8 January 2000

Table of Contents

First South African retailer bans GM foods
Farmers Gear for Fight over GMO Foods
Words of warning; When scientists talk of 'absence of evidence' of risk, take cover.
Retailers dropping bio-foods
The Fear Over 'Frankenfood'
What We Mean by "GM-free" Foods
US Retailers to yank GM foods from shelves
Artic Microbes & Mercury
Guinea Pigs In the Genetics Revolution
Delta royalties to Monsanto are removed
Unexplained Harm
Dangers in the home: Mercury
GM cotton - health risks?
Health Benefits Of Organic Food Explored
Nuclear Genes In Plants
Biosafety alert from ISIS

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:51:33 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

next article posted by NLP Wessex

First South African retailer bans GM foods

CAPE TOWN, Dec 21 (Reuters) [shortened]

South Africa's Woolworths bans GM foods

South African retail chain Woolworths said on Tuesday it had decided to remove all known genetically modified (GM) foods from its shelves until they were proven safe. The decision, taken after a meeting between company management and members of the South African Federation Against Genetic Engineering (SAFEAGE), makes Woolworths the first South African retailer to take that stance. "The current situation with regard to GE (genetically engineered) food in South Africa is unsatisfactory," Woolworths said in a statement. "Woolworths have stated their intention to remove genetically engineered food from their shelves."
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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:51:33 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Farmers Gear for Fight over GMO Foods

San Antonio, Texas, January 7, © 2000 Reuters Limited.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Jan 6 (Reuters) – Farm groups around the U.S. must brace for a bruising battle over GMO goods demonized in Europe as 'Frankenstein food' and must do more to counter claims by environmental activists the technology is unsafe.

A Republican congressman and delegates attending the annual Beltwide Cotton meeting here said Thursday the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMO) will intensify, especially after two supermarket chains said recently they will remove GMO products from their shelves.

"The anti-GMO sentiment is already starting to have a chilling effect in this country," Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee provinding funding for conservation and commodity programs, told delegates in a speech.

"This chilling effect could reach into Congress and the appropriation process. I would hate to see this happen," he added.

Bonilla said farm groups must be "the loudest voice at the table" to counter the environmental lobby. This would include the lawsuit against life sciences company Monsanto for selling GMO crops without first insuring that they were safe.

The controversy over GMO foods has spread from Europe to Japan and poses a threat to the U.S. agro-business industry since more than 35 percent of corn, 55 percent of soybeans and about 50 percent of cotton plants GMO seeds.

"It's going to be something we have to deal with," Art Simpson, the National Operations Manager of Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Company, told Reuters in an interview.

Jimmy Hargett, a farmer who plants 1,000 acres of corn and 5,000 acres to cotton in Bells, Tenn., said farm groups should take a more active stance on the issue.

"The media that's been put out on GMOs, those people don't know what they're fussing about," he said.

Bonilla said that under pressure from well-financed environmental groups, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun a process that could potentially result in rules which will "strangle the new technology."

"We cannot let these radical extreme fringe groups win," he said. Hargett said the rising scare over GMOs has not yet hit his sales of farm products, but such a prospect hangs over an industry already struggling from low commodity prices.

"I have that fear," said Allen Helms, a farmer who plants 3,000 acres of cotton, 1,500 acres of cotton and 2,000 acres of soybeans in Clarkedale, Arkansas. "There's a lot of value and a lot of quality in the (GMO) products."

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:51:33 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Words of warning; When scientists talk of 'absence of evidence' of risk, take cover.

by Geoff Tansey, The Guardian (London) January 5, 2000; Pg. 5

Public scepticism about the rapid and widespread adoption of GM crops and foods is not ill-founded, a report on the politics and risk of GM food has confirmed. A simple reliance on 'sound science' will not get government and industry out of the mess they are in, and is itself unscientific, the report says. It summarises the results from part of Britain's biggest ever social science research programme - the 10-year, pounds 15m Global Environmental Change Programme (GECP), funded by the Economic and Social Science Research Council, which has drawn in some 355 researchers in 150 projects since 1991.

The report calls for research to tackle difficult scientific questions, like the cumulative effects of many GMOs, but it also urges government to recognise that science is 'ill-equipped to tackle the diffuse effects of existing technologies" and 'that definitive answers do not and cannot exist in the face of uncertainty and 'ignorance' about new technologies'.

