Date: 12 Oct 2000 07:14:06 +0100
From: MichaelP firstname.lastname@example.org
Doesn't this item show the need and the value of a precautionary principle even in an area where the basic science is known and understood ? Has the precautionary principle been formulated to a point where this kind of "progress" could have been checked before the health of 65% of users was impacted?
It seems such a good idea to use modern well-drilling technology to amplify domestic water supply; you would be an enemy of the people to oppose the spending of money for that purpose. But what seems to have been missing is automatic application of a simple (?) chemical analysis adequate to detect arsenic.
Nobody asked about safety, Bangladeshi ground water is substantially the same as any other ground water its safety was not questioned until cancerous lesions showed up, twenty years on, in epidemic form !!
[I'm inclined to look back to the days when the typhoid bacillus hadn't been discovered, and the provision of a clean water supply to the cities proved the value of precautionary public health.]
By Peter Popham in Dhaka, INDEPENDENT (London) 11 October 2000
Mohammed Yahia Khan wears a charm on his upper arm, and he will need all the powers it may possess to get through the weeks and months ahead.
Twenty-eight years old, formerly a student, Mr Khan comes from a village close to the Bay of Bengal in the far south of Bangladesh. He has been fighting cancer for five years. The disease was caused by naturally occurring arsenic in the ground water, pumped up through the tube well in his backyard at home.
Mr Khan is the face of Bangladesh's future. This tragic country, beset by famine and disease ever since its fiery birth less than 30 years ago, is confronting its biggest crisis ever: the accidental poisoning of as many as 85 million of its 125 million people with arsenic-contaminated drinking water.
In a new report, the World Health Organisation describes the crisis as "the largest mass poisoning of a population in history". "The scale of the environmental disaster", the report goes on, "is greater than any seen before; it is beyond the accidents in Bhopal, India, in 1984, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986."
For 30 years, following the lead of Unicef, the United Nations' children's fund, Bangladesh has sunk millions of tube wells all over the country, providing the mass of the people with a convenient supply of drinking water free from the bacterial contamination of the surface water that was killing one-quarter of a million children a year. Unfortunately, the water from the wells was never tested for arsenic contamination, which occurs naturally in the ground water, and for many years it was believed to be completely safe.
Only the fringes of the country are spared the hilly areas of the north-west and Chittagong in the far south-east. Dhaka, too, its geology different from the surrounding areas, is unaffected.
One in ten people who drink the water containing arsenic will ultimately die of lung, bladder or skin cancer.
In a cramped research laboratory behind the ward where Mr Khan is being treated, a map shows in red the parts of Bangladesh where arsenic is a menace. Almost the entire country is coloured red. This does not mean that all tube wells in the danger areas are poisoned: in many villages, safe and toxic wells are found in close proximity.
Arsenic is tasteless, odourless, colourless, and taken in small doses in water has no immediate ill-effects. Like tens of millions of his countrymen, Mr Khan has been drinking the water and unwittingly ingesting arsenic for years.
Colin Davis, the Birmingham-born chief of Unicef in Bangladesh, said, "Twenty or 30 years ago, people were not looking for arsenic in ground water. It was something no one knew anything about. By sinking tube wells to enable people to drink ground water we were merely doing what everybody was doing, but we were better at it."
The first cases of arsenic-induced skin lesions were identified across the border in West Bengal, India, in 1983. The Bangladesh government and many international agencies have known the approximate size of the disaster for three years. Two years ago, the World Bank and others gave the government an interest-free loan of $44m to begin tackling the crisis in the most urgent, simple manner by providing an arsenic-free water supply to affected communities.
Yet two years on, the $44m remains unspent, while officials haggle over how to use it. In Dhaka there is no feeling that the government is gearing up to tackle a disaster. "There are 80,000 villages in the country," said a World Bank official. "So far the government has covered only 1,000. If they go on at this pace, it will take hundreds of years before they reach all the villages."
Arsenic poisoning is a slow-ticking time bomb. Skin cancer typically occurs 20 years after people start ingesting the poison. Caught early enough, skin cancer is treatable. The real danger is internal cancers, especially of the bladder and lung cancer, which are usually fatal. Dr Rahman said: "We have been told to expect an epidemic of cancers in the next 10 years. The victims will be people in their thirties and forties who have been drinking the water all their lives people in their most productive years."
In the tree-shaded backyard of a corrugated iron shack in the district of Bera, five hours north-west of Dhaka, stands a prototype for a solution to the arsenic problem: a hulking cylindrical concrete water butt collecting rainwater by a pipe from the shack's gutters. Bangladesh's monsoon provides massive amounts of rain which has not traditionally been harvested for drinking. Slowly, in pilot programmes such as this, the long overdue effort is beginning.
Other possible solutions being tried out include a simple filter using three ceramic pots suspended above each other, and a pump set up by a pond or river in which the pumped-up ground water is filtered before emerging through a tap.
But not one of the solutions being implemented experimentally is half as convenient as the tube wells it is designed to replace. The government says there are four million tube wells in the country; the World Bank says there are "at least twice that number". They are easy to sink in this delta country's soft alluvial soil, and for tens of millions of peasants the wells have revolutionised access to water. Many households have several, as a Western house has taps in several different rooms. More are being sunk all the time despite the looming disaster, the government has yet to declare a moratorium on new ones. Three-quarters of those in existence have been sunk by private enterprise. So popular have they become that a tube well is a common item in a bride's dowry.
The Bangladeshi government's task is now to stage a counter-revolution to wean the people away from the most convenient innovation they have ever encountered. It is a disagreeable challenge, and the government has yet to show any appetite for it.
But unless they rise to the challenge soon, a disaster to dwarf Bangladeshi disasters past will become unavoidable.
