6 January 2000

Table of Contents

Opposition to GMOs starting to take root in Japan
Uncertainty Continues to Plague Genetically Modified Crops into the New Year
Retailers dropping bio-foods
First GM tolerance transfer is feared in Canadian OSR
'Contaminated' farm seed sold in genetic mixup
Nature Frustrates Efforts to Confine the Spread of Genetically Modified Plants
GreyHair Gene Therapy
Bioengineering Silkworms
DNA: A new letter in the code
Delta and Pine Land Company Announces Receipt of $81 Million from Monsanto
Ministers announce expert scientific panel on the future of food biotechnology
Organic Food Proven Healthier
Lifespan extension
Good food needs green farms

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Date: Sun, 9 Jan 2000 15:02:20 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Subscribing for 2000

Here is a catch-up GE news. I have been offline for a week, and am catching up. I will not be back at my home base until then. Thank you to all the people who have sent in subscription fees for 2000. Everyone else will also stay on the list until the end of Jan when I can get home and catch up with all the postal mail.

Best wishes


Opposition to GMOs starting to take root in Japan

COMTEX Newswire, Friday, 31. December 1999

TOKYO, Dec. 31 (Kyodo) – By: Rieko Saito Many people in the Waseda district of Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward are joining a campaign called the "My Tofu" project, organized by shopkeepers promising to provide fresh bean curd every week made exclusively from organically grown soybeans.

"To those who don't feel comfortable with tofu made from imported soybeans, many of which are genetically altered – why not join us?" a campaign leaflet asks.

The project is part of the rapidly spreading "soybean-field trust" system launched by consumers opposed to imports of farm produce made with genetically modified organism (GMO) technology.

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Thanks to Mark Ritchie, President, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy USA ;  for posting the following:


For Immediate Release

Uncertainty Continues to Plague Genetically Modified Crops into the New Year

Contact: Gary Goldberg, 918-488-1829 TULSA, OK, January 4, 2000

No Good News in Store for Biotechnology Companies as U.S. Farmers Turn Their Backs on the Planting of GMOs

As corn producers enter the new year, the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) sees no change in the uncertainty facing genetically modified crops (GMOs). In fact, the likelihood is that both foreign and domestic opposition to these products will continue to grow.

"Since last March, U.S. trading customers in Europe, Asia, India, Brazil, and Mexico have been very clear in their refusal to purchase GMOs. It is time our governmental leaders and grain exporters recognize this opposition and act accordingly," said Gary Goldberg, Chief Executive Officer of the ACGA.

In Europe, most major supermarket chains are now rejecting genetically modified food products, while in Asia, major beer breweries and Japan's largest flour miller will stop using ingredients produced from GMOs. In Mexico, the nation's largest tortilla maker has announced that they will no longer purchase GMO corn. Brazil recently ripped out their GMO soybean seed crops so that they can supply the world with non-GMOs.

"Everywhere we turn, our customers are rejecting GMOs. It is time that we return to the premise that the customer is always right, and that it is the responsibility of American agricultural producers to supply the market what it demands. In this case it is non-GMO products," added Goldberg.

Other important issues that surround the GMO situation for the year 2000 includes the questions of certification, segregation, cross-pollination, corporate concentration, product labeling and liability.


The recent meeting of the National Grain and Feed Association included discussions of grain contracts that could allow an elevator to reject the delivery of GMOs. If this action were taken, not only would American farmers face the loss of foreign markets, but the likelihood of limited domestic markets to deliver their crops to.

Recent statements by a leading agricultural economist for the Federal Reserve Bank predicted higher consumer food costs because of the expense to segregate, test and label GMO products.

The liability question also continues to face agriculture. Who is legally responsible for contamination of a neighbor's field? Will farmer begin suing farmer over cross-pollination or will the liability rest with the seed corn companies where it belongs? On the issue of segregation and certification, who will bear the financial burden of testing crops and the added expense of keeping GMOs separate from non-GMOs?

All indications point to a sizable reduction in GMO seed purchases for this coming season. The uncertainty over market availability caused by consumer resistance, and the questions of liability and segregation are driving farmers away from genetically modified seeds. The ACGA prediction of a 20 percent to 25 percent reduction in GMO planted acres seems more likely everyday.

"If production agriculture has not been able to answer these questions to their own satisfaction, they may want to consider planting alternatives to GMOs. After all, can farmers afford to plant a crop in the spring that may not be marketable come fall? Or will their GMO crop face sizable discounts come harvest time or even premiums for non-GMOs," added Goldberg.