Public mistrust arises partly because the way the issue is being handled breaches the fundamental trust between the public and the powers that be - political and corporate. Public concerns include how decisions are made, who makes them in whose interests, what should be taken into account like cultural, ethical and political issues, a lack of public involvement, and responsibility and liability for any damaging consequences.

One danger, the report suggests, is that 'scientists are often under real pressures to reach conclusions that can inform commercial and political decisions' when no such conclusions can be reached. Another problem is that standard risk assessment techniques are inadequate.

'Current approaches neglect the scientific basis for dealing with ignorance and fail to recognise that the underlying assumptions used at the start of the process of risk assessment affect the outcome,' says Dr Andy Stirling, a GECP researcher from the science policy research unit at the University of Sussex. 'Politicians must take care not to portray an 'absence of evidence' as 'evidence of absence' of problems and risks,' says the report.

Nor is the present regulatory system up to the job. 'No ecologists have been included in the various advisory committees,' says the report. These anyway fail to deal with the need for GM food, social benefits, potential for indirect, cumulative and synergistic ecological and/or health effects arising from GM crops and foods, and the wide effects on the countryside. Unsurprisingly, 'the public mistrusts the scientific approach to ignorance –unknown factors that may lead to 'surprises' in the future', says the report. It calls for better ways to make decisions about this kind of new technology.

Both government and industry have dipped their toes in the water with a few initial experiments using consensus conferences, citizens' juries, focus groups and deliberative polls. But these should be used more widely and integrated into decision making if the public is to understand and decide what risks with GM are acceptable, argues the report. The basis against which risks are measured also needs to become more sophisticated. Simply assessing the effects of GM technologies and crops against existing practices in conventional agriculture, especially when conventional industrialised agriculture itself is under attack for being unsustainable.

'What is needed is to evaluate various different visions for agriculture, what role GM plays and the policy issues each raises,' argues Professor Terry Marsden, from the planning department of the University of Wales, Cardiff, another GECP researcher. 'GM technologies are likely to further 'speed up' the structural change in agriculture and food supply, making it more difficult for smaller producers to stay on the land,' he says.

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:51:33 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Retailers dropping bio-foods

By James Cox, USA TODAY - Jan 4, 2000, Page 1A

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 Wittenberg, vice president at Whole Foods. The Austin, Texas, retailer has 103 stores in 22 states.

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:51:33 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

The Fear Over 'Frankenfood'

CBS NEWS | SciTech, NEW YORK, Tuesday, January 04,2000 - 08:13 PM ET

(CBS) At the dawn of this new century it's estimated that up to 70-percent of all food on grocery store shelves is genetically modified: it's DNA has been altered to improve flavor and durability. The technology is booming, but CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, some retailers are saying enough is enough.

"If you need to get a point across sometimes you need to raise your voice," says Jim Lee, CEO Wild Oats Markets. The nation's two largest natural food chains want the FDA to clearly label any food that has been genetically modified. The goal is so such foods can be kept out of all health food store products, keeping them natural and untouched by chemicals or technology.

"People have the right to know and we need to understand the long term impact of these type of products," says Lee.

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Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000 10:25:44 +0200
From: Anthony van Zyl
From: PS: The following info may prove useful for the cause:

What do we mean by 'GM-free?'

There seems to be some confusion within the food industry as to what the term "GM-free" means exactly. The following definition will no doubt ring true with the many millions of consumers and anti-GM campaigners in every country who wish to avoid all products that have any links with genetic modification and the biotech industry. So lets make this our standard to aim for. Lets all demand GM-free foods.

GM-Food Concern, UK

What We Mean by "GM-free" Foods

Consumer Demand

The regulatory authorities who assess the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods, say that when the genetic material (DNA) has been removed or destroyed during processing, it needs little in the way of health risk assessment and can be marketed without labelling. Such a stance indicates that the main health risks perceived from GM-foods arise from the presence of "viable" DNA (intact genes), and if this is not present then all is well.

But leading scientists such as Dr Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology, London, claim that any health risks associated with foods produced by GM are as likely, if not more so, to be related to molecules surviving refinement and processing.

As Dr Antoniou points out: "The absence of viable DNA protein is no safeguard from possible toxic contamination; the tryptophan food supplement which killed 37 consumers and permanently disabled 1,500, was 99% pure and devoid of DNA. If this product was marketed today, the same tragedy would likely result, as the clinical-type trials which are required to detect novel toxins of the type produced would be seen as unnecessary".

