20 January 2000

Table of Contents

Business and Science in Race to Crack Genetic Code
Tapping Goats Milk for GE Drugs
Ghana Checks Influx of Genetically Modified Food
Monsanto sees GM corn in China in 2001
More malnutrition with genetic farming forecast
More internet articles
M-W Ho: The hazards of genetically-engineered foods
GUARDIAN editorial on "The gold rush for genes"
'Fair Trade' Bananas Reach Britain
Delta & Pine Land Allegations Unreasonable and Without Merit Says Monsanto
UK: GM Guidelines May Be Inadequate, Government Told
Cloning scientists admit GM not same as trad. breeding
From An Organic Farmer
Sainsbury seek island for organic production
Farmers told there is no escape from GM pollen
"Genetic engineering should be taken more slowly: professor"

Top NextFront Page

Date: 17 Jan 2000 02:56:56 U

Business and Science in Race to Crack Genetic Code

By James Meek, The Guardian, Monday January 17, 2000

Money and the meaning of life

The accelerating international effort to decode the blueprint of human life - the billions of building instructions locked inside each cell of the human body, is often likened to a race.

The reality, as the gene patenting row now building in Europe shows, is that there are three sets of racers - capital investors, racing to make money out of genetics; scientists, racing to decode human DNA and explain the results; and ordinary people with health problems, rushing to every new hope of medical breakthrough.

Myriad Inc, one of the US biotechnology tigers riding high on Wall Street, was among the first firms to exploit the commercial potential of genetic screening in the mid-1990s when it patented a method to identify mutations in two human genes which, if present in women, give about an 80% chance that the person will develop breast cancer.

Myriad's system, which involves crunching through the entire length of the suspect gene to find its mutations, is widely admired as effective.

What has caused concern, in the US and now in Europe, is that as well as patenting the means of screening the genes, Myriad decided it would patent the genes themselves.

The genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, occur naturally in the body. To many, taking out a patent on something which was simply discovered, rather than designed, seems bizarre, if not offensive. In copyright terms, it sounds like claiming rights to notes and letters instead of music and books.

Like the many other firms which have taken out patents on human genes, Myriad likes to point out that gene patenting isn't new. This is true, although the history is hardly comforting.

According to one version, the first patent on human genes was in 1976, when a US citizen, John Moore, had his spleen removed. Finding that Moore's cell line was unique, his doctor patented it and later sold it to a Swiss pharmaceuticals firm, which turned it into a million-dollar drug.

When Moore went to law, he was the Californian supreme court judged that citizens do not have rights to their cells once they have left their body.

"We've invested an enormous amount of man-years in making this discovery and making it applicable. It's only right that we should be protected," said Myriad spokesman Bill Hockett.

"It doesn't seem strange to us that we should find something of incredible value to individuals and have some commercial exploitation of our discovery."

He said Myriad had invested $10m (£6.25m) in its "invention". But how much went into finding the genes?

According to Mike Stratton, professor of cancer genetics at the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, it was the ICR which discovered BRCA2, with the help of the Sanger Centre, the non-profit Cambridge lab which is a partner in the global project to decode all human genes.

Prof Stratton said Myriad benefited from Sanger data and from a leak of information from the ICR.

The ICR is still in dispute with Myriad. "They are using their patent to restrict the use of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 sequences by publicly-funded diagnostic labs in Europe," Prof Stratton said.

The effect of Myriad's drive to monopolise BRCA screening in the US has been to stop research labs doing commercial screening. Now the tests are only done at a dozen labs licensed by Myriad, at a price set by Myriad.

The company's current move into Europe - enabled by a new European directive apparently making it possible to patent genes here, too - has provoked mixed reactions.

The Dutch government says it will not accept Myriad's approach. The British government appears to be caught between the promise of the exciting new world of reliable disease prediction and the dangers of endorsing an expensive, legally contentious monopoly.

At the 15 UK centres now screening BRCA genes in the small minority of women likely to be at risk, there is concern that they may be forced to stop their own simpler, cheaper tests. The best, in the form of Myriad, could be the enemy of the good.

"In theory, it could completely cripple a lot of labs. We're not as effective as Myriad, because we don't sequence the gene in quite the same way, but we do it in a more intellectual fashion," said Shirley Hodgson of the department of medical genetics at Guy's hospital, London, which screened 230 women last year.

"If we came to a mutation, we'd stop, whereas they sequence the whole gene."

Neva Haites, chairman elect of the British Society of Human Genetics, said: "It's not really the cost, it's more the lack of freedom to decide what kind of service you will offer.

"In a way I'd rather offer a 70% service to the whole of the UK rather than a 100% service to a tenth of the country." The issue could soon hit the courts. The Wellcome Trust, the charitable foundation which provides a large slice of the funding for the Sanger Centre, has warned that it will use its financial muscle to confront zealous gene patenters.

"If faced with opportunistic and inappropriately broad patents being filed on sequence data, the Wellcome Trust confirms that it will challenge these as necessary," the foundation stated recently. "The trust is committed to ensuring that data remains in the public domain."

The new European directive is open to interpretation. Some argue that it allows gene patenting, but Britain's patent office says it means "patents are not obtainable for genes or other body parts in their natural state".

Some cynics argue that the aggressive biotechnology corporations do not expect their patents to survive in court, but are simply using them to talk up their stocks and gain market share for the technology they use to exploit the genes.

Disturbed as he is by the gene patenters, the head of the Sanger Centre, John Sulston, says his real concern is companies like Celera, the private corporation competing with the non-profit Human Genome Project to decode the sequence of all the genes in human DNA.

Celera, headed by Craig Venter, plans to put his data on a commercial database, available only to subscribers.

The Human Genome Project makes its data public as soon as it gets it. Venter, said Mr Sulston recently, wanted his firm to be another all-encompassing giant of the information age - the Microsoft of Biology.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 17 Jan 2000 06:42:12 U
From: Colleen Robison

Farm Goes High Tech With Genetic Research

Nanny goats, implanted with embryos injected with extra genes, will be able to produce drug-laden milk. (Michele McDonald - For The Washington Post) [Picture]

Tapping Goats Milk for GE Drugs

By Justin Gillis, Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, January 17, 2000; Page A1

Exhibition Of The Possibilities Of Technology
Making Milk Valuable
It's All in the Genes

Exhibition Of The Possibilities Of Technology

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. n On a rustic expanse of woods and fields and barns not far from here, a fifth-generation dairy farmer in blue coveralls tends a bleating, affectionate herd of goats. The rituals of rural life play out every day: Feed the goats. Milk the goats. An 1850 farmhouse, restored to splendor, welcomes visitors, and an old buggy trail wends across the land.

