16 January 2000

Table of Contents

Farmers to plant less GE crops in 2000
POLL-Reuters survey of U.S. biotech plantings
Wheat Acreage is Lowest Since 1972 Farmers Cut Back amid Depressed Grain Prices
Yellow Rice: Do Not Introduce These Crops, please
Monkey Cloning Feat Could Aid Disease Research
GM-free soya for USA products!
Skepsis about GM-free soya for USA products
Organic Farms `in Danger From Weak Rules on GM Crops'
Company Plays Down `Human Milk Cows' Research
Two Great Articles!
U.S. renews debate over biotech foods
Mutant food (the FDA court case)
US: GM Pact Should Not Supersede WTO

Top NextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 02:16:14 U

Farmers to plant less GE crops in 2000

Dear Health Freedom Fighters,

At the American Farm Bureau Federation annual conference this week, Reuters took a straw poll of 400 farmers about genetically engineered crops. The 400 farmers surveyed for the poll grow crops on a total of 438,614 acres.

The farmers were asked their planting intentions of genetically engineered crops for the coming year and three related questions. The specific questions and answers are at the bottom of this e-mail. However, to summarize, here is what the survey found:

As you may imagine, the biotech industry and the GE seed producers are attacking this survey as being inaccurate. They state their research indicates farmers will grow as much acreage of biotech crops in 2000 as they did in 1999.

The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods feels the Reuters survey is likely to be quite reflective of farmers on a national level. U.S. farmers are aware that consumers in Europe have been actively opposing genetically engineered foods. And they are aware that there is growing opposition by consumers in other countries and now in the United States. As a result, it is expected that many will switch back to non-genetically engineered crops in the 2000 growing season. However, it is not surprising that most are reluctant to support labeling or to invest extra money to segregate the crops.

We feel this survey is a indication that the tide continues to turn against the biotech industry. An increasing number of scientists worldwide are questioning the safety of genetically engineered crops on health and the environment. And consumers in the United States, Canada, and other countries are becoming very vocal and active in their opposition to these experimental foods being sold unlabeled and with inadequate pre-market safety testing.

The complete results of the survey are below.

Craig Winters
Executive Director
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

The Campaign
PO Box 55699, Seattle, WA 98155
Tel: 425-771-4049    Fax: 603-825-5841
E-mail:    Web Site:

Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 02:16:14 U

POLL-Reuters survey of U.S. biotech plantings

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The following are the results of a Reuters straw poll of 400 U.S. farmers on their plans for using genetically modified crops (GM) this year.

Information for the poll was obtained through random personal interviews at the American Farm Bureau national convention this week.

The meeting, which tends to attract larger and more sophisticated farmers, was attended by a total of 4,300 growers, spouses, agribusiness executives and others.

The Reuters straw poll did not attempt to weight responses by state, size of farm, or other criteria.

(in acres)
(in acres)
Number of
Roundup Ready Soybeans100,42085,063-15.3 %242
Roundup Ready Corn12,7509,893-22.4 %73
Roundup Ready Cotton17,06817,888+4.6 %36
Bt Corn26,85320,481-23.7 %149
Bt Cotton14,36810,658-25.8 %35
TOTAL171,459143,983-16.0 % 535

NOTE: the total number of responses exceeds 400 because many farmers plant multiple crops.

U.S. farmers surveyed by Reuters: 400

Total U.S. acres they represent: 438,614


    Will you plant more or fewer acres with GM crops this year?
    Planting more GMPctPlanting less GMPct Undecided/Buying same GMPctdeclined to answerPct
    11228.015739.3 5213.0797.9



    Have you made, or are you planning to make, any investments to handle or segregate GM crops?


    Should the U.S. government change its regulations to require labels on foods made with genetically modified crops?

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 06:20:53 U

Wheat Acreage is Lowest Since 1972 Farmers Cut Back amid Depressed Grain Prices

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 13, 2000

Farmers planted less than 43 million acres of winter wheat last fall, the smallest amount since 1972, as producers trying to cope with depressed grain prices continue switching to more lucrative crops, the government said Wednesday.

Plantings of winter wheat are down 1 percent from last season's crop and 8 percent below 1998, according to surveys by the Agriculture Department. About three-fourths of the wheat produced in the United States is a winter variety, which is planted in the fall and harvested the following spring.

Wheat plantings started dropping after Congress enacted the 1996 Freedom to Farm law, which ended production controls and let farmers start switching between crops without losing subsidies.

"With Freedom to Farm we've had the ability to try to go to crops that have a better potential to be more profitable," said Dean Stoskopf, president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "With the wheat prices we have had the last couple of years, the incentive is to do something different."

Farm commodity prices collapsed in 1998 and are expected to rise only slowly over the next several years because of the heavy production and big surpluses worldwide.

Support has been building in Congress and among farm groups to come up with a new subsidy program that would guarantee farmers a higher income in periods when prices are low. The nation's largest farm organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, in the past has resisted altering the 1996 law, but endorsed such a proposal Wednesday during its annual convention in Houston.

Prices for the 1999 wheat crop are averaging $2.50 to $2.60 a bushel, down from $2.65 in 1998 and $3.38 in 1997, the Agriculture Department said.

USDA also issued year-end reports on 1999 crops: * The corn harvest reached 9.4 billion bushels, down 3 percent from the year before but still the fourth-largest on record.

