21 March 2000

Table of Contents

One in five products in survey contain GE crops
Mike Moore (WTO) speaks
A Call for Sharing of Research Causes Gene Stocks to Plunge
GM crops -- are they safe ?
Why Greens Should Love Pesticides
Exclude Human Genes from patent system
double standard
Arguments for GE Food Withdrawal
Food industry rises to the demand for non-GM food
Moments of Shocked Silence About Biotechnology
Tests spark fears of genetic underclass
Hawaii: Planned invasion of biotech trees
Monsanto website discusses horizontal gene flow from canola

Top NextFront Page

Date: 16 Mar 2000 12:29:57 U

One in five products in survey contain GE crops

South China Morning Post Hong Kong, Mar 16, 2000, © 1999, NewsReal, Inc.

High level of modified food on sale

A call for speedier labelling of genetically modified food was made by the Consumer Council yesterday.

The appeal came as the council released a survey that found one in five supermarket products studied contained genetically modified ingredients.

In a survey of 105 food products likely to use the most commonly modified crops such as soya beans, corn and tomatoes, 21 were found to have genetically modified contents.

The nine products with the most genetically altered ingredients had from three to 50 per cent, including three baby formulas.

Abbott Laboratory's Isomil Soy Protein Infant Formula had the top reading, 50 per cent, followed by Campbell's Golden Corn soup and Nissin Demae Ramen Instant Noodle, at 30 per cent each.

The percentage refers to the proportion of - for example - modified soya bean to total soya content in any given food product.

"In the absence of long-term safety testing, the effect of genetically modified food on humans and the environment is unforeseeable," the council's publicity and community relations committee chairman Dr Lo Chi-kin said. "There are concerns over the possibility of unknowingly introducing allergens to genetically modified crops.

"Due to ethnic culture or religion, some consumers may want to avoid food crops with animal genes inserted. Though there are no known food crops on the market with animal genes, these products could be available in future."

Dr Lo said consumers had the right to know and urged the Government to speed up labelling research and introduce laws.

Twelve other products in the survey had low levels of modified content, ranging from 0.05 to 0.2 per cent, which may have been due to contamination in production.

The Department of Health last night said: "There is not yet any scientific proof that genetically modified food is unsafe for human consumption, and as such the public need not be alarmed over the reported presence of genetically modified foods on the local market.

"In cases where soya-based infant formulas are prescribed on medical grounds, the benefit of taking soya-based infant formula with genetically modified ingredients far outweighs its theoretical risk."

Baby-food makers Mead Johnson and Wyeth, whose formulas respectively contained three and 10 per cent modified ingredients, said it would phase them out, starting this month.

Abbott said last night: "Abbott products meet very specific quality-control specifications and are manufactured to exacting regulatory and industry standards. Consumer and health professionals can be assured Abbott products are safe and meet the special health or nutritional needs for which they are designed."

Greenpeace campaigner Lo Sze-ping urged the Government to introduce labelling laws soon, but health authorities said this was unlikely until 2003.

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Date: 16 Mar 2000 04:37:36 U
From: Robert Mann

Mike Moore (WTO) speaks

I socked the WTO chief - who used to quote me approvingly on nuclear weapons - my 'The Selfish Commercial Gene' and a few terse comments about what the WTO should do regarding GEOs. Here is his reply.



25 February 2000

Dear Robert,

Thank you very much for your good wishes and your message concerning genetically-engineered crops. I have read your thoughtful paper with great interest.

I fully agree that authoritative public inquiry, ongoing scientific monitoring, transparency and informed public discussion are of the essence in regard to genetic engineering. You can also rest assured that the WTO will not become a "major promoter" of this technology. In fact, it is not the role of the WTO to condone, or condemn, any particular technology. This does not mean, however, that the issue is side-stepping Geneva.

To date, discussions in the WTO on GE crops have been very limited, and more importantly, there have been no legal challenges using the WTO's dispute settlement system. In accordance with the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), New Zealand and other countries have notified their labelling requirements for GE foods. The TBT Agreement allows governments to impose mandatory technical regulations and voluntary standards, as well as procedures to judge conformity, when these are necessary for any legitimate objective. Informing consumers about the contents of their food is considered to be a legitimate objective, as is environmental protection.

However, governments are supposed to give advance notice of their intention to put in place such regulations, and take into account comments from interested parties. Following notification of GE labelling requirements, some countries have raised their concerns and questions at meetings of the TBT Committee. The rationale for the labelling requirements, enforcement difficulties and other questions have been discussed. However, there have been no proposals to prohibit such labelling requirements under WTO rules, and frankly, such a scenario is highly unlikely.

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) recognizes the right of governments to restrict international trade when necessary to ensure food safety, protect animal or plant health, and protect the territory of a country from undesirable "pests". The SPS Agreement requires that such measures be based on a risk assessment or an internationally developed standards, but governments have the right to decide what level of risk they will accept. The SPS Agreement allows governments to take precautionary actions where there is insufficient scientific evidence for a risk assessment.

In such cases, the measures should be provisional, while the government seeks further scientific evidence and, in light of this, reviews its regulation. However, there is no indication of how long a "provisional" measure may be in place, nor what is a "reasonable period of time" for a government to review its measure. (You may be interested to know that the predecessor of the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was technically a "provisional" agreement throughout its 47-year lifespan.). However, the only discussions about GE crops which have occurred in the SPS Committee have been in the context of the negotiation of the Biosafety Protocol. In September 1998, the SPS Committee invited the secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity to an informal meeting to provide information on the status of the negotiations at that time.

We are, of course, very well aware of both the commercial and public interest in GE foods, and of their potential for becoming a major trade issue. My staff are closely following the consideration of GE products in the various international fora, including the recently concluded Biosafety Protocol negotiations, the work of the OECD and that of the FAO and WHO.