The American Corn Growers Association will continue to protect the interests of this nation's farmers who are caught in the middle of this dispute between seed dealers, chemical companies, grain exporters and processors, foreign consumers and U.S. trade policy. Through no fault of their own, farmers are facing the uncertainty of market loss, increased expenses and lower farm income.

"The problems with genetically modified crops will not be going away anytime soon. Nor will the likelihood of questionable export markets, legal liability and increased costs for certification and segregation. We suggest that farmers examine their own individual farming operation to weight any benefits versus the risks of GMOs," concluded Goldberg

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:43:21 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Retailers dropping bio-foods

By James Cox, USA TODAY, Jan 4, 2000, page A1

The USA's two largest natural foods retailers are stripping their shelves of many genetically engineered foods, prompting manufacturers and supermarkets to keep an eye out for a biotech backlash among consumers.

Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets have vowed to rid most of their private-label foods of bio-engineered corn, soy, canola oil and other ingredients this year. There's an absolute anger among customers that foods are being genetically modified and they don't know what ingredients are in their says Margaret Whittenberg, vice president at Whole Foods. The Austin, Texas, retailer has 103 stores in 22 states.

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:43:21 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

First GM tolerance transfer is feared in Canadian OSR

By Stephen Leahy, Farmers Weekly 15 January 1999

A CANADIAN field is thought to be the site of the first accidental on-farm transfer of herbicide tolerance between genetically mod- ified and conventional crop plants.

Last summer oilseed rape grow- er Tony Huether was surprised to see volunteers thriving after two glyphosate (Roundup) sprayings in a 57ha (140 acre) field where no glyphosate-resistant rape had ever been sown.

He had planted a glyphosate- resistant variety in a nearby field in 1997 and believes the trait was transferred by pollen movement.

"Cross pollination was going to happen. It surprises me it didn't show up sooner," says Phil Thomas, Alberta Agriculture's provincial oilseed specialist.

UK studies have shown pollina- tion transfer up to 400m by wind or insects can result in out-crosses, says Mr Thomas. "Just because you're not growing herbicide-resis- tant canola [oilseed rape], it does not mean you can't get herbicide- resistant volunteers."

Mr Huether, who farms 860ha (2100 acres) of oilseed rape, peas and wheat at Sexsmith, northern Alberta, says no one told him GM traits could be transferred. "Monsanto never made farmers aware of the possibility of this hap- pening when we signed the TUA [Technical Use Agreement]."

Although 60% of Canada's oilseed rape is now herbicide-toler- ant, 1997 was the first time Mr Huether planted GM varieties. That spring he put the 57ha field into a Smart variety resistant to the herbicide imazethapyr and 8ha (20 acres) of Innovator, a variety tolerant to glufosinate-ammonium ( Liberty).

Thirty metres away, on the other side of a dirt road, he plant- ed 16ha (40 acres) of Quest, a glyphosate-resistant variety.

Mr Huether says the fields were harvested at different times and rules out mechanical transfer. Before blaming cross pollination, government crop expert John Huffman investigated other possi- bilities. "We have taken this as a serious issue."

Researchers, including repre- sentatives from Monsanto, have since taken plants and seeds. Government scientists are growing the seeds on in greenhouses and doing DNA mapping. A compre- hensive report is expected soon.

Both Mr Thomas and Mr Huffman say the addition of any broadleaf herbicides, such as 2,4- D, can easily control unexpected GMHT volunteers. Both agree that keeping accurate records is also important. "It may be a bit of a headache to know what your neighbour grows and to plan your strategy accordingly," acknowl- edges Mr Thomas.

Mr Huether is less relaxed. "It's not that easy a problem to solve when direct seeding and planting a wide range of crops." He worries about the effects of 2.4-D residues on broad leaved crops and loathes handling the more toxic chemical.

Farmers are not getting all the facts they need on GM crops, he fears.

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:43:21 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

'Contaminated' farm seed sold in genetic mixup

By Heather Scoffield, The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, January 4, 2000

Incident raises questions about Ottawa's controls

Ottawa – The federal government unwittingly allowed the sale of genetically modified canola seeds in 1997 that were "seriously contaminated," according to government documents that have only now come to light.

The virtually unpublicized incident involving canola seeds produced by Monsanto Canada Inc., one of the main proponents of genetically modified food, raises questions about Ottawa's ability to tightly regulate food safety in a biotechnological age.

The documents say the seeds were not harmful, and they were eventually recalled, the first and only such action involving genetically modified foods.

Access-to-information documents show that some of the seeds, marketed on the Prairies in 1997, were planted by two farmers before the recall and that some were processed into edible oil.

"This incident has sent shock waves through the domestic biotech-plant-breeding organizations/industry as well as internationally," the Canadian Food Inspection Agency declared in one of the documents.