Meanwhile, USDA slightly raised its estimates of the prices that farmers are getting for their 1999 crops of wheat, corn and soybeans to reflect heavier-than-expected demand. Soybeans and wheat were raised 5 cents a bushel, and corn, 10 cents.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 13:58:42 U
Originated: (wytze)
Forwarded by: (Ron Baxter)
From: "Donald W. Haberstroh"

Yellow Rice: Do Not Introduce These Crops, please

Marcus Williamson wrote:

The BBC website is running a piece titled "Yellow rice gives dietary boost" :

This piece indicates how rice has been genetically engineered to include added vitamin A or iron.

In the article, Ingo Potrykus, who is leading the research is quoted as saying :

"We are already starting to do the same with wheat. We are close to doing the same with cassava."

"We will probably also introduce it to barley. We have initiated collaborations to put the same genes into banana and sweet potato. The number of important core plants which don't have enough or any provitamin A can be engineered now to achieve the same."

Perhaps we can tell the Mr Potrykus that we don't want his genetically modified rice, or any other crops! Plants have the composition that they do for a natual reason and do not need added vitamin A or iron!

His e-mail address is :


wytze wrote:
Perhaps we can tell the Mr Potrykus that we don't want his genetically modified rice, or any other crops! Plants have the composition that they do for a natual reason and do not need added vitamin A or iron!

His e-mail address is:

It would be completely insane to do this to wheat which has a very huge amount of vit.A in its first stages of growth. Besides I understood the gene for the vit A comes from daffodil, a winterflower not used as a foodsource.


Jon Campbell wrote:

Mr. Potrykus,

I have been notified that you have introduced vitamin A and/or iron into crop plants. Please do not attempt to commercialize or open-test these plants, because the POLLEN of these plants - including the gene promoter vector - will undoubtedly transfer this gene to other plants and cause major environmental disruption.

In violating the natural genetic boundaries of these plants, you are doing something that is not well understood, changing the course of nature and natural history in ways that are unprecedented and unknowable. You do not know, and cannot know, whether your gene introduction will produce subtle toxins in the plants, or multi-length amino acids, until years later, perhaps when an entire population of consumers has been harmed.

This is not a trivial matter; you will recall that a single company producing tryptophan introduced a multi-chain amino acid, assimilated into people's bodies, which caused a major antibody reaction after months of use. Many thousands of people were paralyzed as a result. And this was just those people who happened to eat a particular supplement, not an entire population.

What you are doing may be hazardous to the entire world's peoples and to the future of the earth's ecology, and once released it cannot be recalled. This is, for a scientist of your stature, basically unethical. I urge you to stop these experiments and focus on finding ways to apply this understanding of genetics to developing safe, beneficial open-pollinated natural crops that are owned in commons by the world's peoples, without the use of gene-splicing.

Thanks for your time
Jon Campbell
People's Earth Network
Campaign Against Genetic Engineering

Don Haberstroh wrote:
This is a simple and very nice way of expressing the potential problems with GM foods. It asks for caution, not total rejection.

Don Haberstroh
Partners For Environmental Quality
Chatham, N.J.


"In a post-BSE era, it should be logical to think twice about using a technology that blatantly violates well established natural boundaries."

Dr Michael Antoniou,
Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology, London, UK.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 09:28:37 U
From: Colleen Robison

Monkey Cloning Feat Could Aid Disease Research

By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2000; Page A3

Researchers in Oregon announced yesterday they had grown a live monkey from one-quarter of a monkey embryo, an unprecedented feat that suggests the possibility of creating up to four identical monkey clones from a single embryo. <snip>

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 10:25:18 U
Forwarded by: (Ron Baxter)

Something good seems to be happening!


GM-free soya for USA products!

DuPont, General Mills in Soy-Foods Venture
Bloomberg News, Friday, January 14, 2000

"...DuPont said the soy products will be from beans grown by traditional methods without bioengineering".

DuPont Co., which has been expanding beyond its traditional chemical businesses into agriculture and other industries, and cereal maker General Mills Inc. have formed a joint venture to develop and market soy foods. Terms were not disclosed. Under the agreement, DuPont's Protein Technologies International unit will develop soy foods to supply Minneapolis-based General Mills, which makes products such as Cheerios cereal and Betty Crocker dessert mixes.

DuPont said the soy products will be from beans grown by traditional methods without bioengineering. U.S. sales of soy-food products are expected to top $2.5 billion this year and grow at a 15% to 20% annual rate during the next five years. Shares of Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont closed off 56 cents at $68.50, while General Mills closed up 13 cents at $33.44. Both trade on the NYSE.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 11:44:28 U
From: Dick Richardson

Skepsis about GM-free soya for USA products

I'm skeptical.

For example a plant engineered could pollinate one that wasn't, and the product could be selected in the following generations to get the desired phenotype by traditional means. Would the result be engineered if it was selected from diversity created by engineering originally? This is a parallel to what irradiation and other mutagens were used for in traditional breeding programs since the '50's, only the "mutagen" is a molecular technique.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 12:46:46 U

Organic Farms `in Danger From Weak Rules on GM Crops'

By PA news reporters

Government backed rules will fail to protect organic farms from contamination by genetically modified pollen spread from crop trials, it was claimed today.

