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Friday, December 30, 2011

Geneticall​y Modified Mosquitoes to be Released in the US for the First Time

Mike Barrett
Activist Post

December 23, 2011

To those of you who have been eager to hear the latest news concerning the potential release of genetically modified mosquitoes – here it is.

It turns out that the genetically modified mosquitoes could be released into the U.S. environment as early as January of 2012.

A private firm plans to initiate the release of the GE mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. Florida will be the first beta testing grounds to determine whether or not the mosquitoes lead to detrimental environmental and genetic impact. Residents in this area will also be subjected — without choice — to these genetically manipulated insects, unless the private firm decides to seek permission.

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes -- An Unknown Dangerous Experiment

Thefirst mosquito release took place in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean in 2009. On Sunday, October 27, the release wasdiscussed in a scientific paper by the journal of Nature Biotechnology with thereport concluding the release's success.

A second trial occurred in 2010, where 6,000 mosquitoes were released in Malaysia forfurther experiments. The mosquitoes are genetically modified with a genedesigned to kill them unless given an antibiotic known as tetracycline. Offspring of the GM mosquitoes will receive this same lethal gene which will kill the offspring before it can ever reach adulthood. As more genetically modified mosquitoes mate with wild mosquitoes, the idea is that more and more offspring will be produced with the lethal gene, thereby reducing the mosquito population.

Of course the risks these mosquitoes pose both on the environment, as well as the health of allliving creatures are highly unknown, leaving everyone with many more questions than answers. We have already seen how terribly genetic modification can threaten the environment and human health, yet people are still movingtoward a genetically modified world.

With the release of genetically modified insects could come the downfall of both local and global ecosystems as well as negative consequences concerning the food chain. There is simply no way of knowing what could happen by replacing the naturally born life forms onplanet earth with genetically modified creations.

Some questions that still remain unanswered:

Will Oxitec, the creator of the insects, need to acquire the free and informed consent of residents in Key West for the release of the GM mosquitoes? With the previous release of the mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands there was no public consultation taken on potential risks and informed consent was not given from locals.

With 0.5 percent of the released insects being female (the gender which bites humans), what happens to humans if bitten by the female mosquitoes?

What could happen to the ecosystem and local food chain with the major decrease in the Aedes aegypti mosquito population?

Who will regulate the release, and who will be responsible in the event of complications – to any degree?

If Florida and the US approves Oxitec’s planned release of these genetically modified mosquitoes, we will become that much closer to future genetic modification of living creatures as well as the potential collapse of environmental and humanhealth.

Luckily, judging by the widespread opposition of genetically modified foods, it is likely that this experiment won’t turn into a reality without a fight.

GMO Crops Continually Banned Around the World in Display of Health Freedom

Colorado’s Boulder County was the latest health freedom hotspot to stand up against Monsanto and genetically modified produce, with Boulder County advisory committees announcing plans to phase out GMO crops on open space in pursuit of sustainable and ethical farming practices. The county joins a long list of other political bodies that have banned, condemned, and even uprooted GMO crops across the globe.

Both the Food and Agriculture Policy Council and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee of Boulder Country voted 5-4 to phase out GMOs in an economically viable way. The transition proves that it is possible to be environmentally conscious, preserve the health of citizens, and still maintain economic stability.

Genetically modified corn has been growing on around 16,000 acres of cropland owned by the county for around a decade. In 2009, public concern over the consequences of GMO crops sparked public debate within the county. Citizens demanded that GMO crops be banned after 6 local farmers asked permission to plant sugar beets that were engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup.

Nations Starting to Ban and Uproot GMO Crops

Hungary has gained international recognition for their bold stand against biotech giant Monsanto, destroying all Monsanto corn fields littered with GMO crops. The nation destroyed 1000 acres of maize found to have been grown with genetically modified seeds, which are banned in the country. Many of the farmers were actually shocked to find they were using GMO seeds, which are resulting in extreme environmental consequence.

