Genetically
 Manipulated 


 

 
 
 Food


 News

3 February 2000

Table of Contents

America backs down on GM foods
U.S. Accepts Trade Agreement for Altered Food
EU welcomes international bio-safety trade pact
EU Poised to Ban Roundup
Canada: Suzuki calls for Moratorium
Biotech Ingredients for Cosmetics
Thailand Bans Altered Seeds
Farmers Consider GE-Free Option
NFFC Farmers Concerned
Gene Smuggling
200 Hundred Health Canada Scientists Speak Out
Summit agrees to block rogue GM crops as US drops its opposition
Agreement Reached At Genetic Food Talks
Environmentalists give cautious endorsement to Biosafety Protocol
Gene Test Deaths Not Reported Promptly
Anti-GM farmers start tour
Frito-Lay Accused of Helping Anti-Biotech Activists
Cartagena Protocol On Biosafety Adopted
Deal reached on labeling GMOs
Canada Lacks Caution On Frankenfoods
And what is being hidden in GM crops and foods???
No Biotech Corn for Frito-Lay
Brazil State declares War on Biotechnology
Let battle commence
More Help or More Harm? Genetically Engineered Crops and World Hunger

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Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 10:53:54 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

America backs down on GM foods

by Ed Vulliamy, John Madeley and Anthony Browne
The Observer, Sunday January 30, 2000
http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/observer/international/story/0,3879,130331,00.html

The beleaguered industry in genetically modified foods suffered its most serious setback yesterday when 130 countries signed a treaty giving them rights, for the first time, to restrict imports of GM crops without breaking international trade rules.

The breakthrough came after the United States unexpectedly climbed down at the end of heated all-night negotiations at a United Nations summit in Montreal.

The US and half a dozen other GM-exporting countries had steadfastly blocked a consensus pact to regulate the trade in genetically modified food. The deadline for a deal passed on Friday night but the talks continued and, close to dawn yesterday, the US delegation agreed to a Biosafety Protocol.

After the agreement, the US Assistant Secretary of State, David Sandlow, said: 'On balance, we think this is an agreement that protects the environment without disrupting world trade.'

The European Union and many developing nations had argued that countries should be allowed to refuse imports of any genetically modified product. But the US had objected that restricting GM foods would be in violation of World Trade Organisation treaties and that free trade should take precedence.

The pact will allow countries to apply a 'precautionary principle' and reject imports of GM foodstuffs if they think there is a safety risk. It will oblige all shipments and trading in genetically modified foods to bear labels stating that the products 'may contain' GM organisms.

British Environment Minister Michael Meacher said for the first time countries will have the right to decide whether they want to import GM products or not when there is less than full scientific evidence. It is official that the environment rules aren't subordinate to the trade rules. It's been one hell of a battle.'

Trade in GM food was discussed at the WTO summit in Seattle in November but the talks collapsed.


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Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 10:53:54 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

U.S. Accepts Trade Agreement for Altered Food

By John Burgess, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, January 30, 2000; Page A1

MONTREAL, Jan. 29 – The United States today accepted under pressure a new international trade agreement that could speed the labeling of genetically engineered foods on the world market, a move that puts new pressure on U.S. farmers to separate the increasingly controversial foods from the overall supply.

The pact, adopted by delegates of 140 countries after being endorsed by the United States, would allow a country to ban the import of a genetically modified food without full scientific proof that it was unsafe.


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Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 10:53:54 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

EU welcomes international bio-safety trade pact

BRUSSELS, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The European Union said on Saturday that it welcomed an agreement reached by international regulators in Montreal on regulating trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used in food. This is a historical moment and a breakthrough for international Margot Wallstron, the European commissioner for environment, said in a statement. It reflects the common will to protect the world's environment and confirms the importance of the Convention on Biodiversity. This international framework eases

10:50 01-29-00


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

Biotech News, by Richard Wolfson, PhD

Reprinted with permission from the February 2000 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby, BC V5J 5B9

EU Poised to Ban Roundup

Europe is considering banning the herbicide roundup because of a recent scientific report showing that the chemical (technically called glyphosate) kills beneficial insects. A ban would not only hurt roundup sales, but would also affect the biotech crops genetically engineered to withstand the chemical. Independent research in Sweden has linked exposure to glyphosate with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer.


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

Canada: Suzuki calls for Moratorium

Canada's renowned geneticist and CBC host, Dr. David Suzuki, calls for a moratorium on genetically altered foods. He said Canadians have become unwitting guinea pigs in an experiment on our food supply. Dr. Suzuki stated that anyone who says these foods have been proven safe is mistaken because it would take decades of research to determine the safety of genetically engineered foods, which have only been around for a few years.


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

Biotech Ingredients for Cosmetics

The European Commission is currently investigating biotech ingredients in cosmetics. Soya and corn, which can be genetically engineered, are used in a huge number of beauty products, including moisturizers, powder compacts, eye shadow, anti-aging creams and lipsticks. Antibiotic resistance genes, which are routinely included in many genetically engineered crops, are a major concern because of the fear they may be taken up by disease organisms and add to the growing number of antibiotic resistant diseases.


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

Thailand Bans Altered Seeds

Thailand recently banned imports of genetically modified seeds pending clear scientific proof they are safe. Thai authorities are struggling to protect billions of dollars worth of exports to countries that will not accept products with GE ingredients. In one case, Thai exporters switched from soy oil to sunflower oil for canning tuna, because Europe banned Thai tuna canned in imported GE soy oil.


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

Farmers Consider GE-Free Option

Casco, Ontario's largest exporter of corn products, is urging farmers to plant non-GE corn because of worldwide consumer concern and loss of markets for genetically engineered crops. According to Casco spokesman John Peakes, "It might be best to consider planting GM-free corn to maximize (farmers') marketing options."