They were obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin for The Globe and Mail.

Yesterday, government officials stressed that the seeds posed no danger to the health of Canadians or to the environment. But the documents suggest widespread confusion at the time.

The incident began in March, 1997, when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved two new strains of canola that were genetically modified by Monsanto to resist its weed-killer, Roundup.

But something went wrong. Limagrain Canada Seeds Inc., which handled, produced and distributed the Monsanto product, sold seeds that were not the same ones approved by the CFIA. The products hit the market just before seeding season, and Canadian farmers quickly bought 60,000 bags – enough to fill 70 tractor trailers or plant 600,000 acres.

"Our office has been advised that seed of LG3315 has possibly been seriously contaminated with genetic material from the parental line, GT200 [which was not approved]," said a letter from CFIA to Limagrain on April 15, 1997.

The error was not discovered until April, after some farmers planted the seed. It turned out that seeds that were approved by the government had subsequently been cross-bred with seeds that were not fully approved by the CFIA. The result was an untested product with unknown characteristics.

The documents, which include letters, reports and communiqués related to the incident, do not explain how the seeds were mixed together.

Monsanto – not the government regulators – discovered the mistake.

"Monsanto has now completed their investigation and found that the varietal purity problem was not a result of genetic engineering," CFIA documents say. The mistakes were twofold, Monsanto told the government. In the first place, seeds that were not approved by the CFIA should have been destroyed; and the companies should not have allowed the seeds to get mixed up and bred together.

"While the loss of these acres is disappointing, it is business as usual and a very manageable situation," Monsanto said in a statement at the time.

Ottawa and Monsanto agreed that a recall should begin immediately, and the companies and government devised ways to destroy the seeds. But deadlines were missed repeatedly, and the companies found it difficult to track down every last seed and dispose of it, the documents show.

Two farmers had already planted their canola, and the companies had to broker deals with them to have their crops plowed under. One farmer resisted for months, the documents show.

Some of the seeds used in testing in 1996 were crushed and turned into edible oil and feed for animals. CFIA officials are not certain if these seeds were contaminated. Health Canada tested the contaminated canola in 1997 to see if it would be dangerous, but found no "significant" health risks.

When the seeds were finally recovered or the crops destroyed in the summer of 1997, the companies and the federal government could not agree on how to dispose of them.

Limagrain wanted to turn the seeds into industrial oil and fertilizer. But much of the seed was heavily treated with fungicides that were considered hazardous waste. Government authorities told the company it had to bury everything in a landfill.

By November, 1997, the companies and government officials agreed that the contaminated seeds had been adequately withdrawn and destroyed. The government documents show, however, that there was a discrepancy between the amount of seed bought by farmers and the amount actually disposed. In some cases, the documents show more seed bought than destroyed, but other data show fewer seeds were bought than destroyed.

The discrepancy amounts to thousands of kilograms of seed, but a Limagrain report blames the difference on packaging and inaccurate scales.

In a separate document, Montsanto fingered Limagrain for the fact that the seed got out at all.

Many grain farms and the growing biotechnology industry have embraced genetically modified crops as more efficient, but consumers are increasingly wary about their health and environmental effects and inadequate government testing.

The massive recall, and the only one so far in Canada for genetically modified crops, prompted immediate changes in government requirements and company practices, to bolster credibility in an anxious international grain market.

The government and the companies believe that the fact that Monsanto detected the error and officials were able to withdraw the contaminated seeds proves that the system works, the documents say.

However, environmentalists said the incident proves that government regulators are too reliant on company data and self-regulation.

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:43:21 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Nature Frustrates Efforts to Confine the Spread of Genetically Modified Plants

By Tom Spears, The Ottawa Citizen, Wednesday January 05, 2000

Genetically modified crops can send pollen over distances of several kilometres and spread their genes into conventional, non-modified crops, British researchers have found.

The discovery, made by analysing pollen found in beehives, is raising startling new questions about whether it's possible to keep the two kinds of crops separate.

It also raises new questions about whether GM crops bred to resist pesticides can spread their resistance to weeds, creating a new class of "superweeds."

The discovery comes after the British government mandated 200-metre buffer zones around test plots of modified canola, corn and other crops, in order to keep the test crops' pollen from fertilizing ordinary crops.

The same 200-metre buffer strip is recommended in Canada to keep corn with a gene that allows the plant to make its own insecticide, called Bt, from mixing genes with ordinary corn.

But activists opposed to the tests in Britain set up pollen-catching "traps" over a wide area around a test farm this summer. And they found no limits to how far the pollen – and therefore the modified genes – spread.