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Date: 14 Oct 2000 01:43:47 +0100
From: MichaelP email@example.com
From: Krishna E. Bera keb@Cyblings.ON.CA
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2000 02:05:29 -0400 (EDT)
From: Krishna E. Bera keb@Cyblings.ON.CA
The precautionary principle should have been applied much earlier in the process.
The reason all those wells were dug is that people were using polluted water from the rivers and streams. Guess how the pollution got there... There was no thought at the time to apply pollution control and cleanup measures to those at fault. Instead, a typical foreign aid / 3rd world development solution involving importing technology and expertise to drill lots of wells was pursued. But heck, that was the climate at the time, so we're stuck with it.
Given that the wells were there, the next problem was that the water table was being overused. Arsenic poisoning would not have been a problem until the water table went down enough to concentrate the stuff (see background reports on Bangladesh well poisoning website). Cash cropping and industrual usage is/was undoubtedly involved.
Why were no measures in place to check water quality? Why are they _still_ talking about a massive technology aid program in the form of new wells and dosage monitoring attachments, to be supplied (of course) by western companies? When will the original clean water supply (rivers) be restored? Who will pay for care of all those poisoned people? Too many questions that may never be answered...
Date: 12 Oct 2000 14:53:01 +0100
RAFI (The Rural Advancement Foundation International) is an international civil society organization based in Canada. RAFI is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and to the socially responsible development of technologies useful to rural societies. RAFI is concerned about the loss of agricultural biodiversity, and the impact of intellectual property on farmers and food security.
RAFI News Release
Thursday, October 12 2000
Laying a not-so-Golden Egg
Potrykus' comments beg the question:
Trojan Trade Reps?
RAFI recommends three initiatives:
Searching for Higher Ground:
The Golden Rice AstraZeneca saga is a case study in public science's failure to understand and address patent issues. In justifying their surrender of Vitamin A enriched GM rice to the giant corporation, the researchers claim they couldn't navigate the 70+ intellectual and tangible property conflicts that could potentially scuttle their work.
There are likely no more than 11 and possibly as few as 4, patent conflicts and one outstanding tangible property issue. A public sector group including the people Golden Rice is intended to help should meet to debate all the options and alternatives. The contract and the events surrounding it should be investigated.
When shareholders confirm this week that the agricultural divisions of AstraZeneca and Novartis will indeed merge under the new name, "Syngenta," they will probably be talking more about their market prospects for GM crops in the North than about the needs of poor farmers and malnourished consumers in the South. More of the discussion will be about the opportunities created with the coming together of the two enterprises' Terminator and Traitor patents than about Vitamin A deficiency in Asia. But, according to RAFI's Research Director, Hope Shand, "Syngenta had better be giving some serious thought to its deal on Golden Rice and quickly, or they could have a major embarrassment on their hands."
"The deal struck by Potrykus and Beyer (the Swiss and German scientists who developed Golden Rice) with AstraZeneca was totally unnecessary," Shand insists. "It should be thoroughly investigated by the public institutions who funded the research." News that Golden Rice, a GM rice containing Vitamin A enrichment genes, was showing promise first surfaced in January. By April, however, the financial backers of the research including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the European Union were letting it be known that commercialization of the work in countries with Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) could run afoul of between 70 and 105 patents, licenses, and Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs - agreements governing technical property such as germplasm) controlled by more than 30 public and private institutes.
Their alarm appears to have been kindled by a study the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned from ISAAA! (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications a bio-broker with offices in the UK, USA, and the Caribbean). The patent search was conducted on behalf of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, spurred by concerns that if it adopted Golden Rice it might be sued by other patent-holders. Despite their shock as to the number of potential intellectual property conflicts, the donors were stunned on May 16th when the two researchers independently signed a deal with AstraZeneca turning over the future development of Golden Rice to the Gene Giant.
The agreement was negotiated through another biotech bargainer, Greenovations, which is a spin-off of the University of Frieburg where one of the inventors has his lab. In return for exclusive monopoly control of Golden Rice in the North and in sales to larger farmers in the South, AstraZeneca agreed to make the technology freely available to the South's poor farmers.
At the time, ! Beyer and Potrykus told the media that the dizzying muddle of conflicting intellectual property claims necessitated the deal. Aside from clearing away intellectual property hurdles, AstraZeneca will also undertake additional research related to the environmental and health issues surrounding Golden Rice before releasing seeds to the market, they suggest, sometime around 2003. At the time of the deal, some of the donors were actively exploring public sector avenues for completing this work in Australia, Asia, and Europe. All of the donors were apparently aware that the inventors were considering commercial options but did not expect an agreement to be reached unilaterally or so quickly. Their public sector efforts came to an abrupt halt. Nine years and millions of dollars of public funding were surrendered to a multinational corporation.
The media continued to talk of the gaggles of patents and haggles of licensing from May through August. On August 3rd, Monsanto, which had jettisoned its own rice programme some months earlier, garnered cheap publicity by proclaiming that its warehouse of rice-related patents would be licensed gratis to the Golden Rice project. The next day, Potrykus told the Washington Post, "I consider the Monsanto offer important because I can now use this case to tell other companies, 'Look, Monsanto is giving me a free license. Won't you do the same?' It's an important first example." It now appears that only one Monsanto patent is a factor in most countries in the South that have high levels of Vitamin A deficiency.
At the beginning of September, AstraZeneca let it be known that as few as four patents and two MTAs might have to be negotiated. RAFI now understands that only one MTA continues to be a problem.
Counting Eggs Before They Hatch: At the beginning of October, RAFI received a copy of ISAAA's IP audit on Golden Rice. The ISAAA study identifies 70 patents and 16 technical property constraints (MTAs and other licenses) that could have implications for Golden Rice commercialization. RAFI's review of the claims indicates that no more than 11 patents potentially complicate the completion of the project. RAFI's analysis focuses on the 60 countries that are designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having clinical or severe levels of Vitamin A deficiency.