In the context of the proposed new round of trade negotiations, Japan, Canada and the United States have separately suggested that the WTO should establish a working group to examine the issue of international trade in GE products and the extent to which existing WTO rules might apply. I personally see considerable merit in such an exercise, because there is a need for more discussion, education and exchange of views among our member governments on this matter. Following the ill-fated Seattle meeting, however, the proposal remains in limbo, awaiting the appropriate time to make its reappearance.

It was very good to have heard from you. Please extend my best wishes to Dr [a mutual friend].

Warm regards,

Yours sincerely,

Mike Moore

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Date: 17 Mar 2000 03:25:32 U
From: Robert Mann

Please note the very important quote

The biotechnology companies have yet to prove their ability to translate their research into revenues, much less profits.

And watch that lad Haseltine; he realises

raw genomic data "has no practical use," an observation that he termed "the biggest untold secret of the human genome project." When researchers with the public consortium published the first DNA sequence of a human chromosome in December last year, he said, "No new medical discoveries were made and no new genes were found"

- right on the ball, a mere year or so after I started saying similarly.

These 'genome projects', whether for human or Arabidopsis, are of extremely dubious utility.

As I keep saying, these gene-jockeys make the nookluhluh boys look rational & honest.

Do not be dazzled by obscurantism!


A Call for Sharing of Research Causes Gene Stocks to Plunge

By ALEX BERENSON and NICHOLAS WADE, New York Times, March 15, 2000

President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain said yesterday that the sequence of the human genome should be made freely available to all researchers. The statement led to a sharp sell-off in the stocks of biotechnology companies, which hope to profit by creating drugs based on genetic data.

The White House quickly said it did not intend to hurt the fledgling biotechnology industry, but investors who have made biotechnology stocks the darlings of the market were unconvinced. In frantic selling, they wiped away tens of billions of dollars in market value from the industry. Genomics companies, which are racing to produce a database of human DNA, were hit hardest, with some off more than 20 percent.

The drop was not confined to the biotechnology sector. After briefly passing 5,000 in morning trading, the Nasdaq composite index, which is heavily weighted in technology stocks, fell steadily. The index closed at 4,706.63,down 200.61 points, its second-largest point loss ever.

For investors, the drop is noteworthy, because biotechnology and Internet companies have led the stock market so far this year, while most other stocks have languished. Despite falling almost 13 percent yesterday, the Nasdaq biotech index remains up almost 30 percent this year, thanks to investors' belief that a new wave of drug discovery and gene therapy is imminent.

Because of the rapid run-up, the stocks are expensive by all traditional valuations. The joint statement from Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair, which said the genome data "should be made freely available to scientists everywhere," served as a spark for excitable investors.

Dr. Roy Whitfield, chief executive of Incyte Pharmaceuticals, which shed 28 percent of its market value during the day, said investors failed to distinguish between genome sequences and gene sequences. The genome, referring to the total human DNA, has no commercial value and cannot be patented. The genes, which occupy only 3 percent of the genome, can be. Researchers can work on the sequences of patented genes in academic work and have to pay license fees only if they wish to sell an invention based on the sequence.

The two leaders' statement, which was eight months in the making, is an outgrowth of the longstanding rivalry between a public consortium of American and British academic centers and the Celera Corporation of Rockville, Md., to complete the sequence of the human genome. The consortium, largely financed by the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust of London, is posting its findings daily on a Web site open to all. Celera, a unit of the PE Corporation, promises to make its version of the human genome freely available when it is finished, probably this summer.

Celera plans to patent some genes, but its principal business plan is to operate a database of the human and other genomes, charging fees for use of the programs that search and analyze the genetic data. The statement was intended to codify the government position in the rivalry, that the human genome sequence should be made publicly available to all researchers, but it appears to have been interpreted as a challenge both to Celera's intellectual property rights and to those of other genome and biotech companies. A White House official said neither challenge was intended, noting the statement explicitly endorsed intellectual property protection for patents based on genes.

The statement cuts across a complicated two-way rivalry between the public consortium and Celera, and between Celera and its two chief rivals, Incyte Pharmaceuticals and Human Genome Sciences. Both the consortium and Celera aim to sequence the human genome, which means determining the order of the three billion chemical units in the DNA, the genetic information possessed by each human cell.

The strategy of Incyte and Human Genome Sciences is to focus on the genes themselves, patenting as many as possible. The genes, the programming instructions that operate the cell, are hidden in the DNA, with no obvious signposts, and are hard to find even when the genome sequence is known.

Incyte's stock fell $53.50, to $143.50, while Human Genome's stock fell $29.04875, to $123.51625. Meanwhile, Celera fell $39.75, to $149.25. The government statement adds to the tension between the public consortium and Celera, which last week announced that it had effectively broken off merger negotiations.

Celera and its president, Dr. J. Craig Venter, have long been at odds with the leading scientists of the public consortium, chiefly Dr. John Sulston of the Sanger Center in Britain and Dr. Robert Waterston of Washington University in St. Louis.

Before merger talks broke off, the public consortium proposed that both sides abandon what it called "the current antagonism and excessive competition." The initiative for the statement issued today is believed to have come from the Wellcome Trust, a medical-research charity, in London. Dr. Michael Dexter, Wellcome's director, said the trust's concern was over the general ownership of the genome, which in his view "is mankind's, and should not be owned by any one company, individual or country."

Denying that the statement was aimed at any person or company, he said the raw sequence – the string of chemical units making up the genome – was not patentable and that the trust "would fight any patents based on sequence if they obstruct academic work and progress." Dr. Venter, however, indicated that he thought Celera was a target of the statement, but unfairly so.