Peru has also taken a stand for health freedom, passing a monumental 10 year ban on genetically modified foods. Amazingly, Peru’s Plenary Session of the Congress made the decision despite previous governmental pushes for GM legalization. The known and unknown dangers of GMO crops seem to supersede even executive-level governmental directives.

Anibal Huerta, President of Peru’s Agrarian Commission, said the ban was needed to prevent the ”danger that can arise from the use of biotechnology.”

When the people demand anti-GMO action from the government, they are oftentimes forced to listen.

“There is an increasing consensus among consumers that they want safe, local, organic fresh food and that they want the environment and wildlife to be protected,” wrote Walter Pengue from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, in a recent statement concerning GMOs in South America. “South American countries must proceed with a broader evaluation of their original agricultural policies and practices using the precautionary principle.”

Political displays of defiance against Monsanto and genetically modified foods is the best method of combating their existence. As more political bodies worldwide begin to take a stand against GMOs, Monsanto will be forced to retreat from the food supply.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monsanto Corn May Be Failing to Kill Bugs, EPA Says

By Jack Kaskey - Dec 2, 2011 4:31 PM ET .

Monsanto Co. (MON) corn that’s genetically engineered to kill insects may be losing its effectiveness against rootworms in four states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Rootworms in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska are suspected of developing tolerance to the plants’ insecticide, based on documented cases of severe crop damage and reports from entomologists, the EPA said in a memo dated Nov. 22 and posted Nov. 30 on a government website. Monsanto’s program for monitoring suspected cases of resistance is “inadequate,” the EPA said.

“Resistance is suspected in at least some portions of four states in which ‘unexpected damage’ reports originated,” the EPA said in the memo, which reviewed damage reports.

The insects, which begin life as root-chewing grubs before developing into adult beetles, are among the most destructive corn pests, costing U.S. farmers about $1 billion a year in damages and chemical pesticides, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Monsanto fell 3.8 percent to $70.42 at the close in New York, the tenth-biggest (SPX) decline among companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

“The stock is always going to be susceptible to headline risk as it pertains to the effectiveness of their products,” Mark Demos, a portfolio manager who helps oversee $18 billion at Fifth Third Asset Management in Minneapolis, said by telephone. “They are leading the charge in biotech, so it’s bad for the whole industry.”

Introduced in 2003

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, introduced its rootworm-killing corn technology in 2003. The modified corn was planted on more than 37 million acres this year, Lee Quarles, a spokesman for St. Louis-based Monsanto, said yesterday. Monsanto isn’t having resistance issues with seeds engineered to kill corn borers and other pests that live above ground. Corn is Monsanto’s largest business, accounting for 41 percent of its $11.8 billion of sales in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31.

An Iowa State University study said in July that some rootworms have evolved resistance to an insect-killing protein derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a natural insecticide engineered into Monsanto corn. Entomologists in Illinois and other Midwestern states are studying possible resistance where the insects devour roots of Monsanto’s Bt corn.

‘Stay Ahead’

Monsanto continues to believe there’s no scientific confirmation of resistance to its Bt corn, Quarles said by telephone. Still, Monsanto takes the EPA report “seriously” and is increasing efforts to teach farmers how to respond to unexpected damage in their fields, he said.

Less than 0.2 percent of the acres planted with Monsanto’s Bt corn were affected by unexpected rootworm damage this year, Quarles said. Farmers with root damage in their fields should consider changing practices to “stay ahead of this insect,” Monsanto said in a statement. That could include rotating corn with soybeans or using a product such as Monsanto’s SmartStax corn, which kills rootworms with two types of Bt, the company said.

The EPA report “does throw a harsher light on the longer- term efficacy of the trait,” Chris Shaw, a New York-based analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co., said today by telephone. The development of SmartStax shows Monsanto knows it can’t rely on a single gene to address farmers’ problems, he said.

