Shark Bait Blog

Environment.. and Scuba Diving.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Aquaculture - Is it ecologically sound?

Image courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture

Unfortunately Aquaculture (with the possible exclusion of farmed oysters, clams and mussels) currently has a number of major ecological flaws:

Degradation of the environment -

Pollution of the environment -

Parasite and disease transfers from farmed to wild stock -

Probably the biggest problem of all; many aquaculture industries depend on an unsustainable harvesting of wild species to be processed into fish meal for the farmed species -

There is also the risk posed by the escape of proposed farmed GM transgenic stock into the wild-

However this does not mean that there is no potential to improve the sustainability and ecological footprint of aquaculture and such efforts will be extremely important to future food production. -

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Data File 5 - The GM Debate

Image courtesy of Brian0918

I am not hostile to all technology, merely technology designed around unsustainable practises and technology that is disingenuosly promoted as some kind of 'magic wand' that will solve a global problem at a stroke, but in reality does nothing of the sort.

Biotechnology is often promoted solely on its own terms to fulfill very narrow requirements and no legal responsibility is taken by GM or GE corporations if anything goes wrong, these issues are classed as 'externalities'.
Indeed most GM, GE and chemical corporations go to great lengths to ensure they cannot be held legally accountable for 'accidents'; just ask the citizens of Bhopal (Methyl isocyanate the chemical that was produced at Union Carbide's facility in Bhopal is used in pesticides).

Rachel Carson in 'Silent Spring' was concerned not just with the quantities of chemicals being used by the intensive agriculture industry but that corporations do not test the effects of combinations of chemicals, merely the regulationary 'safety' requirements for their own individual products.

People are now exposed to a vast number of man-made chemicals in all aspects of their daily lives and the fact is very little study is dedicated to how combinations of those chemicals effect us long term.

Tobacco corporations spent decades and millions on 'scientific' propaganda that there was no link between their products and cancer.

The concept that no winds or fauna occur around GM farms is another classic example of corporate propaganda.
The suggestion that it is impossible to have cross pollination between GM and non-GM crops is a scientific fallacy.
This of course is of no concern to GM corporations since it expands their market share by covertly destroying their competition, while at the same time those corporations claim that they are happy to compete with non-GM products on 'merit' alone. However they also consistently campaign against labelling that allows consumers to make an informed choice.

'Monsanto and its allies have created the clunky-sounding Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law. They've set a $6 million spending target, 40 times the amount pro-labeling forces plan to spend.'
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Editorial, September 26, 2002

'Oregon Genetically Engineered Food Label Bid Fails
Early returns showed more than 73 percent of voters rejecting Measure 27 compared with 27 percent in favor, prompting local media outlets to declare that the initiative, which would have produced the first such labeling law in the country, had been defeated.
Campaign finance reports showed the food industry and other opponents raised more than $5 million to combat the initiative.'
- Reuters, 11/12/2002

'The giant chemical maker Monsanto has failed in its attempt to convince the state of Maine to abandon its Quality Trademark Seal program for milk, which the state adopted in 1994. Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe has informed Monsanto that the use of the seal is entirely appropriate for the Maine milk market. "Consumer choice is not impaired in any way," Rowe told Monsanto. "Rather, consumer choice is broadened." Monsanto had requested that the use of the seal be suspended and legal proceedings brought against Oakhurst and H.P. Hood for alleged unfair trade practices.'
- Sharon Kiley Mack
Daily News, February 26, 2003

If GM corporations achieve sufficient market share in a farming community, they quite simply win by contamination.
Any suggestion that GM corporations are unaware of this, would require a level of stupidity amongst their scientific experts which would prevent them from identifying any significant difference between their a*** and their elbow.

All GM products are designed to lock customers (and by extention the consumer) into an exclusive commercial relationship with the supplying corporation.

“What you’re seeing,” he explained, “is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain.”
- Monsanto representative, Robert Fraley, describing his company’s corporate strategy in the magazine 'Farm Journal' in 1996.