Consumer Demand

Opinion polls show that the majority of consumers do not wish to take risks with foods, vaccines or medicines that are produced via genetic modification; and many people object to such products as a matter of principle and simply don't want to support these developments in any way whatsoever ( whether it be food, medicines or GM-cotton clothing etc). It is therefore vital that food manufacturers, food retailers, and contractors supplying school meals, should exclude all GM-ingredients, derivatives and enzymes from their products, primarily as a precautionary health measure, but also to respect the wishes of the consumer.


Labelling laws are unsatisfactory. At present (in Europe), the food industry is mainly labelling foods that contain GM soya and GM maize PROTEIN; which means that GM derivatives such as soya lecithin, soya oil and maize oil are present in thousands of processed foods without consumers being aware of them.

In addition, milk and meat products from animals fed on GM soya and maize will not be labelled as such - in spite of evidence that modified DNA can cross the gut wall and enter spleen, liver and white blood cells. Dairy cows fed on GM-soybeans showed increased fat content in their milk, which was probably related to increased plant oestrogen, which can also affect humans, especially children. Therefore, meat, poultry, and dairy products, such as milk, butter and cheese should be sourced from manufacturers who can guarantee GM-free animal feed is used in the production of their products (two major UK supermarkets - Iceland and Marks & Spencer have already started doing this. Currently, unless they are organic, most brands of milk, butter and cheese are very likely to be produced from milk via cows fed on GM cattle feed.


The BSE tragedy in the UK was a direct result of tampering with the natural order of the food chain - where seemingly harmless changes to cattle feed resulted human fatalities. In order to avoid widespread health problems with genetically manipulated foods, food manufacturers, supermarkets, and contractors supplying meals to schools and colleges, etc., should source only foods and ingredients which are guaranteed free from GM- material, GM-derivatives and GM-enzymes. This is what we mean by GM- free.

The above information* contains extracts from an article by Dr Michael Antoniou, which appeared in Nutritional Therapy Today, Vol 3.

Why take risks with genetically manipulated foods when perfectly safe and natural varieties already exists in abundance?

-GM Food Concern, UK

Telephone: ++27 (0)11 728-2331 Fax: ++27 (0)11 728-8276
Postal address: Box 87395 * Houghton * 2041 South Africa
[Please send me only PLAIN TEXT e-mails with NO ATTACHMENTS]

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Date: 6 Jan 2000 04:01:50 U

US Retailers to yank GM foods from shelves

By John Greenwood, Financial Post, Wednesday, January 05, 2000

Farmers 'nervous'

The growing public resistance to genetically modified foods that has rocked farmers and retailers in Europe has now spread to North America.

Two leading natural foodstore chains in the United States announced plans on Monday that they will start pulling GM products from their shelves.

Wild Oats Markets Inc., a Boulder, Colo.-based chain of 111 specialty stores across the United States and British Columbia, said it will stop selling foods derived from bio-engineered ingredients, such as canola, soy and corn.

"We are working with our suppliers on this and they are co-operating," said Harry Day, vice-president of the company, which last year had sales of $800-million (US).

Whole Foods Market of Austin, Tex., announced the same day that it would eliminate GM ingredients from its store brand products, which it sells in 103 stores, all in the United States. The company had sales of $1.6-billion (US) in 1998.

Mr. Day said his company decided to take the step in response to concerns raised by customers.

"We have people coming in every day, asking about GM food, looking for information," he said. "It's a very complex issue that a lot of consumers don't understand."

Although both companies' sales come mostly from the United States, their decisions may have a significant impact on Canadian suppliers, already buffeted by the European backlash over so-called Frankenfoods.

Late last year New Brunswick-based McCain Foods Ltd., quietly began telling farmers that it did not want GM potatoes.

Dale Adolphe, president of the Canola Council of Canada, said that so far the debate has not hit the pocket books of members of the canola industry, though many are getting anxious.

"It's affecting us from perspective that it's making people nervous. Farmers are asking what they should be planting," he said. "But our key markets are not saying let's segregate [GM products from the non-modified ones].

So far only a handful of GM crops have been approved for sale, including corn, soy, canola, potatoes and tomatoes.

Last year about 55% of Canada's canola crop was modified while about 40% of corn and soy was modified.

Mr. Adolphe said most canola is sold to countries such as the United States, Mexico and Japan, where the GM backlash has not caught on.