The U.K. chapter of Friends of the Earth hired an independent group, the National Pollen Research Unit, to put out pollen traps beginning 400 metres from the test field.

The researchers scattered five more at increasing distances, the final one a full 4.5 kilometres from the test crop.

Each trap, says Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth, "is a sort of sticky board on the doorway of a beehive. As bees go in they drop some of their pollen on it."

The bees came and went through the summer, then the activists took their traps and sent them for analysis at labs in Britain and Austria.

All six showed pollen from the genetically modified canola field. "Even the 4.5-kilometre trap – that's farther than any research had shown pollen could travel," Mr. Bebb said. "We're going to see a 'gene flow' from the test crop" into neighbouring fields.

As well as tracking the bees' pollen, the survey set out traps to catch pollen blown on the wind. This found wind-borne pollen travelled 475 metres, again well beyond the official buffer zone.

"The genie, to a certain extent, is out of the bottle," said Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, spokes-woman for the British Medical Association on science and health policy.

And the head of a major British biotech firm says the industry and government have to think harder about the issue.

"These are things which have to be thought through, and in my view should have been thought through much more carefully before there was any extensive commercial planting anywhere," said John Jackson, chairman of Celltech Chiroscience, which makes pharmaceuticals.

"Don't forget that one of the reasons that test was done was the assumption that pollen couldn't be moved by any mechanism more than 50 metres," he said.

"This demonstrates that is not true. And I think nobody that knows the natural world was the least bit surprised by this. Wind moves it, insects move it, and birds move it," he said. "It might be carried a very considerable distance and germinate in an area where it cannot be observed at all."

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Date: 3 Jan 2000 08:20:06 U
From: Colleen Robison

GreyHair Gene Therapy

Gene Therapy Progresses a Hair

Compiled from reports by Rob Stein, Monday, January 3, 2000; Page A09

Scientists have been struggling for years to find a way to cure human diseases by giving people new genes. The field recently suffered a major setback when a young Tucson man died while participating in a gene therapy experiment at the University of Pennsylvania.

At the same time, researchers have also been looking for other uses for gene therapy. And now, a team of scientists in Philadelphia has taken what could be a step toward using gene therapy to permanently color gray hair.

Kyonggeun Yoon of Thomas Jefferson University and colleagues showed they could restore pigmentation to the hairs of albino mice by correcting a defect in a gene in the hair follicle. A few weeks after the researchers applied corrective DNA to the mice, either topically or by skin injection, the animals grew a small number of pigmented hairs. The pigmentation lasted only about three months, however.

Although the work remains far from providing a way to permanently restore color to gray hair in people, it shows that such a thing may at least be possible, the researchers said.

"Gene therapy has just taken a cosmetic step forward," wrote Robert M. Hoffman of AntiCancer Inc. of San Diego in an article accompanying the research in the January issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology. "Hair follicle research is an area that not only holds great scientific interest, but also has enormous commercial potential. This study now demonstrates that the hair follicle is a visible, safe, and non-invasive target for gene therapy, which is a field that recently has suffered unfortunate setbacks in the safety of its medical applications."

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Date: 3 Jan 2000 08:20:06 U
From: Colleen Robison

Bioengineering Silkworms

A team of researchers from France, the United States and Japan has found a way to insert foreign genes into the genetic blueprint of silkworms.

The team used a type of DNA known as "piggBac" to introduce a gene that produces a fluorescent green protein into silkworm embryos. Nearly 2 percent of the worms that resulted contained copies of the foreign gene. Moreover, the gene was passed on to later generations.

The work suggests that it may be possible to genetically engineer silkworms to produce silk with certain desired traits, such as stronger silk to make bulletproof vests or more reliable parachutes.

"The textile industry could . . . benefit from novel fibers made by silkworms transformed with various genes encoding fibrous proteins," the researchers wrote in the January issue of Nature Biotechnology.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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Date: 3 Jan 2000 11:00:11 U
From: "j.e. cummins" <>

Prof. Joe Cummins e-mail: January 3, 2000

DNA: A new letter in the code

Biotechnology: Expanding The Book Of Life

By PHILIP BALL, Friday 24 December 1999

The genetic book of life is a monotonous tome: it is written in just four letters. Now US chemists have shown that they can expand the language of the genes by adding a new letter.

The instructions for building a cell's protein work force are contained in its chromosomes, encoded in the DNA molecule. The genetic code contains four characters, in the form of molecular units called 'nucleotide bases', linked together along the twin chains of DNA's double helix. There are four bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). The order in which these bases recur within a particular gene in the helix corresponds to the information needed to build that gene's respective protein.