The future, it seems, is going to look a lot like the past.

But not entirely. Just yards from the barns and the buggy trail, people in laboratory coats peer through microscopes while expensive machinery whirs. Phrases like "protein expression" and "embryonic microinjection" are thrown around as casually as old-time farmers discussed the weather. In the century of wonders now dawning, this old dairy farm is likely to be a showplace, an exhibition of the possibilities of technology.

Some of the goats on the farm, run by a company called Genzyme Transgenics Corp., have human genes in them. Others have genes not found in nature, genes produced by human artifice. In their milk, the nanny goats produce drugs. Old MacDonald's farm it isn't: One goat is expected to make drug-laden milk worth as much as $30 million a year.

Genzyme is competing with two companies, including the one that helped create Dolly the cloned sheep, to be first to bring to market a drug produced in "transgenic" animals. At all three companies, the logistics of producing drugs this way have largely been solved n their scientists have repeatedly shown it can be done. What remains is to commercialize the technology, known as "pharming," and in that goal Genzyme has a jump on its competitors: It is farther along than any other company in human testing of a transgenically produced drug.

Last week the firm reported positive test results of the compound, a protein believed to aid in preventing blood clots during heart-bypass surgery. It was the second major study to suggest the drug works, and a final test is under way. If the results hold up, Genzyme could win approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sell the drug by sometime next year.

The anti-clotting drug is just an opening salvo, however. Working with other companies that want cheaper, easier ways to make drugs on a large scale, Genzyme has produced more than 60 in the milk of mice, an initial test of whether the method will work for a given drug. Goats on the farm are making 11 drugs at potentially commercial levels.

As soon as Genzyme has proven drugs produced this way can win regulatory approval, it's likely other firms will commit. A dozen drug companies have established research collaborations with Genzyme aimed toward commercial production.

"Your drug may soon come from the farm near you," said Sandra Nusinoff Lehrman, the company's president and chief executive.

At a handful of spots around the world, including an old family farm outside Blacksburg, Va., the efforts of companies like hers are changing the landscape. Cutting-edge science is joining forces with farmers' ancient knowledge of the ways of animals. A handful of savvy localities are courting these operations, hoping for jobs and a new vitality down on the farm.

Making Milk Valuable

Genes are instructions for making proteins, some of them useful as drugs. In the late 1970s, at the dawn of the biotechnology era, scientists stuck animal and human genes into bacteria and into hamster cells, essentially hijacking their cellular machinery to create microscopic drug factories. Human insulin for diabetics, human growth hormone for children with dwarfism n these and other breakthroughs flowed from the new science. Today, scores of drugs are made this way, in individual cells that grow by the trillions in giant, high-tech vats called bioreactors.

But a building full of these reactors can cost $30 million and up. Such factories can be tricky to run. And some types of complex proteins can't be made efficiently n or at all n in bioreactors.

Thus in the 1980s, people hit on the idea of sticking human genes into animals. One of the first to think of it was Harry M. Meade, a Boston area scientist who now works for Genzyme Transgenics. He knew the whole purpose of mammary glands is to produce a suspension of proteins, otherwise known as milk. Milk glands are, in effect, miniature bioreactors, perfected for protein production by millions of years of evolution. They can handle the most complex jobs.

And Meade knew from personal experience that farm animals can make milk in vast quantity n he grew up on a dairy farm and still goes back every summer. "I don't think I would have thought of this if I hadn't," he said. "My father used to say, 'If you want to help the farmer, make milk valuable.'"

The earliest efforts of researchers like Meade were frustrating. Scientists had to isolate the gene encoding a particular protein, then inject it into microscopic animal embryos, hoping it would take up residence at an appropriate spot in the animal's genetic code. Such challenges helped give rise to Dolly the cloned sheep, on the theory that once an animal with the proper genetic profile is created, cloning it might be a fast way to produce a herd.

But over many years, techniques improved. At Genzyme, producing an animal that can make a drug costs roughly $5 million n much less than building a new factory of bioreactors. Once they have a "founder" animal that contains the necessary genes, companies like Genzyme can expand rapidly. "If we need to scale up, we just breed more animals," said Suzanne Groet, a company manager.

That is precisely what Genzyme has done to produce anti-thrombin III, a human protein that plays a vital role in regulating blood clotting. People about to undergo heart bypass surgery need high levels to keep from being killed by excessive clots. The drug now is made from donated blood, but is in short supply and carries a risk of contamination by viruses. Historically, bio-engineered products have tended to drive blood-derived versions off the market.

Nobody has grown human anti-thrombin III efficiently in bioreactors. Genzyme has created more than 50 goats that can make it. Their milk is collected and put through exhaustive purification steps until nothing is left but the drug. So far, Genzyme's tests indicate it works just as well as the protein derived from blood.

"It's very close to becoming real," said Jerrold Levy, director of cardiothoracic anesthesiology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who has helped to test the Genzyme drug. "This is a wonderful opportunity to have an unlimited supply of a protein that has incredibly important therapeutic applications."

Because its uses are so specialized, the drug is not likely to be a blockbuster n Genzyme, in fact, deliberately picked off a modest product as its test case. S.G. Cowen Securities Corp. recently pegged the worldwide market for anti-thrombin III at $200 million.

Its licensure would prove a point, however, and Genzyme is preparing to follow up with a far more ambitious array of proteins. "We are not a one-trick pony n or a one-trick goat," Lehrman said. "We have lots of bets on the table."

It's All in the Genes

Transgenic production is looking more and more, for example, like an ideal technique for making a new class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies.

Antibodies are immune-system proteins that attack foreign invaders like germs n or that neutralize substances the body is over-producing. Monoclonal antibodies are artificial, highly purified antibodies, made by combining animal and human genetic material, that work with exquisite precision in small doses. As treatments, these drugs were a failure for 20 years, but lately they have become one of the hottest areas of medicine.