No Refuge

The agency said in the memo that SmartStax could lose its effectiveness if it’s planted in fields where bugs have developed a tolerance to Monsanto’s Bt gene, known as CRY3bB1. That’s because SmartStax’s effectiveness is predicated on both types of Bt working as designed. SmartStax corn produces the second type of Bt, called Cry34/35, with a gene licensed from Dow Chemical Co. (DOW)

To deter resistance to all types of Bt corn, the EPA requires farmers who use the modified crop to also plant corn that doesn’t produce the pesticide. The agency reasons that bugs in the so-called refuge that are not exposed to the toxin will mate with any resistant rootworms, creating a new generation of insects that are once again susceptible to the insecticide.

Some corn farmers don’t appear to be planting the required refuges in Minnesota, where moderate to severe rootworm damage is spreading and occurred for a third straight year in 2011, according to the EPA.

Remedial Action

The EPA’s decision earlier this week to extend the registration of SmartStax, which was originally approved in 2009, shows that the resistance concern “isn’t significantly important,” Mark Gulley, a New York-based analyst at Ticonderoga Securities, said in a phone interview today.

Monsanto should enact a remedial action plan in fields where resistance to its Bt insecticide is suspected, the EPA said. That includes having growers use conventional pesticide to kill adult rootworm beetles late in the season and alternate pest control methods in the following season.

Monsanto tested rootworms for resistance in Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa and should expand the monitoring to Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin because questions about the performance of Bt corn extends to all seven states, the EPA said in the memo.

Monsanto’s most advanced resistance problem is with crops engineered to tolerate its Roundup herbicide. Weeds that are no longer killed by Roundup have invaded 14 million acres of U.S. cotton, soybean and corn, according to Syngenta AG (SYNN), a Swiss chemical maker. A Dow Chemical Co. study this year found as many as 20 million acres of corn and soybeans may be infested.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Kaskey in Houston at jkaskey@bloomberg.net

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Frito-Lay Sued for Labeling its GMO-Filled Snacks as “All Natural

By Rady Ananda, Food Freedom

Less than a year after Frito-Lay announced plans to make half their products without “any artificial or synthetic ingredients,” the $13 billion company was sued last week in federal court for fraudulently marketing the snacks that contain genetically modified ingredients.

Somehow, “artificial” and “synthetic” doesn’t include “genetically modified” in Frito’s mind.

In its April 2011 “Seed-to-Shelf” disclosure campaign, Frito-Lay promised to inform consumers about each individual snack’s ingredients, even setting up an app for smartphone users to swipe the product’s barcode and read about it. Ann Mukherjee, Frito-Lay’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, gushed:

“What better way to share the story behind Frito-Lay snacks than by giving consumers a look inside our Flavor Kitchen to see first-hand the all natural ingredients and real foods that inspire the products we make?”

Real foods? All natural? Even Monsanto defines genetically modified organisms as unnatural, which the lawsuit quoted:

“Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) – Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

The World Health Organization agrees, defining GMOs as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”

The lawsuit names only one plaintiff, Julie Gengo of Richmond, California, but includes all those who purchased Frito’s products which bear the “ALL NATURAL” label. Last August, the law firm Milberg LLP invited potential litigants to contact them.

Though Gengo holds a BS in Electrical Engineering, she earns a living as an independent marketer for such organizations as Berkeley Playhouse/Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, Vital Systems, Bay Area Green Tours, Oxfam America and Slow Money Northern California. She describes herself as “an ongoing environmental, and healthy foods advocate.”

In early 2009, she wrote Genetically Modified (GM) Foods – Another Reason to Buy Organic, warning people that Frito-Lay uses GMOs. According to the complaint, since 2007, she regularly bought the company’s Tostitos and Sun Chips believing they were “all natural” as indicated in advertising and on the package.

On Dec. 20, Frito’s “Naturally Delicious” webpage still boasts:

“All Frito-Lay snack chips made with natural ingredients start with all-natural corn or potatoes and healthier oils. For our flavored LAY’S®, TOSTITOS® and SUNCHIPS® products, we are using all natural seasonings that don’t have artificial or synthetic ingredients.”