In sorting out the ownership conundrum, three points become clear. First, only a very small percentage of the patents are relevant for the poor countries suffering the most from Vitamin A deficiency. Second, only a few patents held by the private sector actually conflict with the further development of Golden Rice for the South. Of the four companies with patents, two Monsanto and Astra Zeneca have already agreed to royalty free licensing, leaving only two other major players, Aventis and Dupont to agree to the same. Third, the abuse of MTAs as a market weapon to frustrate scientific advances has been underestimated and is in urgent need of examination.
RAFI believes that a number of questions need to be answered in order for the public to have confidence in any ongoing research related to Golden Rice:
Whether or not Golden Rice is seen as part of the problem or part of the solution would be for the meeting to decide. Astra Zeneca (now Syngenta) should immediately surrender its exclusive rights to the public sector, if this meeting asks it to do so. The company should also assure the public that its own intellectual property claims will not interfere with the research or its final commercialization if the work should eventually be acceptable for marketing.
(For further background, see RAFI Genotypes On Golden Pawns, June 20, 2000, RAFI News Release "Patent Evils Threaten Public Goods," September 7, 2000, and RAFI Occasional Paper, In Search of Higher Ground, September 7, 2000, all available at http://www.rafi.org. RAFI will soon be publishing a Communique on the Golden Rice deal that will be posted on our website.
For further information:
Hope Shand,RAFI, firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Delahanty, RAFI, email@example.com
Date: 12 Oct 2000 18:15:22 +0100
From the newsroom of the BBC World Service ,
Tuesday, 10 October, 2000 UK
A number of European and Japanese pharmaceutical companies have agreed to pay out more than four-hundred-and-forty-million dollars for fixing the price of vitamins in the United States.
Six companies are settling a lawsuit, brought by many American states, which accused them of meeting in secret locations around the world to agree on a hidden vitamin tax affecting shoppers between 1990 and 1998. The money will be paid out to twenty-one American states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as to businesses that bought the vitamins. More than a-hundred-million dollars will go to charities, because of the difficulty of identifying consumers who paid extra for products like bread, milk and dietary supplements containing the vitamins.
The European Union, Japan and Australia have announced their own investigations. The companies are Hoffman-La Roche of Switzerland, BASF of Germany, Aventis of France, and the Japanese firms Takeda Chemical Industries Ltd, Eisai Co and Daiichi Pharmaceutical Co.
Date: 14 Oct 2000 05:06:31 +0100
Via: Biotech Activists firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 10/13/2000 By email@example.com
Please circulate to contacts in Africa
Science, Technology And Innovation Update http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidtech
Biotechnology Viewpoints http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidbiotech/comments
For more details, please see Mugabe, J. et. al. 2000. Global Biotechnology Risk Management: A Profile of Policies, Practices and Institutions. UNEP and ACTS. (Forthcoming).
By John Mugabe, Ph.D.,
African Centre for Technology Studies, Nairobi, Kenya
The growing international debate on safety of genetically modified products of modern biotechnology and the adoption of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety are likely sources of increasing uncertainty in technology and food import policies of many African countries. Confronted with a strong international lobby against genetically modified (GM) foods and with scanty scientific knowledge and information on these foods, these countries are unsure about investing in modern biotechnology, importing grain or accepting relief food from countries such as Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and the US.
In Kenya, for example, there is a growing debate on whether the government should be receiving genetically modified corn from the USA and Canada to feed the more than 5 million people who are already starving as a result of severe drought and growing food insecurity. While some environmentalists oppose food relief from the USA and Canada, they have not offered alternative sources of food for the hungry.
In the meantime, many African countries are also faced with new policy challenges arising from the pressure to apply the precautionary principle in decision-making. Many of these countries have formulated and adopted biosafety regulations that they are seeking to implement. The regulations-as in the case of Cameroon, Egypt, Uganda and Zambia-contain explicit reference to the precautionary principle. However, the extent to which the principle is translated in specific policies needs to be carefully assessed. What is even more urgent is to determine how the precautionary principle can be applied in situations of famine and food insecurity.
The decision by Kenya to accept GM corn from the USA and Canada was not based on any risk assessment exercise. As one senior government official remarked, "the government and Kenyans did not have time and the necessary scientific capacity to undertake risk assessment. Our confidence was established in the fact that if Americans are eating it, it should be safe our starving people." Faced with food crises and absence of verifiable information on harm from the consumption of GM foods, few African countries will reject GM foods. Effective application of the precautionary principle in decision-making is likely to be realized as the countries' range of technological options widens and their level of economic and food security grows.
In Kenya and Zimbabwe GM crops are still in experimental field trial while in South Africa they are ready for commercialization. In granting permits to release GMOs regulators in the countries have relied on results of scientific risks assessments conducted by applicants-institutions seeking to release and/or test GMOs. For example, the South African Committee for Genetic Experimentation relied largely on the South African Sugar Association Experimentation Station (SASEX) to provide scientific information on risks associated with the development and release of pest-resistant (Bt.) sugarcane. In the absence of such information it is difficult to apply the precautionary principle. However, decision-makers or regulators should have the ability to verify the scientific information given to them by applicants.
The problem of how to regulate the development, importation, and release of GMOs in the face of scientific uncertainty cannot be effectively addressed by the mere integration of the precautionary principle in national biosafety measures. Countries can only effectively apply or invoke the precautionary principle as their scientific knowledge and information on GMOs grows. In other words, as their knowledge and information grow they are also able to determine the nature and level of scientific uncertainty. Those that do not invest in scientific inquiry are likely to misuse the precautionary principle to unduly control or restrain technological change. Implementation of precautionary policies should therefore focus on promoting scientific research and technological learning.