"We are puzzled by the statement and we think it represents the lack of insight and the confusion that has been generated out there," he said. "Our business is not in patenting the genome or tying it up." Dr. Venter reiterated his previous position that Celera would make available the sequence of the human genome when it was finished, and said the onus was on the rivals Incyte and Human Genome Sciences to make their data public. "I agree with the President and Tony Blair that Incyte and H.G.S. should publish their data," he said.

Both Dr. Dexter and Rachel E. Levinson, a senior official at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the joint statement acknowledged intellectual property rights. Ms. Levinson said nothing in the statement challenged existing patent law.

She said she was "very concerned and upset" about the reactions on Wall Street. She said that Dr. Neal Lane, the White House science adviser, believed the statement would not affect Celera because of Celera's known intent to publish the human genome sequence.

Dr. William Haseltine, the chief executive of Human Genome Sciences, said he agreed with today's statement because raw genomic data "has no practical use," an observation that he termed "the biggest untold secret of the human genome project." When researchers with the public consortium published the first DNA sequence of a human chromosome in December last year, he said, "No new medical discoveries were made and no new genes were found."

The reason, he added, was that the computer programs for finding genes were still far less efficient than the method pursued by his company, one based on short DNA sequences called "expressed sequence tags" or E.S.T.'s.

The E.S.T. approach exploits the fact that humans may not be able to spot the genes in the genome but human cells surely can. They regularly make transcripts of the genes whose information is needed to synthesize the cell's various proteins. Researchers can capture and analyze these transcripts, known as messenger RNA, and from just a small portion of their sequence can identify the corresponding part of the gene from which they come. These little snippets of genes – the E.S.T.'s – are the basis of gene-searching approaches used by Human Genome Sciences and Incyte. The Patent and Trademark Office has issued some patents based on E.S.T.'s alone, but any such patents seem likely to be weaker than patents based on full-length genes.

According to figures released by Human Genome Sciences, Incyte leads in the human gene patent race with 353 United States patents issued, followed by Human Genome Sciences (114 patents), SmithKline Beecham (60), the United States government (49), the University of California (46) and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (45).

The biotechnology companies have yet to prove their ability to translate their research into revenues, much less profits. Yet these stocks helped drive the Nasdaq composite to an 86 percent gain last year, the best performance by a major index ever in the United States. By traditional valuation standards, the Nasdaq is extraordinarily expensive, leaving some analysts worried that it is overdue for a sharp drop. The average Nasdaq stock trades at well over 100 times expected 2000 earnings, and some large Internet and computer stocks trade at unheard-of price-earnings multiples of 500 or more.

A drop in the biotech and computer highfliers could shake the broader stock market, analysts said, which has already been rattled by the Federal Reserve's recent increases in short-term interest rates, analysts said. For the year, the Dow Jones industrial average is down more than 14 percent, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index is off 7.5 percent, while the Nasdaq is up 16 percent.

Douglas Cliggott, United States equities analyst at J. P. Morgan, called the market "very fragile" because the stocks that are driving it higher are already so expensive. "We see the kinds of price-earnings multiples that the Nasdaq's trading at as being absolutely, positively unsustainable," said Mr. Cliggott, who turned cautious in January. Yesterday, broader indexes followed the Nasdaq down. After spending most of the day up, the S.& P. slipped 24.47 points to 1,359.15, a 1.8 percent drop.

The Dow industrials fell 135.89 points, or 1.4 percent, to 9,811.24. Analysts who have dared to be bearish have been wrong for the last five years. Byron Wien, chief United States investment strategist for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, said the Nasdaq was very volatile and that investors might shrug off this decline as simply a buying opportunity. "We've had bad days in the Nasdaq before, and they've snapped right back," Mr. Wien said. "What we have to see is whether the 'buy the dips' mentality."

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

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Date: 17 Mar 2000 15:10:51 U
From: "j.e. cummins"

GM crops – are they safe ?

By Prof. Joe Cummins
738 Wilkins Street, London, Ontario N6C4Z9
Telephone 519 681 5477    e-mail:
March 18,2000

Total Health Convention
Metro Toronto Convention Centre

What are genetically modified (GM) foods and crops? GM foods and crops are products of the laboratory whose fundamental genetic make-up has been altered using genetic engineering. Genes from bacteria, viruses or animals including human have been introduced the genetic make-up of seeds of the crops that make up GM food.

What is substantial equivalence? Substantial equivalence is the doctrine that maintains that if GM crops are grossly similar in composition to crops that have not been genetically modified they are equivalent to those crops and need not be labeled in the market and they need not be tested similarly to the test required for pesticides or pharmaceutical drugs. When it is found that crops are not substantially equivalent , as for example, peer reviewed and published studies showing that herbicide tolerant soy are deficient in important nutrients, the phytoestrogens, or studies showing that the Bt toxin in insect resistant corn, potato and cotton is an allergen the government does not remove the crops from the market. The government definition of substantial equivalence seems to include a caveat requiring that studies showing that GM crops are not substantially equivalent should be ignored and withheld from public scrutiny.

What is the Precautionary Principle? The precautionary principle was established internationally in the Montreal Conference on Biodiversity. It is essentially an agreement that GM crops should be proven safe for humans and the environment to be allowed to be marketed internationally. The precautionary principle supersedes the assumption of substantial equivalence. However, many Canadian bureaucrats like to pretend that the precautionary principle is just another way of saying substantial equivalence.

What are the issues concerning GM food? The main issues surrounding GM foods are mandatory labeling and testing GM crops to the level employed in testing pharmaceutical drugs and pesticides. Employment of labeling and adequate testing would stop most concerns over GM crops and food. Labeling not only provides freedom of choice to consumers but also provides the only way that injury from such crops can be identified in the human population using epidemiology.