An independent study commissioned by the Soil Association warns of the risk that organic plants could become contaminated by genetically modified organisms.

This is because the voluntary system of leaving distances of up to 200 metres between them and other crops and plants will not prevent cross-contamination, it claims.

The report says that contrary to industry recommended isolation oil seed rape presents a high risk for cross pollination between source and recipient . Pollen dispersal by insects has been recorded at up to four kilometres - some 20 times higher than the recommended isolation distance - and

The new evidence contradicts the recommended isolation distances endorsed by the industry body charged by the Government to draw up rules governing the release of GMOs into the environment. These stipulate isolation distances of only 200 metres for organic crops and 50 metres for non-GM rape seed crops. sugar beet crops presenting a medium to high risk for cross pollination both with other strands and with wild .

It is currently proposed to plant hundreds of acres of GM sugar beet this Spring with only six metres between GM crops and conventional varieties.

The Soil Association believes the current voluntary code of practice fails to protect producers of both organic and conventional GM free crops from pollution.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, said current guidelines constituted little Our six mile notification zone proposals should be accepted immediately as a precondition for licensing all future trial plants. Given the fact that conventional crops are just as vulnerable to genetic pollution, we see no reason why this procedure should not be applied. Protecting the right of consumer choice should be the first priority. Government Ministers are on record as pledging to uphold this principle. This new report provides irrefutable evidence that must force the Government to

The Soil Association is calling on the Government to honour its pledges and to enact legally binding protection with the utmost urgency to avoid potential cross pollination from future GM field trials. Liberal Democrats have consistently called for a scientifically credible protocol for future crop trials which includes buffer zones sufficient to prevent pollen drift. It is clear that the present voluntary guidelines fail to protect the rights of the vast majority of consumers who do not want to eat GM foods and the risks to the environment from genetic pollution. There is no point in the Government pumping funds into organic farming whilst at Possible pollen transfer is something the Government has looked very closely at and continues to do so. We have internationally agreed separation distances and the Government's top independent advisers - ACRE - concluded that the risk of pollination beyond those were minuscule. Crops can only pollinate closely related species and over time and distance the pollen becomes less active. However, we will continue to closely monitor this and

© Press Association Ltd 1999

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 14 Jan 2000 18:50:58 U
From: "Ericka & Rich Dana"

Genetically Modified Madness


Dear All,

The breeding of genetically modified cows to produce human breast milk is surely the high point of human ignorance in food production - and is probably the most dangerous GM food experiment so far! I therefore suggest that we oppose PPL Therapeutics at every opportunity on this vital issue, both in the UK and the USA.

Liaising with groups and organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust, would no doubt be a good way to oppose this madness.

If anyone has any details on PPL Therapeutics, or has any suggestions for campaign/boycott action against this company, kindly post details to the lists.



Company Plays Down `Human Milk Cows' Research

By John von Radowitz, Medical Correspondent, PA News Wire Service: PA (PA News), Jan 12, 2000

A British biotechnology company has played down reports that it has been working towards breeding cows that produce human breast milk. But a senior executive of PPL Therapeutics revealed that the company was negotiating partnership deals with three major infant formula companies. Research and development chief David Ayares told Channel 4's

The Mark Thomas Product that PPL's American subsidiary in Virginia already had a 20-strong herd of cows whose milk contained a protein component of human milk.

Mr Ayares, vice-president of R&D in Virginia, said the ultimate aim was to produce cow's milk that was almost the same as that from a mother's breast.

He told the programme: "We have the animals on the ground, and they're all making high levels of this human protein in their milk ...

"This will be a nutritional product ... so you don't need to go through the same type of clinical trial process that you would for a pharmaceutical, which is what most of PPL's products are ... We feel we could probably launch this product in about 30 months."

After a lengthy delay, PPL's corporate headquarters in Edinburgh later issued a statement denying much of what Mr Ayares said in the interview.

The statement said PPL had no more than three cows producing the protein, human alpha-lactalbumin, a major constituent of human breast milk.

The protein was intended as a dietary supplement for babies born more than three weeks prematurely who could not be breast fed.

Purified human alpha-lactalbumin would be a medical product, not a consumer item, and require clinical trials, said PPL.

The statement added: "While it is, at least in theory, possible to make many genetic modifications to produce a cow which produces milk similar to human milk, PPL does not have, and never has had, plans to do this."

Earlier, campaigners against breast milk substitutes and uncontrolled genetic research reacted with alarm at the report.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said: "The idea of breeding a GM cow to produce a hybrid GM milk may appeal to

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said: "The idea of breeding a GM cow to produce a hybrid GM milk may appeal to scientists and manufacturers, but parents want their babies to have a safe and healthy start in life. There is widespread concern among consumers about GM products and foods. Public reaction to GM foods for babies is not likely to be positive."

Pattie Rundall, policy director of Baby Milk Action, said: "Milk from a cow is never going to be the same as breast milk."

Sue Mayer, of the pressure group GeneWatch, said: "You are dealing with the nutrition of babies. Is it justifiable to go as far as using human genes to make powdered baby milk, when it can never be a substitute for breastfeeding?"

News of the research emerged when the Mark Thomas Product programme was tipped off about a patent held by PPL Therapeutics.