Roundup (glyphosate) and genetically engineered 'Roundup Ready' crops are simply a revenue stream, Monsanto's patent on Roundup ran out in 2000 so to protect revenue before that happened, Monsanto patented genetically modified crops that were resistant to glyphosate, thus perpetuating their patent by other means.

In 1997 the New York attorney-geneneral’s office forced Monsanto to withdraw adverts claiming that Roundup is “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly”.

According to the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, glyphosate is the third most commonly-reported cause of pesticide illness among farm workers and the commonest cause among landscape maintenance workers.

'Scientists' funded by Monsanto to produce a study of their growth hormone 'Posilac' reported that cows treated with the hormone suffered only a minor increase in udder infections. But when the results were re-examined by independent researchers, they found to their astonishment that only part of the data had been processed. A complete analysis revealed that the “somatic cell count” (that is pus, to you and me) increased by 20 per cent in the udders of cows treated with Posilac.

There is also scientific evidence that cows given growth hormone injections pass elevated hormone levels on in their milk and that this is linked to breast cancer and prostate cancer.

'among pre-menopausal women increasing levels of IGF-1 in blood were strongly associated with increasing risk of breast cancer in a consistent dose-response relationship. Adjusting for other known breast cancer factors (age at which menstruation began; age at birth of first child; number of children; family history of breast cancer; and weight in relation to height) did not change the results'
- The Lancet (May 1998)

Science (January 1998) reported a four-fold increased risk of prostate cancer "a strong positive association" among 152 men who had elevated, but still "normal," levels of IGF- 1. The study found that men, aged 60 and older, with high levels of IGF-1 (300-500 nanograms/milliliter) were eight times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with the lowest levels (100-185 ng/ml).

According to the researchers, these results "raise concern" that an intake of rBGH or IGF-l, over time (and especially so for the elderly), "may increase the risk of prostate cancer." Researchers suggested that IGF-1 levels in the blood might be a useful predictor of prostate cancer risk.

Environmentalists are often accused of corporation bashing, however bashing certain corporations is a perfectly justifiable activity when you start investigating the behaviour of those corporations:

'Monsanto fined $1.5 million for bribery'

'Roundup Ready® canola is like other canola. It’s nutritional qualities and food safety are equivalent to conventional canola.
In a paddock, it looks the same as other canola. With the exception of glyphosate based herbicides (such as Roundup®) unwanted plants can be effectively controlled with the same herbicides as conventional canola.'

So to sum up the only benefit to Roundup Ready® canola is that it is glyphosate resistant but since persistant use of the same pesticide causes 'weeds' to develop resistance, this is not a benefit either.

Monsanto reps somehow forgot to mention that the yields from their GM product are lower than conventional canola.

'The success of RR soybeans is remarkable in light of the magnitude of the so-called Roundup Ready® "yield drag." Under most conditions extensive evidence shows that RR soybeans produce lower yields than possible if farmers planted comparable but non-engineered varieties.'

So bearing all this in mind why the rush to use GM products by famers? Simple, at the current time intensive agricultural processes are the only way for agricultural suppliers to meet the demands of ever lower prices by corporations like WalMart.

Farmers are increasingly unable to afford more agriculturally sustainable practises like proper crop rotations and varied chemicals because the drive for ever cheaper food is destroying normal farm economics and intensive farming methods are the only way of delivering the necessary economies of scale.

If farmers can use the agricultural equivalent of Agent Orange (another chemical Monsanto used to produce) then they do not have to apply it as often (initially) and this saves money (initially) although these benefits are rapidly eroded.

GM pundits like to claim that food is now cheaper than it has ever been.
It certainly is in the developed world, because the consumer is not being informed of the real cost of all that 'cheap' food in biosphere degredation or the way the farming community is being impoverished by the corporations supplying food to consumers at bargain basement prices.

There is no such thing as a free lunch and there never will be.

To put the financial interests of GM companies into some sort of perspective, here are some figures from the biotech company Monsanto:

'Monsanto made $4.9 billion in sales in the fiscal year ended 31st August 2003.
Of that, $1.9 billion came from biotech seeds, such as corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist certain insects and withstand applications of Roundup or generic glyphosate weed-killer.