Some researchers are now asking whether this four-letter alphabet can be augmented with other bases, or with molecular units that don't resemble the nucleotide bases at all. Expanding the DNA alphabet might allow us to write completely new information into the genome, so that, for example, bacteria might be reprogrammed to produce novel drug molecules derived from natural proteins.

The nucleotide bases bind the two strands of DNA into the famous double helix. The bases fit together in 'complementary' pairs: A with T, C with G. The base pairs are bound through weak chemical bonds called 'hydrogen bonds'. Each base contains an assortment of the two components of a hydrogen bond, which fit those of its partner like two pieces of a jigsaw.

Previously, researchers have tended to focus on designing modified bases with new hydrogen-bonding patterns, which might then form an artificial pair. But it can be difficult to prevent these 'designer' bases from also sticking to the natural bases. That can cause misalignment or loops in the molecular zipper of the double helix faulty DNA, in other words, unintelligible to a cell's protein-making machinery.

To avoid such problems, Dustin McMinn and colleagues from the Scripps Research Institute in California have now designed a base that can pair up with itself via a completely different kind of stickiness. This new base is 'hydrophobic'-literally, water-fearing-with a molecular structure that renders it insoluble in water. The researchers were led to this design by the knowledge that hydrophobic parts of protein molecules shelter each other from the cell's watery interior by sticking together.

But can this imposter be inserted into a sequence of genetic information by the cell's own DNA-making machinery? McMinn and colleagues made up-by hand-a single strand of DNA in which the synthetic base was inserted four characters from the end. They paired this up with a strand of complementary bases that stopped just before the synthetic base, leaving a dangling stretch of five unpaired bases.

The researchers then showed that a natural DNA-making enzyme from the bacterium Escherichia coli was able to generate and incorporate a second copy of the synthetic base into the unfinished strand, pairing it up with the first. Unfortunately, however, this artificial pair seems to disrupt completion of the second strand, probably because the shape of the pair differs from that of a natural base pair.

Nonetheless, this work, reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, shows that the genetic code can be given a foreign character, which is not readily confused with the four natural letters. Now the question is: can it be used to say anything new?


Hydrophobic base pairs and proof reading DNA

Earlier I posted a Nature news bulletin describing the new work inserting a unique hydrophobic base pair into DNA. The work was from

McMinn, D.L., Ogawa, A.K., Wu, Y., Liu, J., Schultz, P.G. & Romesberg, F.E. Efforts toward Expansion of the Genetic Alphabet: DNA Polymerase Recognition of a Highly Stable, Self-Pairing Hydrophobic Base J. Am. Chem. Soc. 121, 11585

The work is interesting and potentially a novel advance, however, it is not yet Blade Runner. In other words it is not yet ready for androids. I was asked my opinion of the development.

The DNA strand containing the hydrophobic base was copied by DNA polymerase but the growing copy stalled after incorporating the hydrophobic base. That kind of behavior is similar to DNA proof reading during normal replication. Proof reading corrects errors causing base pair mismatching. The replication machinery removes mismatched bases if it can.

Many, DNA base alterations are recognized and corrected in the intact cell. Even if the DNA with hydrophobic bases can be trained to replicate in cells it must also must be trained to make messenger RNA with hydrophobic bases. After achieving that function there is a translation proof reading function that must be trained to recognize messenger RNA with hydrophobic bases during protein synthsis.

When all that is achieved the DNA code table will have been expanded from 64 to 125 if the hydrophobic bases that pair are identical or to 246 if the hydrophobic bases are complementary. That expansion will not only cause nervous tension among genetics students, the coding table will have to be filled with novel amino acids and/or novel punctuation signals. Gosh, I hope it is worth the time and money.

© Macmillan Magazines Ltd 1999 - NATURE NEWS SERVICE

Nature © Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1999 Reg. No. 785998 England.

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Date: 3 Jan 2000 13:42:45 U

Delta and Pine Land Company Announces Receipt of $81 Million from Monsanto

SCOTT, Miss., /PRNewswire/ Jan 03, 2000, © 1999, NewsReal, Inc.

Delta and Pine Land Company (NYSE: DLP) announced today that [Monsanto Company] (NYSE: MTC) has paid Delta Pine the $81 million termination fee pursuant to the terms of the May 8, 1998 Merger Agreement. In addition, Delta Pine and Monsanto have agreed that the restrictions on Delta Pine's talking to potential suitors are no longer in effect and Monsanto's option to buy 19.9% of Delta Pine's common stock has been canceled.

"Delta Pine and Monsanto have commenced substantive negotiations with respect to issues Delta Pine has raised arising out of the Merger Agreement," said Roger D. Malkin, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Delta and Pine Land Company.