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Date: 6 Jan 2000 08:17:48 U
From: "j.e. cummins"

Artic Microbes & Mercury

The mercury problem in the Arctic is well understood in the Arctic but ignored in most of the world.Mercury metal deposited in the Arctic from atmospheric mercury and there converted to methyl mercury by microbes, then up through the food chain in fat.The following reference is to an Arctic Monitoring program but the Artic Nations also report on the problem:

The escape of mercury volatalizing microbes to geologic strata is the main

concern but the huge amount of mercury in nuclearweapons plants such as Hanford should not be denigrated. The actual amount, is I believe, still secret and the admitted amount is likely low by magnitudes.

Cheers, Joe
(by the way I published early papers on methyl mercury gene damage in the 1970's)

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark Knapp"
Sent: Thursday, January 06, 2000 1:15 AM
Subject: B-GE: Microbes & Mercury

The amount of mercury in nuclear waste is miniscule compared to what is released from coal burning. The real threat would be if these genetically-altered microbes were somehow able to liberate mercury from geologic strata AND lead to an increase in METHYL mercury in the environment. I don't know whether that could happen.

Thanks to Joe for raising this issue. As a general capitalist rule, when huge profits are at stake, no deed is too heinous for industries like nuclear and biotechnology (or their lackeys – DOE and FDA).

Mark Knapp
Radiological Health Scientist

"j.e. cummins" wrote:

Hello John Maclaren,
What I am saying is that the US DOE is knowingly cleaning the radioactive waste site by releasing mercury to the atmosphere where it is condensed in cold areas of the globe. As the microbes contaminate geologic strata in USA they will release more mercury to the atmosphere to deposit in the cold places.

There is already a sever problem of mercury in the food chain of the area and the addition of more mercury threatens viability of the upper food chain in the area. US government action to create such pollution is criminal with foresight of action.

Cheers, Joe

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Date: 6 Jan 2000 08:40:10 U
From: Colleen Robison

Guinea Pigs In the Genetics Revolution

By Abigail Trafford, Washington Post, Tuesday, January 4, 2000; Page Z06

The predictions are awesome: In 10 years, there will be genetic tests to predict your chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, asthma, mental illness and several common cancers. In 30 years, you will be able to get your complete genetic blueprint for $1,000. In 40 years, gene-based drug treatments will be available for most diseases. Average life expectancy will reach 90 years.

This is the vision of Francis S. Collins, who heads the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health. It is a future where people can lead longer, better lives, thanks to the benefits of the genetics revolution in which all the human genes are identified and treatments are genetically designed on an individual basis to stall or prevent illness and disability. The potential is enormous – preventing breast cancer, managing depression, slowing down the aging process.

Collins is an optimist when it comes to science.

But he is a pessimist when it comes to how science may be misused and abused in the future.

In 30 years, he predicts, major anti-technology movements will be active in the United States and around the world. He also foresees widening inequities in who will benefit from genetic advances.

In part, his pessimism is rooted in history. Some people are inherently suspicious of science and technology – and with good reason. The splitting of the atom was followed by the Bomb Scare Era, with people scrambling for fallout shelters. The accident at Three Mile Island reawakened public fears of nuclear power. More recently, the uproar in Europe over genetically manipulated foods has raised the specter of mad scientists "messing with nature."

News headlines about cloning pets and failed gene therapy experiments give the impression of science running out of control. Movies such as "Gattaca" titillate flawed fantasies of genetically designing offspring. Call it the Frankenstein syndrome, a well established public perception that scientists are playing God.

Anything to do with genes is particularly susceptible to the Frankenstein syndrome. It's threatening because of the "genes-R-us" philosophy – the feeling that genes are the essence of our identity. There's the suspicion that changing DNA is akin to changing identity. "It gets people where they live," says Collins.

But to scientists, DNA is not the whole story of identity. "DNA is just a chemical," Collins says. "We're a lot more than our DNA sequences."

The hope is that as the field of genetics produces some tangible benefits in managing and preventing disease, DNA will lose some of its sacred aura – and designing treatments based on genetic information will become less frightening to the public. As Collins explained in an online discussion with The Washington Post: "Knowledge is neither good nor evil – it's the uses we put it to that determines whether the revolution in human genetics, which is getting underway right now in a big way, will be seen by the public as a godsend or a curse."

At the moment, the genetics revolution has stalled after the widely publicized death of a gene therapy patient at the University of Pennsylvania and the general failure of gene therapy to cure disease. After nearly 10 years of experimentation, the ability to insert a new gene into a patient's body to change the course of disease is proving much more difficult than researchers thought.