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

NFFC Farmers Concerned

The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) in USA calls for a complete suspension of genetically engineering in agriculture pending an independent and comprehensive assessment of the social, environmental, health, and economic impacts of those products. NFFC also points out that corporate control of the seed supply through biotechnology threatens farmers' independence, and that farmers who have used this new technology may be facing massive liability from damage caused by genetic drift, increased weed and pest resistance, and the destruction of wildlife and beneficial insects.


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

Gene Smuggling

Dr Mae-Wan Ho, a molecular geneticist at the Open University in UK, explains that genetic engineering bypasses conventional breeding by using artificially constructed parasitic genetic elements as vehicles called "vectors" to smuggle genes into cells. Unlike natural parasitic genetic elements that can only infect a limited range of hosts, the vectors used in genetic engineering are designed to overcome species barriers, and can therefore infect a wide range of species.

These vectors are derived from disease-causing viruses, plasmids, and mobile genetic elements - parasitic DNA that have the ability to invade cells and insert themselves into the cell's genome. In the process of shuttling genes between a wide range of species, the vectors can pick up components of viruses of different species to create new pathogens. Unlike ordinary pieces of DNA, these vectors are resistant to enzymic degradation, and can survive indefinitely and independently in the environment where they infect cells, multiply in them, and jump in and out of their genomes. The full text of Dr. Ho's concerns can be read at http://www.twnside.org.sg/souths/twn/title/mae-cn.htm


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:48:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson Feb. 2000 Alive

200 Hundred Health Canada Scientists Speak Out

by Richard Wolfson, PhD

Reprinted with permission from the February 1999 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition.

Over two hundred Health Canada scientists recently sent a letter to Alan Rock, Canada's Minister of Health, saying they are very concerned about the erosion of safety standards at Health Canada, which is risking the health of Canadians. The rapid approval of hormones and other drugs for use in food-producing animals, and genetically modified foods for humans, without extensive safety testing, were examples of their concerns.

The scientists also argued that through proposed legislation (Bill C-80), the Ministry of Health would lose the ability to enforce food safety altogether. The scientists recommended that the responsibility for ensuring food safety be kept with Health Canada. They said, "Failure to do so will be disastrous to the health of infants, children and adults."

Several weeks later, the Minister of Health had his Deputy, David Dodge, meet with the scientists. Mr. Dodge expressed dissatisfaction with their letter, which he described as "alarmist" and "unprofessional." The scientists stood their ground and reiterated their concerns about dangerously declining safety standards, which had already allowed products of questionable safety on the Canadian market.

For 200 Health Canada scientists to sign the letter of concern is of immense significance. Some of the scientists also sent in a second letter expressing their dissatisfation with the remarks of the Deputy Minister of Health. Two of the key scientists, Dr. Shiv Chopra and Dr. Margaret Haydon, who had been forbidden from speaking to the public about these concerns, are now before the Federal Court of Canada challenging their gag order.

The hearing is scheduled for June 20, 2000.


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Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 21:56:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Summit agrees to block rogue GM crops as US drops its opposition

The Sunday Telegraph, London Sunday, Jan 30, 2000

GENETICALLY modified crops suspected of posing a risk to public health were yesterday banned from being imported into Britain and 167 other countries under an international agreement reached at a UN- sponsored summit in Montreal.

The summit overcame opposition from the United States to adopt a protocol giving governments the right to block GM imports if there is "reasonable doubt" that they could endanger public health or the environment.

Previously imports could only be blocked if there was scientific evidence that GM crops used in food production could be dangerous.

Anti-GM food campaigners last night celebrated "a great victory" at the summit which was attended by 130 government delegations, including Michael Meacher, the environment minister. He described the protocol as "a huge breakthrough".

"The Americans have seen that EU retailers and wholesalers are refusing to stock GM foods because consumers are rebelling against them," he said. Opponents of the pact - the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile - capitulated early yesterday after negotiations through the night.

The "Biosafety Protocol" ends seven years of wrangling over GM crop imports and was welcomed by campaigners as "a very important step forward" in their efforts to control the spread of the crops and so-called "Frankenstein food".

Mr Meacher said the world's attitude to GM foods had changed and that had forced the United States to shift its position. "The financial markets are changing," he said. "The stock rating of Monsanto [an American company developing GM crops] has fallen so much that Deutsche Bank has advised it to get out of biotechnology."

A Greenpeace spokesman said: "This is an historic step towards protecting consumers and the environment from genetic engineering." Sarah Finch, of the World Development Movement said: "The precautionary principle has been established. There are more battles ahead but this an excellent start."

She said the 10 EU ministers at the summit played "a crucial" part in the agreement. Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth's Real Food Campaign, said: "It's great news that the world's governments are finally starting to take control in this very sensitive area by introducing the precautionary principle we have been campaigning for.

"Until today the agenda had been dictated by giant companies, mostly American, but now the American view has been marginalised by the weight of public opinion." The United States-led group of countries, known as the Miami Group, blocked the proposal last February, arguing that it would be an unfair obstacle to free trade.

Crop imports lacking sufficient scientific data will not now be allowed into any of the countries adopting the protocol if governments are not convinced that there is no threat to the public or the environment.


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Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 21:56:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Agreement Reached At Genetic Food Talks

WebPosted Sat Jan 29 21:35:36 2000
http://www.cbcnews.cbc.ca

MONTREAL –t took a lot of late-night bargaining, but a deal on international trade of genetically modified food was reached at a conference in Montreal early Saturday.

Delegates from 138 countries struggled through negotiations for the entire week. By Friday, talks had narrowed to a couple of disputed areas, and negotiators predicted a deal was imminent.

