Genetically Manipulated Food News

6 Febr. 1997

Table of Contents

France Bans Genetically Modified Maize
Safety of Recombinant DNA Products

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There has been a lot of controversy in Europe over the marketing of genetically engineered foods. Here are two recent articles.

France bans genetic corn

The Associated Press Feb 12, 1997

PARIS (AP) -- France banned the cultivation of genetically-modified corn Wednesday despite European Union approval of its sale, saying the corn's long-term effects haven't been determined.

Research on the U.S.-grown corn will continue "in a confined situation" so there is no risk to the environment, Prime Minister Alain Juppe said.

Opponents contend that eating genetically altered corn may increase resistance to antibiotic medicines in people and animals, or that weeds and pests may pick up the corn's disease-resistant properties, giving them protection from poisons.

Agriculture Minister Philippe Vasseur had already said he would not sign a European Commission decision authorizing cultivation of the disease-resistant genetic corn, which poses a competitive threat to European producers.

France's Corn Producers Organization welcomed the ban, calling it "a great victory for all corn producers but also for fowl and pork producers.

"A crisis on the level of mad cow was to be feared," the organization said in a statement, referring to the disease that has shaken Europe's beef industry.

France permits the import of genetically-altered corn but requires special labeling to inform consumers about the grain, developed by the Swiss group Ciba-Geigy, now part of the Swiss company Novartis, and grown in the United States.

Austria has already banned imports of modified corn.

From: Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 7 (1997), 11-24. Available on the internet at:

Safety of Recombinant DNA Products

The Monsanto Corporation has been accused of not listening to the groups that would be responsible for marketing their "Roundup Ready" soybean, as they shipped tons of these beans to soy processors in Europe; Nature Biotechnology 14 (1996), 1627; Nature 384 (1996), 203, 301; NS (7 Dec 1996), 5.

Protesters have done various actions around Europe, and a trade war nearly began between USA and Europe. Hans Kroner, secretary-general of Eurocommerce, representing retailers in 20 European countries, recently called for Roundup Ready to be segregated from other beans. Earlier in 1996, European retail and wholesale groups had asked for separate streams for the Roundup Ready. Retailers in France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom wanted segregation so that they could label the products appropriately.

German, Austrian, Finnish, and Swedish retailers wanted a separate stream so that they could exclude genetically manipulated food either "for the foreseeable future" or "until consumers are happy." Their Norwegian and Swiss counterparts cannot import until it has been approved for import.

The modified soybean is already being used in Australia, having being approved earlier in 1996 following review by the Australia New Zealand Food Authority, the Genetic manipulation Council and the National Registration Authority for Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals. The beans are not yet approved to be grown there, but 60% of soybeans are imported and t is estimated that 1-2% of soybeans in the USA, the major exporter, are modified.

Monsanto argued that thousands of different processed food products have soybeans as an ingredient, and that the products are distinguishable only in insignificant details. The regulators and, indeed, most of the retailers agree. Alternative views, and a call for separate regulatory systems is Nature Biotechnology 14 (1996), 1628-9, 1630-1; GenEthics News 13 (Sept/Oct 1996), 1-2.

On 19 December the EU approved the selling of Ciba-Geigy's glufosinate-tolerant Bt-maize made from GMOs. Together with the soybeans, maize is now sold in Europe, and will be sold around the world as most processed foods contain soybean or corn. It will be difficult to label so many different food products as having potentially some extract from the current 1% of the crops which are made from GMOs. It is expensive to separate the beans or maize, so it is unlikely that these foods can be guarantied free of GMOs. A dilemma for labelers. The final version of the UNESCO IBC report, Macer, D., "Bioethics, Food and Plant Biotechnology" is on-line at

There have been protests organized by Greenpeace also in New Zealand, the first major controversy over release of GMOs. In Oamaru protesters came to protest against a Monsanto Round-up resistant Ready canola (rapeseed) trial of 0.5Ha that had been approved by the Ministry for the Environment after review, Otago Daily Times (14, 17, 18 Dec 1996); Oamaru Mail (16 Dec 1996).

Beer is another target, Hansen, J. et al. "Inactivation of MET10 in brewer's yeast specifically increases SO2 formation during beer production", Nature Biotechnology 14 (1996), 1587-91, 1540-1; NS (9 Nov 1996), 22. Sulfite is widely used as an antioxidant in food production. Partial or full elimination of MET10 gene activity in a brewer's yeast resulted in increased sulfite accumulation by six times, which enhances its life. Beer produced with such yeasts was quite satisfactory and showed increased flavour stability.

A letter on the health dangers of antibiotic resistance genes from GMOs is Nature 383 (1996), 304. In the UK as in most countries there are more illnesses being caused by naturally developing novel E.coli strains, Nature 384 (1996), 397. Naked fruit is being sold in some US shops to save people peeling it, NS (26 Oct 1996), 21.

Richard Wolfson, PhD Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Food Natural Law Party 500 Wilbrod Street Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2 Tel. 613-565-8517 Fax. 613-565-6546 email:

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