The patent covered the production of the human breast milk protein alpha-lactalbumin from cows. This is achieved by adding the human gene which codes for the protein to the cows' DNA.

Interviewed by former political comedian Thomas, Mr Ayares said the research had been going on since 1992 and was now ready for commercial exploitation.

The research phase for the work was sponsored by the American food and drug company Wyeth, which makes Britain's leading baby milk brand SMA.

Wyeth told PA News it was no longer involved in the project or had any interest in it.

Despite health messages that "breast is best" the powdered baby milk industry is worth 160 million a year in the UK alone.

A cross-department government statement threw doubt on whether a "humanised" infant formula could be sold in Britain.

It said: "Before any application could be made all of the health implications would need to be stringently assessed. "Any company showing an interest in marketing such a type of milk would need to fulfil all of the requirements of relevant regulations, whether as a medicine or as a novel food."

In its statement, PPL said the use of human alpha-lactalbumin as an additive to conventional infant formula was "only ever a theoretical possibility". No decision to use the product in that way had been made.

The statement added: "Even if it were, the product would not be available for many years due to the need for extensive clinical trials and the practical difficulties in building up a herd large enough to provide in commercial quantities."

PPL had discussed the product with infant formula manufacturers over a number of years but currently had no commercialisation agreements.

It said a product for clinical trials could be available in 30 months but it would take much longer to produce a herd large enough to supply the protein on a commercial basis.

- Dr Vyvyan Howard: expert in infant toxico-pathology at Liverpool University Hospital, UK. (Ref: The Guardian: 19/3/98)


*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

Lucy Goodman-Owsley
Boulder Belt CSA, New Paris, OH

Organic Farming and Gardening Forum: Want Social Change? Join a CSA!

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 15 Jan 2000 04:40:58 U

Two Great Articles!

Dear Health Freedom Fighters,

Below are two articles worth reading.

The first one titled "U.S. renews debate over biotech foods" is from the USA Today newspaper. It does an excellent job of giving an overview of both the European and American status of genetically engineered crops. One particularly interesting quote is from, Arthur Einsele, the public relations chief of European biotech company Novartis Seeds. Einsele states, "What's happening in your country? We thought you already had this debate in America. But I guess we were wrong."

The reason this quote is significant is that American biotech companies tried to convince people in Europe that American citizens had already had some form of public debate over genetically engineered foods and determined they were safe and desirable. The truth is that most Americans have been unaware that foods are being genetically engineered until recently. Many people in Europe, including the public relations chief of Novartis, are surprised we are debating genetically engineered foods now when they thought we already had. No, the debate and the public protests are just starting in the United States. To paraphrase the words of American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones, "We have not yet begun to fight!"

The second article titled "Mutant Food" is from the influential on-line magazine Salon. The popular Salon has gained respect for their investigative reporting and this article shows why. At nearly 3,000 words, this exposé goes into significant detail about the lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) filed by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, nine university scientists and 12 religious leaders.

Please read the "Mutant Food" article if you have the time. It does an excellent job of explaining the lack of safety concerns shown by the FDA in regards to genetically engineered crops. In the process of the lawsuit, the FDA has had to turn over some 44,000 internal documents. These include memos from agency scientists criticizing the FDA's developing policy on GM foods. As details such as this get out to the public, many more consumers and farmers are likely to lose confidence in these experimental foods. Regulation and safety oversight of genetically engineered foods has been a classic case of "the fox watching the chicken coop." The FDA is essentially allowing the genetic engineering industry to regulate itself with very little safety oversight by outside scientists. At the very least, labeling of genetically engineered foods will allow those of us who choose not to eat them that option.

Craig Winters
Executive Director
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

The Campaign
PO Box 55699, Seattle, WA 98155
Tel: 425-771-4049    Fax: 603-825-5841
E-mail:     Web Site:

Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 15 Jan 2000 04:40:58 U

U.S. renews debate over biotech foods

By James Cox, USA TODAY

BASEL, Switzerland – When activists dumped a pile of genetically engineered corn at its headquarters here, Novartis quickly turned the protest into public relations grist.

The pharmaceutical and biotech giant trucked in cows from outlying dairy farms to clean up the mess. The sight of the animals grazing amid the city's trams and office towers was irresistible to the Swiss media, which gobbled up the story as fast as the cows could munch the grain.

That's the full extent of Novartis' public relations derring-do these days. Europe's battle-weary biotech firms have hunkered down until the public furor over bio-engineered crops blows over. They have halted public-image advertising, mothballed applications for regulatory approvals and focused on researching genetic advances that won't come to market for five to seven years. But as they wait out the storm, many are horrified by signs that Europe's biotech backlash may be spreading to the USA.

"What's happening in your country?" asks an incredulous Arthur Einsele, public relations chief at Novartis Seeds, a leading developer and marketer of bio-engineered seed.

Until now, Europe's biotech industry has viewed the USA as an island of sanity in the debate about the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods. The U.S. government has OK' d far more varieties of biotech crops than any other country – more than 30 vs. only nine in the 15-nation European Union . U.S. and Canadian farmers last year planted 81 million acres of bio-engineered seed, which accounted for 47% of the U.S. soybean harvest and 37% of the U.S. corn crop. GM ingredients are contained in hundreds of grocery items, from salad dressing and soft drinks to tortilla chips and cooking oil.