Effective and equitable biotechnology risk assessment should also be guided by a clear view of short-term benefits that Africa is likely to derive from the technology. The continent is confronted with problems that cannot wait for future technological solutions. In this regard, the application of the precautionary principle should take into account technological opportunities to address immediate and serious malnutrition and human health problems. This is not to suggest that Africa should sacrifice its long-term sustainable development aspirations on the altar of quick technological fixes. To the contrary, precaution should be integrated into scientific experimentation and technological learning. Policy-makers that are guided by mere appeals to scientific uncertainty will become unwitting advocates of environmental authoritarianism.
John Mugabe, Ph.D. Executive Director African Centre for Technology Studies Nairobi, Kenya
Date: 14 Oct 2000 05:06:31 +0100
Via: Biotech Activists firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 10/13/2000 By email@example.com
By Andrew Apel, J.D.,
AgBiotech Reporter, Freiberg Publishing, Inc., Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA
The precautionary principle and criticisms of the doctrine of substantial equivalence (such as those offered by Millstone et al.) have asalient feature in common: they treat a lack of evidence as evidence which justifies a particular course of action. Indeed, that lack of evidence is a precondition both for the application of the precautionary principle and for the testing demanded by critics of the doctrine of substantial equivalence.
Risk assessment is an objective and fact-based evaluation of the likelihood of certain adverse outcomes from a course of conduct. As a fact-based evaluation carried out under non-omniscient conditions, risk assessment relies not on the absence of evidence, but on evidence available.
The current art requires that risks be assessed with the use of the best facts available. Abject reliance on what has never been observed courts the accusation of absolute subjectivity. Such a risk assessment cannot be called subjective in an absolute sense, however, since one observable fact is still required: the fact that some things are unknown.
Reliance on facts does not mean that risk assessment is free of subjectivity. Risk assessment serves a blatantly subjective purpose, by attempting to answer two questions: What should we be afraid of, and how afraid should we be? Thus, risk assessment cannot be differentiated from the precautionary principle or the claims of the critics of substantial equivalence on the basis of subjectivity alone.
The doctrine of substantial equivalence acknowledges that it is possible to 'know enough' about something to justify its use. The precautionary principle enables rejection of this notion, while the critics of substantial equivalence appear to reject it outright.
As critics of substantial equivalence note, the relationship between genetics, chemical composition and toxicological risk remains largely unknown. This is true, however, of both conventional and GM crops. If the precautionary principle were rigorously applied, or the demands of the critics of substantial equivalence rigorously adhered to, scientific uncertainty would require both conventional and GM crops to be treated with an equal degree of heightened scrutiny, or worse. This would be both drastic and unnecessary. Indeed, such a process could remove a number of popular foods from the market because conventional food crops naturally produce a variety of toxins and carcinogens which in large doses are capable of harming rodents.
The doctrine of substantial equivalence solves the problem of requiring exhaustive tests of all crops for unknown toxins and carcinogens by accepting that enough is known about the safety of conventional crops to make it reasonable to eat them. The doctrine goes further and accepts that confidence in conventional crops is high enough to make them a "benchmark" for investigating what is novel.
It is precisely at the point of novelty where the advocates of the precautionary principle and the critics of substantial equivalence depart from the current art of risk assessment. A classical approach would be to assess the relative degree of risk introduced by the novel trait, based on what is known, and to accept that enough is known about the novel trait to make a determination.
The advocates of the precautionary principle assign a prerogative to the lack of complete information on what is novel. The critics of the doctrine of substantial equivalence assign an imperative to the lack of complete information on what is novel. Thus, both groups assess the risks of the incompletely-known status quo and the risks of the new in radically different ways, making it impossible to interpret what is new in terms of what is not.
It is also at the point of novelty where the advocates of the precautionary principle and the critics of substantial equivalence appear to employ strictly subjective methods of risk assessment. That they actually become completely subjective at this point is not a necessary conclusion, however. It is nonetheless the most likely conclusion, and it may well be valid in some cases. It is likely that these groups assess the risks of the familiar and the risks of the new in radically different ways because some things are so completely new that they cannot be interpreted in terms of the familiar.
The doctrine of substantial equivalence is not merely an evaluative tool for regulators, but also central to interpreting the risks of the new in terms of the familiar risks of the status quo. Further investigation of the full scope of the doctrine could establish the degree to which novelty may be considered to be sufficiently related to current art to be substantially equivalent. Furthermore, such an investigation could help determine what constitutes novelty of a degree which truly merits an application of the precautionary principle, a feature the Principle sorely lacks in its current formulations.
The aim of this list (Science, Technology and Innovation Program at Center for International Development at Harvard University) is to announce updates to our website and forthcoming events hosted by the Science, Technology and Innovation Program, a joint activity of the Center for International Development at Harvard University and the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
Archives: Select "Visit tech.cid Without Joining," then "Read Messages" at http://silver.lyris.net/cgi-bin/lyris.pl?site=silver&enter=tech.c....
Date: 14 Oct 2000 05:27:59 +0100
From: Robert Mann firstname.lastname@example.org
The revelations that Starlink(r) Cry9C is indeed in the food chain are most interesting. I hope that a clear policy of what data must be used to consider potential allergenicity comes out of it. Right now, Aventis has voluntarily canceled its registration for Starlink.
But that registration is specific to its use only in animal feed. EPA is still considering a petition Aventis filed some time ago to allow the very same Starlink(r) to be used in human food.
The fact that they did not also withdraw that petition suggests that they have reason to hope EPA will dispense with the criteria of digestibility and heat lability when considering allergenicity.
Alternatively it could mean no more than that The Administrator of the EPA a political appointee doesn't want to react quickly to the Taco Bell debacle. Mustn't imply by rapid action that there's been a serious mistake, eh . . .
And I hope no-one supposes thoughtlessly that the admixing of Cry9C with non-GM corn was accidental. Just remember the care that was taken from the first to admix GM-soy with proper soybeans.
