or used glyphosate products in the run-up to the tests which were carried out between March and May 2013.
Glyphosate is used on many genetically modified crops. 14 new GM crops designed to be cultivated with glyphosate are currently waiting for approval to be grown in Europe. Approval of these crops would inevitably lead to a further increase of glyphosate spraying in the EU.
The biggest producer of glyphosate is Monsanto which sells it under the brand name 'Roundup'. Two weeks ago the US Department of Agriculture announced that it had found GM wheat developed by Monsanto that has not been approved anywhere in the world growing in a field in Oregon, leading to some countries restricting or testing US wheat imports and farmers in the US starting legal cases against the company.
 Urine samples were collected from volunteers in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and the UK. A total of 80/182 samples tested were found to contain glyphosate. Volunteers were all city-dwellers and included vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. No two samples were tested from the same household. The samples were analysed by Dr Hoppe at Medical Laboratory Bremen in Germany.
The full results of "Determination of Glyphosate residues in human urine samples from 18 European countries" by Medical Laboratory Bremen are available online:
Probe nails scientists in GM crop scandal
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:36
1.Indian research council in GM crop scandal
2.Probe nails scientists in GM cotton scandal
1.Indian research council in GM crop scandal
Farming News (UK), 17 December 2012
A committee set up to investigate a scandal surrounding India's first public-sector GM crop (a genetically modified cotton plant), have indicted scientists involved for deliberately misleading regulators.
The crop in question is Bikaneri Narma-Bt cotton, known as BN-Bt cotton. The plant was designed to kill insect pests by releasing Bt toxins and released for sale in 2009. It was developed by a number of research organisations working with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Developers claimed to have used a novel gene sequence created 'in-house,' however, the cotton seeds were withdrawn from sale in December 2011, after they were found to contain a gene patented in the United States by agribusiness Monsanto.
The committee investigating the scandal was set up by ICAR itself. In its report, published last week, the committee accused ICAR and two research institutions involved in producing the crop of "scientific, institutional and ethical failure". The committee euphemistically said scientists at the institutions in New Delhi, Nagpur and Dharwad had 'contaminated' the seeds with Monsanto's MON-531 gene and claimed to have created a new gene, BNLA106.
Although evidence of another gene in one of the early samples of BN-Bt was present, the panel of investigators said they could not prove that this was BNLA106 and requested further tests be carried out.
The panel also discovered evidence of a cover-up, suggesting the cotton's developers were aware of the 'contamination'. It also indicted two scientists for conflict of interest, as they had been involved in both developing the GM seed and later approving its commercial release.
The seeds had been released to compete against GM seeds sold by agribusinesses; the publicly-developed BN-Bt seeds were available at a fraction of the price and seed from the crops could be saved and reused, which major agribusinesses do not allow. However, seed company Mahyco, a partner of Monsanto in India, complained that the BN-Bt contained a gene developed by Monsanto.
However, the gene in question is used widely in GM crops sold in India as the 1985 patent on MON-531 has expired.
The scandal raises questions about the regulation of GM crops and biosecurity in one of the world's major agricultural producers, where the technology is still highly controversial.
Strong voices oppose GM crops in India and maintain that patent laws should not be applied to seeds. Delhi-based sustainable food expert Dr Vandana Shiva has said that current trends in industrial agriculture, including patenting seeds present a "serious risk to the future of the world's seed and food security," as they limit growers' access to seeds, either by copyrighting genetically modified seeds as new organisms or protecting a certain breeding method, which prevents the saving and exchange of seeds.
She maintains that, in addition to the food security implications, locally adapted and culturally important crop varieties are suffering as a result of the use of patent laws.
In the UK, sustainable farming advocates have reacted strongly to the unequivocal support for GM shown by Environment minister Owen Paterson during an interview last week. Several interest groups have warned of a potential industry-backed push to introduce GM crops into the UK; although EU regulations covering GM remain strict and the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland oppose the technology, the Westminster government is a supporter of GM within Europe.
Soil Association Scotland director Laura Stewart responded to Mr Paterson's assertions that the introduction of GM crops would benefit the UK, and that concerns over the technology are "humbug." She said, "Studies have demonstrated that GM crops do not offer a sustainable solution. Instead, they lock farmers into depending on costly inputs from a handful of powerful chemical companies and, undoubtedly, bring the production of food further under corporate control."
Summarising a number of reservations held over GM crops, Stewart added, "Instead of reducing pesticide use, data from the US suggests that more potent chemicals are used on these crops than on non-GM alternatives… Once GM crops are out in the environment, they cannot be contained, so they deny that choice. Meanwhile, regulators don't undertake good enough safety checks or even ask whether new technologies are in the public interest."
2.Probe nails scientists in GM cotton scandal
The Telegraph, December 17 2012
Nagpur, Dec. 16: An expert committee probing a scandal relating to India’s first public sector-developed genetically modified (GM) cotton has indicted the scientists involved for foul play.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, which oversaw the project, admitted last year that the Bikaneri Narma-Bt (BN-Bt) cotton contained not an “indigenously” created gene sequence as claimed but a gene patented by US firm Monsanto.