But the history of medicine is filled with false starts and detours. Remember the early days of heart transplants and the fiasco of the artificial heart? And yet researchers persisted, improving the success rates for transplants and finding better ways to treat heart disease.

The same will be true for genetics. Gene therapy may work only for a few rare diseases – or it may go the way of the artificial heart. But genomics, the science of genes, is much broader than this particular experiment. It holds the promise of finding new ways to reduce the toll of disease, stave off aging and improve memory.

Over the next century we will all be guinea pigs in the genetics revolution. In fact, NIH is likely to conduct a human study to extend the maximum human life span in the year 2030. Maybe that's a study you'd like to sign up for.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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Date: 6 Jan 2000 13:59:10 U

Delta royalties to Monsanto are removed

Reuters Story - January 04, 2000 08:37

SCOTT, Miss., Jan 4 (Reuters) - Delta and Pine Land Co. , the No. 1 U.S. cotton seed breeder, said Tuesday it no longer must pay royalties to life sciences giant Monsanto Co. if Delta commercializes cottonseed that contain non-Monsanto technologies.

Delta said it and Monsanto had changed their Bollgard and Roundup Ready gene technology license agreements to eliminate the potential royalties.

"Delta Pine's rights to Monsanto's existing technology under these agreements, as well as access to future Monsanto technologies, remain unchanged," the company said in a statement.

Monsanto, which has developed seeds resistant to pests and pesticides for Delta in the past, recently canceled merger plans with Delta, blaming government demands and regulatory delays.

Delta shares were off 15/16 at 16-3/16, while Monsanto was down 1/2 at 34-1/2, both on the New York Stock Exchange.

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Date: 6 Jan 2000 15:39:15 U
From: Robert Mann

Unexplained Harm

The item below illustrates the near-uselessness of the permissive approach. If we allow GE virtually uncontrolled, in many species at once, and with no significant attempt at tracing DNA or monitoring ecological effects, there will probably be many puzzles like this. Indeed many of them will occur without even coming to notice as effects, let along getting ascribed to cause.

Butterfly Decline In California Presents A Mystery

NEWS FROM GREENWIRE: Entomologists in California are concerned that butterfly populations are at an almost 30-year low in the Sacramento Valley and surrounding areas. The news is worrisome because the scientists can find no clear reason for it.

Another classic example is that the Swedes, who had been more diligent about medical statistics than many other peoples, observed a doubling in cancer of the central nervous system in children, during the 1960s. Even when the results are observed & measured, often no cause can be inferred in a real world of numerous changing influences.

Thus, the assumption 'if any trouble gets caused by this GE then we can control it' is of very little protective use.

Of course, a main characteristic of what has become the usual official approach is to refrain from looking for any harm. 'What you don't know won't hurt you' is one of the stupidest mottos of all time.


--------------------- Robt Mann
consultant ecologist
P O Box 28878 Remuera, Auckland 1005, New Zealand (9) 524 2949

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Date: 6 Jan 2000 16:06:26 U
From: Robert Mann

Dangers in the home: Mercury

I've been waiting for some expert advice before intervening in the discussion started by Joe. This item may be of some relevance.

from the National Geographic ENN News

Dangers in the home

One of the biggest threats in your home may be hiding where you least expect it. Most people know that mercury is a dangerous toxin, but we don't think twice about placing thermometers in our mouths. And most of us don't know what to do if the mercury becomes exposed. Listen to this report to find out more. Great Lakes Radio Consortium (5:02)

Full Story:

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Date: 7 Jan 2000 10:10:03 U

Famous Last Words .....
- ----------------------------------------------

"We're not going to go back, we're not going to quit (cotton). We're just going to go forward,"

Frederick Perlak, co-director of Monsanto's Cotton Team,
in a recent interview with Reuters at the annual Beltwide Cotton conference.

(You've got to laugh!)


PS; Please call the following UK companies and demand that they source non-GM cotton for their clothing. Thanks:

Marks & Spencer - on Freephone 0800 389 4367
Land's End - on Freephone 0800 220 106

Also, has anyone contacted Levi and Wrangler regarding the use of GM cotton/denim? Or would you like to?

GM cotton - health risks?