But because they contain GMOs from genetically modified corn and genetically modified soy, in five separate counts, plaintiff charges Frito-Lay with fraud, deception, unfair competition and false warrants under several laws including the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

Based in New York City and specializing in class-action lawsuits on behalf of investors and consumers, Milberg LLP also has offices in Los Angeles, Tampa and Detroit. Founded in 1965, the firm now employs about 75 attorneys.

After two successful class action suits against military contractors Raytheon and General Electric, in 2006 Milberg was the target of a criminal probe by the US Dept of Justice. The firm and some of its partners were indicted on 20 criminal counts including bribery, racketeering and fraud. The DOJ press release alleges the firm participated “in a scheme in which several individuals were paid millions of dollars in secret kickbacks in exchange for serving as named plaintiffs in more than 150 class-action and shareholder derivative-action lawsuits.”

Four of Milberg LLP’s partners served time in prison, and the firm paid $75 million in fines before the DOJ dropped the matter, reports Wikipedia.

Frito-Lay North America is a wholly-owned subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc. Though Pepsi uses genetically modified sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup) in its soft drinks, it does not label them for U.S. consumers, adhering to the US regulator policy of hiding GMOs from the public.

In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed rules banning GMO labels. Despite government policy of keeping GMO food ingredients secret from the public, citizens are advancing toward requiring full disclosure.
■House Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) recently introduced H.R. 3553, the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act and H.R. 3554, The Genetically Engineered Safety Act, which would prohibit the open-air cultivation of genetically engineered pharmaceutical and industrial crops.
■The Frito-Lay lawsuit was initiated in California where a GMO-label law has been proposed for vote in the November 2012 election.
■In Ohio, a district court overturned the ban on labeling milk as free from artificial hormones last year. The FDA approves the genetically modified additive, which has been linked to cancer and lower milk quality. Developed by Monsanto, rBGH is banned in Canada, the European Union, Japan and Australia.

I have to admit I still enjoy a bag of Fritos every now and then, a victim of high school euphoric recall when we would smoke a bowl and then eat Fritos, washing them down with cold chocolate milk. (What a body rush.) Still, I want the packages labeled. A better snack is hand-made eggrolls, with completely organic ingredients and sauce. You can find that recipe in Cooking Close to Home. I even found a package of eggroll wraps (at Whole Foods Market) that advised the product was made without GMOs. Na na na to the FDA.

Under Industry Pressure, USDA Works to Speed Approval of Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Crops

Monday 12 December 2011

by: Mike Ludwig

Monsanto researchers in Stonington, Illinois, working to develop new soybean varieties that will be tolerant to agricultural herbicide and have greater yields in July 2006. (Photo: Monsanto via The New York Times)

For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world's biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government's deregulation process.

This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.

The USDA launched the pilot project in April and, in November, the USDA announced vague plans to "streamline" the deregulation petition process for GE organisms. A USDA spokesperson said the streamlining effort is not part of the pilot project, but both efforts appear to address a backlog of pending GE crop deregulation petitions that has angered big biotech firms seeking to rollout new products.

Documents obtained by Truthout under a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that biotech companies, lawmakers and industry groups have put mounting pressure on the USDA in recent years to speed up the petition process, limit environmental impact assessments and approve more GE crops. One group went as far as sending USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a timeline of GE soybean development that reads like a deregulation wish list. [Click here and here to download and read some of the documents released to Truthout.]

The pilot program is named the NEPA Pilot Project, after the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates that agencies prepare statements on the potential environmental impacts of proposed actions by the federal government, such as deregulating transgenic plants. On July 14, USDA officials held a training workshop to help representatives from biotech firms (see a full list here) to understand the NEPA process and prepare Environmental Reports on biotech products they have petitioned the USDA to deregulate.