Delta and Pine Land Company is a commercial breeder, producer and marketer of cotton planting seed. Headquartered in Scott, Mississippi, with offices and facilities in seven states and several foreign countries, DLP also breeds, produces and markets soybean planting seed. SOURCE Delta and Pine Land Company

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Date: 3 Jan 2000 09:53:52 U
From: "j.e. cummins"

Prof. Joe Cummins, e-mail: , January 3, 2000

Earlier I circulated the announcement below, pointing out that it was dated Dec.17 but released about Dec.23, it received no notice in the Canadian News Media. Since then I did a little research on the authorities conducting the review.The President of the Royal Society of Canada,William Leiss is, I believe, co-author with Doug Powell of a book, Mad Cow and Mother's Milk.

That book is a work of propaganda that debunks concerns about Mad Cow disease and human illness, critics of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone and concerns about PCBs and almost everything large chemical companies ever produced. The Mad Cow debunking is particularly sad and offensive in the light of growing evidence that Mad Cow disease is transmitted to human (such evidence as the study from PNAS that I circulated).

Interestingly, is the Minister of Health Canada just a moron? Or does he intend to spread biotechnology propaganda with the aid of a passive submissive press? I think that the former is correct, even a submissive press must realize that the Mad Cow disease is no hoax.

December 17, 1999

News Release

Ministers announce expert scientific panel on the future of food biotechnology

OTTAWA - Health Minister Allan Rock, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lyle Vanclief, and Environment Minister David Anderson today announced their intention to establish an independent expert panel to examine future scientific developments in food biotechnology. The independent expert panel will also advise Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Environment Canada on the science capacity that the federal government will require to continue to ensure the safety of new food products being developed through biotechnology into the 21st century.

"This blue ribbon scientific panel will be assembled and organized as an objective and independent review," said Minister Rock. "It will be a pro-active, forward-thinking body that will assess the future scientific requirements of the regulatory system to meet the growing complexity of food biotechnology. It will be asked to make recommendations that will allow us to continue to protect human health, animal health and the environment in Canada for the future."

Consultations are currently underway with Dr. William Leiss, President of the Royal Society of Canada and Dr. Arnold Naimark, Chair of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (CBAC) on the details of this panel which will be independent and operate at arm's length from the federal government and in compliance with Health Canada's Conflict of Interest Guidelines. The panel will draw on a wide range of scientific expertise and include some members of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee. The advice of the expert panel will complement recommendations expected from the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee on broad policy issues and from the Canadian General Standards Board on voluntary labelling of foods derived from biotechnology.

"The science of biotechnology is continuing to advance and Canada needs to remain on the leading edge of these developments. Our goal is to bring together some of the best minds in the country to give us their advice on what needs to be done so that we can continue to ensure that Canada's food supply remains one of the safest in the world," said Minister Vanclief.

The panel will be asked to identify the types of foods from biotechnology that could be submitted for regulatory safety reviews over the next ten years, the science likely to be used to develop these products and any potential risks, short or long-term, to human health, animal health and the environment, associated with these foods. It will also be asked to assess approaches and methodologies being developed internationally to evaluate the safety of these new foods, to identify the scientific capacity that will be needed to address any health concerns related to these foods and to identify any new policies, guidelines and regulations related to science that may be required in this area, including the need for long-term studies to assure human health.

"We want the best available advice to ensure that the development of food biotechnology does not take place at the expense of the environment," said Environment Minister David Anderson.

Due to the wide range of scientific expertise needed, the full list of panel members is not expected to be announced until mid-January. The panel will be asked to file a preliminary report within six months and a final report by the end of the summer of 2000.

Under the Food and Drugs Act, Health Canada has established a stringent process for evaluating the safety of biotechnology-derived foods (often referred to as genetically modified foods, genetically engineered foods, or novel foods). Health Canada conducts a thorough safety assessment of each biotechnology-derived food before it can be sold in Canada. The CFIA carries out safety assessments to evaluate new agricultural products for the safety of animal feed and the environment.

The Government of Canada is committed to the ongoing process of ensuring that its regulations of foods derived from biotechnology are appropriate for the state of the science and the types of food and plant products that are being developed through future research.

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Date: 3 Jan 2000 15:41:55 U
From: Paul & Katrin Davis

Organic Food Proven Healthier

BBC News, Monday, 3 January, 2000, 15:14 GMT

The research will be unveiled in the UK on Saturday

Researchers say there is now firm evidence that organically-grown produce is healthier to eat than conventional crops.

The Soil Association, the group which campaigns for organic farming, has told BBC Radio 4's Costing the Earth programme that organic crops contain more nutrients.