Are GM foods safe? There is growing evidence that the government is not prepared to deal promptly with findings that reflect on the safety of GM crops to people and the environment. Many newspaper articles and television reports include the comment critics of GM foods agree that there is no evidence that the crops are harmful. The critics quoted seem to have been cooked-up in the newsrooms. There is clear evidence reported in peer reviewed scientific journals showing that several GM crops are potentially hazardous to humans and the environment.

Which foods are GM? The food crops now on the market that are genetically modified include corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil and potato. Processed foods all contain some GM components from processed soy, corn, canola or cotton seed oil. Other than potato (only Russet Burbank) produce is free of GM components but that situation may change soon because a number of fruits and vegetables have been approved for release to the market. One of the most fool-hardy releases is the potato with the Bt gene for insect resistance and virus component genes inserted to inhibit virus replication.

Such virus component genes are known to recombine with invading virus to produce new and more virulent viruses. An avalanche of new hand hazardous GM crops has been approved in Canada and many of these crops seem to be forms that have been considered too dangerous for release elsewhere including the United States. The government bureaucracy is so devoted to GM technology that they are willing to put the population and agriculture at grave risk. Such releases do little to improve the export market for agricultural products. Which actions for GM? First, support organic agriculture; next, make certain government ( controlled by multinationals) does not declare GM crops to be the only valid organic crop.

In a related vein, gene therapy ( treatment of disease using altered genes) has recently faced disturbing revelations about the death of experimental subjects many of whom did not appear to have been properly appraised of the risks that they faced. Gene therapy has cost billions and used hundreds of human subjects without having produced an effective cure for any disease. Those scientists and academic administrators who fail to properly appraise experimental subjects of their risks ,then see their subjects die , face little retribution other than mild bureaucratic constraints.

Similarly, scientists and government bureaucrats who recklessly promote dangerous GM crops face little or no retribution when their experiments cause human death or severe damage to the environment. I believe that far more regard for human subjects who be shown by scientists and bureaucrats if they faced criminal charges , such as depraved indifference, when their experiments cost human life or severely damage the environment.

A Few References

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Date: 18 Mar 2000 10:21:18 U
From: "Ericka & Rich Dana"

Why Greens Should Love Pesticides

Greens Wouldn't Like A World Without Pesticides, Chemicals

By Dennis Avery, Wall Street Journal, Aug-12-1999

Through their attacks on agricultural chemicals, environmental activists are shooting themselves in the foot, say farming specialists. Their efforts to stamp out pesticides, for example, will jeopardize both food security and wildlands conservation – all in the name of eliminating food risks we can't even verify.

Hybrid seeds, irrigation, chemical fertilizers and pesticides triggered a revolution in agriculture resulting in enough food to feed the world. Global food security has led Third World couples to stop having children once two or three are born, rather than six or 16 – because they know their children will live to maturity and not starve.

Since we are currently feeding more than twice as many people as lived in 1950 – and doing so on the same 37 percent of the planet's land area that we farmed then – wildlands have been preserved from agricultural development.

Higher crop yields have saved more than 15 million square miles of wildlife habitat – equivalent to the total land area of the U.S., Europe and South America.

If the world were forced to abandon agricultural chemicals and adopt organic farming, five million to 10 million square miles of wildlife habitat would need to be plowed under immediately.

We've added eight years to the average lifespan since we started using pesticides widely. And after billions of dollar spent trying, not one pesticide-residue cancer victim has been found.

For more on the Environment go to

Dallas Headquarters: 12655 N. Central Expy., Suite 720 - Dallas, TX  75243-1739 - 972/386-6272 - Fax 972/386-0924
Washington Office: 655 15th St. N.W., Suite 375 - Washington, DC 20005 - 202/628-6671 - Fax 202/628-6474 © 1999 NCPA

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Date: 18 Mar 2000 23:44:12 U
From: "Renu Namjoshi"

PRESS RELEASE: March 17, 2000

Contact: Kimberly Wilson, Council for Responsible Genetics (617) 868-0870

Exclude Human Genes from patent system

Council for Responsible Genetics Calls for Excluding Human Genes from the Patent System

Responding to President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair's public statement, The Council for Responsible Genetics reiterated their call for the exclusion of human genes from the patent system. "This is the only path to insure protection for human genes and the human genome from commercial exploitation and private expropriation" said Executive Director Martin Teitel. "The Clinton/Blair statement was helpful, in calling attention to existing policy that publicly released sequence information cannot be patented. Unfortunately the intensity of commercial exploitation through patent monopolies, is generating new risks to our society faster than any potential benefits".

According to MIT molecular biologist and CRG Board member Jonathan King, "Human genes are inherited from our parents and previous generations.. They were not invented by the scientists or corporations who revealed their chemical sequences. The extension of patents to genes is a profound misuse of the patent system and represents the privatization of the common heritage of all humankind".

In the Council¹s just released Genetic Bill of Rights. Article 2 states "All people have the right to a world in which living organisms cannot be patented, including human beings, animals, plants, microorganisms and all their parts."

The Council has collected thousands of signatures of citizens supporting the exclusion of genes and organisms from the patent system. Though not the only form, the leading edge of the privatization of life has been the radical extension of the patent laws to living organisms, their cells, genes and macromolecules, and even natural species. Human Genome Sciences has patented the entire genomes of important bacterial pathogens affecting public health; Myriad Pharmaceutical owns patents on the human genes damaged in breast cancer; Monsanto owns patents on genetically engineered soybeans and cotton varieties;. Rice-Tec corporation has obtained patents on the Basmati rice variety grown in India for thousands of years.

