Genetically Manipulated Food News

2 July 1997

Table of Contents

Testing Food for GE Manipulation
Gene Crops are Hot EU/US Trade Issue
GE Products Require Approval in the EU
Transgenetic Fish
Bolivian Farmers complain
EU: Patenting of Genes under Question

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Testing Food for Genetic Manipulation

Genetic ID, which is the company in the USA that tests foods to see if they are genetically engineered has a new website, which describes how foods are tested etc.

This fabulous website is:

Gene Crops Emerge as a hot EU/US Trade Issue

June 20, 1997

London, Reuters [WS] via Individual Inc. : Genetically modified farm products emerged as a leading sticking point between the United States and Europe on trade when grain nations met in London on Thursday. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said that what he described as "phoney science" was "the greatest threat to free trade."

His comments in a speech at the meeting of the International Grains Council were an indirect attack on countries that restrict the sale of genetically-modified on the basis of consumer concern, without what the U.S. considers adequate scientific backing.

European Union Requires Approval of GE Modified Products

The Associated Press 20 Jun 1997

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Responding to public concern about food safety, the European Union on Wednesday approved a measure requiring companies to label genetically modified food.

The move is certain to spark complaints from the United States. U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky earlier in the week told EU officials that Washington would view labeling as a possible violation of world trade rules. ...

The rules will require companies seeking EU approval of gene-modified products to identify them as such on ``a label or an accompanying document." EU officials said all 15 member nations must put the labeling law into effect by July 31.

European farm, environmental and consumer groups have called for the labels, arguing the grain has not been adequately tested for safety.

Austria and Luxembourg have banned the import of genetically modified grain, saying the herbicides and antibiotic-resistant chemicals used in its production could cause adverse reactions in some individuals.

Transgenesis Touted as Solution to Fish Shortages

Intellectual Property & Biodiversity News - Vol. 6, Number 7 May 28,1997

Trangenic fish are being developed by several organizations to stock aquaculture farms. These fish are created with specific traits such as enhanced growth rates, increased product efficiency, disease resistance and expanded ecological ranges. To achieve these desired traits, the fish eggs are injected or fused with the DNA of other species. One of the genes experimented with, is the human growth hormone gene. This gene has been inserted into the common carp, crucian carp and loach, resulting in a dramatic increase in the growth of these fish.

Another trait that is being experimented with, is the insertion of a coldwater tolerance gene from a fish, such as the ocean pout, into the Atlantic salmon. By doing this, the researchers expect to extend the range of the salmon to the coastal regions in northern Canada. The researchers working on these transgenic fish freely admit that an accidental release into the natural environment is a possibility, and that the methods of minimizing the damage from such an occurrence need to be addressed.

Choy L. Hew and Garth Fletcher, "Transgenic Fish for Aquaculture," CHEMISTRY & INDUSTRY, April 21, 1997.


Bolivian Farmers Demand Researchers Drop Patent on Andean Food Crop


Bolivia's National Association of Quinoa Producers (ANAPQUI) is asking two professors at Colorado State University to abandon their controversial patent on one of the country's most important food crops - quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) - a crop that feeds millions throughout the Andes, including many Aymara and Quechua Indigenous People.

"Our intellectual integrity has been violated by this patent," said Luis Oscar Mamami, ANAPQUI's President. "Quinoa has been developed by Andean farmers for millenia, it was not 'invented' by researchers in North America," said Mamani.

Subject: patenting of genes under question

European Parliament Signals Go-ahead For Corporate Control of Life?

On 18 June 1997, the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee voted to allow industry to have patents, i.e. monopoly control, of living organisms - human parts, animals and plants. This radically overturns current European patent law, which forbids the patenting of plant and animal varieties, and allows monopolies deep into our genetic heritage. The proposed text of the draft law will now move to the plenary of the European Parliament and will be voted upon on 15 - 17 July this year.

The procedures of debate and voting in the Legal Committee had been distorted in order to allow the rapporteur, who is strongly in favour of "life patenting", to push through his interests without proper debate or compromise negotiations.

Public interest groups from all parts of society have strong reservations about the idea of "life patenting" for a number of reasons, which are illustrated below. The Committee has not addressed any of these concerns but has produced a one-sided law proposal which only takes on board the interests of the biotechnology industry. It totally bypasses those of consumers, farmers, doctors, researchers, indigenous people and patients, as well as those concerned with animal welfare, development options, biodiversity, environment and religion.

If the draft law is passed as it is, there are dangerous implications for society's access to food and medicine, socio-economic justice and ethical questions. The European vote will also have an enormous impact on the South, effectively forcing full patenting of life on the rest of the world. Some of the implications are illustrated below:

  1. Human genes, cells, parts could become corporate property A corporation could be granted exclusive monopoly rights on human genes, cells and other parts. This means, for example, that the European patent which has recently been granted to the US corporation Biocyte on umbilical cord blood cells would be legal. The granting of this patent means that Biocyte can refuse access to and use of these blood cells, and any therapeutic products derived from them, to anyone unwilling or unable to pay their fees. Nothing in the draft law would stop this denial of therapeutic practice and medical research from whole sections of society.