Colombia's Environment Minister Juan Mayr, who led the Biosafety Protocol meeting, confirmed that a deal had been signed.

The agreement, called the Biosafety Protocol, is intended to regulate the burgeoning biotechnology industry with an international set of rules.

It focuses on trade rules for genetically modified organisms, GMOs, used in crops, research, and pharmaceutical products.


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Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 21:56:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Radio-Canada Privacy Policy

Copyright © 2000 CBC All Rights Reserved

Environmentalists give cautious endorsement to Biosafety Protocol

By Alexander Panetta, Radio-Canada
Copyright © 2000 CBC, All Rights Reserved
http://cbc.ca/cp/world/000129/w012935.html

MONTREAL (CP) – Environmentalists were cautiously optimistic Saturday after an all-night bargaining session resulted in an international agreement on trade in genetically modified products. "This is a historic step towards protecting the environment and consumers from the dangers of genetic engineering," Greenpeace spokesman Michael Khoo said in a statement.

Environmentalists and some scientific studies have raised concerns that genetically modified organisms – which include foods and natural fibres - could wipe out native species, disrupt natural cycles and cause other ecological damage.

Greenpeace is urging countries to quickly ratify the agreement, although Khoo hopes for a future deal that more severely restricts the proliferation of genetically modified products.

Negotiators had struggled and failed for five years to forge an international protocol to regulate the burgeoning industry, which already accounts for billions of dollars in international trade. Shortly before dawn Saturday, negotiators from 138 countries found common ground on issues that stalled talks last year in Cartagena, Columbia. In Cartagena, the so-called Miami Group – Canada, the United States, Australia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay – rejected a draft agreement favoured by 125 other countries.

The six dissenting countries lobbied to weaken a so-called precautionary principle that would allow countries to refuse to import foods they consider unsafe without fearing economic repercussions. The Miami Group also pushed for looser rules on labelling of genetically altered products. Meanwhile, the other countries sought to ensure that the agreement would not be overridden by the World Trade Organization. Friday's marathon session came to a close after delegates struck a compromise – allowing countries to refuse products they deem unsafe, but diluting rules that govern their documentation. The Cartagena Protocol will be amended so that product shipments include a less specific warning that informs distributors the products "may" include genetically modified material.

Over the next two years negotiators will work out more specific labels. "The cup is three-quarters full," said Jo Dufay, spokeswoman for the Council of Canadians. "This is a great step forward from the way Canada was playing a shameful and obstructive role, so we're pleased." Dufay added that, unlike traditional environmental agreements, this protocol is a pre-emptive attempt at environmental security, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to an existing problem. "This protocol is saying, 'Better safe than sorry,'" she said. "This is the first time an environmental treaty has been reached without significant environmental damage."

Dufay was also pleased that the agreement does not increase the WTO's role as an enforcement agency. "It's clear that this agreement is not subordinate to the WTO – and we're quite pleased that people realize that some things are more important than international trade."

The European Union thanked environmentalists, who protested all week in freezing weather to push for a strong protocol. Greenpeace erected a giant tent outside the UN building where the talks took place, and protesters kept an all-night vigil Friday until the deal was announced. "I was especially impressed by the people who went out in the cold to demonstrate over biosafety and gave strong support for the conclusion of the protocol," said Margot Wallstrom, European environmental commissioner. "We are all winners here, but they are the real heroes." Steve Shallhorn, a Greenpeace campaign director, said delegates from several countries dropped by their tent during the night. "They told us we were making a difference," Shallhorn said. "When we started planning for this a few months ago, very few Canadians had even heard about biosafety; but this week we saw the debate in newspapers, on radio and on TV."

The final draft of the deal contains some provisions that exporting countries had earlier said they would not accept. For example, according to the treaty a country does not need scientific proof that a GMO is dangerous in order to block its import.

GMOs must also be identified before they can be shipped across borders -- a regulation originally opposed by many exporters, including Canada and the United States, which said labels would be too cumbersome and costly.


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Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 21:56:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Gene Test Deaths Not Reported Promptly

By Deborah Nelson and Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 31, 2000; Page A1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/nation/A51427-2000Jan30.html

A Harvard-affiliated hospital in Boston quietly suspended a gene therapy experiment last summer after three of the first six patients died and a seventh fell seriously ill, previously unreleased research records show.


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Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 21:56:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Anti-GM farmers start tour

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor, The UK Daily Telegraph, Monday 31 January 2000

AMERICAN farmers opposed to genetically modified crops will begin a tour of Britain this week to try to persuade growers and politicians that the new technology poses a threat to family farms.


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Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 21:56:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Frito-Lay Accused of Helping Anti-Biotech Activists

Tuesday, February 1, 2000; Page E01
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/business/feed/a57641-2000feb1.htm

Frito-Lay will not use genetically altered corn even though the company considers it safe. The American Farm Bureau Federation accused Frito-Lay of caving in to anti-biotech activists, but Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists applauded the company's decision. Frito-Lay said it acted in response to consumers' concerns.


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Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 06:58:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Cartagena Protocol On Biosafety Adopted

January 31, http://www.gene.ch

On January 30 at about 4:00 in the early morning the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety had been adopted by the delegates of 128 Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This decision is a landmark in the development of multinational environmental agreements.

With three main principles the Biosafety Protocol sets new standards in international environmental law. The treaty as it stands now:

  1. codifies the Precautionary Principle as guiding principle of the decision-making process with respect to the import of socalled living modified organisms (LMO)

  2. subjects the import of certain categories of LMOs to an advance informed agreement (AIA) procedure

  3. secures an equal status of its decisions and the provisions of the WTO. (the final legal text will be available at http://www.biodiv.org )

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Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 06:58:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Deal reached on labeling GMOs

MONTREAL, Jan. 29 (UPI) – After nearly two days of non-stop negotiations, delegates from more than 130 nations hammered out a U.N.-sponsored treaty governing trade in genetically engineered organisms early Saturday morning. The agreement allows countries to refuse entry to what it calls "living modified organisms." These are plants or animals that have been changed by the addition of new genes.