Robt Mann, consultant ecologist, P O Box 28878 Remuera, Auckland 1005, New Zealand, (9) 524 2949
Date: 14 Oct 2000 06:47:06 +0100
Please forward to campaign groups in the USA.
According to the enclosed article from the San Francisco Examiner- "experts say that Starlink corn is resistant to stomach acids and enzymes, indicating that it could be an allergen. Symptoms could include nausea and, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Foods containing potential allergens, possibly unknown to consumers, must carry labels".
I hear that some USA consumers have already started legal proceedings because of adverse affects from Taco shells containing Starlink. But I wonder how many people are actually affected? Surveys in various parts of America could be undertaken to try and determine this, perhaps utilising adverts in the press, etc.; and guidance on legal proceedings could be given to those who feel they may have been adversely affected by products containing Starlink.
Date: 14 Oct 2000 06:47:06 +0100
By Jane Kay,
Examiner Environmental Writer
San Francisco Examiner, October 13, 2000
Keeping on testing food
A possible allergen
25 products tested
Consumer groups that blew the whistle on Kraft Foods and Safeway taco shells contaminated with genetically engineered corn vowed to keep testing the U..S. food supply.
As a result of the latest round of tests released late Wednesday, Safeway has pulled its house brand of taco shells out of 1,200 stores in 18 states, three weeks after Kraft recalled its Taco Bell shells because of traces of the illegal biotech corn.
"We're concerned that the modified corn may be in the food chain because we don't have confidence in the government to regulate the industry to keep this corn segregated," said Ellen Hickey, director of research at Pesticide Action Network in San Francisco.
The taco shells contained StarLink, a corn that contains a bacterium gene that makes it poisonous to the European corn borer and other insects.
On Thursday, Aventis CropScience a merger of the German company, Hoechst, and the French company, Rhone Poulenc agreed at the urging of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cancel its license to sell StarLink. Because StarLink contains materials toxic to insects, the EPA regulates it as a pesticide and must license its use before farmers may grow it.
The EPA licensed it in 1998 on the condition that it would be used only in animal feed.
StarLink is the only one in an array of biotech crops that is not approved for human consumption. Experts say it is resistant to stomach acids and enzymes, indicating that it could be an allergen. Symptoms could include nausea and, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Foods containing potential allergens, possibly unknown to consumers, must carry labels.
This summer about 300,000 acres, or about 0.4 percent of the total U.S. corn acreage, was planted in the yellow corn. The U.S. Agriculture Department is buying up all of this year's crop and then selling it for feed and other non-food uses. USDA estimates the action will cost Aventis as much as $100 million.
Shock waves have reverberated through the biotech industry since Sept. 22, when Kraft recalled its tainted Taco Bell Home Original taco shells after it confirmed the use of the genetically engineered corn. Food manufacturers have been meeting with government agencies on how to address the problem.
"We want to make sure that everything is done on the part of the government to reassure consumers that the food supply is safe," said Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
Safeway began removing its taco shells voluntarily out of 1,200 of 1,400 stores late Wednesday, said Brian Dowling, Safeway's vice president of public affairs.
"We've done it really as a precautionary measure. We got word late Wednesday that there was some evidence that the product might contain this StarLink that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration," said Dowling. "We didn't do it because we were concerned that there was a safety issue."
Dowling added that the company has asked for an explanation from the manufacturer of the product, Mission Foods in Irving, Texas.
Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition that includes Friends of the Earth, commissioned Genetic ID in Iowa, to test the food products. The lab tested 25 products in the categories of cereals, taco shells, corn chips, cornmeal, corn muffin mix and enchilada TV dinners.
StarLink was found only in the Safeway taco shells, said Simon Harris, West Coast field organizer of the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, a national grassroots group. But StarLink could be tainting other products in other lots of food that the lab didn't test, Harris said.
"The recall of Taco Bell and the recent finding of StarLink in the Safeway taco shells clearly demonstrates the need for stronger regulation," said Hickey of Pesticide Action Network. "Since we can't depend on the government, we want Safeway and other large retailers to follow the lead of their European counterparts and remove all genetically engineered ingredients from their brand products unless they can prove they are safe.."
Hickey called it "kind of strange" that the FDA hadn't investigated the flour mills and the taco shell manufacturers in Texas and Mexicali that helped make Kraft's shells. "If the Kraft taco shells were contaminated, why wouldn't other products be contaminated, too?" he said.
Examiner wire services contributed to the story.
©2000 San Francisco Examiner
The threat to health from GM foods.
"Genetic engineering bypasses conventional breeding by using artificially constructed parasitic genetic elements, including viruses, as vectors to carry and smuggle genes into cells. Once inside cells, these vectors slot themselves into the host genome. The insertion of foreign genes into the host genome has long been known to have many harmful and fatal effects including cancer of the organism."
Dr Mae Wan-Ho, geneticist, and scientific adviser to the Third World Network.
Date: 16 Oct 2000 08:47:20 +0100
Posted by: email@example.com
Enclosed is some information on the dangers of GE human insulin. (Excuse the erratic text layout of the e-mail, and the carriage return codes).
Also, you might like to check out GM-Free's website at : http://www.btinternet.com/~clairejr
Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org, 02/09/2000
Diabetics call for inquiry on insulin deaths.
Diabetics Not Told Of Insulin Risk
Those who want to know more can go to Diabetics World Website at http://members.tripod.com/diabetics_world for the full disastrous story from diabetics' own mouths.
It is vital that the word is spread about the true effects of this stuff (including sudden and unexpected deaths) on many diabetics. It is vital too that pro-GM scientists in America are NOT allowed to get away with making out that GM insulin has been this great GM success story. It is far from being so. I don't recall a single instance where a diabetic has felt better on the GM insulin than the animal; I'd be glad to hear from any.