Sales of Roundup® were $1.8 billion. And the company made $1.2 billion in revenue from other agricultural productivity products, primarily its Posilac® growth hormone for dairy cows.'

'For the full fiscal year, the company made a profit of $68 million' after taking a one time hit to pay '$396 million to help settle a liability lawsuit over decades-old contamination of Anniston, Ala., with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.'
- St Louis Post

GM companies are heavily involved with research and development some of which is carried out in commercial association with colleges and universities, it is unclear if this is skewing research away from conventional crops in areas where there is currently little GM product and whether this is a commercial attempt to develop new markets.

'New Biodiesel Team
North Dakota State University and biotechnology company Monsanto have agreed to work together on ways to improve oilseed crops for biodiesel fuel and other products.
School officials say the partnership makes sense because the state leads the nation in the production of canola, a preferred ingredient in biodiesel.
"This is a great big deal for us," said Ken Grafton, dean of agriculture at NDSU. "In talking to my colleagues across the country, we don't see this level of partnership with private industry."
- Northern Canola growers Association, 8/1/2006.

Certainly biotech R&D has an added benefit for the biotech company Monsanto, through its patent on the 35S promoter, a genetic mechanism used extensively in the biotech industry.
'All biotech companies using the promoter must pay Monsanto a technology use fee. By 2004, the company had a 29.82 percent share of all research and development in the biotech industry.'
- Center for Food Safety, 2005

Some GM lobbyists like to say that GM products are succesful because they are popular with farmers and cite examples of products that have been withdrawn due to 'poor sales' however they are being economical with the truth. A number of these products were actually withdrawn because they were substandard or the company that created them was taken over by a larger corporation which chose to sell its own products instead -

BXN cotton was produced by Calgene, the company was bought by Monsanto in 1997, and Monsanto promply replaced BXN cotton with Roundup Ready® product.

Would Monsanto's spending $8 billion acquiring, or establishing relationships with, US and foreign seed companies have anything to do with the popularity of its products and farmers 'choice'?

Certainly the 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety stated that one of the factors contributing to Monsanto’s cornering of the GM market is its control of these seed companies.

“These companies (often owned or indirectly controlled by Monsanto) had to agree that 90 percent of the sales of herbicide-tolerant soybeans would contain Monsanto’s patented technology.
This requirement was later dropped to 70 percent after Monsanto came under scrutiny from government regulators. Through this sort of ownership and control of seed companies, Monsanto has been able to ensure that competition [will] remain small and that its patented genetically engineered crop varieties [will] be the ones most readily available".

The UK Soil Association’s 2003 report, Seeds of Doubt, shows that virtually every benefit claimed for GE crops since 1996 has not occurred.

'Instead farmers using GE seeds are reporting lower yields, continuing dependency on herbicides and pesticides, loss of access to international markets and a loss of profitability.

The Soil Association estimates that GE soya, maize and oilseed rape could have cost the US economy US$12 billion since 1999 in farm subsidies, lower crop prices, loss of major export orders and product recalls.'!OpenDocument

A Dutch report found that given the choice, rodents would avoid eating GM crops and those given a GM only diet actually suffered health problems.

It also appears that at least one GM corporation's (Monsanto) own reserach confirms these results however they are less than willing to share those results with the public:

Another interesting facet to the Canola debate is that GM varients are now being classed as problem weeds in some parts of Canada.

Recently yields for GMO crops are claimed to have improved however research shows that this information is only part of the story -

In the University of Melborne's 2003 report by Dr Robert Norton, those higher yields are based on a theoretical scenario and disingenuously use both GM (50% of current triazine tolerant) canola and conventional canola (only 40%) not only that but the report's scenario has the audacity to allow 160,000 hectares of ADDITIONAL (my capitals) GM canola planting.
Which means any attempt to use it as a comparison with existing conventional canola yields is meaningless.

This report also uses the additional planting area as the basis for its claimed increased wheat yields (as a rotational crop).