Regulators can now independently review the Environmental Reports and can use them to prepare their own legally mandated reviews, instead of simply reviewing the company's petitions for deregulation. The pilot project aims to speed up the deregulation process by allowing petitioning companies to do some of the legwork and help pay contractors to prepare regulatory documents and, for its part, the USDA has kept the pilot fairly transparent. A list of 22 biotech seeds that could be reviewed under the pilot program includes Monsanto drought-tolerant corn, a "non-browning" apple, freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees and several crops engineered to tolerate the controversial herbicides glyphosate and 2,4 D.

Activists say biotech firms like Monsanto are concerned only with profit and routinely supply regulators with one-sided information on the risks their GE seeds - and the pesticides sprayed on and produced by them - pose to consumers, animals and the agricultural environment. (The Natural Society recently declared Monsanto the worst company of 2011.) Bill Freese, a policy expert with the Center for Food Safety (CFS), told Truthout that the NEPA pilot gives already powerful biotech companies too much influence over the review process.

"It's the equivalent of letting BP do their own Environmental Assessment of a new rig," Freese said.

Monsanto Goes to Court

Freese and the Center for Food Safety have been on the frontlines of the battle to reform the USDA's regulatory approval process for GE crops. The group was a plaintiff in recent lawsuits challenging the deregulation - which basically means approval for planting without oversight - of Monsanto's patented alfalfa and sugar beets that are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide. Farmers can spray entire fields of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" crops with Roundup to kill unwanted weeds while sparing the GE crops, but in recent years, some weeds have developed a tolerance to glyphosate, Roundup's active ingredient. The cases kept the crops out of America's fields for years and prompted biotech companies to put heavy pressure on top USDA officials to streamline and speed up the deregulation process, practically setting the stage for the NEPA pilot underway today.

Under NEPA, agencies like the USDA must prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine if the proposed action, such as deregulating a transgenic organism, would have an impact on the environment. If some type of significant impact is likely, the agency must then prepare a more in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to explore potential impacts and alternative actions. NEPA requires an EIS for actions "significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." Preparing a full impact statement for a biotech plant implies the government does not think GE crops are safe and the biotech industry has routinely butted heads with environmentalists while attempting to convince regulators and consumers otherwise. In the Monsanto beets and alfalfa cases, the CFS and other plaintiffs argued that the USDA should have prepared an EIS, not just a simple EA, before deregulating both Monsanto crops.

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In the alfalfa case, the CFS and its co-plaintiffs claimed the crop could have significant impacts by crossbreeding and contaminating conventional and organic alfalfa with transgenes. They also argued the crop would increase the use of herbicides and promote the spread of herbicide-tolerant weeds known as "super weeds." A federal district court agreed and vacated the USDA's original approval, halting plantings across the country. Monsanto challenged the decision and the alfalfa case landed in the Supreme Court in 2010. The high court overturned an injunction preventing farmers from planting the alfalfa, but also ordered the USDA to prepare an EIS and issue another deregulation decision. The sugar beet case ended in similar fashion and the USDA recently released a draft EIS on the crop, which is expected to be deregulated in early 2012.

Monsanto won the right to sell its GE alfalfa seed in February 2011, but the lengthy and expensive legal battle captured the attention of food lovers and agriculturalists across the country. Americans debated the potential dangers of GE crops and the merits of the regulatory system that is supposed to protect farmers and consumers. As documents unearthed by a Truthout FOIA request reveal, the biotech industry did not sit idly by as activists challenged the regulatory status quo.

Mounting Pressure

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is a powerful group that represents dozens of biotech companies such as Monsanto, BASF and Bayer, and has spent more than $67 million lobbying Congress since 2000. In April 2010, BIO sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as the Monsanto alfalfa case made its way through the courts. BIO warned Vilsack that the American biotech agriculture industry could be crippled if the legal precedents required the USDA to prepare an EIS for every GE crop up for deregulation:


With 19 deregulation petitions pending with more on the way, requiring an EIS for each product would amount to a de facto moratorium on commercialization and would send an unprecedented message that USDA believes that these products do have an environmental impact, when in fact most do not. Any suggestion by USDA that biotechnology plants as a category are likely to cause significant adverse effects on the quality of the human environment (i.e., require an EIS) would make approvals by other trading partners virtually impossible ...