"A patent allows the owner to exclude others from using or benefiting from the patented invention, even if for medical purposes or human welfare" said Kimberly Wilson, who directs the Council¹s Program on Commercial Biotechnology and the Environment... Where the patent is over a form of information, such as encoded in human genes, the holder can prevent others from using this information. The drive for patent monopolies is resulting in forms of the privatization of the living world not previously experienced in human history.

Life patents represent a sharp departure from the historical traditions of human societies. Farmers have always owned the crops they grew, but they had no legal rights to restrict others from growing those crops.

According to Teitel "The Council for Responsible Genetics opposes all forms of the patenting of animals, plants, human beings or any parts or molecules thereof. This will drive up the cost of medicines, retard the progress of biomedical science, generating premature and dangerous interventions in major food crops, open the possibility of egregious violations of human dignity and body in the quest for private gain."

According to Board member and Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky "No individual, institution or corporation should be able to claim ownership over species or varieties of organisms."

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Date: 19 Mar 2000 03:48:55 U
From: Robert Mann

double standard

Ace gene-jockey Tony Conner has just asserted on TVNZ '20/20' some preliminary claims from his experiments at Lincoln (Canterbury, NZ)

Conner says the question for discussion is not the safety but the ethics; he then expounds "I know that animals and plants share most of their genes already, so for that reason I have no difficulty about these experiments".

He proceeded to show a couple of caterpillars on leaves, asserting that one was smaller because of eating a GE insecticide in that leaf.

The question I wish to raise is whether Conner will be attacked & vilified for putting across his claims on TV rather than reporting them in a refereed scientific journal. A senior scientist, Dr Pusztai, was sacked and vilified for summarising on TV damage measured in many organs of rats eating a certain GE potato. Conner's TV announcement does not appear to be based on much evidence at all. But as he is asserting benefit, rather than harm, the Royal Society will not vilify him. This type of bias represents an awful degradation of scientific standards, in the service of commerce.

"If we can help just one MS sufferer . . . " says Phil l'Huiller PhD, who is being held up from his proposed insertion of a human nerve-cell gene into cows not for scientific or ethical reasons but because some Maoris are saying it could be "culturally offensive". At the Dairy Expo I asked this man whether he really believes drinking milk containing a human nerve-cell protein is likely to work as a treatment for MS. His reply, correctly reported in the February 'Dairyman' , was only that he hoped it will.

The GE bubble is bursting - in slow motion, no doubt, but surely.


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

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Date: 19 Mar 2000 08:21:47 U
From: Jaan Suurkula

"Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology" (PSRAST)

Arguments for GE Food Withdrawal


During this week, 37 more scientists (predominantly) and physicians signed our Open Letter demanding a withdrawal of GE foods"). So the number is now 127. Thank you all who have contributed to this success!

Please help us to convince more scientists and physicians to sign! Here are some brief arguments you can show those who hesitate.

Best regards,

Jaan Suurkula

To You Who Hesitate To Sign

Below a number of objections and brief counterarguments with links to more.


I am not a specialist on this field. I don't feel competent to sign.


  1. The issue is very simple and does not require any specialist competence to understand. It takes only a few minutes of study of the facts to realize why withdrawal is necessary.

    1. It is very obvious that "substantial equivalence" is an invalid unscientific safety criterion (actually being a judical invention to facilitate rapid GE food approval), see ("Substantial equivalence versus scientific food safety assessment").

    2. It is a scientifically established fact that artificial insertion of genes may cause completely unexpected metabolic disturbances that may result in harmful substances, see ("Is

      there enough knowledge about effects of GE foods to make it possible to estimate their safety?"). Recently unearthed secret documents show that this has been recognized even by FDA and EU experts, see"

    3. It is a fact, recognized by all experts, that it is much more difficult to assess the safety of food than to assess drug safety. Over 10% of drugs that "pass" billion dollar safety assessment programs still turn out to have serious side-effects, see ("No safety assessment methods are fully reliable"). Only very careful long term studies can detect harmful substances in GE foods. - The very superficial testing, accepted in the case of substantial equivalence is completely unreliable. Yet, all GE foods on the market have been approved on the basis of such testing.
    "Potentially disastrous effects may come from undetected harmful substances in Genetically Modified Foods." (Dr Andrew Chesson, vice chairman of European Commission scientific committee on animal nutrition and formerly an ardent advocate of food biotechnology. Daily Mail, UK, 13 Sept 1999).

  2. This open letter is meant to be a demonstration by qualified professionals with academic background. Biotech advocates and PR firms have worked hard to make governements believe that GMO resistance is only an expression of consumer ignorance and irrational fears for new technologies. Our letter disqualifies this key argument and points to scientific reasons for withdrawal.

  3. Very few specialists dare to sign because a large part of the research related to the issue is sponsored by the biotech industry. To backup them, we need the participation of a large number of qualified professionals with academic background.


I am confused. - Some leading scientists say that it has not been proven that GE foods are harmful.


This is a dishonest, seriously misleading and irrelevant argument. What is relevant is that it has not been proven that GE foods are harmless. For example DDT caused extensive damage worldwide because it was released although is was not proven that it was harmless. Leading scientists are the prime cooperation targets for biotech companies, and cannot be trusted uncritically in this issue. Go by the facts, not by "authorities", see also ("Dysfunctional science - Towards a "pseudoscientific world order?").


But these foods may contribute to save millions of people from hunger.


This is not true. Even biotech advocates now admit that none of the present GE foods are of any significant value to mankind. The biotech propaganda has created confusion in using potential usefulness of future GE foods as arguments for approving present useless foods, see ("The GE-foods developed so far are of no significant value for mankind). It is an unproven hypothesis that future GE foods may reduce world hunger.