European biotech firms, meanwhile, have had to cope with threats and vandalism from anti-biotech radicals, along with a regulatory stonewall that has blocked their products from both field and food store. Public outcry over biotech foods has prompted thousands of European supermarkets to remove them. Share prices of industry leaders such as Novartis have been pummeled.

"We thought you already had this debate in America. But I guess we were wrong," Einsele says.

The U.S. biotech industry suddenly faces:

  1. Protests. Opponents costumed as mutant ears of corn took to the streets last month in Seattle, where they and other protesters disrupted the World Trade Organization summit. Other noisy demonstrations took place last fall at U.S. Food and Drug Administration hearings on biotech foods in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Oakland.

  2. Environmental and consumer groups fighting bio-engineered foods have recruited Hollywood celebrities such as Jane Seymour and Roseanne to the cause.

  3. Washington scrutiny. This spring, Congress is likely to consider a bill to require mandatory labeling of foods that contain GM ingredients. Labeling is required in the EU, but the labeling issue has split U.S. biotech firms and others close to them. Many U.S. supermarket chains quietly favor labels; most farm groups and food manufacturers oppose the idea.

    Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said Monday the federal government wants consumers to have more details about bio-foods but is unlikely to require labels.

  4. Farmers' uncertainty. U.S. farmers are expected to plant fewer acres of biotech corn this spring, despite heavy lobbying and discounting by Monsanto, DuPont and other seed companies. Most say they still believe in GM seeds but worry about their ability to sell their grain or keep conventional and GM crops separated, as some buyers have asked.

European farmers, many of whom want to try GM crops, understand the predicament of their American counterparts.

"You have to follow the tide, and the tide is completely against GM crops," says French farmer Xavier Beulin. "It's not a rational issue."

Finicky customers. Japanese trading companies are the biggest foreign buyers of U.S. soybeans, which are used to make tofu. They have quietly shifted suppliers to ensure that they get non-GM beans.

Similarly, European food retailers and farm cooperatives are shunning biotech corn and soybeans when they buy in the USA. U.S. officials say EU buyers' insistence on non-GM corn cost American farmers an estimated $200 million in lost sales in 1999, a figure certain to grow this year.

Wary retailers.Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets, the USA's two largest natural-foods retailers, want manufacturers of their private-label foods to stop using GM ingredients. Observers are watching to see if any mainstream supermarkets follow suit.

Wall Street scorn. Shares of many biotech firms have taken a beating. Shares in St. Louis-based Monsanto traded as high as $50 13/16 last March. Wednesday's close: $36 3/16.

Investors in the biotech sector expected a quick pay off from the technology, but have been spooked by anti-biotech activism, regulatory inertia and negative publicity, says Jay Hickman, analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.

Investor pessimism has forced big players to consider spinning off or selling their seed and crop-protection businesses.

Last month, Novartis and Anglo-Swedish concern AstraZeneca announced plans to merge and spin off their agriculture operations. In the USA, Monsanto and Pharmacia & Upjohn took a similar approach last month in announcing their marriage. Their combined agriculture business is quickly being distanced from core pharmaceutical and life sciences operations: It will have a separate board and headquarters; 20% of its shares will be issued in a public offering.

Behind Europe's backlash

European mistrust of GM foods is largely a reaction to events of the past decade, particularly Britain's Mad Cow disease and last year's dioxin chicken and Coca-Cola scares in Belgium. Health officials were slow to react and initially understated the risks to the public.

There are other factors. Many of Europe's anti-biotech "greens" hold public office and are well placed to influence policy. And European supermarket chains have tight control over the supply chain – dictating farming methods and food-manufacturing specifications.

U.S. officials are furious with European regulators for ducking the GM issue. The EU has resorted to "a variety of ploys and political maneuvers to delay and deny" approval of GM products because it can't find scientific grounds to reject them, Commerce Undersecretary David Aaron told European officials last fall.

He said a decade of U.S. experience shows biotech foods are as safe as those made with conventional ingredients .

There has been "not one sneeze, not one cough, not one rash," Aaron said. "There is simply no evidence to the contrary."

That's a story the U.S. biotech industry is eager to tell. It is mounting an expensive image campaign, reaching out to scientists, food retailers, regulators, Congress and anti-biotech activists. U.S. seed companies are holding town-hall meetings with farmers and financing independent scientific research into crop genetics.

In Europe, the approach is different. Novartis, AstraZeneca and others have made a strategic decision to wait for perceptions to change gradually. They are taking small steps – opening their research labs to the public, for instance – but are exerting little public pressure on regulators to untangle the approval process. They're banking on products with clear consumer benefits – better taste, more nutritional value, disease-fighting capabilities – to change public opinion.

"We see this as a very, very long game," says Nigel Poole, external relations chief at Zeneca Agrochemicals, a division of AstraZeneca, until he retired last month. "This is just the start of the biological revolution."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 15 Jan 2000 04:40:58 U

About the writer:
Kristi Coale is an associate with the San Francisco-based Center for Investigative Reporting. Her work for this story has been supported through the center's Fund for Investigative Reporting on the Environment.

Mutant food

By Kristi Coale

A lawsuit against the FDA reveals documents that show even the agency's own scientists have doubts about the safety of genetically modified foods.