BIO claimed that such a policy would be an "over-reaction to the current judicial decisions" and would threaten America's economic dominance in the agricultural biotechnology market. Such a policy, BIO representatives stated, would send a message to European countries that American regulators believe GE crops impact the environment, making approvals of GE crops by the European Union "virtually impossible" and allowing "Brazil and China to surpass the United States as world leaders in biotechnology." BIO also claimed that more rigorous assessments would "undercut" positions consistently take by the Obama and Bush administrations on the safety of biotech agriculture.

Vilsack received similar letters requesting the USDA continue relying on EAs instead of EISs to deregulate GE crops from the Americas Soybean Association and the American Seed Trade Association. Both groups worried that an increase in oversight - precipitated by the more in-depth impact evaluation - could back up approvals for years. The soybean association included in its letter a pipeline chart of 25 GE soybean varieties it "expected" to be approved for commercialization within a decade.

A policy requiring an EIS for every GE seed is exactly what critics of Monsanto and the rest of the industry have spent years fighting for. Unlike the industry, they believe the herbicides that blanket GE crops and the potential for transgenic contamination are potential threats to the agricultural environment and human health.

Vilsack wrote a steady-handed reply to each trade group, reassuring them that the NEPA policy would not change and the USDA would continue preparing an EA for new GE seeds and an EIS only when necessary. Vilsack also wrote that he was "pleased" to recently meet with biotech industry representatives and "discuss improving the efficiency of the biotechnology regulatory process." Such improvements, he wrote, are "directly related" to the USDA's "objective of ensuring the United State leads the world in sustainable crop production and biotech crop exports." He took the opportunity to announce that the USDA would reorganize the Biotechnology Regulatory Services agency and create a new NEPA team "dedicated to creating high quality and defensible documents to better inform our regulatory decisions." This new NEPA team would go on to develop the NEPA Pilot Project and begin streamlining the approval process.

To Freese, it appears that Vilsack used to the word "defensible" in reference to legal challenges like the ones his group made to Monsanto alfalfa and sugar beets. "Their whole focus is on 'defensible' Environmental Assessments," Freese said after reading the letters. "From our perspective, that's the wrong goal ... it presumes the crop is going to be approved."

Freese said the correspondence between Vilsack and the industry groups highlights the need for a culture change at the USDA. Regulators should be concerned about the safety of new GE products, not ensuring American exports compete with Brazil and China.

"It should be all about doing good assessments and making sure the crops that are approved are safe," Freese said.

A USDA spokesperson declined to comment when asked if the agency would like to respond to criticisms of the NEPA Pilot Project and said updates on the project will be made available online.

Watchdogs like Freese know that regulators already work closely with the industry and the NEPA Pilot Project could simply make their work more efficient. Regulators already rely heavily on data provided by private contractors and by biotech companies to prepare EAs. During the Monsanto alfalfa case, internal emails between regulators and Monsanto officials surfaced and revealed the company worked closely with regulators to edit its original petition to deregulate the alfalfa. One regulator even accepted Monsanto's help in conducting the USDA's original EA of the GE alfalfa before it was initially approved in 2005.

Genetically engineered and modified crops continue to cause controversy across the globe, but in America they are a fact of life. The Obama and Bush administrations have actively promoted biotech agriculture both at home and abroad. Countries like China, Argentina and Brazil have also embraced biotech agriculture. Regulators in European countries - including crucial trade partners like France and Spain - have been much more cautious and, in some cases, even hostile toward the industry. GE crops are banned in Hungary and Peru, and earlier this year officials in Hungary destroyed 1,000 acres of corn containing Monsanto transgenes. The US, however, continues to allow big biotech companies to cultivate considerable power and influence and, as the letters uncovered by FOIA reveal, top regulators are ready to meet their demands.

"The USDA regards its own regulatory system as a rubber stamp," Freese said after reading the letters. "At least at the upper levels, there's always been this presumption that [GE crops] must be approved."