The committee has also indicted the ICAR for scientific, institutional and ethical failure.
Indirectly, the probe report raises doubts on the efficacy of India’s bio-safety regulatory mechanism, considering the ease with which it was fooled about the GM cotton’s genetic composition, although the bio-safety clearance itself is not under question.
The five-member probe panel was set up by the ICAR itself and was headed by Sudhir Sopory, JNU vice-chancellor and plant biologist. It handed in its 129-page report in August but the ICAR made it public only yesterday,
On February 6 this year, The Telegraph had reported how BN-Bt was released commercially in mid-2009 and planted extensively. The seeds were not only far cheaper than other available GM cotton seeds but, unlike the rest, didn’t need to be bought every year — they could be reused from the previous year’s plants.
But in December 2009, the ICAR suddenly withdrew the seeds. In December 2011, it acknowledged that the gene sequence in the BN-Bt had not been developed in-house. The gene used was Mon-531, available in 2,000-odd cotton seed varieties sold in the Indian market (because Monsanto’s 1985 patent on it has expired).
With private sector Bt cotton seeds flooding the market, BN-Bt was developed as a collaborative public sector effort by the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB), New Delhi; University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad; and the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur.
The results were published by the principal scientists in Current Science in 2007. According to this paper, the Dharwad university developed BN-Bt using an in-house gene sequence, BNLA106, developed from the cry1Ac gene-construct provided by the Delhi institute.
The Nagpur institute carried out the bio-safety and field trials and later sold the seeds to farmers after the regulator, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), approved their commercialisation.
That the seeds contained Mon-531 and not BNLA106 came to light after two scientists from the Dharwad institution filed an RTI query.
The Sopory panel has confirmed that the “contamination” — which appears to be a euphemism for foul play — by Mon-531 happened before the commercialisation but went undetected by the GEAC.
It said the only Bt gene found in the BN-Bt samples from the fields was Mon-531, but a “purified” sample provided by the Dharwad institute — when the scandal first broke — had a gene sequence other than Mon-531. The panel said it could not verify if this was BNLA106 and suggested third-party verification.
It cited another anomaly. The cry1Ac gene was developed by Illimar Altosaar of the University of Ottawa and obtained by R.P. Sharma, former director of the Delhi institute, by signing a material transfer agreement (MTA) that allows only educational use. In 2006, Sharma tried to negotiate a freedom-to-operate agreement — which would have allowed other uses — with Altosaar but failed for reasons that remain unclear.
But in 2006, the ICAR decided that Sharma had signed the MTA in his “personal capacity”, that a freedom-to-operate agreement was not necessary, and that the gene construct would be referred to as an “NRCPB construct”.
The committee said, “It was a violation of the MTA and, to say the least, unethical.”
Government urged to act after glyphosate weedkiller found in Britons
Thursday, 13 June 2013 08:24
Government urged to act after weedkiller traces found in Britons
GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth, 13 Jun 2013
The Government is being urged to take urgent action on pesticides after laboratory tests, published today by Friends of the Earth and GM Freeze found traces of the weedkiller glyphosate in the bodies of people across numerous European countries, including Britain.
Urine tests of 182 volunteers in 18 countries across Europe, found that on average 44 per cent of samples contained traces of glyphosate. Of the ten samples taken in the UK, seven had weedkiller traces.
All the volunteers who gave samples live in cities, and none had handled or used glyphosate products in the run up to the tests. This is the first time monitoring has been carried out across Europe for the presence of the weedkiller in humans.
Glyphosate is one of the most widely-used weedkillers in the world, used by farmers, local government and gardeners, as well as sprayed extensively on some genetically modified crops imported into Europe for use as animal feed. The biggest producer is Monsanto, which sells it under the brand name Roundup. Despite its widespread use its presence in food, animal feed or surface and ground water is rarely monitored by Governments.
Friends of the Earth Food and Farming campaigner Vicki Hird said:
“It’s alarming that so many people have traces of weedkiller in their bodies – we need to find out how it got there and what effect it is having.
“Governments must take urgent action to reduce the use of pesticides and immediately step-up monitoring programmes to ensure people and wildlife, such as bees, are not put at risk.”
Pete Riley Campaign Director GM Freeze said:
"We want to know why GM soya and maize imported into Europe for animal feed is not tested for glyphosate. These GM crops are treated with the chemical and are more likely to contain residues. Is this where the weedkiller is coming from?
“Given the growing health concerns about glyphosate this lack of vigilance is unacceptable. The European Commission needs to sort this out immediately and improve monitoring. We need to know how this weedkiller is getting into our bodies and what it is doing to us and our environment."
Pete Riley, GM Freeze - 07903 341 065
Neil Verlander, Friends of the Earth press office – 020 7566 1649
 Urine samples were collected from volunteers in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and UK. Volunteers were all city-dwellers and included vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. No two samples were tested from the same household. The samples were analysed by Dr Hoppe at Medizinisches Labor Bremen in Germany (http://www.mlhb.de/). Dr Hoppe can be contacted on tel: +49 421 207 20
In the UK ten samples were taken in March 2013 from 5 men and 5 women living in London – all of whom are Friends of the Earth staff and volunteers. Seven showed traces of glyphosate residues.