When Steven Druker filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its negligent oversight of genetically modified foods in May 1998, the act was written off as just another stunt by some anti-GM food activist trying to make a point. But now, the GM foods industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have reason to be nervous.

A federal judge is reviewing witness statements and previously undisclosed FDA documents before issuing a summary judgement of a lawsuit Druker is leading on behalf of the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, nine university scientists and 12 religious leaders. The Washington-based International Center for Technology Assessment, a nonprofit organization that has brought previous lawsuits against government agencies on food and environmental safety issues, collaborated with Druker and has provided the lead counsel.

The suit charges the FDA with violating the very federal statute that created the agency, the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, because the FDA does not mandate the testing and labeling of GM foods. For its own part, the FDA asserts in its policy on GM foods that genetically engineered crops are no different than those created through traditional breeding methods. The agency bases its position on the fact that foods derived from traditionally bred crops have a history of safety. Thus the FDA takes the position that genetic engineering is just another traditional breeding method, and reasons that GM foods should be considered safe.

Whatever the judge's decision, Druker's actions have made public information that is very damning to both the FDA and the companies selling GM seeds simply because it highlights the central point in the controversy over GM foods: No one has proved beyond a doubt that GM foods and other products are not safe, nor has anyone proved beyond a doubt that these products are safe.

By now, most everyone in the U.S. has probably eaten GM foods in some form. According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, genetically engineered crops accounted for 25 percent of the corn acreage planted in the U.S. in 1998, 38 percent of the soybean acreage and 45 percent of the cotton acreage. Because the FDA makes no distinction between GM crops and traditionally bred varieties, food producers are not required to separate or label their GM crops in the U.S. So without knowing it, you've probably eaten GM soybeans in the breakfast cereal you had this morning, in the chocolate bar you knoshed on this afternoon, and perhaps your baby has had it in his soy-based formula.

The very notion that people are eating foods derived from GM crops without their knowledge – or consent – offended Druker both as a lawyer and as a religious person when he realized this was happening back in 1996. He came upon this information while researching a book examining the relationship between science, religion and ethics. The more he researched, the more he became concerned about genetic engineering and the basic assumptions government regulators were making about the products of this science. Eventually, the 50-year old lawyer set aside his book and took up the cause of suing the FDA.

While he awaits the summary judgement of his lawsuit, Druker has kept a pretty packed schedule that has included an appearance before a panel selected by the FDA to discuss the safety and labeling issues of GM foods. Ironically, the agency has taken Druker's arguments more seriously than much of the news media. What has made Druker's lawsuit noteworthy to many editors is that it contends the FDA's policy on GM foods infringes upon religious freedom rights and is in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This focus on the religious angle has had the effect of putting Druker in a camp with the anti-establishment fringe, a characterization that has stuck. In an Aug. 18, 1999, profile of the lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal covered only the religious aspects of the action, describing Druker as something of a small-town, Torah-thumping fanatic who was "gathering his Noah's Ark of plaintiffs, many of whom share his mystical spirituality and distrust of authority."

To be sure, 12 clergy leaders from a variety of established denominations are co-plaintiffs in Druker's lawsuit – along with nine university scientists. Druker says the university scientists and the clergy leaders were each aware of both the religious and scientific aspects of the lawsuit before signing on. The religious aspects are important, Druker says, but have been overblown. The overriding concern of both clergy and scientists is that the FDA's handling of GM foods has been unethical.

The lawsuit seeks to force the FDA, at the very least, to label GM foods, to inform consumers of the genes that have been inserted in their foods so they can make a informed dietary decision. At most, Druker and the others would like to see a recall of these products and mandatory testing. To achieve even part of their goals, Druker and the CTA counsel must prove that the FDA has not followed the law to ensure the safety of consumers regarding GM foods.

Druker and the CTA may have already won the war, even if the battle is still undecided. As part of the lawsuit, the FDA was required to turn over to Druker some 44,000 internal documents. These include memos from agency scientists criticizing the FDA's developing policy on GM foods.

The policy, which was published in the Federal Register in May 1992, is regarded even by the FDA's own scientists as an industry cheat sheet: "The initial intent of the document was to present scientific considerations and to avoid telling industry what tests to run and how to go about doing it," said Louis J. Pribyl, an FDA microbiologist in a February 1992 memo.

Yet a major part of this policy is a flowchart that effectively tells a company not only what to test in a crop but what results will be needed for the product to be considered safe. By including the flowcharts and telling the companies what to test and what results to get to meet safety standards and by listing all the tests and the answers, Pribyl felt that the FDA made it possible for companies to tailor their tests to get the results they would need.

Prior to Druker's lawsuit, evidence that FDA policy was written largely to favor industry was a set of loosely connected dots. Besides the published policy in the Federal Register, there were Bush administration statements about the FDA regulations between 1991 and 1992. Vice President Dan Quayle in particular said the policy was part of a "regulatory relief program" that was intended to ensure the dominant position of the U.S. biotechnology industry.

And finally, there was a special investigation by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, of the FDA in 1994 that focused on potential conflicts of interest regarding several agency officials who had once been employed by the agro-pharmaceutical corporation Monsanto. Chief among the targets was Michael Taylor, whose job it was at the FDA to oversee and approve the very policies that would regulate GM products. Prior to joining the FDA, Taylor was a partner at King & Spalding, Monsanto's external counsel on regulatory issues. The GAO report found no improprieties on Taylor's part. But the document did make the connection between Monsanto and one of the main authors of FDA policy.

Now, with the newly disclosed FDA documents in Druker's hands, the holes in this picture are filling in. The published policy is based on the idea that genetically engineered crops are no different than those created through traditional methods. Yet in previously undisclosed FDA memos, at least 10 of the 17 scientists who took part in shaping the Federal Register document along with other FDA researchers invited to comment – including head scientists from the agency's Division of Food Chemistry and Toxicology, Center for Veterinary Medicine, Biological and Organic Chemistry Section – cast serious doubts on the scientific evidence for this assumption.

As Linda Kahl, an FDA compliance officer, noted in a memo dated Jan. 8, 1992, the FDA's approach to writing the policy was the equivalent of "putting a square peg in a round hole – are we asking the scientific experts to generate the basis for this policy statement in the absence of any data? It is an exercise in hypotheses forced on individuals whose jobs and training ordinarily deal with facts."

Even the FDA official with approval authority over the policy, Biotechnology Coordinator James Maryanski, raised questions about the agency's assumptions. In a letter to a Canadian government official dated Oct. 23, 1991, Maryanski acknowledged that there was no scientific consensus about the safety of GM foods. He also admitted that the potential for genetic engineering to introduce new compounds into foods that could trigger allergic reactions "is particularly difficult to predict."

In these documents, Druker and the CTA counsel believe they have proved that the FDA disregarded warnings of many of its own scientists about the unique risks posed by genetically engineered foods; that it covered up these opinions; and took a public stance that was entirely the opposite in tone and message than the private, internal memos.

In October 1999, the FDA announced a series of meetings around the country to discuss the safety of GM foods. Maryanski, who participated in these panels, asserted, "We are meeting our goal of ensuring that these new products meet the same safety standards as traditional foods."

One model GM product that agency officials like Maryanski hold up as proof of the safety of GM foods is the Flavr Savr tomato, but the new memos have bruised the product's reputation. The Flavr Savr tomato was engineered to ripen slowly, to give tomatoes a longer shelf life. It had to undergo more stringent food testing because its developer, California-based Calgene, had applied for market approval prior to the enactment of the FDA's new policy on GM foods.

In 1994, Flavr Savr failed as a consumer product because all the genetically engineered advantages were lost in the shipping and packing stage, which bruised the tomatoes and gave them an aged appearance. According to an FDA internal memo, Flavr Savr also failed to meet the agency standards of safety.

In an assessment that went to Maryanski and others, Robert J. Scheuplein, director of the agency's office of special research skills, found a problem with some of the testing data on the Flavr Savr. Scheuplein was unsatisfied with the explanations of Calgene scientists about one difference between regularly bred tomatoes and the Flavr Savr.

Although he regarded the effect as small, Scheuplein did say: "The data do not show the Calgene product to be unsafe but the data fall short of 'a demonstration of safety' or of 'a demonstration of reasonable certainty of no harm' which is the standard we typically apply to food additives."

With regard to how the agency was instructing its scientists to regard GM foods in testing, Scheuplein said, "It has been made clear to us that this present submission [the Flavr Savr] is not a food additive petition and the safety standard is not the food additive standard. It is less than that, but I am not sure exactly how much less."

The chilling implication revealed in this memo is that all other GM crops have undergone less stringent testing. In fact, testing is handled not by the agency but through voluntary consultations between the companies and the FDA with company scientists running the tests.

Previously undisclosed papers such as these tell the story of how the FDA flouted its own laws and ignored the advice and warnings of its own scientists in the process of pushing through a food technology that seemed to have immediate benefit only for the producers – namely agrochemical companies including Monsanto, DuPont and Novartis.

The ramifications stretch far beyond the U.S. borders. Together, these documents with the resulting FDA policy confirm the very fears expressed last November by WTO protesters in Seattle: that globalization will lead governments to speed up industry growth at the expense of thorough public health precautions. This is precisely what has happened with GM foods.

"Before Druker, we had no hard evidence that our regulatory system was favoring industry," explains Gabriela Flora, program associate on Agricultural Biotechnologies, at the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

By connecting the dots between U.S. regulators and industry, the hard evidence from the Druker case along with public outcry could put the breaks on the once fast-moving industry that the U.S. government has tried so hard to foster. Already, GM crop producers are reeling from partial and complete bans of GM crops throughout the European Union and Asia.

And in the U.S., where GM food fights have paled in comparison to sentiments expressed by Europeans, the tide is turning. Major food producers like U.S.-based Archer Daniels Midland have cut back on the use of GM foods or agreed to segregate and label these foods in their exports to Europe. The recent failure of the WTO negotiations, which were intended to reduce trade barriers, has forced the Clinton Administration to step back from its goal of broadening markets for GM products.

"People from the U.S. Trade Representative's office stand up and say we have the safest food supply and the strictest regulation in the world, but Druker is showing this isn't the case," says Flora. So countries that once questioned the integrity of the U.S. food supply and the integrity of U.S. regulators now have ample ammunition, thanks to Druker, to prevent GM foods –produced mainly by U.S. corporations – from entering their borders.