From: The Women's Environmental Network (WEN), Viola
Subject: GE Cotton in Tampons
Date: Friday, November 12, 1999 9:35 AM

We at WEN are hoping you can help us our next query about tampons. IT appears that now manufacturers are using genetically engineered cotton tampons.

We need to know if anyone has conducted tests to show whether it contains Bt, the bacteria which attacks the guts of insects. Also is it transferred to the fibre and then the woman. Are women aware that GE cotton contains higher levels of gossypol, a fact that Monsanto dismissed. If anyone can help us on these issues. Please contact us.

The Women's Environmental Network
87 Worship Street, London EC2A 2BE
t: +44 171 247 3327    f: +44 171 247 4740

WEN is a registered charity

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Date: 7 Jan 2000 11:59:39 U

Health Benefits Of Organic Food Explored

By PA news reporters, © Press Association Ltd 1999

The possible health benefits of organic food in the battle to boost vitality and fight serious diseases like cancer, will be explored at a special farming conference tomorrow.

There is a growing belief that persuading farmers to stop using pesticides and chemicals on their crops may in the long-term reduce NHS spending as the health benefits flow through to the population, according to Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, which is holding the conference at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. It is possible that intensive farming may be having an impact on public health and the cost will be picked up by the NHS. But there has been a huge shift in public attitudes in the last few years and now as we cross into a new millennium we need to focus on

Controversy over genetically modified crops and BSE in cattle has helped encourage a boom in the sales of organic produce in the major supermarkets. Mr Holden is calling for more research into the possible anti cancer benefits for humans of eating plant immune systems and how some crops may be able to increase vitality. Fifty years ago organic farming was considered to be a regressive step, now its products have become mainstream and its philosophy and principles embraced by consumers, farmers, scientists and, increasingly, policy makers. This change of attitude towards the role of agriculture is profound and comes at a critical time. The 21st century offers us the chance to make the fundamental changes to the way in which our food is produced and to measure the impact these changes will have on our own health, on society and on the environment. Perhaps we are finally recognising the truth of the belief of one of the Soil Association's founders, Lady Eve Balfour, that agriculture should be seen as the

Speakers at the conference include BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys who plans to return to organic farming after retiring from broadcasting.

Sales are estimated at more than £5 million a week but Friends of the Earth estimates this will be nearer £20 million a week by 2002. By then, it is expected to account for 7% to 8% of the food market, worth about £1 billion a year.

Organic farmers' produce is lacking in volume and much in demand. Subsequently, organic wheat leaves the farm at about £170/t compared with £70 for conventionally-produced wheat, and organic milk commands about 28p a litre, compared with 18-19p. However, prices are expected to fall as supply increases.

One of the most high profile champions of organic farming is the Prince of Wales, put the soul back . His Cotswold home at Highgrove has been run on an environmentally sound basis for years and is now completely organic.

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Date: 7 Jan 2000 13:04:30 U
From: "j.e. cummins"

Nuclear Genes In Plants

By Prof. Joe Cummins, e-mail: , January 6, 2000

This is the first of a series of brief descriptions of genes and viruses in GM crops.

Genes are found in the nucleus, mitochondria and chloroplasts of the plants. Most plant genes are in the cell nucleus and it is these genes that are involved in genetic engineering. Plant cells range in DNA content from a little more than their relatives fungi and algae to levels greater than the most complex animal. This effect is called the c value paradox where c is the amount of DNA in each nucleus, the paradox is the apparent lack of correlation between the level of DNA and the number of genes (or complexity) of the species.

The information I will provide will explain the c value paradox and it will deal with viruses and their relatives the transposons in building the arrangement of plant nuclear genes (the genome)

Nuclear genes are arranged in chromosomes. Chromosomes are very long linear DNA molecules with characteristic landmark genes. Chromosomes have telomere genes at each end, these genes are made up of arrays of short repeating sequences, unlike most genes the repeats alter in number and replicate by reverse transcription (RNA templates form DNA).

Each chromosome has one centromere, a gene with repeating DNA sequences that are recognized by the protein spindle fibers that pull the chromosomes apart during cell division. Finally, each chromosome as one or more origin of replication, most higher plant chromosomes have many origins of replication, each governing an array of genes called a replicon. Each replicon is allowed to replicate just once every round of cell division.

The genes that determine traits such as metabolism, disease resistance, flower color, etc. are lined up along each chromosome. Genes capable of producing product must have a promoter gene and associated enhancer sequences ahead of the start signal for the active gene to be transcribed to make messenger RNA, finally there must be a transcription stop signal gene.