Everything else being equal if you increase the area planted with GM crops you will increase yield. Dr Norton's report is therefore a self fulfilling prophecy and as a result valueless

'GM canola enables an efficient hybrid system to be created and theoretically you'd expect a hybrid to yield more because of the increase in crop genetic biodiversity and strees tolerance through heterosis, otherwise known as hybrid vigour' - Dr. Tribe, GMO lobbyist

This kind of pro-GM argument is completely disingenuous since so does non-GM selective improvement of natural hybrids to improve yields and counter local pests and growing conditions, like the Lyamunga 90 bean in Africa; facile attempts to claim this as a unique benefit of GM crops dare laughable.

GM Canola yields from GM farming areas like Manitoba have been cited as examples of how GM yield lag has now been eliminated from some GM products and that therefore they are now the de facto answer for world agriculture.

However since these examples give no comparisons between climate, soil quality, pest susceptibility differences, etc between Manitoba amd places like Europe, Australia and Africa this argument is disingenuous and hopelessly flawed.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Benjamin Disreali

During my research into yields of conventional and GM crops, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I should be looking behind the statistics at the causes of yield improvements and as a result I came across a very, very interesting piece of data.

Improved yields are directly related to research into the most 'successful' stock. 'Success' for these purposes is measured purely by the largest quantities of seed sold. GM corporations are doing a similar trick with yields that they are attempting to do with contamination.

Once GM products reach tipping point on commercial sales, research into improving yields automatically switches from conventional crops to GM crops, regardless of any other factor.

The way GM lobbyists burble on, readers might be misled into believing that conventional breeding was unable to provide equivalent benefits, this is of course a complete fallacy:

'Scientists of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service (ARS) developed two salt tolerant wheat lines by conventional breeding. Salt tolerance of wheat is an important trait. In the irrigated wheat producing regions in the west of the USA, the improper irrigation accelerates building up of salts. The two breeding lines W4909 and W4910 resulted from one parent containing genes from wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii), a wild relative from wheat that had shown salt tolerance before. The other parent contains genes that schedule another gene that would otherwise block the transfer of wheatgrass genes into domestic wheat, which is called PH1b gene-inhibition. The scientists want to reveal the mechanism of salt tolerance. The article „New Plants Shrug Off Salinity“ is published in Agriculture Research/January 2003 and can be downloaded from the internet ('

While we are on the subject of GM crops in Manitoba:

On the subject of GM crops 'benefits' for biodiversity or otherwise:

The US government is only now finally running its first full environmental impact assessment of a GM plant.
Why? Because an unapproved one escaped:

Of course GM scientists are not saying that conventional crops are not interesting, merely that they have not pirated the genetic material for a patent, so they cannot 'own' conventional crops properly; therefore though GM corporations buy seed banks of conventional crops in order to plunder their genetic diversity, those crops cannot be regarded as a 'commercial' success.

That in a nutshell is the real 'benefit' of GM crops, they allow corporations to 'own' nature.
In the same way that indigenous people around the globe have had their land rights stolen (GM has accelerated this); GM corporations are in the process of stealing nature then selling it back to us with a very real and legally binding patent.

Environmental groups learnt the hard way from Corporate sponsored scientists and lobby groups that to ignore the political arena results in being outflanked by cynical and machiavellian opponents. Now corporate sponsored scientists and lobby groups have discovered their traditional propaganda is no longer fooling an increasingly well informed public, who after the cigarette industry's classic example of fake science, can no longer be relied on to unquestionlingly accept corporate press releases and 'expert' corroboration. Understandably corporations are far from happy about this situation and are funding greenwashing NGOs and scientists in an effort to strike back and protect their revenue streams.

Think about it, are multibillion dollar companies and industries really going to sit idly by while environmental organisations point out all their ugly secrets and in so doing reduce the profits that corporations are legally required to maximise for their shareholders ?
Of course not! It would be wholly illogical and fly in the face of all corporate history in a multiplicity of industries.