 In Europe glyphosate is widely used by farmers to clear weeds from fields before planting, or before seeds have germinated. It is also sometimes sprayed on to cereal crops, oilseed rape, maize, and sunflowers ahead of harvesting to dry out the crops. It is the most commonly used weedkiller on UK arable farms.
 Fourteen glyphosate-resistant genetically modified (GM) crops are currently waiting for approval for cultivation in the European Union. Some estimates suggest that if given the go-ahead, glyphosate use could increase by as much as 800%.
 A background media briefing "Glyphosate – reasons for concern" is available here: www.foeeurope.org/glyphosate-reasons-for-concern-briefing-130613
A Silent Forest
Monday, 12 April 2010 10:00
The Growing Threat of Genetically Engineered Trees. This award winning documentary film explores the growing global threat of genetically engineered trees to our environment and to human health. The film features renowned geneticist and host of PBS' The Nature of Things David Suzuki, who explores the unknown and possibly disastrous consequences of improperly tested GE methods.(Total time 46:16)
Appeals Court backs whistleblower in GM virus case
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:33
NOTE: from SynBioWatch: Microbiologist Becky McClain, infected by a genetically engineered virus in a Pfizer lab, became the first whistleblower in the nation to try to shed light on the threats of biotechnology to workers and the public. Now, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, has validated her claims that Pfizer "acted willfully, maliciously, or with reckless indifference" concerning allegations that her free-speech rights had been violated and she had faced retaliation for raising safety concerns.
Appeals court backs scientist in Pfizer retaliation case
The Day, December 17 2012
Pfizer Inc. whistleblower Becky McClain’s legal battle to draw public attention to worker-safety issues came to an end Friday as an appeals court refused to overturn a $2.3 million verdict in favor of the former Groton-based scientist.
Pfizer said it is “evaluating its options” on whether to appeal the verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court. But McClain’s attorneys said no constitutional claim was associated with the case.
“Justice prevailed,” said attorney Bruce E. Newman, who represented McClain along with attorney Stephen J. Fitzgerald.
“We disagree with the court’s conclusion but respect its decision,” Pfizer said in a statement.
McClain, according to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, proved her claims that Pfizer “acted willfully, maliciously, or with reckless indifference” concerning allegations that her free-speech rights had been violated and she had faced retaliation for raising safety concerns.
One of McClain’s main concerns — that Pfizer had exposed her to an unsafe laboratory in Groton, leading to an illness from a novel virus that left her dangerously ill — never got a hearing in the courts. And McClain said she is unsure whether her message about needing to shore up regulations regarding the nation’s largely unregulated biotech labs is getting through, but she is glad to have the financial security to pursue better medical care.
“We’re happy,” McClain said in a phone interview. “But whistleblowers need swifter, quicker protections. Ten years is a long time to make it through something like this.”
McClain became ill in 2004, was fired by Pfizer in 2005 and filed her lawsuit the following year. In March 2010, an eight-person jury at U.S. District Court in Hartford decided that Pfizer should pay McClain $1.37 million, an amount that was increased by Judge Warren W. Eginton when he added in attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.
The New York-based court panel, which included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, heard Pfizer’s appeal in October. McClain’s attorneys plan to file an additional claim against Pfizer to cover interest charges on the initial court award.
Pfizer claimed that the former Deep River resident, now living in Albuquerque, N.M., was fired after abandoning her job.
“Pfizer holds the health and safety of its colleagues and contractors among its highest priorities thereby reaffirming the earlier federal court decision that Ms. McClain’s allegations of work safety issues were completely without merit,” Pfizer said in its statement.
Pfizer referred to a judge’s decision to disallow a legal claim related to McClain’s concerns about being exposed to a dangerous virus. The judge who made the decision later disqualified herself from pursuing the case because of a conflict of interest.
McClain, a longtime molecular biologist at Pfizer’s Groton laboratories, claimed that Pfizer refused to hand over records showing the type of virus to which she was exposed. Pfizer said McClain was never exposed to a hazard, and therefore there were no records to hand over.
McClain filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigated the claim but could not substantiate the safety problems. McClain said OSHA didn’t have the staff expertise to determine hazards on a molecular level. McClain was subsequently fired after taking a leave from work to fight her illness, which caused periodic paralysis, she said.
McClain said she still doesn’t understand why Pfizer didn’t address her safety concerns instead of trying to sweep them under the rug. She said her actions could have saved Pfizer money in the long run, in addition to protecting the public health and safety.
“Why would you retaliate against someone like that?” she said.
McClain, who has become a spokesman for worker safety groups nationwide, said she feels businesses such as Pfizer are becoming too influential in the academic community. The result, she said, is that academics are feeling constrained in speaking out about matters that might put lucrative partnerships with industry at risk.
Newman, McClain’s attorney, added that the case highlighted the work that still needs to be done nationwide to ensure that workers and the public are protected from biological hazards at laboratories.
“That is still an area that needs to be addressed by OSHA,” he said.
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