Director Patrick Holden said research has shown that they contain more secondary metabolites than conventionally-grown plants.

Secondary metabolite are substances which form part of the plants' immune systems, and which also help to fight cancer in humans.

Mr Holden said organic crops also have a measurably higher level of vitamins, and that this can benefit people who eat them.

By contrast, he said, "intensive farming is devitalising our food".

Mr Holden said the research, from Denmark and Germany, would be presented in the UK at the association's conference on organic food on 8 January.

'Dangerous delusion'

The researchers' findings will strengthen the organic lobby, which has been accused of making exaggerated and even unwarranted claims.

The programme spoke to scientists who said they knew of no evidence of any nutritional benefit from eating organic food.

Others claimed it could be positively dangerous, especially when it was fertilised with sewage containing potentially harmful organisms.

Some maintained that many of the natural pesticides produced by plants were potentially more of a risk than the synthetic ones used in conventional agriculture.

And with organic food costing appreciably more than ordinary products, one US cancer specialist said organic farming was a "dangerous delusion".

Poor people would find it hard to afford the fruit and vegetables they needed to reduce their cancer risk, he argued.

But the World Health Organisation has estimated that between 3.5 and 5m people globally suffer acute pesticide poisoning every year.

So the programme concludes that, whatever the individual benefits of organic food may be, it is almost certainly beneficial on a wider scale.

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Date: 3 Jan 2000 19:33:13 U
From: Robert Mann

It may do some good to reflect on the context in which GEF is vaguely claimed to be going to feed the poor. That particular line is one of the most invalid (and, often, insincere) among the GE hype. Prince Charles rubbishes it.


Lifespan extension

Eat more fibre! Consume less cholesterol! Drizzle more olive oil! Have fewer children later in life! Drink a glass of red wine a day! And so it goes on. Rarely a day goes by without the emergence of a new 'theory' in that most seductive realm of scientific advances – lifespan extension.

Chromosome structure hints that our cells have genetic 'fuses' that mete out their allotted time. Antibiotics, vaccinations and antiseptics have brought about hikes in life expectancy in the developed world which have raised the average lifespan to almost double that at the last fin de siecle – nigh-on 80 years and still rising – as this century draws to a close. The intractability of several cancers such as Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukaemia has been tamed and many others look to follow soon; the hard nut of cognitive decline is on the verge of being cracked with drugs and neuron replacement; and workable synthetic organs and xenotransplants are around the corner.

But the current obsession with all things genetic, molecular, high-tech and expensive risks missing the point that both the World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO) make patently clear. That is, for the majority of the planet the most powerful lifespan-extending technologies of all – good, basic public health and preventative medicine – are still a far-off dream, even if they are, scientifically speaking, old hat.

As we usher in the third millennium, the WHO estimates that the citizens of the world's poorest countries (who make up two-fifths of the global population) have almost half the life expectancy – at under 50 years – of those living in the richest nations. And that gap is widening, not narrowing, often in both directions. One third of the planet's population do not have secure access to safe water or sufficient food, let alone drugs, immunizations, or even the simplest health education. Elsewhere, billions of dollars are being spent teasing out the intricacies of gene therapy and memory enhancement. Addressing this inequity is surely one of the greatest and most pressing challenges facing us all, if not as academics, then as people.
Sara Abdulla

[Macmillan Magazines] Nature

Robt Mann
Mulgoon Professor emeritus of Environmental Studies, U of Auckland consultant stirrer & motorcyclist P O Box 28878, Remuera, Auckland 1005, New Zealand (9) 524 2949

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Date: 5 Jan 2000 05:18:48 U
From: (Jean Saunders)

Hi All

There follows an article that says what we have been saying for years. Nonetheless it is good to read it in The Times.


Good food needs green farms

By Graham Harvey The Times (London) January 1, 2000, Saturday

Graham Harvey reckons public opinion has turned against destructive industrial farming Two news events that went largely unnoticed in the final days of the old year could herald dramatic changes in the British countryside. Shortly before Christmas, a small newspaper story reported fresh evidence that mad cow disease and the human brain disease new-variant CJD (nvCJD) are caused by the same infective agent. The findings, by Scottish and American scientists, heighten fears that sections of the British population may be incubating the disease.

On the same day, the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed the imminent departure of its permanent secretary, Richard Packer, who ran the department during the BSE debacle of the mid-1990s. Packer has been closely associated with the Ministry's entrenched support for industrial agriculture and the globalisation of food supplies. Taken together, the two events presage a seismic shift in British farming policy. The new fears about nvCJD also seem certain to further strengthen the demand for healthier food. But to deliver what informed consumers want, the policy makers will be forced to abandon their 30-year pursuit of intensive, chemical-driven systems of food production and switch to a more environmentally benign agriculture based on husbandry.