  2. Human cloning left vague, human "spare parts" could be patented The proposed directive is vague and ambiguous in the area of human cloning. It does not explicitly ban patents on the products of any human cloning or embryo production. While patents on "whole" human clones might be outlawed in the end, the thorny questions relate to the production and patenting of human "spare parts" production or human/animal hybrids. Researchers have already moved human chromosomes into mice and human genes into fish, sheep and other animals. Human kidneys can be produced by pigs, human proteins by sheep etc. While all of these developments are being intensely debated in Europe right now, the draft law would promote commercially motivated research by allowing monopoly control over the genes, chromosomes, cells and organs in question.

  3. Animal suffering OK if it benefits people At the recent European Ministers Council meeting in Amsterdam, the new treaty called for "improved protection and respect for the welfare of animals as sentient beings". The draft directive states that animal suffering is justified if there is "substantial medicinal benefit". This would mean that the first animal patent granted in the USA almost a decade ago, on a mouse engineered to produce cancer cells and thereby suffer and die from cancer, would be legally acceptable in Europe. Right now it is being challenged in Europe, where there are about 200 similar applications waiting until the verdict for animals clarified in this directive.

    After 9 years and millions of these mice dying invariably of cancer, no cure has been found for humans. But industry has managed to sell the false promise that with patents the biotech industry can provide cures. Animal suffering is thus justified and this unproven technology continues, unchallenged.

  4. Nothing to stop patents on entire plant and animal species, giving gene-food market advantage The current European Patent Convention - legally binding to all EU member states - through which patents are presently granted, carefully prohibits the patenting of plant and animal varieties as these form the basis for food security within and outside Europe. The proposed directive circumvents this prohibition by allowing entire food crops and farm animal species to be patented and monopolised from seed to supermarket by one corporation. The proposed directive would, for example, legalise a very controversial and legally contested patent on any genetically engineered soybean, granted to the US chemical giant Monsanto. Patents such as this one are being used to stake genetic territorial claims with no relation to invention, as a means to block other research and thereby competition. Similar patents on major food crops such as rice are in the pipeline. Can Europe allow the monopolisation of basic food sources on which billions of people depend? The MEPs vote will decide their fate - whether they continue to control their diverse livelihood systems or become contract labor to the global food corporations, pushing this proposed directive.

  5. Pirating the biodiversity and knowledge of the South The draft directive passed by the Legal Affairs Committee contravenes the International agreements signed by the member states since the Rio 1992 Earth Summit, especially the legally binding Convention on Biological Diversity. This Convention - ratified by all EU member states - obliges its Parties to ensure that any biotechnology patent system incorporates a "fair and equitable" sharing of the benefits of biodiversity products, especially with the diversity rich developing countries. The proposed Directive does not bother to incorporate any of this. Patents on "Quinoa", a high protein grain developed by farmers in the Andes, on "Neem", a pest control crop from India, or on "Katemfe" a sweetener crop developed by African farmers, would all be patentable in Europe, disregarding the original inventors from the South. What has become known as "biopiracy" would be promoted by the proposed directive.

  6. "Harmonisation" with what? Competition with whom? Jobs for whom? Life patent proponents argue that the proposed directive is nothing more than the harmonisation of European patent law, which is what industry says it needs to be competitive in the European and global markets: common rules of the game for everybody. The reality is that the proposed directive destroys the basic safeguards that society had incorporated into the patent system, to the extent that no other country in the world has done before. It even goes far beyond current patent practice in the USA - a country where the pro-patent lobby traditionally has been very strong. While some argue that we need this directive to comply with Europe's obligations under the WTO/TRIPS agreement, the truth is that it also goes far beyond its requirements. This TRIPS agreement allows each country to decide whether it wishes to patent plants and animals or define another legal system of protection. In fact this is what should happen: if we are to promote innovation in biological sciences, we need a totally new legal system for this purpose, and not the cracking open of a century old tool designed to patent machines.

Another argument of the life patent-pushers is that we need the proposed directive for European companies to be able to compete with their counterparts from the USA and Japan, which will somehow inevitably also create jobs. This argument is based on a total misconception of reality -or a straightforward lie. It is precisely the US biotech corporations, eager to expand their business in Europe, who are lobbying hardest for this directive. It is the same companies who lead the patent applications at the European Patent Office. Patents applied to life forms is about market control - not about stimulating innovation, research or jobs. Nowhere does the draft law stipulate that the patent holder has a responsibility to establish research or production in the region where it is granted. No one seems to have asked industry to prove its claims.

info: Beth Burrows, President/Director

The Edmonds Institute, 20319-92nd Avenue West, Edmonds, Washington 98020 USA phone: 425-775-5383, email: fax: 425-670-8410

Richard Wolfson, PhD, Campaign to Ban Gen.Eng.Food

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