But the advocates say GE crops are more friendly to the environment, requiring less use of herbicides and pesticides.


This has been a major selling argument, which in practice has not turned out to be true according to recent studies. See for example

  1. the recent report of World Wildlife Fund,">("WWF Report: GE & Pesticides").

  2. ("Genetically Engineered Roundup Ready Soy crops less profitable than conventionally bred varieties"). - Over 8000 university-based field studies finds lower yields and increased use of herbicide compared to conventionally bred soy.

BUT MOST IMPORTANT: Even if the GE crops were more friendly to the environment, this would not justify the exposition of millions of people to unknown health hazards from eating them.


"I agree with all this but I think withdrawal is not realistic."


Our role is to inform governments what is the only logical and responsible decision to make on the basis of scientific facts. The feasibility of withdrawal is completely irrelevant in this context. It would give the governments completely misleading signals if we demanded anything less. Our letter provides important support to increasing worldwide consumer demands for withdrawal. Already, the GE-advocating governments have been forced to change their policy considerably.

Jaan Suurkula M.D.

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Date: 20 Mar 2000 14:48:44 U

Food industry rises to the demand for non-GM food

The Guardian, 2000-03-20, © 2000, NewsReal, Inc.

The food industry is to advise supermarkets and processing companies how to secure supplies of conventionally grown crops in response to the consumer demand for products without genetically modified ingredients.

It hopes to encourage new deals with soya and maize growers in the US who have resisted pressure to switch to GM production, in order to ensure a broad range of products remains free of GM material.

The proposals for new standards on sourcing from non-GM crops comes days after the government decided to press ahead with farm- scale trials of GM crops in England and Scotland.

It represents a massive shift in attitude for the industry which two years ago claimed it was virtually impossible to segregate non- GM soya from the new strains during stor age, transport and processing.

Soya is in about 60% of all processed foods, including biscuits, soft drinks, ready-made meals, bread, chocolate and baby food while maize is found in baby food, crisps, confectionery and a variety of snacks.

Many supermarkets such as Iceland have already moved to protect some non-GM supplies but the British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation are to consult members on measures to stop contamination of conventionally prepared ingredients.

These will cover use of separate storage and transportation, cleaning and inspection of equipment, and documentary proof of non- GM status.

An industry insider said: `During the last year it has become clear consumers do not see any benefit in having GM soya or maize in their food and it is becoming the task of UK manufacturers to source from conventional crops. Even if some 60%-plus of the American harvest was GM, there is still a hell of a lot of non-GM.'

Last year Britain probably imported about 2m tonnes of US soya, only a small part of the 78m tonne American harvest, but the industry does not know how much of this was non-GM. It now plans to discriminate between GM and non-GM supplies from the US and countries such as Brazil and Argentina.

The industry bodies say their job has been made easier by the European Union allowing 1% accidental contamination before manufacturers are compelled to label their food as containing GM material. The new standards under the voluntary code will not allow companies to call their products GM-free since some emulsifiers and processed oils used in food production are derived from GM sources but are refined to such a degree that GM material is undetectable.

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Date: 20 Mar 2000 17:14:19 U

Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College. More about Donella Meadows. Her column appears each Friday in Tidepool

Moments of Shocked Silence About Biotechnology

By Donella Meadows, posted-3.17.00

Biotech stocks plummeted this week as President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair requested that companies make their data on the human genome public.

Private firms are racing madly to read and patent the genetic code that makes you you and me me. They are trying to beat publicly funded labs, which are required as a condition of their grants to publish the gene sequences they unravel. One company, Celera Genomics, is funded by drug companies with the understanding that the funders will see the code before anyone else does.

If it strikes you as alarming that private investors can patent and keep secret and sell something that sits within every cell of your body, you ought to pay much closer attention to the new, jaw-dropping biotech industry. I have just spent several weeks with my students listening to biotech enthusiasts, critics, and a lot of folks in between. There were three particular moments I'd like to tell you about, all of them moments of stunned silence.

The first came when we heard from an ecologist who sits on a USDA panel that approves the release of genetically engineered crop plants. Of the 71 applications currently pending, one is for the implantation of the gene by which scorpions make their toxin. Splice that gene into a plant, and anything that nibbles on a leaf, from woodchucks to bugs, falls down dead. Of course people who eat the plant fall down dead too, so there must also be a package of genes to turn the scorpion gene on and off. Turn it on in the roots and leaves and stems, turn it off in the flower and fruit.

But what happens to the poison, the students asked, when roots or leaves decompose in the soil? What happens if the turn-off gene doesn't work infallibly? Would we have to check every fruit or grain for traces of scorpion poison?

Don't know, said the ecologist.


The second moment came when a geneticist described a new rice with a pasted-in gene that allows the plant to make and store beta-carotene, the yellow pigment from which our bodies make vitamin A. Thousands of poor children in Asia, who eat little but rice, go blind or die for lack of vitamin A. The "golden rice" could solve that problem.

A hand went up, and one of the students asked, "Why not just splice the beta-carotene gene into the child?"


Finally another visiting expert said, "Within five years that could be possible. Fasten your seat belts."

More silence.

I guess everyone's mind was racing as mine was. I was picturing golden children. Then I thought, why not splice in the gene for chlorophyll while we're at it, and just send the kids out in the sun to photosynthesize their lunch? Gold-green children.

Moment number three came when I showed the students a documentary called "The Day After Trinity." It's the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the developer of the atomic bomb, told through interviews with some of the great physicists who worked with him at Los Alamos during the Second World War.

The cause was compelling: to stop Hitler. The science was thrilling. The effort was tremendous. The bomb was nearing completion when Hitler surrendered in May, 1945.