The agreement stresses, however, that the reasons must be based on science. And it does not require mandatory labeling of all food products that are derived from Genetically Engineered Organisms. Instead, products such as bulk corn or soybeans will have documentation saying shipments "may contain" GMOs. The protocol also contains a "savings clause" that says it does not override obligations under other treaties, especially the free trade rules governed by the World Trade Organization. The historic agreement, the first to govern biotechnology products, came nearly a year after earlier talks collapsed because of opposition to a proposed treaty from the United States, Canada and several other agricultural exporters.


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Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 06:58:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Canada Lacks Caution On Frankenfoods

By Lyle Stewart, January 30, 2000
The Montreal Gazette, Editorial / Op-ed A11

Lyle Stewart writes that if there is one lesson to be retained from last week's UN-sponsored negotiations in Montreal and eventual agreement yesterday morning on a Biosafety Protocol, it's that Canada has emerged as the world's stalking horse for Frankenfoods, doing its utmost to sabotage or weaken talks by 138 nations to establish a global treaty governing trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Stewart says that Environment Minister David Anderson, who could more accurately be known as the minister for Monsanto, says countries should only be able to ban imports of GMOs if they can scientifically prove there are risks associated with such foods. no since, Stewart says, no one knows all the eventual health and environmental effects of GMOs. Besides, the vast majority of scientists involved in the debate work for biotech corporations like, you guessed it, Monsanto.

Chee Yoke Ling, the genetic-engineering spokesman for the Third World Network, was quoted as telling an overflow crowd at a UQAM lecture theatre Stewart says that in one of the few known scientific studies conducted, Arpad Pusztai of the Rowlett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, fed genetically modified potatoes to rats in 1996 and observed stunted growth and damaged immune systems, including damage to major organs. When he spoke very, very unfair to use our fellow he was fired from his post at the institute and denied access to his research. Why? Because, says Stewart, the Rowlett Institute is funded by Monsanto.


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Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 06:58:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

And what is being hidden in GM crops and foods???

BBC News, Tuesday, 1 February, 2000

Sections:
Hundreds of gene therapy experiments failed
Financial damage
Fevers and paralysis
Rule violations

Hundreds of gene therapy experiments failed

Hundreds of failed gene therapy experiments, including a number of deaths, have been revealed in the US.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has confirmed that only 39 of the 691 "serious adverse events" now logged had been reported to them "immediately", as required by federal regulations.

The late reports have flooded in since the death of a teenager undergoing gene therapy last year. This prompted the NIH to send stern letters to researchers reminding them of their duty to report problems.

Financial damage

One prominent US researcher said he was worried that poor results were being kept secret because of the financial damage they could cause to the funding companies.

Professor Stuart Newman, at the New York Medical College, said: "Because of the commercialisation of this research there really is an incentive to keep secret anything that reflects badly on the progress of the work."

Gene therapy is an experimental treatment for serious diseases including cancer. DNA is inserted into the patient's cell, usually through the action of an infectious virus. Despite much research effort, no successful gene therapy treatment has yet been developed.

Fevers and paralysis

The newly-revealed failures, detailed in the Washington Post newspaper, show that many patients suffered fevers, clotting abnormalities and serious drops in blood pressure.

Problems were also caused by the medical procedures used to deliver the genetic material. Needle damage in patients being treated for brain tumours has apparently led to partial paralysis and speech impairment.

In one study taking place in a Boston hospital, three of the six patients involved died. But chief researcher Richard Junghans, of Harvard Medical School, blames the problems on tragic coincidences mostly unrelated to the gene therapy, according to the Washington Post.

Rule violations

The NIH committee is supposed to help decide the cause of any deaths or illnesses "so that appropriate measures can be taken by other researchers to safeguard the health of other patients".

Because so many reports had not been properly filed, it is not now clear whether 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger, who died in September 1999, really was the first person to lose his life as a result of gene therapy or merely the first the federal government knew about.

Gelsinger was treated and died at the University of Pennsylvania and on 21 January the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shut down all its gene therapy experiments because of numerous violations of federal research rules.

Researchers are supposed to report problems to both the NIH and the FDA but the FDA keeps most information secret, whereas the NIH makes everything public.


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Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 06:58:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

No Biotech Corn for Frito-Lay

By David Koenig, The Associated Press

Decision Angers Farmers, Pleases Environmentalists

Frito-Lay, maker of Doritos and Fritos, is asking farmers not to use genetically engineered corn. The company said the move is a response to consumer concerns.

"There is some consumer concern out there. We felt at this time it's appropriate to ask our growers not to sell us genetically altered corn." Frito-Lay Spokeswoman Lynn Markley

P L A N O, Texas, Feb. 1 - One of America's top snack makers is telling suppliers not to use genetically altered corn, angering farmers while pleasing some environmentalists.

Frito-Lay Inc. said the company was acting in response to consumers' worries. Spokeswoman Lynn Markley noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that biotech foods are safe to eat, "but we're a consumer products company.

"There is some consumer concern out there. We felt at this time it's appropriate to ask our growers not to sell us genetically altered corn." ...

Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists applauded the decision disclosed last week by Plano-based Frito-Lay, the leading U.S. maker of salty snacks. Greenpeace had lobbied Frito-Lay's parent company, PepsiCo., to stop using biotech crops in its products.

"Frito-Lay is about two-thirds of PepsiCo's sales," said Charles Margulis of Greenpeace. "They realize the handwriting is on the wall and that people don't want to eat" genetically modified food.