See also http://www.swissdiabetes.ch/~fis2/englvers/bellagio.htm for reports from Swiss diabetics on the same issue.
Note that the Diabetics World site states that although the companies pushing GM insulin are telling worried doctors and patients that the traditional animal insulin will still be available for those who have problems with the GM "human" sort, some diabetics are already finding it impossible to source the animal insulin as the companies have withdrawn it from sale. Similar story with the farmers unable to source non-GM seed. So much for consumer choice.
The diabetics site also suggests, interestingly, that the companies who make this GM insulin are now spreading rumors about the possible risk of transmission of BSE from cow-derived insulin, in order to propel doctors and patients into favoring the GM insulin. While this may be a valid point (though no evidence currently exists to support it), it hardly helps those whose bodies simply react badly to the GM insulin yet who tolerate the animal insulin. If BSE is an issue, according to evidence on the Diabetics World site, pig insulin seems to be slightly less well tolerated than the cow insulin but is still MUCH better tolerated than the GM human type.
Transcript of article on Page 8 of The Sunday Times 26 March, 1995 by Lois Rogers, Medical Correspondent.
Diabetics have demanded an urgent inquiry over concerns that a synthetic version of insulin may lie behind a spate of deaths.
Studies have raised fears that the use of the new insulin introduced over the past decade, increases the danger of slipping rapidly into a coma caused by low blood sugar levels. Several diabetics have died soon after switching to the genetically engineered hormone.
The findings are of grave concern to Britain's 300,000 insulin-dependent diabetics. They need frequent injections of insulin because the disease stops the pancreas making its own hormone, which regulates the body's energy supply.
Deborah Burbridge, from Northampton, woke up last year to find Zoe, her eight year old diabetic daughter, had died in her sleep. She is convinced the new product was to blame. "I was horrified to find there were other families in the same position. The whole thing needs to be taken much more seriously and there needs to be much more research," she said.
Doctors have encouraged the move from natural insulin, extracted from pigs and cows, to the new version. However, an investigation by Sheffield doctors that monitored 20 diabetics for three months, found significant lower night time blood sugar levels when the patients used synthetic insulin, which could increase the risk of entering a coma without time to ingest life-saving sugar.
Laurence Davies, 19, who had overcome the condition to start training as a doctor at Guy's Hospital, London, died at night two months after switching to synthetic insulin. The attack happened so quickly he was unable to drink the Lucozade he kept by his side.
"Little did we know when we took him down there, he wouldn't be coming home again," said Dorothy Davies, his mother. "It was only afterwards that we discovered a side effect of the new treatment is loss of warning of hypoglycemic attacks."
The Sheffield study, which will be presented this week to the British Diabetic Association's medical and scientific meeting in Warwick, is the first in Britain to suggest manufactured insulin may be dangerous.
Critics of the new preparation, launched in 1982, said it was promoted on the assumption it would mimic the body's own insulin and be safer than existing products. But they claim it masks the tingling and sweating that warn diabetics of critical "hypo" attacks.
A separate investigation uncovered eight deaths, including those of children and teenagers, that could be attributed to patients' moving to synthetic insulin. The unpublished study by the Insulin Dependent Diabetes Trust also found patients complaining of more frequent blackouts, personality changes and losses of memory.
Dr. Matthew Kiln, a Kent GP, is collecting data from 1,000 diabetics. He said existing studies were inadequate and there was an urgent need to find out how many diabetics had died on the new treatment.
"I don't think it is bad for everyone, but I estimate that about 20% of diabetics are worse off on human insulin," said Kiln. "Some have died because of it."
Although there is no evidence that the more expensive synthetic insulin is superior to the chemical from animals, the National Health Service spends an extra Sixteen million pounds in prescribing it. The Department of Health said insulin producers were "tending to favor the use of human insulin, as is the whole medical profession".
Jenny Hirst, a former vice chairman of the executive council of the British Diabetic Association believes doctors favor the new insulin because of its heavy promotion by drug companies. "One has to say more money is made out of human insulin," says Hirst, whose husband and daughter, both diabetic, suffered severe side effects when they used it.
Novo Nordisk, the country's biggest supplier, said yesterday it was committed to continue animal insulin production. Tony Bragg, its medical director, said lack of sensitivity to impending hypoglycemia attacks was a natural progression of diabetes. "We are concerned about these reports, but its impossible to substantiate a link with a particular type of insulin," he said.
The company is funding a three-year study of hypo-glycemic attacks in young diabetic children while they are asleep. It is hoped this will yield more clues about the mechanisms involved.
The following article by Paul Brown is from The Guardian March 9, 1999. The article gives an interesting insight into how scientific evidence casting doubt on the safety of GM insulin was suppressed. Though it does not mention that the "human" insulin is GE, it is.
Report highlighting coma dangers to 15,000 sufferers who were switched to synthetic human substitute deemed alarmist, writes Paul Brown
Evidence that thousands of diabetics in Britain may have suffered a deterioration in their health from synthetic insulin has been withheld by the British Diabetics Association, whose role is to advise patients and to protect their interests.
The evidence was contained in a report, commissioned by the association and completed six years ago, which highlighted dangers faced by about 10 per cent of the 150,000 diabetics who had been switched from the traditional animal-derived insulin to synthetic human insulin.
Some of those adversely affected began, without warning, to go into comas, known as hypoglycaemic episodes or 'hypos'. Some suffered severe injuries, a few crashed their cars, and others believed they would have died had they not been rescued as they lay unconscious.
An estimated 15,000 people may still suffer because they are injecting themselves twice a day with insulin that may not suit them.
Many doctors are unaware of the problem, or have failed to put their patients back on animal insulin because they do not know it is still available. The association says it did not publish the report because it was 'too alarmist'. Simon O'Neill, head of diabetes care services, said the association agreed that up to 20 per cent of insulin injectors preferred animal insulin and had experienced difficulties with synthetic insulin. He added that the association had published a report, The Insulin Debate, which dealt with the issues, continued to keep members informed of developments, and campaigned to keep animal insulin available to sufferers.