'Monsanto Lines Up Heavy-Hitters As Lobbyists'
'Once upon a time, Monsanto Co. had a corporate slogan that said, "Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible." Today, under fire for its genetically modified agricultural products and the constant topic of rumors as to the company's possible merger or sale, Monsanto's top brass appears to be placing its bets on lobbyists instead. The firm of Griffin, Johnson, Dover & Stewart Inc. and several of its members registered with the Senate last month as lobbyists for Monsanto. That's Griffin as in Patrick J. Griffin, former chief congressional lobbyist for President Bill Clinton, and Johnson as in David E. Johnson, former director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Not to slight the GOP, the Griffin firm also lists on its roster of Monsanto lobbyists Leonard Swinehart, a top aide to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Keith Heard, from the staff of Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

Monsanto spokeswoman Lori J. Fisher confirmed the new hires with deft understatement: "I'm told that they are currently working with Monsanto on a variety of biotech issues," she said. "As you know, they have experience with both congressional and administration circles in D.C." They almost sound like volunteers. We'd guess not, although the first report on fees isn't required until early next year. Monsanto's own most recent report says that for the first half of 1999 it shelled out $2 million on D.C. lobbying activities.'
- by Jon Sawyer, Terence Samuel and Nahal Toosi
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1999,

To corporations environmental problems are an externality, only to be dealt with after a very protracted legal battle to minimise or escape the penalties and even if the legal case is lost, a good accountancy firm should be able to get tax benefits to offset against those losses. If even that isn't possible, then getting taken over by another corporation and ceasing to exist as an entity that can be held legally accountable is a permissable legal strategy. Big round of applause for Union Carbide...Not!

Monsanto's lawyers preempting liability to an externality:

Anyone wishing to keep up to date with Monsanto's activities can do so here -

Indian cotton farmers:

Completely objective science never claims to have a definitive answer, which is all the 'wriggle' room corporations and their lobbyists need.

Interesting further reading on GM crops:

All of these flaws have not prevented GM corporations and their lobbyists from continuing to claim that thay alone can feed the worlds poor and they have started a serious campaign to get their products into third world countries under the guise of 'aid' -

'In 2005 Syngenta decided not to go commercial with Golden Rice in developed countries, a main reason being that there is practically no vitamin A deficiency in such countries. Thus, it would be probably a vitamin-enriched product with little commercial interest, even though antioxidants are very fashionable, and provitamin A is such an antioxidant. But still, Syngenta continues to support the project with advice and scientific knowhow.

The essence of the Sublicensing Agreement

* The inventors have assigned their exclusive rights to the Golden Rice technology to Syngenta.
* Syngenta added some further technologies, and arranged licences with other companies for some additional technologies to be included in the original Golden Rice.
* Syngenta, in turn, has given the inventors a humanitarian licence with the right to sublicense public research institutions and low-income farmers in developing countries, to the full set of necessary technologies.
* Syngenta retains commercial rights, although it has no plans to commercialize Golden Rice.
* ’Humanitarian Use’ means (and includes research leading to):
o Use in developing countries (low-income, food-deficit countries as defined by FAO)
o Resource-poor farmer use (earning less than US$10,000 per year from farming)
o The technology must be introduced into public germplasm ( = seed) only (see below).
o No surcharge may be charged for the technology (i.e. the seed may cost only as much as a seed without the trait)
o National sales are allowed by such farmers (in this way urban needs can also be covered)
o Reusing the harvested seed in the following planting season is allowed (the farmer is the owner of his seeds
* Regulatory imperative and national sovereignty, i.e. Golden Rice may not be released in a country lacking biosafety regulations, and the decision to adopt the technology is a national matter.
* No export allowed (except for research to other licensees): this is a humanitarian project, i.e. the seeds are meant to cover the daily requirements of the poor populations that are deficient in vitamin A.
* Improvements to licensed technology:
o Commercial rights of improvements to the technology go to Syngenta, but
o Humanitarian Use of such improvements is guaranteed under the same terms of the original agreement (in this way any improvements to the technology will serve the humanitarian purpose).
* No warranties are given by licensor(s) (this is also related the fact that every receiving country will determine what biosafety and agronomic requirements to impose before approval of a Golden Rice variety.
* Liabilities and costs — each party is responsible for what it controls (this follows also from the fact that this is a humanitarian project and not a commercial enterprise).