UN Talks Allow for Import Bans

Last weekend in Montreal, United Nations talks produced complex rules governing trade in genetically engineered products, including language letting a country ban imports of a genetically modified product if officials feel there is a lack of scientific evidence proving its safety. Markley the agreement would have no impact on the new policy.

The edict is contained in contracts Frito-Lay is sending to hundreds of its farmers. Last year, the company bought 1.2 billion pounds of corn, a tiny fraction of the U.S. crop, for products such as Doritos, Fritos and Tostitos chips.

Scientists create biotech crops by splicing the genes of plants and inserting genetic material from other organisms to make the original bigger, hardier or tastier. Farm groups argue that genetically altered crops use less pesticide. Critics say weeds and pests would eventually adapt, requiring stronger and more environmentally dangerous weapons to kill them.


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Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 06:58:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Brazil State declares War on Biotechnology

By Jan Rocha and Sue Branford, The Guardian GM debate, Wednesday February 2, 2000
http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/society/story/0,3605,131218,00.html

Suspects rounded up

Jan Rocha and Sue Branford report from Brazil on the state government that has unilaterally declared war on biotechnology

Teams of agricultural inspectors have been crisscrossing the vast soybean fields of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state, raiding fields and storehouses in the search for illegal GM crops or seeds. They are the frontline of a battle to keep Brazil GM free, which has pitched the leftwing state government against the biotechnology giant Monsanto and powerful sectors of the federal government.

The inspectors carry portable kits which can identify Monsanto's Roundup Ready soya - both plants and seeds - within a few minutes. Each kit, imported from the US at a cost of $980, can test 100 samples. The inspectors follow up tip-offs received on a special GM hotline set up by the state government. In the first week of the operation, 3,500 bags of GM seed were seized.

Some farmers have reacted angrily: inspectors have been threatened, had dogs set on them and been chased away. In Tupancireta, 300 members of the local farmers' club, Amigos da Terra (Friends of the Earth), made a pact to defy the inspectors, claiming their actions were illegal.

For the moment, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans are banned throughout Brazil following a court order obtained by the Brazilian consumer protection organisation, IDEC, and by Greenpeace, on the grounds that no environmental impact study had been carried out. Instead, the government's advisory body on biosafety, CTN-Bio, had accepted Monsanto's assurances that all would be well. Monsanto has appealed to have the ban overturned.

What is at stake in the rolling fields of Rio Grande do Sul is Monsanto's plan to make Brazil its HQ for seed and herbicide production in Latin America. It has already begun building a $55m plant for making Roundup and other herbicides in the Brazilian state of Bahia. This will be the largest herbicide raw material plant outside the US. The Brazilian government is investing $140m in the plant, which promises 1,400 new jobs.

Before the court ban, Monsanto had stockpiled 300,000 50kg bags of GM seeds in Rio Grande do Sul, confident that Brazil - the world's second largest soybean producer, after the US - would go GM. But the unexpected election in Rio Grande do Sul last year of a leftwing governor, Olivio Dutra, of the PT (Workers' Party), threw a spanner in the works. Dutra, ideologically hostile to multinational companies for health and environmental reasons, wants farmers to go organic.

Monsanto's plans to turn the state into an extension of neighbouring Argentina, where already 80% of all the soybeans grown are GM, were abruptly interrupted by a state ban on GM crops, even before the court ruling in Brasilia. But the struggle has only just begun. Up to 2.5 milion of the 9 million tonnes of soya beans grown annually in Rio Grande do Sul are exported, mostly to Europe. And there is a strong rumour - though nothing is proven - that up to a third of the state's soybean area had been planted with GM seed smuggled in from Argentina.

The rumours are having an effect. A recent contract for 150,000 tonnes of Brazilian soybeans by a group of European importers stipulated that none of it was to come from Rio Grande do Sul for fear of contamination with the GM product. The state has engaged a French scientist to carry out traceability tests, though it rejects the need for a purity seal.

"It's going to be a tough battle", says Lino de David, director of the state's rural extension service, Emater. "Monsanto was banking on the farmers' ignorance and lack of information. It was their bad luck that a green government took office here."


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Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 06:58:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Let battle commence

New Scientist, 05 February 2000
http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns2224192

The fight over genetically modified organisms has only just begun

GOVERNMENTS last weekend won the right under international law to ban imports of genetically modified organisms. Or so they hope. But concessions won by major grain-exporting nations such as the US in the final hours of negotiations in Montreal may create a scientific and legal minefield.

Making their voice heard: worldwide public opposition forced a US climbdown at Montreal At 5 am last Saturday, 130 nations agreed on the Biosafety Protocol, the first major treaty to control international trade in GMOs. The treaty allows countries to halt imports of GMOs that they fear "may have an adverse effect" on biological diversity or human health. It covers food, animal feed and seeds, but not pharmaceuticals.

Until now, the World Trade Organization has required safety bans to be backed by "sufficient scientific evidence". But to environmentalists' delight, the meeting adopted the "precautionary principle", allowing countries can react to scientific uncertainty with a ban.

Until the very last moment the "Miami Group" of major grain exporting nations –he US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Uruguay and Chile –ondemned this as back-door trade protectionism. But they finally gave in. "We live in a world in which scientific certainty is not available," admitted the US chief negotiator, under-secretary Frank Loy.

Under the agreement, countries must monitor GMOs through their life cycle before releasing them into the environment and must cooperate on research into their potential impacts.

Despite the euphoria at the agreement, which took five years to negotiate, there are still large areas of uncertainty. The talks failed to agree on the labelling of products containing GMOs. A holding clause says shipments should carry a label saying they "may contain" GMOs.