The genes introduced by genetic engineering use the promoter from Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) because that gene is powerful promoter used to replicate the virus that is active in all tissues of the target crop plant and little influenced by small changes in nutrition and environmental conditions. Sometimes plants have functioning genes and identical copies of the functioning genes that cannot make messages because they lack a promoter, genes of that type are called psuedogenes. The psuedogenes are maintained in the species because they may provide back-up to replace a damaged active gene using recombination.

Between the active genes there are varying numbers of repetitive DNA sequences that do not make product. Such sequences may benefit individual plant species by permitting increased genetic recombination between active genes. High levels of genetic recombination allows the plant species to adjust to short term climate or soil conditions , while lower levels of recombination are conservative but provide long term protection for very effective gene combinations. For the most part, the repetitive sequences have been found to be virus related genes called retrotransposons .

Transposons are gene sequences that may jump from one fixed position on the chromosome to another, usually leaving a copy behind in the original chromosome locus. Retrotransposons are related to retrovirus and pararetrovirus, they move by reverse transcription. That is, the transposon is transcribed to make an RNA copy, then reverse transcribed to make a DNA copy which is inserted into the chromosome. Retrotransposons do not move very frequently but can accumulate during evolution of species. Some plant species also contain endogenous virus or retrovirus, I will describe those sequences later. The difference between a retrotransposon and an endogenous retrovirus is simply the presence of sequences related to coat (capsid) protein genes in the endogenous retrovirus.

Grass genomes illustrate how related species with widely different nuclear DNA content but similar numbers of active genes (the C value paradox) have differing numbers of retrotransposon sequences. Bennetzen et al (1998) compared the genomes of the grasses maize, sorghum and rice and found that the difference in genome size between the species was primarily related to numbers of retrotransposons. Corn has a genome 2500 mega base pairs DNA in each nucleus, sorghum 750 mega base pairs and rice 430 mega base pairs. Maize has large blocks of retrotransposons around each active gene, while sorghum and rice have many active genes that are side by side.

Over half the maize genome is made up of retrotransposons , while sorghum and rice have fewer copies of the retrotransposons. Interestingly, the order of active genes is similar in the chromosomes of the three crops, the major difference being the number of retrotransposon sequences between the active genes. The retrotransposon inserts are normally inactivated by a process called DNA methylation.

In conclusion, gene sequences related to retroviruses and pararetroviruses make up a significant part of the genomes of crop plants.

Reference: Bennetzen,J., San Miguel,P., Chen,M., Tikonov,A.,Francki,M. and Avramova,Z. Grass Genomes Proc. Natnl. Acad. Sci. USA 95,1975-78,1998

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Date: 7 Jan 2000 14:40:05 U
From: wytze
From List: Biotech Activists
Posted by:

Biosafety alert from ISIS

Biosafety Alert

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Institute of Science in Society (ISIS)
and Biology Dept. Open University, UK,

The US and European Union are trying to 'harmonize' approval process for genetic engineered products through the TransAtlantic Economic Partnership (TEP) - a kind of free-trade agreement, according to its critics. The first and possibly most important aspect considered is the molecular genetic characterization provided by the industry for gaining approval. A meeting to be held on Jan. 12 in Washington will consider a technical annex circulated by the USDA and Canada, which gives an idea of the kind of data required in those countries.

The data are grossly inadequate. They do not protect US and Canadian consumers and it will be disastrous for the Biosafety Protocol if the EU were to go along. Our US and Canadian scientists should be on hand to fight it. Essentially, the data required do not enable anyone to identify each transgenic line separately, and give no guarantee that what is submitted for approval is genetically (as well as phenotypically) stable.

First, on account of the uncontrollable, random nature of the genetic engineering process, each transgenic line will be distinct, even though the same materials, gene-constructs and vector systems are used.

Second, because of the inherent instability of the transgenic lines, further changes may occur during cultivation, so that, in effect, the properties will become quite different from the originally approved line.

I have asked the Consumer Choice Council to submit my comments below to the Conference, as I cannot attend myself. I urge as many scientists as possible to submit comments of their own. For further details of the meeting please contact Consumer Choice Council

Biotechnology Pilot Project of the Trans-Atlantic Economic Partnership Action Plan - A Prelude to Harmonization of GMO Regulation and Trade

Mae-Wan Ho
Institute of Science in Society and Biology Department, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK

A Pilot Project was set up by the Biotechnology Group in the Trans-Atlantic Economic Partnership Action Plan (TEP) to compare the molecular genetic characterization that industry has to submit on both sides of the Atlantic to gain regulatory approval for release to the environment. The processing of a simultaneous application to both sides of the Atlantic from industry will then be monitored. The TEP is generally regarded as a transatlantic free-trade agreement, and this Pilot Project is the first step towards harmonization of GMO regulation and trade.