Centocor Inc. of Malvern, Pa., was the first company to win approval for a monoclonal antibody treatment, called ReoPro. It blocks excessive clot formation during a procedure doctors use to clear clogged arteries. A second Centocor antibody helps sufferers of a severe bowel ailment, Crohn's disease, and that same drug, Remicade, has recently been proven to arrest the joint damage typical of advanced rheumatoid arthritis. Centocor and dozens of other companies are working on new antibodies of similar import.

Like 11 other companies, Centocor has cut a deal with Genzyme to investigate production of its drugs in goats. "We're likely to make a major commitment in the next few months," said Fred Bader, vice president of worldwide operations at Centocor. "There's no question in my mind they can produce antibodies in goats."

If indeed animals prove their value in such an undertaking, Genzyme will be in a commanding position, for the company has won a patent that gives it exclusive rights to transgenic antibody production. Barring a successful legal attack, the company's competitors, PPL Therapeutics PLC of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Pharming N.V. of Leiden, the Netherlands, are likely to be shut out of antibody production for years.

Genzyme Transgenics has appeared lately on Wall Street's radar screen. Its stock has risen nearly 160 percent since Nov. 1, closing Friday at $14.87* a share. Hambrecht & Quist, a securities firm, told investors recently that Genzyme was "uniquely positioned to benefit from the biotechnology industry's need for more efficient protein production systems."

Genzyme Transgenics is an offspring of a group of Boston area companies with "genzyme" in their names, but n unlike the others n it is a separate company, and a majority of its shares are in public hands.

As they gear up for commercialization, Genzyme's executives find themselves confronting some strange business issues. How, for example, does a corporate accountant amortize a goat? Especially one worth millions? "We're blazing new trails here with our auditors," said John B. Green Jr., vice president and chief financial officer.

Genzyme is looking to expand beyond goats to cows, which produce more milk and are therefore better for drugs or nutrients needed in bulk. It has launched a startup program "in Iowa, where cows belong," said Michael W. Young, vice president of commercial development. "We have little farms in Massachusetts."

On the Genzyme farm, less than an hour from the company's headquarters in Framingham, scrupulous procedures have been set up to ensure the health of the goats, many of them imported at high expense from disease-free regions of New Zealand. The company has succeeded in cloning three goats, though it considers cloning an experimental technique, not one likely to find application in producing the first transgenic drugs.

Locals have welcomed Genzyme, though they certainly found the whole thing odd at first. Steve Woodis, a fifth-generation member of a farm family from the area, was dismayed by "the state of the dairy industry" and jumped at the chance to work at Genzyme when it came to town. Now he's the project's top real farmer, a bearded, bespectacled man fond of coveralls and caps and schooled his whole life in the ways of animals. He manages a team of farm hands.

"It was a little different at first," he said of working at Genzyme. "I took my share of ridicule from my peers. Now they all want to come work here."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 17 Jan 2000 11:17:11 U

Ghana Checks Influx of Genetically Modified Food

January 17, 2000

NAIROBI (Jan. 14) XINHUA via NewsEdge Corporation - Ghanaian Minister of Environment, Science and Technology Cletus Avoka Friday assured the nation that his ministry is doing everything possible to check the influx of genetically modified (GM) foods on the market.

Avoka, who was answering a parliamentary question, said the GM food issue has generated a lot of controversy in developed countries and Ghana, a developing country, would not risk allowing its use, Ghana News Agency reported.

On the dreadful terminator seed technology, he said the government would not tolerate its use since it has the potential to harm crop management in the country.

He said his ministry is participating in the development of a global biosafety protocol, which, among other things, would insulate the world biodiversity from possible adverse effects of GM orgasms.

The Minister asked Ghanaians to see environmental management as a shared responsibility, which needs the collaboration of all.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 17 Jan 2000 11:24:42 U

Monsanto sees GM corn in China in 2001

By Nao Nakanishi, Reuters Story - January 17, 2000 01:20

China To Meet Pressure As Market Opens
Growing Market For Gm Species

SINGAPORE, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co hopes to launch genetically modified (GM) corn in China next year, which should help Beijing face international competition upon joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a Monsanto official said. "We're testing our Bt corn in China," said Charles Martin, referring to corn, which contains the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins and are resistant to corn borer, a major cause of crop losses.

The vice president of Monsanto's corporate communications in Asia and the Pacific region told Reuters last week that it expected to commercialised Bt corn in China next year following three-year tests in the northeastern provinces of Jilin and Liaoning. "The government is totally supportive. They believe...the only way China will become competitive is through this technology," he added.

China To Meet Pressure As Market Opens

China has emerged as a major exporter of corn, but it has to provide heavy subsidies to compete against the United States or South American rivals, such as Brazil and Argentina.

It is expected to meet strong international pressure to scrap such subsidies and open up its huge farm markets for imports when it joins the free trade organisation, possibly later this year.

Martin said that in addition to inefficient transport systems within China, huge amount of pesticides necessary to kill corn borer in the plant kept production costs very high.

"If the trials don't show at least a five percent yield increase, no one is going to buy it (Bt corn). We think we are going to get a 10-15 percent yield increase," he said.

China was working on BT corn separately after successfully developing its own GM cotton, which now stands in competition against Monsanto's GM cotton in the country, he said.

"They have right now 137 labs in China on biotechnology with 2,000 scientists. They're increasing budgetary allocations to biotechnology. They are building a big biotech research centre at the Beijing University," Martin said.

Growing Market For Gm Species

In the Chinese cotton market, Martin estimates GM species already account for some three precent of the total output.

Monsanto had just set up a second joint venture for GM seeds in the Anhui province after a huge success in Hebei with the Bt cotton containing toxin that kills bollworms.

"It's been a remarkable launch. Within two years, the Hebei province went from no Bt cotton to 95 percent BT cotton. Two million cotton farmers adopted it," Martin said.

"The main reason is that their income per hectare rose by $200. People there are making about $1,000 a year."

Though seeds for Bt cotton are more expensive, farmers can save large costs as they require almost no pesticides, Martin said. They also have a higher yield as the yield usually gets stunted by chemical spraying. "The main benefit of this technology is that economics work very nicely...But it takes also a huge amount of insecticides out of soil or air," Martin said.