Detailed labelling rules in, for instance, which GMOs a particluar shipment contains, and their potential effects will be decided in a few years. This raises questions about how governments will decide on the risks the products might pose in the meantime.

Farmers and traders won't have to segregate products containing GMOs. The US argued that segregation would cost billions of dollars because GM varieties make up half of the nation's soybean and a third of its maize crops. But observers from organisations as diverse as Greenpeace and the Swiss-based seed company Novartis agree that the demands of consumers and retailers are already nudging grain traders towards segregation.

A dispute between the US and the European Union over whether the protocol should take precedence over the free trade rules of the World Trade Organization was finally fudged. Margot Wallström, the EU environment commissioner, says the WTO will rule in any dispute over an import ban, but will have to take the protocol into account when doing so.


Top PreviousFront Page

Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 07:09:55 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to: Laurel Hopwood laurel.hopwood@sierraclub.org for posting this excellent article:

More Help or More Harm? Genetically Engineered Crops and World Hunger

by Michael W. Fox, DSc, PhD, BVet Med, MRCVS Senior Scholar
Bioethics The Humane Society of the United States
2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037
Tel. 202-293-5105 bioethics@hsus.org

Sections:
The Doubly Green Revolution
The "Brown Revolution"
Addendum
The Failure of the Green Revolution
Postscript

The Doubly Green Revolution

A few advocates of genetically engineered (GE) crops, like Dr. Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, rightly point out that it is not cost effective for the life science industry to engage in much more than biomass commodity crops that do not, as Conway points out, alleviate world hunger. Hence, humanitarian oriented, rather than short-term profit oriented, research and development to develop hardier and more nutritious staple crops to feed the rising numbers of poor and hungry people, especially in developing countries, is being advocated. But these people live still in some of the world's major biodiversity "hot spots."

I applaud Conway's advocacy of GE food labeling, opposition to terminator technology in developing countries, and call for a phasing out of antibiotic-resistance gene markers as a means of selecting transgenic plants. But I question his ecological sensibility and historical perspective. It is ecologically insensible to advocate the release of GE crops in the world's hot spots of biodiversity. It is historical amnesia to not help indigenous peoples reclaim the rich diversity of seeds and crop varieties that were used to sustain them well before Western colonization and also before the Green Revolution that had many harmful consequences. (See Addendum on the Failure of the Green Revolution).

Regrettably, Conway, in his call for a "Doubly Green Revolution," embraces some questionable aspects of plant biotechnology that he believes will help provide better nutrition, health, and security for the world's 800 million malnourished people. It would seem that Conway sees the risk of genetic pollution by GE crops, whose pollen is likely to contaminate these biodiversity hot spots (unless they are given the apomixis trait of asexual seed production) as inconsiderable.

He makes no mention either of the effects of transgenic crops on harmless and beneficial flora, fauna and soil microbia. For further discussion of this topic, see writings by Michael W. Fox and Daniel H. Janzen.

I have eaten ragi, the almost extinct dietary staple of the Nilgiris Kurumbas in South India that has been supplanted by "flood rice" rice, which I have also eaten, that smells like (and may well have been grown on) municipal sewage, and which is rationed out to the poor. The "Green Revolution" has supplanted a diversity of traditional crops like ragi, a rain-fed crop that would sustain me for a day's field work with irrigated and processed rice that at best sustains me for a half day in the field.

Therefore, I think a "Doubly Green Revolution" as proposed by Dr. Conway is seriously ill considered and ethically flawed in many ways, especially since a diversity of traditional, locally adapted crops are more likely to provide good nutrition than the genetically engineered (and probably less adapted and genetically unstable) corps of his proposed "Doubly Green Revolution." Like me, Conway is British. And the British bear the legacy of colonial patronage in their approach to helping their former colonies, like Africa and India. I see Conway's vision the "Doubly Green Revolution" as the third wave of colonialism.

The "Brown Revolution"

Instead of endorsing colonialism, I would suggest an alternative: A singularly "Brown Revolution," that puts dirt first the Earth, the soil, the humus, which are so profoundly linked with our humility and with our humanity. GE crops are likely to harm the soil biota and contaminate life processes at genetic and molecular levels that we barely comprehend.

The first principle of the "Brown Revolution" is the Precautionary Principle. It acknowledges that no one has a monopoly on truth and that what might go wrong will go wrong.

The second principle is respect for life, which does not seem to accord with the ethos of the life science industry that is seeking to promote the globalization of agricultural biotechnology.

The third principle is to put others before oneself, and the Earth before people.

The "Brown Revolution" that my organic farming allies evoke in the aphorism Dirt First! is the antithesis of a Doubly Green Revolution that puts human need before the need to protect the last of the natural, functioning world. So I would not fault the good intentions of Conway to try to find ways to feed the hungry and ever increasing human population. But his way, through GE crops, will be too little too late for billions, and will probably do more harm than good by encouraging public acceptance in the West of all GE crops for the good of humanity, our health, and the economy.

The "bottom line" is clearly defined by the Brown Revolution. It advocates consumer demand for certified organic, nonprocessed whole foods and beverages, and clothing and other consumables that are Earth and people friendly, and life and community sustaining. It says "no" to processed foods (that are based on GE biomass crops) and does not accept meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products as dietary staples.

To put dirt or Earth before people is not misanthropic. Nor is putting others before oneself idiotic. Altruism is enlightened self-interest. We do face the Malthusian predicament of having become a species that is an intelligent enough life form to realize that it has become a planetary infestation in urgent need of self control. The philanthropic solution is not to find new ways to feed the next generation without first considering applying genetic engineering biotechnology and other solutions to population control and informed family planning.

Conway's advocacy is as politically naive as my hope that family planning will not be opposed by fanatical advocates of religious, ethnic, tribal and caste supremacy, who speak of democracy to conceal the hypocrisy of affluence and corruption amidst poverty and oppression.