That surrender did not cause any slowdown in the work at Los Alamos. There was too much excitement. It was nearly time for the first test, called Trinity, which took place at Alamagordo, New Mexico, on July 16. The scientists said that on that day, as they watched the first atom bomb explosion in history, their reaction was joyous. "It worked!"

Less than a month later, when a similar bomb incinerated 100,000 people at Hiroshima, one scientist said his first thought was, "Thank goodness it wasn't a dud." His second thought was, "Oh my God, what have we done?"

The film ends with Oppenheimer testifying in Washington two decades later. When asked by a senator how to contain the nuclear arms race, Oppenheimer answered, "It's 20 years too late. We should have done it the day after Trinity."

I turned on the lights. The students just sat there. Didn't move. Didn't say a word. I couldn't either.

Geneticists are already cloning sheep and cows and mice and pigs. They can pick out a trait from almost any creature and paste it into any other, and they are on the verge of being able to turn a gene on or off at will. We already plant gene-spliced crops on tens of millions of acres. We can order genes from catalogs. Within a few years we will be able to read the code for our very selves and reach in and tinker with it. It is only a matter of time before hackers appear who think it might be fun, as computer hackers do, to create and release their own viruses.

The stock market is speculating on this stuff. National leaders ask companies, politely, to make their knowledge available to all. We need to do much more that, more than just fasten our seatbelts and go along for the ride. We need to slow down and think together about where this technology is going and who should own it and who should decide.

For genomics it is still the day after Trinity. We don't want or need to have to ask, helplessly, "Oh my God, what have we done?"

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Date: 20 Mar 2000 19:38:43 U

Tests spark fears of genetic underclass

Monday, 20 March, 2000, 17:11 GMT

Tests will reveal predisposition to disease The UK Government is considering allowing insurance companies to use genetic testing to assess a person's risk of inheriting a serious illness.

It means that people with a family history of certain conditions could face higher insurance premiums.

Civil rights groups fear the move could create an underclass of people unable to obtain cover.

One opponent of the wider use of genetic testing said it was part of a "terrifying trend" that would lead to a culture of "cherry picking".

Millionaire businessmen Ivan Massow, who set up his own insurance company for gay people when he discovered they were being charged higher premiums, told BBC News Online the tests were wide open to abuse.

He said: "It will open the door to insurance companies picking off the people they want to insure and ignoring the others."

He said the longer term trend could be to have special rates for the "genetically pure".

The entrepreneur said gay men are already offered a cheaper premium by some companies if they are prepared to take an HIV test and test negative.

He said the logical next step was for insurers to offer someone a better rate if they were prepared to voluntarily take approved genetic tests and came out clean.

Test regulation The government set up the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC) last year following concerns over the possible inappropriate use of genetic tests by insurers or employers.

Some genetic tests are already used by the insurance industry, in that people who have chosen to have them, are asked to provide information about the results.

A spokesman from the Department of Health said the GAIC is assessing the reliability of around 10 genetic tests for illnesses such as breast cancer and cystic fibrosis.

Once the review is completed, later this year, the GAIC will advise ministers who are to make decisions on the use of those tests within areas like the insurance industry.

But he said ministers have not yet made any decisions and he denied newspaper reports that insurers will be able to ask those with a family history of disease to take a test.

Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) also denied reports that the industry planned to introduce genetic tests as an insurance requirement.

He said insurers had "no plans to ask anybody to have a genetic test, regardless of their family history".

He said the issue under discussion was "in what circumstances results from genetic tests that people had chosen to have off their own bat, should be made available to insurance companies".

He said premiums would not automatically go up for positive tests as other factors would be looked at, like an individual's treatment and their lifestyle.

But Mary Francis, also of the ABI, admitted: "If there is evidence that someone might develop a disease, however sad that may be, we have to take that evidence into account."

Higher premiums Insurance premiums are traditionally weighted according to risk. Consumer groups say a positive test for a life-threatening illness could increase premiums dramatically.

Melanie Green of the Consumer's Association said they were concerned that high premiums or exclusive policies may leave some people unable to get insurance at all.

She told BBC Online this was particularly worrying at a time "when people are being asked to provide more and more for their own welfare".

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Date: 20 Mar 2000 22:37:19 U
From: "Renu Namjoshi"

Hawaii: Planned invasion of biotech trees

By Patrick Reinsborough; 19/1/2000; e-mail:
From the World Rainforest Movement's 32nd Bullettin, March, 2000

Genetically modified crops have been hogging the limelight of public opinion due to the controversy arising on their unpredictable consequences on health and the environment. Nevertheless, the genetic engineering of trees has been largely in the shadows. In the meantime, joint ventures of giant corporations were created to carry out research in the tree biotechnology field. This "development" means but the intensification of the prevailing industrial plantation forestry model, which has proved to have negative environmental and social impacts, and which is consequently being resisted worldwide by affected local communities.

One example of such joint ventures is ForBio, a company founded in 1992 and based in Brisbane, Australia, which is developing techniques for "mapping" trees' DNA, which can allow to identify which genes are controlling performance, with the aim of shortening the growing time periods. "We're looking at changing the whole economics of plantation crops", expressed Bill Henderson, the company's cofounder and chief executive.

ForBio formed a joint-venture with Monsanto to conduct field trials in Indonesia. In May 1998 the venture planted more than 50 different clones of a eucalyptus hybrid, which were able to grow so quickly that it was expected they would ready for harvesting for wood chips in only four to five years. Given the complete disregard of the Indonesian authorities with respect to the negative impacts of tree monocultures in general and of genetically-engineered trees in particular, this country seemed to be the ideal place to begin operations.

However, Indonesia's financial crisis hit the company's plans and now its new objective is the breeding of transgenic eucalyptus in Hawaii. In the past years about 200,000 hectares formerly occupied by sugar cane plantations were abandoned in Hawaii. Thus, the local conditions -existing infrastructure, available lands, soil, and climate- seemed perfect to the company which -as usual in these cases- assured that their plantations would again create the jobs lost by the disappearance of sugar cane plantations.

The future is however uncertain. The company is probably unaware that in1997, Friends of Hamakua -a local Hawaiian NGO- together with local farmers and community organizations successfully managed to prevent the implementation of a large eucalyptus plantation and a pulp mill in the Big Island (see WRM Bulletins 3 and 7). If "normal" eucalyptus monocultures generated such opposition, what will the reaction of local people be to the invasion of their lands to these genetically-manipulated trees?

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Date: 20 Mar 2000 22:38:36 U
From: "Jon Campbell"

Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA)
MCGA office: Box 1672, Carman, MB ROG OJO
Ph: (204) 745-2178, Fax: (204) 745-6134 E-mail:

Monsanto website discusses horizontal gene flow from canola

Outcrossing Of Herbicide-Tolerant Canola Can Be Controlled: Growers Have Several Options

by Dr. R. Keith Downey

Pollen flow – or the natural dispersion of pollen – is natural and expected in canola fields. It is important for growers to understand how pollen flow occurs, what can happen and how to effectively manage it to maintain productive yields and a healthy overall environment. In the February edition of Canola Digest, a pioneer in the creation of modern canola and Research, Scientist Emeritus Dr. R. Keith Downey, addresses here pollen flow in canola and how growers can effectively manage a number of considerations for canola growers, including herbicide tolerance.

It is true that the pollen of novel-trait herbicide-tolerant canola plants can outcross to nearby non-herbicide-tolerant canola or canola with other herbicide tolerances. However, the notion that such outcrossing will create a "super weed," indestructible by any herbicide, is false. On the contrary, pollen flow and the resulting outcrossing are manageable. Canola growers need to know how pollen flow occurs, and how to handle it on their own land.

It is well known that western Canadian herbicide-tolerant canola acreage is growing by leaps and bounds. Indeed, we have seen it rise from less than 0.5% of canola acreage in 1995 to 73% in 1999.

With such extensive use of the three herbicide systems, there are many opportunities for pollen from herbicide-tolerant fields to land on unfertilized open flowers of related weeds, conventional canola plants and plants expressing different herbicide tolerances. The possibility and consequences of such outcrossing have been under investigation for several years.

Canola flowers are designed to spread their pollen over great distances by both wind and insects. Although the vast majority of canola pollen falls to the ground within a few metres of its source, a small percentage (5-10 %) becomes airborne and floats like dust particles on the wind.

Researchers in Scotland estimated that under ideal conditions a canola pollen grain could drift as far as 4 km. However, for such pollen to result in seed set, a pollen grain must first land on the stigma of an unfertilized flower, which is a rare event. Canola flowers are also attractive to bees and other pollen-bearing insects that can travel long distances.

To produce certified canola seed that is true to variety, 100 metres of isolation are normally sufficient. By regulation, canola fields for the production of hybrid seed must be isolated from other canola by at least 800 m, and many companies prefer to use about 1,600 m isolation distance. This ensures that no stray pollen fertilizes the female plants that produce no pollen themselves.

A small amount of natural outcrossing can occur between the two canola species and condiment or oilseed mustard, but the concern has been whether canola will cross and share its herbicide tolerance with its weedy relatives.

Canadian and French scientists have shown that natural gene flow between cultivated canola and wild mustard does not occur. Fortunately, in western Canada, wild radish, hoary mustard and black mustard are either absent or rarely found. However, dog mustard is present in many Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan fields.

Crossing studies at the Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) Saskatoon Research Centre in Saskatoon, SK have shown that the possibility of gene transfer from B. napus canola to dog mustard, as well as the survival of any progeny, is extremely low. However, intergenetic crosses between B. rapa canola and dog mustard have been obtained in the greenhouse, and the resulting plant was found to be vigorous. Thus, there is the possibility that a herbicide-tolerance gene could be transferred from a plant of B. rapa canola to dog mustard in some field, some time in the future.

What would be the consequence of a herbicide-tolerance gene escaping into dog mustard? The broad-spectrum herbicide would no longer control the hybrid weed in the field or fields where the cross occurred. This would reduce the effectiveness of the herbicide and allow populations of resistant plants to increase. However, the populations of this weakly competitive weed would be easily controlled in cereal and other crops with phenoxy herbicides.

Reports of canola plants that survive the application of Roundup herbicide, in fields that had not been sown to Roundup Ready canola, have appeared in the press. No one seems to have asked why volunteer plants, tolerant to Liberty or Pursuit/Odyssey, have not also been reported.

The fact is that plants tolerant to Liberty and Pursuit are also present in many fields. However, growers don't recognize such plants because Liberty and Pursuit are not used for chemfallow or spraying around waste places. If Roundup is to be used for chemfallow or killing vegetation around various farm sites, to avoid volunteers tolerant to the new broad-spectrum herbicides, apply a phenoxy herbicide such as 2,4-D together with the Roundup.

Keep to a minimum the number of canola plants that may be tolerant to two or more broadleaf herbicides. Isolate fields with different herbicide systems; do not grow them side-by-side in the same field or across the fence line. To minimize the amount of field-to-field crossing, the current data suggest a minimum of 175 m isolation between fields.

A large-scale monitoring program on field-to-field crossing is under way this year at the AAFC Research Centre under the direction of H. Beckie and G. Seguin-Swartz. Because of the frequency of rainfall, plus the low average temperature and wind velocities during the flowering period, the incidence of field-to-field crossing in 1999 was expected to be very low.