Selection of locally adapted varieties as receptors of the Golden trait:
While countries adopting the technology are free to introduce the trait into their preferred varieties, there are some criteria on which strategic decisions for selection should be based. For example, receptor rice varieties should preferably be widely used by farmers. Those varieties should also be expected to maintain prominence over time and be grown by most productive farmers in vitamin A deficiency-prone regions (for local and regional supply).

See also:
# Kryder D, Kowalsi SP, Krattiger AF. 2000. 'The Intellectual and Technical Property Components of pro-Vitamin A Rice (GoldenRice™): A Preliminary Freedom-To-Operate Review', ISAAA Briefs No 20. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY. 56 p.'
- Dr Tribe, GMO lobbyist.

Unfortunately this 'altruistic generosity' is not what it seems.

The GM 'wonder' solution to vitamin A deficiency conveniently ignores the fact that there are conventional crop solutions to the problem:

Cynics might suspect that free distribution of a patented crop that farmers can be charged for in the future might have something to do with the 'generosity' of Syngenta's free distribution. It also has the additional benefit for the biotech industry of contaminating the food chain in new areas with patented GM product.

Lets have a closer look at the small print:

Syngenta's commercial business model -

1. 'Syngenta retains commercial rights, although it has no plans to commercialize Golden Rice.'

Translation - This of course can be changed at any time

2. 'The inventors have assigned their exclusive rights to the Golden Rice technology to Syngenta.
Syngenta added some further technologies, and arranged licences with other companies for some additional technologies to be included in the original Golden Rice.
Syngenta, in turn, has given the inventors a humanitarian licence with the right to sublicense public research institutions and low-income farmers in developing countries, to the full set of necessary technologies.'

Translation - This addition of new technologies to the product gives Syngenta total commercial control of the product just in case the inventors should try to recover their exclusive rights, as indicated by the fact that the inventors now need a 'humanitarian licence' to 'sublicence' their invention from Syngenta.

3. 'Improvements to licensed technology:
Commercial rights of improvements to the technology go to will serve the humanitarian purpose'

Translation - Anyone improving the product, including farmers through normal hybridization will automatically cede the commercial rights of those improvements to Syngenta, though Syngenta will not penalise farmers for this as long as they remain in poverty.

4. 'No export allowed' -

Translation - Syngenta will keep the African farmers in poverty or the farmers will pay for the crops.

This is a covert commercial enterprise to contaminate the food chain with GM product. Some enterprises have a short term profit cycle and some require a longer term investment before reaping dividends.

Syngenta have also employed the standard biotech legal avoidence of any and all liabilities for environmental externalities -

1.'Regulatory imperative and national sovereignty, i.e. Golden Rice may not be released in a country lacking biosafety regulations, and the decision to adopt the technology is a national matter.'

2. 'No warranties are given by licensor(s)'

3. 'Liabilities and costs — each party is responsible for what it controls '

Translation - Syngenta knows these countries do not have the wherewithall to ensure biosafety regulations so this is a clear and legally binding disclaimer that any biosafety failures are the national responsibility of the sovereign government concerned using the Union Carbide model.


1. 'this is a humanitarian project and not a commercial enterprise.'

Translation - Syngenta intend to use poverty stricken countries to conduct field trials with no liabilities and contaminate new markets with GM product but because Syngenta are currently giving it away free, this is not a commercial enterprise.

To back my interpretation of GM 'aid' up, here is an example of existing biotech corporate behaviour in other markets -

'During the early years of introducing transgenic soybean into Argentina, Monsanto did not charge farmers royalties to use the technology. But now that farmers are hooked, the multinational is pressuring the government for payment of intellectual property rights, despite the fact that Argentina signed UPOV 78, which allows farmers to save seeds for their own use. Nevertheless, Paraguayan farmers have just signed an agreement with Monsanto to pay the company $2 per tonne.
- Prof. Miguel A. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley and Prof. Walter A. Pengue, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina