By Victoria Fletcher, UK Sunday Express 18 June
THE Government is on the verge of destroying 10 of its GM trial crops because they have been planted dangerously close to organic farms, the Sunday Express has learned.
New evidence suggests that pollen from GM cereals will infect organic and traditional crops in surrounding areas when the crops ripen in a few weeks.
By Judith Blake,
Sunday, June 18, 2000
Minneapolis When the creamy salad dressing went around the table, somebody made a timely comment: We could be eating a genetically altered food.
Why? Because commercial salad dressings often contain soy lecithin and more than half of today's soybeans are grown from genetically altered seed.
Thanks to Dr. Joe Cummins firstname.lastname@example.org for posting this:
How the Monarch Butterfly Came to be at the Center of the Debate over GM Foods
The Perilous Politics of Science
Native Son Science
Of Monarchs And Straw Men
A Silver Lining
Kristi Coale is an associate with the San-Francisco based Center for Investigative Reporting. Her work is supported by the Fund for Investigative Reporting on the Environment (FIRE).
Until the last year, concerns about the survival of the monarch butterfly were confined to a large but quiet group of researchers, environmentalists, hobbyists and school children. But now the monarch is a potent symbol in the pitched battle over the safety of genetically modified crops. Just how this Lepidoptera wound up at the center of this controversy is a matter of the politics of science and politics in a field of science that has given rise to a multi-billion dollar global industry in pharmaceutical and agricultural products led by U.S. researchers and companies. Consider the following episode:
In May 1999, John Losey published a letter in the journal Nature that described how pollen from corn genetically engineered to produce its own pesticide Bt corn killed monarch butterflies and their larvae in laboratory tests. The publication pushed the Cornell University entomologist into the spotlight as the most prominent example of an independently funded researcher probing the safety of these products.
The report grabbed front-page headlines around the world and invigorated the debate over the safety of genetically engineered foods just as the U.S. public was waking up to the issue. More importantly, Losey's work had a ripple effect it led directly to a formal change in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency policy. Companies developing Bt corn must now submit data to the EPA that demonstrates their corn will not harm the monarch butterfly, its larvae, or other friendly insects before they can put their corn on the market.
With such research leading to federal policy changes, one might think Losey would have little trouble obtaining a grant from the one federal program dedicated specifically to funding research into the environmental impacts of agricultural biotechnology. Unfortunately, this program turned down Losey in late summer 1999.
If independent researchers like Losey are not encouraged to investigate the safety of these products, then who is? According to the current federal law, the companies that develop genetically engineered crops conduct the environmental safety tests at the request of the EPA. With agricultural biotechnology worth between $1.2 and $1.5 billion in global sales (as of 1998), is it in the public interest to allow companies to evaluate their own product's environmental safety when the results of those tests have a direct effect on the company's bottom line? Public confidence in the agricultural system and food supply rests on the credibility of the efforts of the EPA and other regulatory agencies to test new products before they go into the fields and on the market.
But an examination of the events touched off by the publication of Losey's findings which were blown out of proportion to suit the purposes of the different factions involved in the safety debate reveals a regulatory system that is struggling to gain the public trust. This public trust has been hurt by a paternalistic posture adopted by scientists, inequities in funding between general biotechnology research and research that investigates environmental impacts, and a regulatory system that has largely put the industry in charge of policing itself.
Serendipity led Losey to the writing the Nature letter. He was working on a funded project to see how the toxin in Bt corn was affecting the intended victim, the European corn borer, a pest that is responsible for roughly $1.2 billion in annual crop damage. At the same time, the corn borer is a relative of the beautiful and benign monarch butterfly. So when Losey looked down from the corn to see that pollen was dusting nearby milkweed -- the staple of the monarch diet and the prime location for its larvae the Cornell University entomologist was concerned. If that pollen contained the Bt toxin, how would it affect the monarch and its caterpillars, if at all? Losey did this research as an extracurricular activity with no extra funding. He simply took the pollen-laden milkweed into this laboratory and watched what happened to the monarch and its larvae.
When he wrote up his results, Losey made clear that his findings were preliminary he had spent only four days watching the monarchs and the milkweed in his laboratory and he called for additional studies. In short, the Nature report was an open letter from Losey to the scientific community that the effects of Bt corn pollen on the monarch needed further examination.
But what ensued upon publication of Losey's letter was nothing short of a firestorm.
"[Biotechnology] is the baby of the U.S. scientific community and they want it to succeed. So there's a personal defensiveness on this issue that one doesn't see on other issues."
Predictably, anti-GM foods activists took to the streets at various protest rallies dressed as monarch butterflies. Activism also cropped up within the scientific community with many harsh words directed at Losey's report. Industry scientists and academics immediately pointed out that Losey's work was published in Nature's letters section and not as a full-fledged, peer-reviewed scientific paper.
Others took issue with the attention Losey's paper received. Cornell University entomologist Anthony Shelton, writing in the September 1999 issue of Nature Biotechnology with Richard Roush of the University of Adelaide, opined: "We believe that few entomologists or weed scientists familiar with butterflies or corn production (and the control of milkweed) give credence to the Nature article, but the public and its policy makers have reacted in knee-jerk fashion."
This bracing reaction can be chalked up in the view of ecologists and environmentalists like Rebecca Goldburg to the unique status of biotechnology within the scientific community. Biotechnology is U.S. born and bred. The science that gave rise to this industry, microbiology, was created and fostered by chemists and physicists at the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1930s. Microbiology's native-son status has created an atmosphere that is very protective of the science and the industry it spawned, noted Goldburg, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.
"[Biotechnology] is the baby of the U.S. scientific community and they want it to succeed. So there's a personal defensiveness on this issue that one doesn't see on other issues," said Goldburg.
This defensiveness stems from the optimism that sprang from the birth of microbiology, the notion that all of life's problems chronic disease or crop loss due to pests or drought could be solved by manipulating genes or chemicals. It is normal for many scientists to have a protective relationship with this technology and to believe that it is a means to do well. After all, the scientific community welcomed the discovery in 1939 by Paul Hermann Muller that the chemical DDT could be effective as an insecticide. This work by the Swiss scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1948.
So when a scientist like Losey discovers a potential negative side effect of a technology created by a science that is so protected, hackles are raised. "[Losey has] taken a fair amount of criticism from his colleagues at Cornell and elsewhere, but he never oversold the article even in the text of the article," noted John Obricky, an entomologist at Iowa State University who has teamed with Losey to conduct follow-up research.
If nothing else, the tenor of the criticism and activity that have followed Losey's paper show that many people from all sides of the genetically engineered crop debate are taking these findings very seriously.
Perhaps the most prominent party to give credence to Losey's work is the industry that is developing these crops. In the month following the publication of Losey's work, they formed the Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Working Group a consortium that includes Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred, and organizations like the Biotechnology Industry Organization for the expressed purpose of studying the effects of Bt corn pollen on the monarch butterfly.
The goals of this consortium were many. First, it needed to provide U.S. farmers with an answer to the question of whether there would be enough of a market to support their investment in Bt corn for the 2000 growing season. In 1999, Bt corn made up nearly one-third of the U.S. corn acreage. But with countries from Europe to Asia to Latin America calling for trade restrictions on genetically engineered crops, U.S. farmers felt the activity that ensued from the monarch findings provided just another piece of evidence to cast doubt on the economic viability of Bt corn. So one immediate goal of the consortium's study was to define a research project that could be completed and presented by the end of 1999.
Another major aim of the consortium was to answer the questions raised in Losey's report and to do so not with private industry scientists, but by helping to fund a panel of highly reputable public researchers, said Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture with the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
The group was sincere in this pursuit; in fact, it invited Losey to join in the effort to study general issues such as the distance traveled by the Bt pollen from the cornfield and the distribution of the milkweed in and around cornfields. But Losey respectfully declined and continued his pursuit of funding for his own follow up work. "It's not like [the industry group] was trying to put us on something that's not important," explained Losey. "It's just that we felt if they were doing X, someone should do Y, and so we're doing Y."
In presenting its panel's findings at the Chicago symposium, the consortium clearly wanted the media and by association, the public to have as strong reaction in favor of their results as it had demonstrated with Losey's publication. But in shaping the experiment, the working group chose to answer certain questions while omitting others that stemmed from Losey's report. One major question in the minds of scientists following the monarch was how much milkweed is in the corn fields and to what extent do monarchs use this milkweed for their larvae and diet compared to milkweed in other locations. The consortium was not interested in funding this, noted Chip Taylor, an entomologist with the University of Kansas who did join the research panel.
"To give them some credit, it was partly because the [larval development] season was late and things had moved along pretty fast. But I think there was another concern that they weren't certain what answer would come out of that work," explained Taylor, who is also the director of Monarch Watch, an international project he helped launch eight years ago that is dedicated to the conservation of the monarch.
When the consortium presented its findings in November 1999, another agenda surfaced. Losey's report proved to be quite a magnet for media attention and the public reactions that stemmed from the coverage put the industry on the defensive. In presenting its panel's findings at the Chicago symposium, the consortium clearly wanted the media and by association, the public to have as strong reaction in favor of their results as it had demonstrated with Losey's publication.
(And the industry's effort to promote a favorable reaction continues. Just as this story was being published, this reporter received a call from a BIO spokeswoman pointing out the study in the June 5, 2000 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that pollen from a strain of Bt corn did not appear to harm black swallowtail butterflies. In a clear reference to Losey's work, the spokeswoman emphasized that the PNAS findings were the results of, "field studies done under field conditions as opposed to a laboratory study done over a few days.")
The consortium got off to an early start at the symposium. On the November morning of the meeting, before any findings were presented, the working group issued a public statement that scientists were expected to conclude that Bt corn pollen did not harm the monarch.
But when researchers were allowed to speak for themselves at the symposium, their findings on the monarch were less than conclusive. Several scientists made bold statements that the summer's field testing had demonstrated that Bt corn was safer than had been feared. "It's not this toxic pollen cloud out wiping out monarchs and other species," said Stuart Weiss, a Stanford University scientist and a member of the research panel.
Others would raise the issue that these new findings were like Losey's preliminary. Taylor from the University of Kansas pointed out that it was not possible to draw conclusions from any of the data presented on this day. Taylor also brought up the questions left to be answered, including his research proposal to look into how much the monarch used milkweed in cornfields, which was turned down by the industry-backed consortium.
Still, the industry ended the symposium by putting their spin on the situation. "It's been largely reassuring that the worst case scenario has taken a number of body blows today," said Giddings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "It's very difficult to find any data today that would suggest any problem that wasn't already addressed."
Despite the industry efforts, the day's events left the public with a clear picture that scientists were not in agreement on the issue of the environmental safety of Bt corn. The events also left Losey with a firmer resolve to go about his own follow-up work with or without funding.
When scientists want to look into the environmental impacts of agricultural biotechnology, where can they go? For public money, a scientist can turn to various general research grants through the National Science Foundation, the EPA, and the USDA. But most often, researchers investigating the environmental risks of genetically engineered crops turn to the one federal program that is dedicated specifically to this purpose.
The initiative, the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grant Program, provides modest-sized grants ranging from $30,000 for a one-year project to $260,000 for a two- to three-year project to fund about ten research projects annually. Projects that have received funding over the eight years of the program's existence cover a range of agricultural issues including the impact of pesticide-producing crops on soil ecology, the potential for the spread of genetically engineered viruses between plants, and even the behavior of genetically modified fish.
The program is very small relative to other research money the government spends on agricultural biotechnology. The biotechnology risk program was created through a provision in the 1990 farm bill that requires the administrating agency the USDA to set aside 1 percent of its annual research budget for biotechnology for the risk research. This means that of the $88 million it will spend on agricultural biotechnology research in fiscal year 2000, the USDA had to set aside $880,000 to award as grants in this program. In any year, biotechnology makes up about 10 to 11 percent of the USDA's research budget, said John Radin, program leader for plant physiology and cotton in the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
Just about every scientist that looks into the environmental risks of biotechnology knows about the USDA program. That's because it is the only program dedicated to funding this type of research, and so it is very competitive. The reasons why a researcher may be turned away vary, but mostly USDA administrators say the reasons a proposal gets turned down have to do with its scientific merit and the relevance of the work to regulatory scientists looking into the environmental risks of biotechnology. Losey was turned down in 1999 because the review panel felt he needed to look not only at the effects of Bt on the monarch but also at the effects of pesticides on the butterfly.
But there can be other reasons such as the one Joy Bergelson was given last year when her proposal was rejected a second time by this USDA program. Bergelson is the University of Chicago scientist whose August 1998 paper in the journal Science made a big splash because it highlighted the fact that pollen from herbicide resistant mustard plants passed their genetically engineered genes to nearby weeds he intended victims of the herbicide -- rendering the weeds immune to the herbicide.
Bergelson's first proposal was rejected in 1998 because the review panel felt Bergelson needed to look into other factors beyond field research. Bergelson, who has received grants from this program in the past, addressed these concerns and resubmitted her proposal in 1999 only to be rejected again. The reason: The review panel felt that the mustard plant, Arabidopsis, was not interesting enough for such a study.
Ironically, the U.S. government does find Arabidopsis interesting enough to make it one of the major plants that will be sequenced as part of the National Plant Genome Initiative. This public endeavor funded by the National Science Foundation began in late 1998 and has been given $320 million for its first five years. This averages out to $64 million per year just to sequence crops like Arabidopsis, research that should benefit biotechnology companies and agribusiness but won't necessarily find the downside of biotechnology.
So industry has been willing to fund research into risks, but it has its problems. ... "I'm basically solving a problem that will be of benefit to them, but we both know that any work I do with their money is tainted," explained Snow. Where does this leave researchers like Losey and Bergelson after they have been turned down, sometimes twice, for research they want to conduct on the environmental impact of biotechnology? They can turn to industry, which has been willing to spend a lot on agricultural biotechnology research.
According to figures from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agriculture-Biotech Applications, the major agrochemical companies spent $983.2 million on research to develop new crop traits between 1995 and 1998. This money has been spent on in-house endeavors as well as on funding university research. Just how much industry spends investigating the environmental risks of biotechnology is unknown. For the working group research last summer, Giddings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization put the industry contribution to the research panel at $125,000, and that included not only funding but also seeds and other materials provided to scientists.
So industry has been willing to fund some research into risks, but it has a perception problem. Scientists like Allison Snow of Ohio State University say industry understands it can benefit from research that reveals the warts of biotechnology. "I'm basically solving a problem that will be of benefit to them, but we both know that any work I do with their money is tainted," explained Snow, an ecologist who has received funding from the USDA program and who has served on several government panels on agricultural biotechnology.
Industry money to scientists at universities and non-profit research centers also raises the question of whose interests are served by that research. The potential for conflict of interest in industry-funded research is an increasingly popular area of study. For example, researchers in the October 20, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the outcomes of studies on cancer drugs funded by the pharmaceutical companies to the results of studies funded by non-profit organizations. They found that private industry funding was eight times more likely to influence the results of the studies to conclusions that are favorable to industry.
And the same questions arise in other fields, including agricultural biotechnology where industry is, by law, supposed to run the tests that are used by federal regulators to determine whether a product can come to market.
While Losey continues his pursuit of funding, he can find solace in the fact that his one-page study in Nature has, in effect, brought to the attention of a large audience the problems with the regulation of genetically engineered crops.
The publication put the burden on industry to defend its safety testing. "The industry has always asked for regulation, and there are twenty years of scientific studies, including numerous field studies, that ask whether these are safe," said Biotechnology Industry Organization spokesman Charles Craig.
Was this hyperbole? No. Back before genetically engineered crops were put on the market, the EPA looked at data from both the companies and a community of independent researchers that evaluated the potential risk of Bt crops on a host of friendly species including various insects, birds, and even fish. At the same time, it was well known that the target insect of crops like Bt corn, is a relative of the butterfly, and that includes the monarch. So for several years, the USDA has dedicated $100,000 annually to its own in-house research into the effects of Bt corn on butterflies, but this research hasn't focused specifically on the monarch.
But through all of this examination, neither industry nor federal scientists had found quite what Losey did. So when Losey's report hit the presses, industry did not confidently point to the cache of data that existed because they knew they didn't have an answer. Federal regulators knew this, too.
"The Cornell study was one that we took very seriously, and it raised some important scientific questions," explained Stephen Johnson, deputy assistant administrator in the EPA's office of prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances. "There were not studies, there was nothing in the literature that we could rely on that could fully address the questions that Losey's report showed."
Thus, Losey's report became the impetus for the EPA's new data call-in that will affect not only new Bt corn varieties but also the renewals for existing varieties currently on the market. The registrations for the Bt corn currently on the market issued in 1995 are set to expire in 2001. To be sure, environmentalists, ecologists, and other scientists looking into the risks of agricultural biotechnology will be watching the EPA to see what the agency does with these registrations.
Losey's work has also brought about a vast cooperative research effort. Amid the acrimony that took place at the industry-funded symposium last fall, researchers like Losey and Chip Taylor of the University of Kansas had a chance to meet in person and exchange ideas. Out of this exchange has come a coordinated effort to conduct follow up research in a variety of areas pertaining to the monarch and Bt corn pollen. Researchers will work independently on various projects that will receive grants from a one-time pool of money that is being jointly funded by industry and the federal government. What happens to other environmental issues that might not come wrapped in one of nature's most beautiful packages? For this new pool of funding, industry and the USDA are each giving $100,000, and this pool is going to be divided into about twelve different grants. But what's different this time around from the studies that were presented at the Chicago symposium is that industry will have no say in what research is to be done nor in who will receive the grants, said USDA spokeswoman Karen Kaplan.
What is cheering about the events surrounding Losey's report is that they put a user-friendly face the monarch butterfly on the complex world of biotechnology regulation; what is disturbing is that these same events raise questions about what happens to other environmental issues that might not come wrapped in one of nature's most beautiful packages.
Clearly, large sums of money and research muscle are being employed to look into the plight of the monarch. But will this really help the monarch? For the University of Kansas' Taylor, Bt corn pollen is a problem that does need immediate attention, but in the whole world of threats to the monarch, Bt corn does not rate among the top problems. Human-created destruction of the monarch's habitat is the biggest problem by far, said Taylor, and it comes in many forms ranging from mass urbanization to industrial waste.
And what about other environmental consequences of agricultural biotechnology how might the issue with the monarch affect research into these other areas?
The attention given the monarch studies has also focused attention on the shortcomings of agricultural biotechnology regulation and underscored the need for more research, independent of industry influence.
So Losey's study and the reaction it received set the stage for the recent report from the National Academy of Sciences on genetically engineered plants that produce their own pesticides. This report has called specifically for further research into environmental questions including potential harm to the ecology and beneficial species as well as whether intended target pests are building up a resistance to the Bt toxins. The report also asked for the regulatory agencies to better coordinate the safety testing and the data and to make all of this open to the public.
The agencies are ready to comply. In fact, the EPA, which has been working from a set of proposed regulations since 1994, plans to make changes and finalize this regulation within a matter of weeks. Among the key changes is that the agency will include consultations with the public sector regarding decisions on what crops will be allowed onto the market.
Still, the question remains whether the public will decide that these changes, and the actions of industry, are sufficient to protect the food supply and the environment from any adverse effects of genetically engineered crops.
© Copyright 1999-2000 The Florence Fund
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes.
Hear is an update on hearings tomorrow.
Dr. Chopra and Dr. Haydon were among the main scientists whose testimony at the Canadian Senate resulted in genetically engineered bovine growth hormone being denied approval in Canada.
They are still feeling the repercussions. They are not allowed to speak in public about their concerns. They were not even allowed to attend a public meeting on the hazards of genetically engineered foods:
Gag Order Hearings - Drs. Chopra and Haydon
On Tuesday June 20 beginning at 9:30 am, the Federal Court of Canada will be holding hearings on the gag orders imposed on Health Canada scientists Dr. Shiv Chopra and Dr. Margaret Haydon.
The hearings will be held at the Royal Bank Building, 90 Sparks Street, 11th floor, Room 1104. The hearings begin 9:30 am on June 20 and may continue Wed June 21.
Health Canada imposed gag orders on Dr. Chopra and Dr. Haydon, preventing them from speaking publicly about their concerns that the health of Canadians is being risked due to the approval of drugs of questionable safety.
These drugs include hormones and antibiotics that are administered to food producing animals. Some of these drugs have been banned in Europe because they are linked to cancer. Yet they have been approved in the Canadian food supply.
Those who can, please attend the meetings and lend your support to Health Canada scientists whose efforts to protect public health have put them at odds with the pressure at Health Canada to race products to market.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes.
Thanks to Beth Burrows email@example.com for posting this;
The Associated Press,
Plattsburgh, N. Y., June 18 .
Goats that have been bred with a spider gene will be housed on a 60 acre former Air Force base in Plattsburgh, N.Y. (Art Today)
About 150 goats that have been bred with a spider gene are to be housed on 60 acres of a former Air Force base here.
Montreal-based Nexia Biotechnologies, Inc., plans for the goats to arrive Tuesday. The company said up to 1,500 genetically-altered goats may eventually live there. Fifteen weapons-storage buildings were converted - by adding light and feeding water lines - into animal holding pens for the project.
"We feel the site ... is a real adequate site and is in a very secure setting," Isabelle Trombley-Summers, Nexia site director of agricultural affairs, told the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.
The goats have been bred with a spider gene so their milk provides a unique protein. The company then plans to extract the protein from the milk to produce fibers (called BioSteel) for bulletproof vests, aerospace and medical supplies.
Spider silk has a unique combination of strength and elasticity with an ultra-lightweight fiber.
Spinning a Profitable Web
Last year, Nexia obtained the exclusive right to patents resulting from spider silk research at the University of Wyoming. The agreement included an up front payment for the university, funding for research and development expenses plus royalties on the sale of silk-based products.
In January, Nexia announced the birth of two "BioSteel goats."
By Anne McIlroy,
The Globe and Mail, Friday, June 23, 2000
Paris Prime Minister Jean Chrétien conceded yesterday that the French need to do more testing to ensure that the genetically modified food products Canadians have been eating for years are safe for human consumption.
"I explained to him that we have used these products in Canada for a long while, and when he looks at the Canadian delegation, he finds us in very good health," Mr. Chrétien said after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.
"But he claims that it has to be established by more scientific people than my opinion or his. So I agreed we have to make sure there are no dangers, but eventually we should have an acceptable scientific answer to this."
Mr. Chrétien said that French consumers suffer from a fear of the unknown.
The French have blocked imports of genetically modified canola into the European Union for almost two years because they fear it is not safe. In Canada, genetically modified foods don't have to be labelled, and consumers have been eating them for years.
Mr. Chrétien said Canadian scientists say foods with a gene from another species inserted into their genetic code are safe, but he conceded that they have not come up with the kind of indisputable proof that the French are looking for.
His comment could be worrisome for Canadian consumers who fear products that critics call Frankenfoods.
Mr. Chirac said that Europeans have a different sensibility about their food, especially since the mad-cow scare in Britain.
In 1997, after years of high-level ministers swearing that British beef was 100-per-cent safe, the government admitted a link between between eating beef from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy and contracting the human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
An estimated 175,000 cattle died from the disease and millions more were put to death in the hope of wiping it out. The end result has been a lingering distrust of government's ability to ensure food safety.
"It is not a problem of protectionism, like I read sometimes in the American press," Mr. Chirac said. "It is purely a question of public health."
BEIJING (Agence France Presse) - Chinese scientists said the first goat cloned from adult body cells has died after staying alive for just 36 hours, state media reported Monday.
The goat, named Yuanyuan, died early Sunday because of abnormal lung development, the China Daily said.
"This means that cloning technology leaves much room for improvement," said Zhang Yong, a professor at Northwest University of Agriculture and Forestry Science and Technology in the city of Xian.
Biotech News By Richard Wolfson, PhD
Reprinted with permission from the July 2000 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition
By Richard Wolfson, PhD
Lack of Testing
Who Needs It?
Genetically engineered (GE) foods are being rushed to market without long-term testing. Dr. Ann Clark, Associate Professor of Crop Science at the University of Guelph, looked at the research on all 42 approved biotech foods in Canada. She found that 70% of these crops were approved without laboratory tests for toxicity. None of the crops were tested for allergenicity.
Even for the 30% studied for toxicity, the tests were quite limited. For instance potatoes and corn were engineered to contain a toxin to kill insect pests. These foods are already on the market though no one knows the long-term effects on animals or on humans who eat the "toxin enriched" crops.
GE foods combine genes from widely different species. Inserted foreign genes can unpredictably affect the functioning of host genes. Also, since these combinations of genes have never been part of the human diet, unexpected allergies and toxicity are major concerns. But since these foods are not labelled, it is almost impossible to track any damaging effects.
Already, one genetically engineered soy, developed by Pioneer Hybrid, was allergenic, and could have killed people with life-threatening allergies if it wasn't, by chance, caught and kept off the market. Since GE soy came on the market, soy allergies have risen 50%. In 1989, 37 people died and thousands were permanently damaged after ingesting a genetically engineered food supplement, GE tryptophan. Beneficial insects, such as monarch butterflies and ladybugs, have also died after eating GE crops.
Because scientists are creating genetic changes overnight that might in nature take thousands of years, unexpected effects are no wonder. The potential for damage to human health or to the environment is unknown. The British Medical Association, representing 115,000 physicians, calls for a moratorium on all GE crops until more research is done.
Biotech is not needed to feed the world. There already is enough food to feed the entire globe, if the food were evenly distributed. Studies by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that biotech crops produce on average 7% less yield than conventional crops.
In other unexpected effects, biotech cotton in the USA fell off plants prematurely, creating millions of dollars of damage. In another case, GE soy burst open in hot weather, because of increased lignin content.
Cross-pollination with biotech crops (genetic pollution) has damaged organic crops and also produced superweeds, which are immune to herbicides. Insects exposed to biotech crops produced superbugs, insect pests immune to synthetic chemicals and natural pesticides, and which damage both organic and conventional crops.
Contrary to industry hype, genetic engineering has not produced any nutritious wonderfoods. The majority of approved GE foods are herbicide resistant (HR). This allows more use of herbicides to kill weeds without harming crops. The same companies that makes the HR crops make the herbicides, and force farmers to use only their herbicides with their crops, or face fines.
Is the main purpose of GE crops to promote herbicide sales? USDA studies show that farmers growing HR crops use up to 2-5 times as much herbicide. Also, as GE crops are patented, biotech companies receive large royalties from farmers growing the crops. Farmers are also disallowed from saving seeds from one season to the next.
Government documents show that GE foods were approved in the USA, even though many scientists at the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) questioned their safety.
Two hundred scientists at Health Canada sent a letter to the Minister of Health saying they are concerned that unsafe products are rushed to market. The scientists referred not only to GE foods, but also to antibiotics and hormones administered to food-producing animals. They stated they are pressured to approve products of questionable safety, and that even when they did not recommend approval, products were approved.
Built into Canada's Food and Drugs Act is the precautionary principle, which asserts that products should not be approved for sale until proven safe. However, due to industry pressure, products are allowed on the market without adequate testing, and then only removed if there is sufficient evidence of harm (enough "dead bodies").
Deregulation has created several calamities, including Canada's tainted blood mega-disaster, in which 60,000 people received infected blood that was not properly tested. Deregulation in Europe allowed cows to be fed sheep offal, which caused mad cow disease. Have we learned our lesson, or are we going to blindly trust industry and continue to allow genetically engineered on the market without long-term testing?
This article was extracted from a video interview that can be viewed at http://www.epress.ca (Select the genetic engineering news button, April 5 interview).
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes.
By Andrew Clark, Saturday June 24, 2000, The Guardian
British Biotech, the embattled drug development company, suffered a fresh setback yesterday when its cancer drug marimastat failed in a fourth successive clinical trial.
The drug, which was once tipped as a revolutionary cure for all types of cancer, showed little benefit over a placebo in a study involving 160 patients with terminal brain tumours. ...
Marimastat is supposed to surround malignant tumours and cut off the blood supply to them, making them shrink and eventually disappear. However, it has failed to work in a series of trials on gastric and pancreatic cancer.
Biopiracy article follows ....
By Anthony Browne, Environment Correspondent
OBSERVER (London) Sunday June 25, 2000
The battle over who controls the world's food supplies has escalated dramatically with the Indian government launching a legal challenge in the United States against an American company which has been granted a patent on the world-renowned basmati rice.
It is thought to be the first time a government in a developing country has challenged an attempt by a US company to patent and thus control the production of staple food and crops in what campaigners dub the 'rush for green gold'.
Basmati rice, sought-after for its fragrant taste, was developed by Indian farmers over hundreds of years, but the Texan company RiceTec obtained a patent for a cross-breed with American long-grain rice.
RiceTec was granted the patent on the basis of aroma, elongation of the grain on cooking and chalkiness. However, the Indian government last week filed 50,000 pages of scientific evidence to the US Patents and Trademarks Office, insisting that most high quality basmati varieties already possess these characteristics. The US Patent and Trademarks office accepted the petition and will re-examine its legitimacy.
The patent granted only in the US gives RiceTec control over basmati rice production in North America. Farmers have to pay a fee to grow the rice and are not allowed to plant the seeds to grow the following year's crops.
Thanks to jim firstname.lastname@example.org for posting this:
By Tim King, BridgeNews, June 26, 2000
Brussels June 23 The Italian government is threatening to ban seven food products derived from genetically modified organisms, even though they have EU approval, the European Commission said Friday. The comments followed a meeting between the European Commissioner for health and consumer safety, David Byrne, and Italian minister for European Affairs, Gianni Mattioli.
* * *
Mattioli has given the European Commission 10 days' warning that he will invoke a safeguard clause under the EU rules for the regulation of GMOs.
He proposes to ban three oils from GM rapeseed, and other foods and food ingredients derived from various GM strains of maize.
June 26, 2000
Results Show Considerable Concerns over Segregation and Liability And Support for Foreign Customer Choice
TULSA, Okla., June 23 /PRNewswire/ A new national survey on genetically modified (GMO) crops has found considerable farmer concern over the issues of segregation and liability. It also showed overwhelming support for foreign countries having the right to choose between GMO and non-GMO commodities. The survey, commissioned by the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) was conducted by RMA, Inc of Sioux Falls, South Dakota ...
Detailed results of the survey will be available at: http://www.acga.org .
CONTACT: Gary Goldberg, 918-488-1829, or Dan McGuire, 402-467-5237, or email@example.com, both of American Corn Growers Association
In case any of you have heard about these claims from industry that that are pro-GM and anti-organic, here is a letter that hits the facts:
Letter published in UK Independent on Sunday. 25 June 2000
I note that Dr. John Mottley is attempting to propagate the myth about E. coli and organic food on your letters page (18 June). Pro-GM advocates are putting about the story that organic foods are more susceptible to E. coli, because organic farming uses animal manure. Animal manure is, in fact, used both by conventional and organic farmers.
The E. coli contamination myth was started by Dennis Avery of the Washington-based, right-wing think tank, the Hudson Institute, which is funded by Monsanto. He has distorted data from D.r Paul Mead at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the US federal agency that tracks outbreaks of foodborne illness. The CDC had to issue a statement disclaiming any connection with Avery's allegations about E. coli :
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for infection with E. coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods."
Since then, the E. coli myth has been parrotted by GM proponents worldwide. The latest to take up on it is Dr. John Mottley, University of East London, who has repeated the false allegations about E. coli without examining the evidence.
By Tom Zoellner, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle, June 21, 2000
San Francisco San Francisco city officials yesterday took a bite-sized move toward rejecting genetically engineered foods by urging city purchasers to favor organic food vendors.
The Planning and Policy Committee of the city's Commission on the Environment unanimously passed an unusual resolution that urges all city departments to give preferential treatment to organic food vendors when the city awards catering contracts for special parties and events.
Caterers who avoid genetically engineered food known to its foes as would also get an advantage over competitors ...
Farm News from Cropchoice An alternative news service for American farmers
(20 June - Cropchoice News) Brazilian courts are upholding the law of the land that bans biotech grain imports, with a six figure tonnage impact on bulk freighter shipments. The courts are acting on tips from Greenpeace and the MST, the Movement of Landless Rural Workers, a politically important Brazilian group of sharecroppers, poor farmers, and fieldhands. The environmental and rural groups are cooperating to prevent imports of GMO grain.
The latest incident is in the port of Recife in the northern state of Pernambuco where officials have prevented the unloading of 38,000 tons of Argentine corn belonging to Minneapolis-based Cargill. The corn will stay onboard a freighter pending results of GMO tests. The grain was destined for use in Brazilian poultry feed.
By Ed White Saskatoon newsroom, Western Producer, June 22, 2000
Undermined The Credibility
Defence says Monsanto picked on Schmeiser
Expert walks court through technical labyrinth
Schmeiser is being sued for allegedly growing Roundup Ready canola without a licence.
His day and a half of testimony meant he could tell his story in his own words, but it also allowed Monsanto to confront him with what it considers the crippling flaws in his story.
And after Schmeiser's lawyer tied up his case, Monsanto's lawyers called a rebuttal witness who undermined the credibility of Schmeiser's only on-farm witness and raised the possibility that Schmeiser's hired hand had repeatedly told a local farmer that Schmeiser had planted Roundup Ready canola.
It wasn't a great ending to the case for Schmeiser, but the farmer told reporters as he left court that he felt the defence case had gone well and he was looking forward to the closing arguments.
While Monsanto's case relied on more than two dozen witnesses who had either sampled Schmeiser's crop, tested his crop or spoken to him, Schmeiser's case rested mainly on his own word.
Schmeiser said he never knowingly grew Roundup Ready canola. He thinks cross-pollination by the wind and bees, seed blowing off passing grain trucks, or windblown swaths from another farmer's field could have made a portion of his 1997 crop contain the gene that makes canola resistant to glyphosate.
He discovered some of the crop was resistant to Roundup when he sprayed around power poles on the edge of a canola field in 1997. He then sprayed Roundup on about three acres of his crop in that area, discovering that about 60 percent survived the treatment.
Later, that area of canola was harvested and put in a truck. This load of canola was then used as the seed for the 900 acres of canola he planted in 1998, Schmeiser said.
Monsanto began investigating Schmeiser in the summer of 1997 and launched its lawsuit a year later.
Schmeiser contradicted key elements in the statements of Monsanto's witnesses about the investigation of his 1997 and 1998 crops. Schmeiser said a private investigator and a Monsanto representative did not allow him to observe the crop samples they took after the company received a court order allowing it to test his crop. They testified they had asked him to come along.
Schmeiser also contradicted canola scientist Keith Downey's tests, which Downey performed in Schmeiser's presence, and disagreed with accounts of conversations he'd had with Monsanto employees.
Monsanto lawyer Roger Hughes confronted Schmeiser about each of eight contradictions, asking in each case whether he was calling the other person a liar or accusing them of tampering with evidence.
In each case Schmeiser said he would not. He said he would never call anyone a liar.
"Is it your position that eight people conspired by telling lies and tampering with samples and otherwise dealt with the evidence in a manner to embarrass and humiliate you?" Hughes asked.
Schmeiser replied, "It's their opinions, and my opinion was different."
Hughes also pressed Schmeiser on why, if he claimed to have used Treflan, Muster and Assure in 1997 and 1998, he could produce no receipts proving he had bought the chemicals. He did, however, have receipts from buying Roundup.
It was an emotional week for Schmeiser. He told his story simply and eagerly, but at one point became choked up and had to be given a recess to recover after trying to describe what it was like to buy canola seed in 1999 after relying on his own seed for many years.
Whenever Hughes interrupted his story, Schmeiser seemed frustrated, jerking back in his seat or bolting forward. But Schmeiser did not seem rattled by the cross examination, and after leaving the stand, he said he'd expected a more brutal hammering from Monsanto.
Some of Schmeiser's testimony about the patch of canola that wasn't killed by Roundup was supported by Carlyle Moritz, who has worked as a hired hand for Schmeiser for seven years. He said the patch was the first part of the crop combined that year and was used for seed the next spring.
He also said he had seen canola swaths from a neighbor's field, one grown with Roundup Ready canola, blow onto another of Schmeiser's field.
Two other farmers testified on Schmeiser's behalf that glyphosate-resistant canola can appear on land that has never been sown to it. Charlie Boser of Luseland and Louis Gerwing of Lake Lenore both said they discovered a scattering of Roundup-tolerant canola plants on fields they were trying to chem-fallow.
After reporting the volunteer plants to Monsanto, the company sent people to hand pick them.
One of Schmeiser's neighbors testified that he had driven by Schmeiser's land in late 1996 with loads of inadequately covered Roundup Ready canola and had noticed that some of his seed had scattered before he reached the elevator.
Schmeiser's lawyer, Terry Zakreski, then called two University of Manitoba crop science specialists who had tested and studied canola samples sent by Schmeiser and others from a seed treatment plant that had kept some of Schmeiser's 1997 crop.
They said the sample sent by Schmeiser showed lower concentrations of the Roundup Ready gene than found in commercial crops, but higher concentrations than would have been created by cross pollination alone.
The second sample, which Schmeiser never touched, contained very high amounts of the gene and was similar to a commercial crop of Roundup Ready canola.
This concluded the evidence in Schmeiser's defence, but then Monsanto's lawyers called local farmer Wesley Niebrugge to challenge Moritz's testimony, over Zakreski's objection.
However, the judge said Niebrugge's testimony would only apply to the credibility of Moritz, not to anything Schmeiser may or may not have done, since Niebrugge had no direct knowledge of that.
Neibrugge, a local farmer, testified that Moritz had told him repeatedly that Schmeiser had grown Roundup Ready canola and then sprayed Roundup on the crop. He said Moritz had made these claims as recently as one week before the trial began.
As both sides rested their cases, with only closing statements to be made June 20 and 21, two different moods seemed to dominate the camps. Monsanto representatives were elated and smiling about Niebrugge's testimony.
Schmeiser, his lawyers and Moritz retired to a witness room and closed the door.
The judge's decision is not expected for two to six months.
June 22, 2000
By Ed White Saskatoon newsroom
In its pursuit of Percy Schmeiser, Monsanto used private investigators, listened to local rumors and obtained secret samples of the farmer's crop, federal court in Saskatoon has heard.
No one denies that Monsanto's pursuit of Schmeiser was vigorous. But Monsanto and Schmeiser's lawyer disagree about whether it was legal.
Monsanto's lawyers and representatives argue that they acted reasonably, only resorting to private investigators, a court order and secret sampling after Schmeiser refused to co-operate with the company.
Schmeiser's lawyer has tried to portray the company and the private investigators it hired as sloppy and guilty of trespassing to obtain some of Schmeiser's canola seed.
June 22, 2000
By Ed White Saskatoon newsroom
The science of the Schmeiser trial isn't simple.
Anyone such as the judge who must understand the tests Percy Schmeiser's attackers and defenders are using as evidence will need to know how DNA works, how genetic engineering is done, how DNA is tested, how pollen spreads and how crops grow and breed. ...
Schmeiser's lawyer, Terry Zakreski, appears to have spent much time acquainting himself with the intricacies of DNA testing. When cross examining Monsanto scientists, he zeroed in on links in the testing chain that could break the tests' reliability.
He has asked whether contaminated laboratory instruments could have spoiled tests, or if poor germination and later thinning of plants growing in the lab could have skewed results, or if the poor quality of original samples from Schmeiser's crop could have created a false impression of the entire crop. Zakreski asked questions that hint at possible specimen tampering by Monsanto.
Northern Light Cooks Up Web's Most Comprehensive Source for Information and Links on the Heated Subject
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 19 /PRNewswire/ Northern Light Technology, Inc., a leading Internet search engine, today introduced a comprehensive Web site devoted to the subject of genetically modified foods. The Northern Light Special Edition(TM), located at http://special.northernlight.com/gmfoods provides links to information available electronically from several different perspectives on this much-debated topic.
The Special Edition was compiled by the Cambridge-based researchers and librarians of Northern Light Technology and features links to relevant sources of information across the entire spectrum of the debate.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.