The Earth first and animal rights movements have been falsely linked with Nazism by Goodrick Clarke. Clarke's thesis is that those who put animals and Earth first are of an elitist, privileged, and misanthropic segment of society. Some are aligned with neo-Nazis, the ethos of which he contends, is inspired by Hinduism as it was during the Third Reich by Savitri Devi.

On the contrary, the folk lore, mythology, medicine and spirituality of indigenous aboriginal peoples, like the Nilgiri Kurumbas in South India and the Gagaju tribe in Northern Australia, give living proof of the wisdom of putting others before self; women and children before men; trees before people; animality before humanity; and humanity before the insanity of ignorance, greed, and abuses of power and privilege.

Behind both religion and science/technology is power and politics, and behind politics is vested interest money. Behind the facades of religion and democracy, and the collusion of greed, we are on the verge of a conflagration between conflicting (yet converging) religious traditions Islamic, Hindu, Christian and Hebrew, each manifesting fear and insecurity, bigotry and increasing hatred and violence: race against race, caste and class against caste and class; tribe and sect against tribe and sect. These problems make the possibility of establishing socially just and sustainable agriculture and land-use practices in developing countries problematic and mean that genetically engineered crops will not help alleviate world hunger if these internal problems are not rectified.

A major obstacle for developing countries to adopt agri-biotech is the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights as it applies to the patenting of plants and animals, that many such countries oppose because it is both restrictive, costly and exploitive. Aside from the fact that the life science multinationals have done little to address the issue of world hunger by focusing on commodity crops, like cotton, corn and soybean, they hold the patents on transgenic techniques that advocates would like to see made available for developing food-crops for the poor and hungry. Gary Toenniessen, deputy director of agricultural science at the Rockefeller Foundation, supports the development of herbicide resistant crops so the parasitic weed called Striga could be killed with Monsanto's Roundup in sub-Sahara Africa.

Are Indians and people in other developing countries better off now than before or during European colonialization?

The post-colonial situation of most "developing" countries, India included, is much worse than during colonial times for a multiplicity of reasons, population increase being a major problem. Elitism and corruption, injustice and extreme prejudice are evident symptoms of increasing dysfunction and tension in many of these countries that claim to be democratic, and yet are under various forms of totalitarian control, be it political, religious, military or economic, just like their Western industrialized counterparts, who variously respond in patronizing and guilt-moved ways to the poverty and hunger of underprivileged and oppressed millions of men, women, and children in the third and fourth worlds. They offer aid and development, and establish satellite corporate marketing centers in the countries they come to help.

Even offering, as some insist for humanitarian reasons, our surplus wheat and milk and chicken parts, and as Gordon Conway would have it, provide these countries with genetically engineered crops to better feed the hungry and landless masses, 800 million of whom go to bed at night hungry. But there's no money, for those who own the land, in raising crops to feed the poor.

We do not need GE crops to bring what's necessary about: land reform, to feed the local people first in an ecologically sound and economically sustainable way. India regularly exports $2 billion worth of rice and wheat flour annually, and several million dollars worth of poultry meat, eggs, dairy and beef. So India does not need GE crops to feed its 360 million people who are malnourished. Any honest realist would not accept Monsanto's or Conway's claim that GE crops will help feed the hungry world. For a realistic assessment of such corporate and Western philanthropy, see Miguel A. Altieri.

The injustices of the third world will be intensified if we step back and say, okay, give them the GE crops that we want labeled and the GE crops we would rather not eat ourselves or see in our fields, contaminating our organic farms, orchards, and wild plant relatives in wildlife preserves.

It would help if we privileged people in the West put others first and stopped raising animals intensively on factory farms for meat, eggs and milk, that are major factors in the etiology of breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer, metabolic, endocrine and autoimmune diseases. Attention deficit disorder, possibly autism, schizophrenia and lower IQs, and increased violence, impotence, infertility and miscarriages can be linked with the high animal fat and protein diets of rich nations and the rich in developing nations.

From my own personal experience, I can attest to the endemic problems of corruption, private vested interest and mismanagement that undermine so many third world aid and development projects from the West. GE seeds for a "Doubly Green Revolution" just won't make it.

Ask the indigenous and increasingly landless sustainable farmers and pastoralists, fishermen and forest peoples. They would sooner have their traditional, native seeds and healthful diet that they have developed (and should have patent protection rights to) over millennia. What agricultural biotechnology advocates are promising them is not what is needed to alleviate world hunger. What Conway advocates is not needed because it is socio-economically unsound, culturally invasive, and fosters dependence rather than self-reliance.

Klaus Leisinger, head of Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (a leading life science multinational corporation) attacks critics of ag.biotech on moral grounds, saying "To turn a blind eye to 40,000 people starving to death every day is a moral outrage," and that, "we have an ethical commitment not to lose time" in implementing transgenic technology. Such emotional blackmail to promote ag.biotech does not go unchallenged. Miguel Altieri, professor of ecology at U.C. Berkeley contends, " The major technical advances in transgenics don't have anything to do with helping the developing world to produce more food.

Regardless of increasing public opposition, India is one developing country that is investing in transgenic crop research and is seeking an equitable profit-sharing licensing agreement with Monsanto.

It would be tragic indeed if the Precautionary Principle is ignored and developing countries adopt ag.biotech as a technofix that, like the first Green Revolution, will result in more harm than good. But desperation, greed and misguided humanitarianism may hold sway over caution and alternative solutions to world hunger and poverty.

The technofix of irradiating meat to control food borne pathogens, approved by the US government in December 1999, is a clear example of how we seek a quick solution to a problem and rather than correcting the causes, we treat the symptoms. This is bad medicine and when it is applied to solving such major concerns as food security, food safety and quality, the short-term benefits, as exemplified by the Green Revolution with its wholesale use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hybrid seeds and antibiotic feed additives for livestock, will be far outweighed by the eventual risks and costs.

We cannot continue to put our faith in science and new technologies, like ag.biotech without the predictive, precautionary, prescriptive and prescient precepts of global bioethics: A global bioethics motivated by Earthcare, Healthcare, Peoplecare and Animalcare.

We are quickly obliterating the last of the wild, of the tangibly sacred in Nature, a process now being accelerated by industrialism, global capitalism, and agricultural biotechnology, as well as by overpopulation, poverty and dire human need. The tokenism and patronage of giving wildlife a few sanctuaries, national parks, and so-called wilderness areas, and then harm these islands of biodiversity by destroying and polluting continguous ecosystems need to be seen as bad medicine too.

We can't have healthy and viable wildlife preserves if their ecosystems are being polluted, especially by agrichemicals, or deprived of water used to irrigate cash crops. That pollen and other biochemical and genetic breakdown products of new genetically engineered crops may contaminate the life streams in wildlife and biodiversity preserves, and also organic and conventional crops, is pause for concern; and accountability and liability for those who, enchanted by this new technology, believe it can help feed the hungry world.

If ag.biotechnology is unleashed in developing countries, it will displace the last of indigenous seeds, crops, diets, sustainable economies and peoples. The poor and ever rising population that does not migrate to urban slums or refugee camps will stay in rural areas, encroaching and otherwise decimating wildlife sanctuaries. Like human and bovine TB ravaging wildlife in some of East Africa's parks, along with the dioxins, pesticides, and other poisons in the rain from both local sources and from remote industrial regions of the world, the next wave of genetic pollution by the pollen and "naked" recombinant DNA of transgenic crops with new recombinant viral diseases affecting conventional crops, wild plants, and various animal species that consume these plants, must be prevented. We must put Earth first, without delay.

Addendum

In a statement by the International Movement for Ecological Agriculture held in Penang, Malaysia, the following comments were made on the Green Revolution:

The Failure of the Green Revolution

Modern intensive agriculture has conspicuously failed to increase food production and to meet global food and nutrition needs. The claim that the Green Revolution has led to higher crop yields is highly exaggerated and does not reflect a fair and complex comparison with more ecologically sound systems:

These claims are usually based on the measurement of yield as defined per acre or hectare of land. However, if one takes into account the hidden costs on input subsidies and nonrenewable resources, and the costs of ecological damage (leading to lower yields after some time) and furthermore, measure yield against high fertilizer and water costs, then the Green Revolution techniques are highly inefficient. In contrast, the economic soundness is striking of traditional and ecologically better varieties.

Even more seriously, the Green Revolution measurement of output is flawed because it only accounts for a single crop (e.g., rice) and even then only a single component of that crop (e.g., grain) whilst neglecting the uses of straw for fodder and fertilizer. Thus, it neglects to take into account that there were many other biological resources (e.g., other crops, other no-grain uses of the measured crop and fish) within the same land in the traditional system that were reduced or wiped out with the Green Revolution. If output is measured in terms of total biomass, a more realistic picture of the performance of the Green Revolution will emerge.

Although yields of food crops in total have increased, less food is available to local populations. There are several reasons for this:

There has been an increase in a few cereals (a large volume of which is fed to cattle in the North) at the expense of pulses and other crops;

The increased dependency of Third World farmers and countries on intensive inputs has led to indebtedness and the breakdown of self-sufficiency;

Much of the increased food production is exported, thus denying the food to local people;

Many areas planted with "high-yielding varieties" (which are actually "high-response varieties" to the applied inputs, including chemical fertilizers and pesticides) are now experiencing diminishing returns;

Ecological degradation is leading to reduced yields and to the abandonment of many areas of agricultural land;

Losses during storage have increased markedly in many areas;

The low prices paid for farm produce and the high prices charged for food in the shops, combined with increased levels of indebtedness, ensure that many farmers cannot afford to buy sufficient food for their families.

Postscript

At a Congressional briefing on agricultural biotechnology on January 24, 2000, I challenged briefing participant Gordon Conway with two basic questions:

  1. How can agricultural biotechnology and genetically engineered crops be justified as necessary to feed people in developing countries when there is a wide variety of diverse, traditional seed and crop varieties that could be used; and,

  2. What are the risks of genetic pollution by genetically engineered crops in biodiversity hot spots. Conway avoided answering the latter question and contended that all new agricultural technologies, including biotechnology, should be used to help feed the poor and hungry.

In his final remarks, he intimated that the adoption of traditional crop varieties was akin to going back to the Stone Age. When asked by another briefing participant, organic agriculture advocate Patrick Holden, Director of the UK Soil Association, if he felt that genetically engineered foods should be subject to rigorous safety testing, Conway refused to answer.

Briefing participant Dr. Calestous Juma from Kenya, who currently is a visiting scholar at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, was adamant in believing that genetically engineered crops will alleviate world hunger. As a former Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Juma expressed concern that the UN Biosafety Protocol was being used by some countries to block access of developing countries to biotechnology and that this Protocol should not confound food security issues with environmental safety concerns.

The enchantment of some representatives from developing countries with Western technology, and with agricultural biotechnology in particular, as a "technofix" to help feed their growing populations, is understandable, if not an inevitable consequence of their Western post- graduate education and academic affiliations, which are closely linked with Western corporate and political interests, as Sheldon Krimsky has documented.

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Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign, for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596 email: rwolfson@concentric.net

Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items. Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 (USD for those outside Canada) for 12 months, payable to "BanGEF" and mailed to the above address. Or see website for details.