Synthetic insulin is manufactured by two major drug companies, the Danish Novo Nordisk and US giant Elli Lilly. Neither company accepts that the synthetic version has negative effects.
The report was compiled following 3,000 letters of complaint over a period of two years about the new insulin from members of the association. The letters gave harrowing accounts of how lives had deteriorated after being switched to synthetic human insulin. Eight out of 10 of a sample of the complainants examined by independent researchers said they could no longer control their symptoms and had lost warning signs that they were about to lapse into comas. The main conclusions from the letters were:
Matthew Kiln a south London GP who is an expert on diabetes, was a member of the committee of inquiry set up by the association that looked into the side-effects of synthetic human insulin. He told the Guardian: 'The association has failed in its duty to protect and represent the interests of diabetics by not publishing the committee's findings in full. I and other doctors who understand this issue have been quietly switching some patients back to animal insulin to avoid the problems but thousands of people are suffering from lack of choice.'
Dr Kiln is himself a diabetic who uses insulin and has experienced the dramatic negative effects on his own health when he switched to the synthetic version. <shortened ->
Date: 16 Oct 2000 09:55:38 +0100
An article from the latest SPLICE, magazine of The Genetics Forum: http://www.geneticsforum.org.uk
Greg Muttitt, a researcher at Corporate Watch, reports on the little-known corporate goliath that has controlled the food supply for years Cargill.
Greg is a researcher at Corporate Watch. The report, 'Control freaks - the GMO exporters,' will be released shortly on www.corporatewatch.org Alternatively, telephone 01865 791 391 for a copy.
SPLICE subscrition details:
By Greg Muttitt, Corporate Watch: SPLICE magazine
So far Cargill has largely avoided public attention for its role in the introduction of GM foods. Yet Cargill has been instrumental in the process, possibly more than any other company. It is no coincidence that the Council for Biotechnology Information the biotech industry's $50 million-a-year public relations initiative in the US has hired Cargill spokesperson Linda Thrane to direct its efforts.
Cargill is the world's biggest privately-owned company, and the most powerful in the food industry, controlling vast swathes of the supply chain. The empire demonstrates vertical integration in the extreme. It spans every stage of food production, from the supply of farmers' seeds, to storage of the harvests, to transport, processing, export, animal feed manufacture, rearing and processing animals for meat, to producing and marketing packaged food products, not to mention its consultancy, financial and professional services. Cargill's most direct involvement in GM technology is at the seed end, with Renessen, a Chicago-based joint venture with Monsanto to develop crops specifically designed for 'improved' animal feeds. Renessen's first GM products will appear in 2003, and include both products with enhanced animal nutrition characteristics and products designed to increase the processor's profitability.
Further down the supply chain, Cargill handles a greater volume than any other company of maize and soyabeans, the two main GM crops. It is responsible for 42% and 31% respectively of US exports of the two crops. And it is in principle opposed to segregating the GM crops from the non-GM. Instead, the company supplies non-GM only through specialist 'identity preserved' (IP) channels, where there are no economies of scale, and so the crops are more expensive than the GM versions. This, Cargill hopes, will keep the demand for non-GM small. Even this IP supply is reluctant initially Cargill refused to supply non-GM at all. Greenpeace claims that "privately a number of players within the food industry regard Cargill as the block to ensuring GM-free ingredients."
The company's strategy here is to limit demand for non-GM foods, until public concern over GMOs has calmed down. With sprawling interests across the world and across many sectors, Cargill is happy to be patient. According to Dan Dye, Vice President of Cargill's North American Grain Group, "The biotech debate has made the job ... more challenging and more complex in the short term. But I believe the market ultimately will sort out the signals. We just need to keep our heads."
Cargill is strongly committed to the GMO project, motivated by its vision of vertical integration throughout the supply chain, with the farmer reduced to a simple contract worker. Thus, for example: l An American grain farmer buys all his inputs as a 'package', including seeds from Renessen, Monsanto's herbicide and Cargill's fertiliser. He signs a contract, which determines the growing and handling conditions, to deliver the produce to Cargill at a specified price and quality;
The GMO will fit into this model well: a seed genetically modified first so that it works with (and only with) Monsanto's pesticide and Cargill's fertiliser, and modified secondly so that it contains all the vitamins, proteins, nutrients and antibiotics necessary for poultry feed, to Cargill's precise specifications. On top of this, GM grain behaves more predictably, so is easier to grow, easier to handle and easier to store (Cargill's main interest is to handle vast amounts of commodities as simply as possible). GMOs are lower in production costs, have improved product functionality, and hand over more control to Cargill - agribusiness paradise!
However, while Cargill politically is strongly pro-GMO, and will work to make sure the food market goes in the GM direction, the company is still an economic entity, and as such has to respond to market pressures: it has to sell its products, and has to make a profit.
But in contrast to a farmer, who really has to accept the market as it is, Cargill has a large degree of influence over the nature and direction of the market. For example, Cargill has guaranteed that it will accept GMOs from this year's harvest: this announcement reassured farmers that they could sell what they planted, and so much of the crop is indeed GMO. On the other side of the supply chain, Cargill has been able to decide that non-GM is a niche market, which can be serviced through specialised (and more expensive) identity-preserved distribution channels; this greater cost ensures that the market for non-GM remains small. Thus Cargill can use its extreme market power to achieve its political ends.
However, there are limits to its ability to do this. For example, as the market for non-GM food grew, Cargill was forced to retreat from its initial position (that non-GM supply was impossible). And the more the non-GM market grows, the more concessions Cargill will be forced to make.
Several Cargill businesses have been forced by market demand to switch to non-GM crops. For example, Cargill's UK poultry subsidiary Sun Valley has switched to using non-GM feed well ahead of its competitors. While this has sent out entirely the wrong political message for Cargill, Sun Valley had no choice because McDonalds, its main customer, switched to non-GM-fed chicken, and Sun Valley could not afford to lose McDonalds custom.
Another Cargill subsidiary, Illinois Cereal Mills, is increasing its contracts for non-GMO crops, as it supplies maize to Kellogg's and Frito Lay, both of which require non-GM. In late 1999, Cargill Soja France announced it was considering an identity-preserved system. Shortly afterwards, Cargill announced that this may be extended Europe-wide. Cargill supplies clients in Britain with non-GM maize products from France, such as glucose, starch and maize oil.
Most significantly, Cargill has a rival, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), which may increasingly take advantage of opportunities in markets for non-GM foods. If ADM makes a significant move into non-GM supply, and does so at the same price as GM, Cargill may have no choice but to follow.
There are important cultural differences between ADM and Cargill. Most importantly, ADM is motivated by profit, whereas Cargill is motivated by control. ADM is far more flexible than Cargill: its facilities are smaller but more numerous and more diverse; it aims to supply speciality products from which it can extract the highest profit. It is a cunning player, and uses brain to match Cargill's brawn. It focuses on 'adding value' through each of its processes and in each of its markets, and sees new opportunities for doing this through genetic modification. Furthermore, ADM is a smaller company than Cargill: it has a similar level of involvement in oilseeds and grains (and hence GM crops), but covers fewer other business areas. As a result, it cannot afford to sustain short-term losses in the way that Cargill can, as Cargill is covered by its other income.
Yet the emphasis on adding value also leads ADM to see opportunities in selling non-GM crops at a premium (over GM crops). ADM gave the industry a shock in August 1999, when it asked its suppliers to separate GM from non-GM harvests. Like Cargill, ADM had previously denied the possibility of supplying non-GM goods. The move was limited in its scope, and probably its biggest impact was more psychological than economic: for the first time a big player strayed from the industry's united position of 'GMO-normal; non-GMO-expensive niche product', and treated them as equal in direct conflict with Cargill's approach.
What happens next will really be determined by ADM's decisions, which in turn will depend on the extent of the markets for GM and non-GM crops. Most of the market for non-GM crops so far is in human food, outside the USA, which accounts for only 5% of the US maize supply and 10% of soya. The markets for use in (non-US) animal feeds are much larger: 20% and 35% respectively. If these were to move to non-GM, there would be a strong economic incentive for ADM to ramp up its non-GM supply streams. Cargill and Monsanto and other biotech companies will, of course, fight to prevent such an outcome. But rejection of GM-fed animal products seems to be beginning, and there is still everything to play for.
Date: 18 Oct 2000 10:32:49 +0100
The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) represents corn producers in 28 states. ACGA's Board of Directors consists exclusively of corn producers representing farmer interests.
Web site: http://www.acga.org
By Lynden Peter of American Corn Growers Association, 202-835-0330, or email@example.com October 18, 2000
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 /PRNewswire/ American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) President Keith Dittrich, from his grain farm in Tilden, Nebraska, says farmers that he talks with are concerned that they are not being told the whole story abut the legal and financial risks associated with growing Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) corn and other commodities.
The growing concern comes amid evidence that the GMO corn variety, StarLink, unapproved for human consumption, has entered the U.S. human food chain. It is now under recall. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called upon Aventis CropScience, which sold the rogue seed variety StarLink to farmers, to pay for the economic mess it has created.
"The recall of StarLink corn is causing farmers to ask hard questions about who is responsible for the consumer concerns and economic costs related to farmers unknowingly growing unapproved GMO varieties. I applaud the EPA for agreeing with farmers that the companies who pushed this technology onto farmers must take responsibility. It sets a necessary precedent and sends a strong signal to biotech companies that they must be totally above board with farmers and own up to any and all economic costs that face farmers as a result of growing and marketing GMO crops," said Dittrich.
In a statement released last week, the EPA stated that Aventis was responsible for ensuring that StarLink corn only is used in animal feed, and that responsibility clearly was not met. Farmers, grain elevators and milling companies face mounting costs from the fiasco.
"Farmers are getting a wake-up call from this issue. They're finding it harder and harder to know how many economic risks they're actually taking by making a decision to buy GMO seed," said Dan McGuire, a Nebraska grain producer and Program Director of the Farmer Choice - Customer First Program, an education project of the American Corn Growers Association. "Even farmers who raise traditional, Non-GMO corn are faced with economic risk and marketing uncertainty. Corn pollen can drift long distances, meaning a farmer can't be sure of keeping their Non-GMO cornfields pure. Even if farmers who raised StarLink are paid a premium to get it off the market, they and their neighbors are put in a difficult situation by the biotech companies pushing GMO corn into the marketing system without serious regard for the potential loss of foreign and domestic markets and various consumer-related concerns."
The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) is a leading voice on GMO corn issues. ACGA, through a series of educational seminars, has informed farmers on the marketing risks they may face when choosing to produce GMO corn. In a recent workshop at Iowa State University, ACGA Board Member Chuck Pyatt, Greene, Iowa, told educators: "In deciding whether or not to use GMO seeds farmers are caught in a giant vice. We're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't. Farmers are eager to adopt new technologies, but they cannot afford the loss of markets. Nor can they absorb the cost of segregating production at current low corn price levels," said Pyatt.
"The ACGA and its member producers stand ready to help solve problems created by new technology, but we need cooperation from the biotech industry," Pyatt added.
The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) represents corn producers in 28 states. ACGA's Board of Directors consists exclusively of corn producers representing farmer interests.
SOURCE American Corn Growers Association
CONTACT: Lynden Peter of American Corn Growers Association, 202-835-0330, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: http://www.acga.org