"Farmers noticed in the field there were many more beneficial insects, like lady bugs, since they started to use it...We have to do some studies and see. You have to prove it," he said. Asked about the difference between Chinese and Monsanto Bt cotton, Martin said while both were similarly effective in resisting bollworms, the fiber from the U.S. cotton was better. "Our cotton from Hebei is all sold out at the time of planting, even though there's a surplus in the market. Textile mills have bought it up. They think this is the way they can revive exports and compete in the international market."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 17 Jan 2000 11:46:23 U

More malnutrition with genetic farming forecast

The Irish Times

The "gene revolution", just like the "green revolution", is concentrating ownership of the most productive land while structural causes of global poverty and hunger remain unresolved, a conference in Co Cork has been told.

The stark message from farmers and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in developing countries was that far from being in the interests of food security for the world's poor, genetic engineering in agriculture was likely to exacerbate current problems of poverty and malnutrition, according to Mr Tom Campbell of the Development Studies Centre at Kimmage Manor, Dublin.

Increasing agricultural production, even assuming it was possible with biotechnology and GM foods, would facilitate only larger farmers who could afford expensive inputs, he said. Leaving the causes of poverty un-addressed was a recipe for continuing starvation among hundreds of millions of people, he told the conference in Skibbereen on "Challenging the Globalisation of Food and Agriculture". It was staged by Growing Awareness, a local NGO set up by speciality food producers and organic farmers, and attended by more than 300 people.

Notwithstanding Monsanto's "let the harvest begin" advertising campaign last year, multinational interests were seizing local genetic resources, Mr Campbell said, and most biotech products emerging from this process were aimed at consumer niche markets in the northern hemisphere.

The genetic make-up of a "bio-patented" seed was invariably the property of multinational corporations, so the farmer could merely lease it, said environmentalist Dr Ruth McGrath of Voice. With patented crops, saving seed for next year was no more.

Traditionally, a patent was a bargain between inventor and society. Today, most patents were granted to multinationals with global reach and market control. "The bargain has become unbalanced in favour of powerful corporations."

Mr Richard Douthwaite, an economist, said fossil energy use in food production had increased sharply in 100 years, enabling large quantities of food to be shifted around the world. But oil production was expected to peak within 10 years and gas production a decade later.

It would soon be a case of localise or starve, he said. Transportation costs would rise sharply, forcing "re-localisation".

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr Ned O'Keeffe, who opened the conference, defended the European vision of agriculture. It was not just about profit-making. "It takes into account environmental, social and rural development aspects in every decision."

Green MEP Ms Patricia McKenna said the European Commission should ask why it was making a show of its ambitious new food-safety plan, which responded to "well-founded public concerns", while at the same time continuing to encourage intensive farming with subsidies which undermined agriculture in developing countries.

The choice was intensification or more local production, said Ms Mary-Anne Bartlett of Compassion in World Farming. Intensification meant more factory farms; more attempts to force animals to produce greater amounts faster using drugs, high protein diets and genetic engineering.

Consumer power was flexing its muscles when it came to GM food, said Ms Jo Goldsmid of Genetic Concern. "People are waking up to the fact they have the power to stem the GM food tide."

Publication date: Jan 17, 2000 © 1999, NewsReal, Inc.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 17 Jan 2000 18:46:57 U
From: Robert Mann

ENN Multimedia

More internet articles

Wise investments
Lost fragrance
The Environment Show

Wise investments

More and more investors are concerned with the environmental impact of where their money is going. These groups are trying to only support those businesses that continue to prove themselves environmentally conscious. In doing so, investors hope that more businesses will choose to convert to green practices. EcoWatch/London Radio Service (5:23)

Full Story:

Lost fragrance

Bioengineering of flowers has detracted from their poignant fragrance. Now, farmers are interested in engineering the fragrance back to encourage pollination. Great Lakes Radio Consortium (0:55)

Full Story:

The Environment Show

On this week's program: President Clinton commits to reducing gas emissions; a list of the most significant land preservation actions of the past century; a passage from "The River Home: An Angler's Explorations"; the upcoming lunar eclipse; a discussions about the major environmental issues of the 21st century; how to find out about pollutants and polluters in your community; and the state of the Asian tiger population. (53:53)

Full Story:

If you will review Prof Cummins' list of the top 5 hazards of plant GE, you will be reminded that it is largely the potential ecological harms from the methods of inserting the transgenes that gives us concern about current GE of the plant kingdom.

The claimed benefit is somehow to be compared with the unknown probability that one or more of the numerous hazards will emerge in reality.

This makes nuclear power look simple. Any claim of thorough risk assessment would be laughable if it were not such dangerous bullshit.

How can it be justified to resort to such dangerous methods merely to restore fragrance? Aren't plants suitably attractive to bees available now, or soon enough by ordinary breeding? What harm could come to the bees themselves, or their larvae eating the pollen?

I am referring this post to one of our leading plant breeders who has foresworn GE but still is at the forefront of breeding plants, and hope to fw his comments.


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

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 17 Jan 2000 18:47:42 U
From: Robert Mann

M-W Ho: The hazards of genetically-engineered foods

Here is an article by Dr Mae-Wan Ho which is at the website

For those who haven't seen it, I would advance this as a good example of popular-level exposition of science.


or see it here: The hazards of genetically-engineered foods

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 18 Jan 2000 02:10:24 U
From: MichaelP

GUARDIAN editorial on "The gold rush for genes"

Gene patenting: editorial
GUARDIAN (London) Tuesday January 18, 2000

The gold rush for genes – It must be stopped: they belong to us

Human genes should not be the subject of patents. Processes and applications that arise from their discovery yes: but the genes themselves, never. And if the law – in Britain or Europe – is capable of being interpreted otherwise then the law must be changed. In a civilised world it should not be necessary even to have a discussion about this: but it is both necessary and urgent because of the imperialistic way some American biology companies are trying to claim the products of evolution.

The latest, as reported in this paper yesterday, is the Salt Lake City corporation, Myriad Genetics, which claims to have "patented" two genes for breast-cancer screening (BRCA and BRCA2) and is moving in on the European market to exploit what they hope will be a monopoly position.

A European directive on patents, to be incorporated in British law in the summer, is ambiguous on the topic. In this instance, Myriad's claims are themselves in dispute because of the pioneering work done in this country by Cambridge's prestigious Sanger Institute and the Institute of Cancer Research (which claims that it discovered one of the genes first).

Either way it should not be patentable and especially not by privately owned corporations which often come on to the scene late in the day after the huge cost of basic research has been done by publicly funded institutes like Sanger, which put their discoveries into the public domain for free. This is altruism, but it also makes business sense because all the pharmaceutical and biotech companies can then have access to all of the research. If they then devise processes using those gene sequences to make themselves lots of money, that is fine. It can take a decade and hundreds of millions of pounds to bring one of these discoveries to market and most are abandoned long before they get that far.

Corporations rightly require profits proportionate to the big risks they take. No one argues with that. But it does not mean they can rush in at the last minute and patent the rights to the basic ingredients of human life. It is like a company joining a gold rush after all the research and mining has been done to snap up all the nuggets lying around. Who owns the blueprints of life is one of the most important issues to be faced during a century expected to witness an explosion of activity in biotech industries. The ground rules of this revolution must be established hard and fast: and now.

*** 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. ***

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 18 Jan 2000 02:34:05 U

'Fair Trade' Bananas Reach Britain

Source: Associated Press, Jan 17, 2000, © 1999, NewsReal, Inc.

LONDON (AP) – Bananas stamped "people-friendly" hit British supermarket shelves Monday as part of an initiative to support independent producers and their workers, instead of multinational corporations.

The Fairtrade Foundation stamp on the fruit, imported from independent Costa Rican farmers, is designed to tell shoppers that the workers who produced the bananas receive a fair wage and work in satisfactory conditions.

The initiative follows a trade dispute between Europe and the United States over bananas.

Europe gives preferential trade quotas and tariffs to its former colonies in the Caribbean and elsewhere. The EU's current system of tariffs and quotas has been ruled illegal four times by the World Trade Organization, and the United States has imposed almost $200 million a year in sanctions against EU goods to protest the policy.

Despite the quotas and higher tariffs, South American bananas grown on U.S.-owned plantations still represent the majority of the EU market, since the plantation-produced fruit is so much cheaper than bananas produced on small family-owned farms in the Caribbean, African and Pacific nations.

Last November, the EU proposed to work toward a system in which Latin American producers would gradually be allowed to export more bananas to the 15-nation market.

Clare Short, Britain's secretary of state for international development, deemed the new bananas, Britain's most popular fruit, "excellent."

"When British shoppers choose Fairtrade Mark bananas, they will have better bananas and help improve the lives of many poor producers," she said.

The London-based foundation, which already has set up similar operations for tea, coffee, cocoa and honey, said it hopes to expand the program to include other independent banana producers.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 18 Jan 2000 10:33:49 U

Delta & Pine Land Allegations Unreasonable and Without Merit Says Monsanto

By Dan Verakis of Monsanto, 314-694-3818, Monsanto Company
PR Newswire - January 18, 2000 11:15

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 18 /PRNewswire/ – Monsanto Company said today that a lawsuit filed by Delta & Pine Land, alleging that Monsanto breached the merger agreement between the two companies, is without merit. The lawsuit – filed in Mississippi State Court – alleges that Monsanto did not exercise commercially reasonable efforts to obtain regulatory approval of the proposed merger.

"For a year and a half, we exercised every reasonable effort and a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to make this merger happen," said Monsanto President Hendrik A. Verfaillie. "After numerous attempts to reach an acceptable compromise with the Department of Justice, we concluded that the Department's demands made no sense from a business point of view, and that to accept them would place both Monsanto and Delta and Pine Land at an unfair competitive disadvantage in the marketplace."

The company said it complied with all of its obligations under the merger agreement and that it will defend the lawsuit vigorously.

"It's disappointing that Delta & Pine Land – a technology partner we've worked with for years – would file this suit when they worked side-by-side with us in attempting to secure regulatory approval of the merger," Verfaillie added.

Monsanto's research in cotton will not be adversely affected by the failed merger with Delta & Pine Land or the lawsuit.

"We remain committed to our cotton business, and to providing our biotech traits to cotton farmers in the seed varieties they prefer, through the broad licensing of our technology to various cotton seed companies," Verfaillie said.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 18 Jan 2000 12:40:31 U

UK: GM Guidelines May Be Inadequate, Government Told

By PA news reporters

The Government was today urged to re-examine guidelines designed to ensure that genetically modified crops do not contaminate non-GM plants being grown nearby.

The guidelines, which the Government wants to be used as the basis for European legislation, recommend separation distances of 50 metres between GM and conventional crops, and 200 metres between GM and organic crops.

Today Baroness Hayman, Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, told the Commons agriculture select committee that the Government believed that the guidelines could form the basis of legislation and that it was exploring, at EU level, the scope for achieving that. There's an interest amongst other countries as well as our own. We are something of a pathfinder here ... we would like to see the guidelines she told the committee.

But committee chairman Peter Luff, the Tory MP for Mid Worcestershire, cited recent evidence which suggested that the guidelines of the biotech, farming and plant industries umbrella group Scimac (Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops) might be inadequate.

Mr Luff noted that last week the Worcester-based National Pollen Research Unit published a report which suggested that, with oilseed rape, there was a of cross pollination between nearby fields.

Pollination transfer from bees had been recorded at a distance of up to four kilometres, and from airflow at up to three kilometres.

There were similar findings on sugar beat, said Mr Luff. There seems to be a good, scientific basis for worrying whether Mr Luff told the committee.

Baroness Hayman said the Scimac guidelines used separation distances which had been used widely in commercial agriculture in the past, and were internationally recognised. Over time, they had given a seed purity in excess of 99.5%, she told the committee.

In written evidence to the committee, the Baroness's department pointed out that bees tend to deposit most pollen on the next flower they visit and deposition declines rapidly after this. All the evidence to date indicates that there is a rapid decrease in the possibility for cross-pollination over distance, and it is therefore likely that there will only be very low levels of long-distance pollination under normal farming the evidence said.

But the Baroness conceded that any new evidence about the effectiveness of separation distances had to be considered. We do have to look at whether there is new evidence ... I'm not suggesting that said Baroness Hayman.

The Government recently announced a continuation of farm-scale trials of GM crops, effectively postponing widescale commercial cultivation.

The new scheme does, however, increase the number of farm-scale trials, from 10 to around 75, each of them around 10 hectares in size.

© Press Association Ltd 2000

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 18 Jan 2000 15:01:42 U
Originated: (Clair Robinson / GM-Free magazine)

Cloning scientists admit GM not same as trad. breeding

By Clair Robinson, GM-Free magazine

We've heard from biotech sceptics right from the start that GM is different from traditional breeding methods and therefore gives rise to a unique type and scale of risk.

Now, this view has been endorsed by none other than the British scientists who cloned Dolly the sheep. Their statement can be used to counter false claims by the biotech industry and its puppets in government that GM is no different from traditional breeding techniques and should therefore not arouse concerns or need for labelling.

The following quote is by UK columnist Bryan Appleyard, in his article "The Clone Rangers", The Sunday Times Culture section, Jan 16, 2000, reviewing the new book by the Dolly cloners, The Second Generation: The Age of Biological Control by the Scientists who Cloned Dolly, by Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell and Colin Tudge, published by Headline. Note the main quote is by Appleyard; the quote within a quote is by the Dolly cloners.

"The authors are fully aware of what a radical step they have taken. They note, for example, that scientists and politicians have tried to calm public ffears about genetic engineering by claiming that it does no more than accelerate the breeding processes pursued by farmers for thousands of years.

"'Not so,' they say, 'traditional breeders must operate within the reproductive boundaries that define species.' The point about modern genetics is that it removes species barriers; genes can be shuttled about at will. The propagandists who say this is business as usual are, not to put too fine a point on it, lying."

Appleyard then goes on to discuss the pursuit of human cloning:

"Unfortunately, the long discussion of human cloning towards the end of the book is routine and shallow, concluding as it does that some deep instinct within people would lead them to reject cloning as just too unnatural. I hope they are right, but this is a faint hope in a world currently driven by insane scientistic propaganda and amoral corporate greed."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 19 Jan 2000 13:04:36 U
From: "j.e. cummins"


A number of reports on the US Department of Energy supported research on mercury released to the atmoshphere using GM microbes to decontaminate nuclear weapons waste sites (such as Hanford,WA or US governement supported research to produce GMplants or GMtrees that decontaminate toxic waste sites by releasing mercury to the atmoshphere. These seem to be thoughtless applications because atmoshpheric mercury condenses in cold climates particuarly the arctic.

Recently The World Wildlife Federation published a report showing the rainfall of US cities was allready dangerously contaminated with mercury. The production of GM bacteria and plants to release mercury to the atmoshphere seems insane (even more insane than most GM products).

The quote below is on the WWF alert::

"The serious human health implications of eating fish contaminated with mercury from rain prompted the Federation and 21 state and local partner organizations to launch the Clean the Rain Campaign today. Designed to alert Americans to the danger mercury poses, the Clean the Rain Campaign will work on the local, state and national levels to reduce these risks.

"We usually think of rain as pure and clean, and that's the way it should be," said Mark Van Putten, President & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "But this report reveals that rain falling over Midwestern cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Duluth contains as much as 65 times the 'EPA safe' level of mercury, which holds out extremely serious health implications for both humans and wildlife."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 19 Jan 2000 14:18:17 U
From: "Ericka & Rich Dana"

-- The Mighty Oak was once a little nut that held its ground.

Robert Cannard, an organic farmer, is the writer and proponent of the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Initiative, currently in circulation throughout California, which activists are attempting to qualify for the November 2000 ballot in California.

From An Organic Farmer

By Robert Cannard

It needs to be said that while perhaps in the year 2000 or 2001, genetic contamination from modified crop gene code could be held to low detectable levels, once the genetic modifications have entered the gene pool of traditionally selected strains, spread through normal pollination will ensure increased contamination with each passing generation. Through pollen and vector contamination, like crops (either self or cross-fertile) will soon contain unacceptable levels of these modified genetic materials.

Whether it is 2 or 20 seasons until all traditional seed stocks have become modified is unknown, but it will occur. This means the end to traditional seed stocks and certifiable organic farming, along with the seed purity.

Organic, natural, biodynamic farming practices represent the only threat to the petro-geno-poison form of agriculture and the only acres not supporting the poison approach companies. In Oakland, California, on December 13th, the FDA held their final public hearing on Biotechnology in the Year 2000 and Beyond. The title of the forum indicates this bio-modification is to continue.

Although the purpose was ostensibly to hear public comment on this issue, they came with their minds set: no testing, no labeling, no slowing down. Instead, we heard FDA speakers express their perception of the need for more public education, such as an FDA website and an 800 number, to tell consumers that they should have no concerns. I can only speculate whether the death of natural process agriculture is a deliberate objective of the biotech companies and their buddies at the FDA and the USDA, or just a secondary bonus, but the chuckles in the menis room told me they werenit unhappy at the prospect of eliminating this serious competition to the petro-poison system.

The natural agriculture organizations must not place ANY level of tolerance above zero for genetic contamination, and must make these greedy, foolish tinkerers economically responsible for damage. Anything less than zero tolerance will soon be exceeded, rendering organic natural biodynamic certification compromised and out of business. The forces allied to perpetrate this geo-political tyranny and ecological havoc on our planet are very powerful.

Though an immediate and complete ban, sending them packing back to the lab and out of agriculture would be very desirable, it is unlikely. Here in California I have initiated the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Initiative, because with labeling and education the marketplace will reject these products. There is great support for labeling from the public, and if my small, all-volunteer organization can gather sufficient signatures to qualify for the state ballot in November, I am sure it will pass.

I strongly suggest groups in all states undertake similar drives, either through the ballot initiative process or by means of bills introduced in the state legislature, in order to disrupt the march to our demise as orchestrated by a few mighty interests who bear the blind stamp of approval of our own so-called government.

Robert Cannard
Cannard Farm, (707) 938-8424

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

For SC email list T-and-C, send: GET TERMS-AND-CONDITIONS.CURRENT to

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 19 Jan 2000 15:10:53 U
From: Paul & Katrin Davis

The following post is fairly long and does not mention GM, but does show how the battle is affecting buyers habits ..... (hope Sainsbury's have honest intentions for the native farmers!!!)= The attached article from today's Guardian concerns one leading UK supermarket's attempt to cope with the increased demand for organic food by taking over the island of Grenada..... where American troops failed!!! They have also been talking to 'Cuba' where almost all production is now organic and traditional following the American embargo.


Sainsbury seek island for organic production

Supermarket isle

Sainsbury's has a problem: it can't get enough high-quality organic fruit. Its solution? To take over the agricultural production of the entire island of Grenada and convert it to supplying health-conscious Britain. John Vidal on how one of the world's richest food chains plans to invade the Caribbean

What's wrong with our food? - special report

The Guardian, Wednesday January 19, 2000
© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 2000

In October 1983, several thousand US paratroopers, backed by helicopters, the navy and ground forces, invaded the idyllic 21-mile-long Caribbean island of Grenada to purge it of a few dozen revolutionaries who had killed a popular prime minister.

As invasions go, this was one of history's more lopsided. The choppers and the Stars and Stripes were flying over the capital, St George's, within hours. Hundreds of Cubans were quickly rounded up after a short fight, and something billed as democracy was restored. The 90,000 Grenadians mostly cheered and thanked their "liberators" and that, it was believed, was the last invasion the usually tranquil, sun-kissed island of bougainvilleas and palm trees, steep hills, blue sea and sandy beaches would ever know.

Not quite. Grenada has a long history of invasions and colonists. The French kicked out and killed the native Caribs, the British kicked out the French, the Americans invaded to kick out the commies and now the giant cruise ships and global corporations are moving in.

In the past few months, agents of Sainsbury's, one of the world's richest food empires (turnover £6bn a year) have been quietly poring over maps, scouting out the land, making sorties into the fields and plotting with the Grenadian government (turnover £200m). The plan, hatched peacefully and with the best intentions, is to take over the agriculture of the entire island and make it organic.

Sainsbury's problem is simple. It can't get enough high quality organic tropical fruit. British and, increasingly, American demand for healthily grown bananas, passion fruit, coconuts and mangoes is growing fast, but the quality is variable and importing it is notoriously difficult.

For the company generals at headquarters, scratching their heads over how to supply thousands of hungry outlets trying to keep up with the organic and ethical consumer revolution (and the £200m-a-year high-profit market it has created), the four eastern Caribbean Windward Islands looked ideal.

They have the right climate to grow perfect fruit (year-round sunshine, few hurricanes, lots of rain); the right image (former British colonies, picture of paradise); right governments (politically stable); right land (lots of disused plantations); all well-served by an old-style Anglo-Irish shipping company, Geest, which has long imported most of the tropical fruit Britain eats.

Over the past year, Sainsbury's executives have toured St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent and Dominica. What they have seen is four very different islands all more or less on their agricultural knees, unable to compete in the cutthroat global farm economy. As in so many other areas of the world, the Caribbean small farmers are being driven off the land, rural communities are on the rocks and there's an alarming, and increasing, disparity of wealth.

High command at Sainsbury's finally settled on Grenada and St Lucia as its beachheads. The Grenadian government, for starters, offered Sainsbury's 440 prime acres of old plantations, and the St Lucians have proffered four large farms totalling 300 to 400 acres. Having got the Soil Association, which oversees organic standards in Britain, to check the suitability of the land for conversion to organic production, the supermarket has completed a six-month study and is now starting its pilot projects. The plan was backed by Dino Adriano, who has led the chain towards ethical and organic foods but was ousted last week.

So far so good. The first crops are now about to be planted. These, says Ian Merton, the company's commercial director, should be "the spearhead of organic fruit production" and the trials should be "a model to convert other land". If all goes well, Sainsbury's should be getting all their organic bananas, mangoes, coconuts and passion fruit from Grenada and St Lucia within three years. After that, Merton foresees Grenada going completely organic and Sainsbury's acting as an agent to sell the produce worldwide. Exactly how he would persuade all the other farmers in the country to turn organic is glossed over.

This is where the islands' governments catch their breath, having long been promised aid and assistance from richer countries that seldom appears. The plantation owners cut down most of the forests and introduced slavery; the British set up sugar and cocoa industries that failed and then encouraged tens of thousands of Windward Islanders to come to live in British cities; the Americans promised Grenada better roads, schools, housing and health after their invasion; more recently, Venezuela proposed that the whole island could be a model of "sustainability" and sent technicians and consultants. They have also had talks with Cuba, where most crops are now organic.

Sainsbury's says its initiative is not a new era of colonialism, and it isn't in the sense that the company will not own land and will not, as the old French and British colonial farmers did, farm it themselves.

But as so many growers for supermarkets in Britain and elsewhere know, the relationship between a giant corporation and small farmers is often fraught, with the power balance very much in the supermarket's favour; the potential for the supermarket to pull out is always there.

But everyone we talked to in Grenada before Christmas was enthusiastic, in principle. The trouble was, hardly anyone knew anything. The local paper knew nothing. The island's nutmeg association shrugged. The banana growers had "heard a rumour" but were unsure. Robert Grant, a prominent farmer, hadn't a clue. Ditto the manager of the island's agricultural marketing board and the Agency for Rural Transformation, a local non-governmental organisation.

"This is news to me," says Lennox Purcell, one of the island's largest businessmen and estate owners. "I, personally, will sell Mr Sainsbury my best mangoes. I can produce 20,000 pounds of ginger. I'm willing, happy and ready to grow everything for him if he makes it interesting. He could have all my avocado crop, vanilla, nutmeg. I shall piggyback on him. I will meet him at the airport."

In the the brand new government buildings, Cecil Winsborough, Grenada's chief agronomist, was part of a team that met Sainsbury's before Christmas. He was cautious: "In the past, the people who controlled agriculture were colonists. Today people are more serious and farmers will look at all ideas. We've been told our island is ideal for a complete transformation of its approach to agriculture. Sainsbury's came shopping here because they see us as a good investment. They are buying the image. People will buy the fruit thinking, boy, this place is pristine.

"But we are scared that it will make farming harder. [They're] telling us 'go the other way', but we don't know how this will turn out. Who will pay for the changeover period? A lot of nice things have been waved about, but we want to be cautious. We want to ensure it is profitable these days to grow for the local market rather than jump through all the hoops of international trade." He makes out a good case that farmers could be better off growing for the local market rather than export.

Grenada (unemployment 16%, 65% of people dependent on farming) knows that it's getting harder than ever to compete in the global food market, which is being dominated by a few giant companies running huge plantations. It makes sense to diversify, especially after last year's World Trade Organisation ruling that Britain should not continue to give the island favoured terms of trade. When full-blown free trade eventually comes, the Windwards will be on a very sticky wicket.

But for all the talk about guaranteeing markets, being ethical, acting as a catalyst for "sustainable development", diversifying and helping the islands to reduce their dependency on a few crops, Sainsbury may be doing little to help the majority of farmers.

The islands want new markets, but also hi-tech assistance to make changes, and Sainsbury's will indeed help to teach some farmers how to go organic. But the supermarket wants, at least to start with, to work with the large farmers on land that is almost organic already and will cost little or nothing to convert. The vast majority of small growers live in virtual penury on land awash with the chemicals needed to produce the cosmetically appealing fruit that British supermarkets have insisted on for so long.

These people cannot convert to organic because they live from week to week and would lose their liveli hoods for several years during the transition. No one, least of all Sainsbury's, is going to pay for them to change. Sainsbury's says it will try to help get EU grants, but whether these materialise is anyone's guess.

The company has also chosen the most prosperous and diversified of all the Windward Islands. Neighbouring St Vincent is almost entirely dependent on selling bananas to British supermarkets, but the world price is low, the work gets harder than ever and there's so little profit that many are giving up. "Ideally Mr Sainsbury will come to St Vincent to talk to the farmers here and say we want this and that," says Julian Boyea, a banana grower. "We want Sainsbury's to come and speak to us at a church, a school or something. We would love Mr Sainsbury to come to St Vincent. Tell him to come and talk. He can have the best bananas in the world."

Renwick Rose, who runs the Windward Islands National Farmers Association, says: "Sainsbury's concern is that there are too many small fish in the sea, so it's easier to catch a whale [a country] than three million herring. I'm not sure of Sainsbury's strategy. Do they want to take over Grenada?"

He and many others are convinced the answer is "Fairtrade", an alternative trading system that would guarantee fruit prices in a volatile world market, cut out the middlemen and allow even the smallest farmers to have a say in their own future. Sainsbury's says publicly that it wants to foster this, but so far it has not been able to organise the system in the Windwards. On Monday, however, it sold its first Fairtrade bananas, but from Costa Rica.

"We in the Windwards are suffering. Yes, we need help. We need the supermarkets," says Rose. "But the terms of trade must be fair."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 19 Jan 2000 15:10:53 U
From: Paul & Katrin Davis

Farmers told there is no escape from GM pollen

by Graeme Wilson, Political Correspondent, UK Daily Mail 19 Jan 2000

ORGANIC farmers will have to put up with contamination caused by pollen from genetically modified crops, a Labour Minister declared yesterday. The 'like it or lump it' message from Food Safety Minister Baroness Hayman provoked a furious response from organic campaigners last night, with the Government accused of arrogance.

The row erupted after Baroness Hayman conceded the 'buffer zones' set up to stop pollen from GM plants reaching organic crops were no guarantee against contamination. 'We cannot have 100 per cent total purity because we do not have the appropriate barriers,' she said. 'The organic movement has to recognise and find a way of living with contamination from other crops,' she told MPis on the Commons Agriculture Select Committee.

Baroness Hayman added that organic farmers already risked contamination with pollen from non-organic crops, as well as spray drift from pesticides.

Despite her admission that some contamination was inevitable, she brushed aside calls from campaigners for GM crops to be banned.

'I do not think itis legitimate for the Government to take action against a sector which is not based on scioentific evidence,' she argued. 'They (the organic movement) want their concerns recognised equally, they recognise they do not have a veto over agricultural methods - whether GM or non-GM o just because they are not the methods they choose to adopt.'

Baroness Haymanis intervention was condemned by Britainis leading organic campaigners, the Soil Association. 'In effect, she is saying to consumers across the country that they are going to have to live with contamination,' said spokesman Harry Hadaway. 'There has been a huge popular groundswell against GM and itis arrogant of Ministers to force people to consume products with one or two per cent contamination,'

Michael Rowland, who runs an organic farm near Burbage, Wiltshire, called the Governmentis stance 'disgraceful'. He added: 'I am very disappointed that Ministers are asking us to compromise and ask us to put up with a little contamination It's like asking someone to put up with a little cancer - it's immoral and totally unacceptable.

The row came as it emerged the Government has organised talks between the Soil Association and GM Industry representative SCIMAC - the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops -in an effort to forge a compromise over the size of new statutory buffer zones around GM crops.

While SCIMAC currently operates separation distances of as little as 200metres between its farm-scale trials of oil-seed rape and organic farms, the Soil Association wants a six mile gap between GM and organic crops.

The demand for a bigger gap was reinforced by a study from the National Pollen Research Unit, based in Worcester, last week which showed bees can carry pollen from oilseed rape more than two miles. Baroness Hayman said the existing distances were based on years of research but pledged that Ministers could increase them if necessary. We have to look at whether there is new evidence ...I'm not suggesting that we necessarily have got it 100 per cent right now,' she added. The Government recently announced a continuation of farm-scale trials of GM crops, effectively postponing wide-scale cultivation.

Top PreviousFront Page

Date: 20 Jan 2000 00:02:07 U
From: Robert Mann

"Genetic engineering should be taken more slowly: professor"

Waikato Times 19-1-00, p. 18

Some radical new steps in the genetic engineering of crops should be approached "very slowly and cautiously", Otago University biochemist Warren Tate warns.

Professor Tate said genetically engineered crops offered pest and weed management benefits, with reduced need for agri-chemicals, and could extend the shelf life of food products, reducing waste.

However, some aspects of the proposed technology "must be challenged scientifically", he said on Monday.

"I believe that we should proceed very slowly and cautiously, particularly when radical new additions to the tried and true genetic engineering technology for plant modification are being considered.

"Environmental concerns, such as cross pollination of other plants by genetically modified strains, the development of herbicide-resistant pests and the effect of pest-resistant plants on friendly, beneficial insects must be studied with increasing intensity."

Information on those issues was at best sketchy, often contradictory, and more scientific studies were of paramount importance", he said.

A proposed "terminator technology", which would prevent seeds being used again, was fraught with serious potential problems.

Fortunately, Monsanto - the biggest player in the genetically modified food business - had announced it would no longer use this technology, he said.

Genetically modified crops would not have a disastrous effect on the environment if development was measured, and there was proper trialling to ensure there were no "hidden, new or unacceptable risks" for each crop under consideration.

"There must be time for appropriate controls to be put into place, and for consumer-friendly policies such as labelling to be introduced," Prof Tate said.

Consumer resistance to genetically modified food in New Zealand and in Europe "will have the very positive benefit of slowing the whole process down", providing more time to assess potential risks, he said.

In the meantime, New Zealand could benefit from being GE free, but only in the short term. It would eventually hurt New Zealand economically no to be part of the new way of modifying plants, he said.


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