A joint EU-US workshop was held in Luxembourg (19-21 October, 1999). The key outcome of the Workshop will be a technical annex (Annex 3) of the molecular genetic characterization required on both sides.

A draft Annex 3 circulated for comments after the workshop was actually drawn up as the result of an earlier meeting of regulatory officials from the United States and Canada aimed at comparing and harmonizing the molecular genetic characterization of the two countries. My comments are addressed at this draft Annex 3

The molecular genetic characterization in the draft Annex 3 does not take account of the random nature of the genetic transformation process. Each random insertion of transgenic DNA will differ in location and in structure from all other inserts, and will be accompanied by a different pattern of unintended positional and pleiotropic effects, due respectively, to the location of the insert and functional interactions with host genes.

Thus, each transgenic line (or GMO) resulting from the same process, despite using the same vector system and plant materials under the same conditions, will be distinct, and must be treated as such.

In practice, each transgenic line must be characterized with regard to

  1. identity - number of inserts, location and structure of each insert
  2. stability - in terms of functional expression and inheritance of the intended trait in successive generations, as well as in terms of structural constancy (location in the genome and structural arrangement) of the insert(s))
  3. unintended positional and pleiotropic effects

Failure to require informative data on these characterizations will mean in practice that unstable lines may be approved, which will change its characteristics in successive generations of growth; or multiple transgenic lines, all with different characteristics, may be released after a single line has been approved. More importantly, it will be impossible to monitor for the post-release spread of transgenic DNA, either by cross-pollination or by horizontal gene transfer. In the event that the released GMO causes damage to health or biodiversity, it will also be impossible to trace the liable party or to take proper remedial action.

Suggested changes to text of Annex 3

(These suggested changes are offered as illustrations of how the issues of identity and stability arising from the random unpredictability of the transformation process may be addressed. The competent authorities of the EU member states, I am sure, will come up with better ways to address those issues.)

  1. Minor changes

    Suggested additions to existing text are in square brackets Stability

    1. functional stability - the ability of the transgenic trait to be expressed in the transformed plant line, and plant lines derived thereform in a consistent, reliable, and predictable manner [in successive generations.]
    2. structural stability - the ability of the structure of each transgenic insert and its location in the host genome to remain unchanged in successive generations]. The function [of each genetic component] in the plant. The source (scientific and common, or trade name of the donor organism[(s)]). If there is a history of safe use of the source organism[(s)]or components thereof.

    2.1 For plants which are either male or female fertile or both, provide data that demonstrate the pattern and stability of inheritance and expression of the new transgenic traits [in successive generations, as well as the structural stability of each transgenic insert].

    2.2 For plants which are either infertile or for which it is difficult to produce seed (such as vegetatively propagated male-sterile potatoes), provide data to demonstrate that the transgene trait [and transgenic insert(s)]are stably maintained and expressed.

  2. Major changes

    An additional Section to go before the existing Section 2, and could replace some items in Section 3


    2.1 The transformed line must be identified in terms of its transgenic DNA as follows:

    1. total number of inserts of transgenic DNA
    2. location of each insert, whether organelle or chromosomal
    3. Precise position of each insert (ie where on which chromosome)
    4. structure of each insert (whether duplicated, deleted, rearranged, etc.)
    5. complete genetic map of each insert, identifying coding regions, marker genes, noncoding regions, promoters, introns, leader sequences, terminators, enhancers, oriV, oriT, T-DNA borders, plamid sequences, linkers, etc. , including any truncated, incomplete sequences.
    6. the complete base sequence of each insert
    7. the base sequence of at least 10kbp of flanking host genome DNA on either side, including changes in methylation patterns.
    8. appropriate molecular probes for each insert with flanking host genome (organelle) sequences which can be used to monitor for structural stability of the insert.

    2.2 Each transformed line must be identified in terms of total protein profiles, to monitor for unintended changes in the pattern of gene expression.

    2.3 Each transformed line must be identified in terms of metabolic profiles to monitor for unintended changes in metabolism.

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