Such a reversal would transform the countryside, bringing back more wildlife and creating thousands of additional rural jobs. It would also throw into question current Government proposals to allow nearly half of all new homes on greenfield sites. Plans for wide-scale development in rural areas are based on the notion that overproduction has produced a surplus of agricultural land. But a move to less-intensive farming systems would require more land, not less. It is likely to lead to new demands for countryside protection. An early indication of a radical new direction in rural policy came with a number of new measures announced by the farm minister Nick Brown last month.

The Pounds £1.6 billion package included a measure to redirect some of the money currently spent on farming subsidies into the broader rural economy. Most of the redirected cash - which will rise to 4.5 per cent of direct farm subsidy payments by 2006 - will now go to help organic farming and other "green" farming schemes, as well as the setting up of new rural enterprises. The National Farmers' Union has denounced the measure as a "tax" on farmers to pay for rural development. But countryside campaigners claim the overall package will bring new money into farming so long as it's practised in accordance with environmentally sound principles. "This signals a welcome new direction for farm support," says Alastair Rutherford, head of rural policy at the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). "It will mean less money is spent on damaging subsidies and more on enhancing the countryside and producing the quality food consumers are demanding."

The return of nvCJD stories to the tabloids should increase the pressure for a root-and-branch reform of farming. The agricultural lobby, smarting from very low prices in the industry - largely as a result of the soaring pound - remains sceptical about the British consumer's readiness to pay the price of foods produced to higher health and environmental standards. Farmers cling obdurately to the view that consumers buy on price alone, whatever their private concerns on health or animal welfare issues.

The NFU has consistently opposed Government proposals for a tax on pesticides, claiming that it would damage the competitiveness of British farming. But food campaigners report a profound and lasting change in public attitudes to food. As evidence they cite the unprecedented consumer backlash against genetically modified foods. As little as a year ago it seemed inconceivable that the advance of GM products could be halted. Now supermarkets have cleared them from the shelves, while the major catering firms scour the world in their search for non-GM ingredients. As a result of the UK-inspired campaign, the biotech giant Monsanto faces a multi-billion dollar lawsuit from disgruntled American farmers.

Should the number of nvCJD victims start to rise, the fight against GMOs is likely to be focused on farming. Despite the durability of the Common Agricultural Policy, the popular clamour for real reform may prove irresistible. For the past 25 years or so we've adopted farming methods that degrade our food," says Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association. "In effect we've been conducting a huge experiment in public health. The foundations of constitutional health are set in early life. Through farming policies we've managed to degrade the food of a generation. Now we'll measure the cost through our health services."

The Government's new ruraldevelopment package appears to accept the growing public anxiety about farming and health. The measure was introduced under the EU Rural Development Regulation, which was itself promoted during the UK presidency. The regulation enables member states to aid environmentally beneficial farming methods. The departure of Richard Packer from the agriculture ministry is a further indication of the changes in rural policy.

For decades, the ministry supported a cost-driven agriculture, a concept that has severely damaged the countryside and may also turn out to have been disastrous for public health. Few policy makers appreciate how recent current farming practices are. Until the early 1970s, most farmers used methods that had been tried and tested over centuries: crop rotation and mixed farming, the production of livestock and crops on the same holding.

Under this traditional system a sequence of cereal crops would be broken by a short-term grass ley, which was grazed or manured by livestock. The grass "break" would help to maintain soil fertility and keep crop diseases in check without recourse to chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This traditional pattern broke down only when Britain joined the European Union. Under the incentive of inflated farm prices, many farmers abandoned rotations and reinvented themselves as arable specialists, relying solely on chemicals to maintain output.

Others became intensive livestock producers reliant on antibiotics and other drugs to maintain production. A demand for foods free of pesticides and drug residues would mean a return to mixed farming, and particularly the grass "break" in arable rotations. This is the kind of farming the Government appears keen to promote through its new rural development package. Such a radical policy shift would change the entire rural agenda. A return to "real farming" would help revitalise rural areas by bringing new jobs back to the countryside. It would certainly reverse the catastrophic decline in wildlife, particularly farmland birds.

But it would also require a careful reappraisal of current development plans for rural areas. Traditional farming practices are less productive, so farmland - particularly the higher grades - would be at a premium. Graham Harvey is the author of The Killing of the Countryside, published by Vintage at Pounds £7.99

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH LOAD-DATE: January 1, 2000 [Entered January 03, 2000]

Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign, for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
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