It is somewhat remarkable that an individual such as Druker would eventually have such an impact on the high-stakes development on the GM foods industry. As he describes it, his involvement began with a simple realization of serious ethical concerns. "What I could see was that there were plans to very quickly restructure a large percentage of the world's living organisms and that the U.S. government had given it a green light," Druker says.

In fact, a large community of government officials and scientists – including Gordon Conway and Gary Toenniessen of the Rockefeller Foundation – seemed to hold the same, favorable view. Druker said he was surprised to find that "these presumptions appeared to be dubious to eminent scientists who were not indentured to the biotech industry." Druker sought out these scientists, many of whom hold faculty positions at some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and Europe – including the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University and the University of Leeds.

Before long, nine of these same scientists became plaintiffs in Druker's lawsuit. What makes their action unusual is that the atmosphere inhabited by molecular biologists and other scientists engaged in biotechnology research is a clubby one. Dissenting views about genetic engineering are discouraged, says Phillip Regal, professor of ecology, behavior and evolution at the University of Minnesota.

Regal is one of the plaintiffs in Druker's lawsuit. Having a negative view of biotechnology, Regal warns, can cost a researcher his chances at tenure, future employment in industry, and certainly can dry up his resources for research funding. The scientists joining Druker in suing the FDA have done so at great personal and professional risk.

Why are these scientists and Druker doing this? Because they take issue with the way in which the government, corporations, and a significant portion of the scientific community, appear to speak with one voice. That one voice consistently tells the public that the industry must move forward quickly to preserve the U.S. dominance in biotechnology. At the same time, it tells us not to worry – government and industry have already taken care that public health and the environment will not be endangered as we move forward with this technology.

By suing the government, Druker feels he is getting at the major source of the biotechnology juggernaut. The publication of these documents, which Druker has gradually added to the Alliance for Biointegrity Web site since last summer, will have the effect for biotechnology that the tobacco papers had for the cigarette industry: Others will gain ammunition that can be used in later litigation and export restrictions on GM foods.

So in many ways, Druker has already won even before the final judgement is in on his case. "[The FDA memos] are out, and they can never be covered up again," he says. "If we cannot turn the tide against genetic restructuring within the bounds of science and law, perhaps economic realities will come into play."

Economic realities have struck. Last month, Novartis and AstraZeneca announced plans to spin off and then merge their agricultural businesses into a new company called Syngenta and Monsanto followed suit nearly two weeks later with Pharmacia Upjohn. The message in these moves is clear: The companies have taken enough of a financial bath with their investments in GM products and are, in a way, washing their hands of these ventures.

Top PreviousFront Page

Date: 16 Jan 2000 00:59:18 U

US: GM Pact Should Not Supersede WTO

Reuters – Jan 15 2000 10:13AM ET

Biosafety and Trade Restrictions
United States Has Much At Stake
Environmentalists Oppose "Savings Clause"

Biosafety and Trade Restrictions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Efforts to craft an international Biosafety Protocol later this month in Montreal should focus on protecting biological diversity without unduly restricting trade in genetically modified crops, U.S. and industry officials said.

The protocol should also make clear that it does not change the rights and obligations of countries under other international agreements, such as the World Trade Organization, the officials said.

WTO rules prevent countries from blocking food imports unless there is a compelling scientific reason.

The United States has argued that prevents restrictions on genetically modified crops because U.S. regulators have determined them to be safe.

Negotiations under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity officially open on Monday, January 24. However, informal meetings begin next Thursday and are expected to continue up to the start of the conference.

United States Has Much At Stake

The outcome of the negotiations has enormous consequence for the United States, which is the world's largest producer of genetically modified crops. The new varieties account for more than half of U.S. soybeans and one-third of U.S. corn crops.

European consumer opposition to genetically modified crops sets the stage for a major conflict in Montreal.

Developing countries also have concerns about liability if imported genetically modified organisms (GMOs) damage their biodiversity. Because the U.S. Senate has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United States does not officially have a seat at biosafety talks. It has worked through the Miami Group of countries, which also includes Canada, Argentina, Australia, Uruguay and Chile.

Countries first agreed to develop a Biosafety Protocol in late 1995. They have met three times previously in Montreal and planned to bring their work to a close a year ago in Cartagena, Colombia. That effort fell apart over many of the same issues that are expected to divide the upcoming meeting.

Environmentalists Oppose "Savings Clause"

U.S. industry officials complain negotiators have gone into areas that countries originally agreed not to enter. The Europeans, in particular, want to try to use the protocol to override the WTO or at least set the protocol on par with the WTO. said Val Giddings, vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. But environmentalists say the United States is being unreasonable with that would subordinate the Biosafety Protocol to WTO rules. Countries should have the right to say no or put conditions on the said Sarah Newport, of Friends of the Earth. That We don't she said. A key issue in Montreal will be the establishment of Advance Informed living genetically modified (LMOs).

The purpose of the AIAs would be to inform countries in advance of shipments of LMOs which may pose a potential threat to their plant and animal life.

The United States and the Miami Group argue a distinction should be made between commodities destined for feed and food uses and LMOs which would be released into environment, such as planting seeds and live fish.

Going into Montreal, U.S. officials see considerable difficulties reaching a deal.

Disagreements remain on at least half of the proposed text of the protocol, one U.S. aide said.