Genetically Manipulated Food News

24 August 1997

Table of Contents

Law Suit Clears Way for "Free From rBGH" Labels
rBST/rBGH smuggling still under dispute in Canada
Status of rBGH Approval in Canada
Codex suspends rBGH decision
Mad Cow Disease on TV in Canada
Agribusiness is trying to use dubious new libel laws to control the national debate on food safety.
Farmers complain about Monsanto's GE Cotton
Mass Producing of Coloned Animals
Bees harmed by GE rapeseed
Fear of Plant Safety Carrying Viruses

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Legal Settlement Clears Way For National Anti-rBGH Label

Thursday, August 14, 1997

Past Refusals by the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago had Created a National Ban on Labeling; Settlement Ends First Amendment Lawsuit by Ben & Jerry's Homemade, The Organic Valley - Family of Farms, Stonyfield Farm and Whole Foods Market

South Burlington, VT -- Manufacturers of ice cream, yogurt and other dairy products who use milk and cream produced without the controversial growth hormone rBGH can now say so on their labels.

Under the terms of an unprecedented legal settlement announced today, the State of Illinois has agreed to permit such voluntary labeling by natural food companies opposed to rBGH. Because Illinois represents such a large consumer market, the state's actions had effectively stopped anti-rBGH labeling throughout the country.

Ben & Jerry's, a Vermont based national manufacturer of all-natural superpremium ice cream and frozen yogurt, initiated and financed the suit. It was joined by Stonyfield Farm Inc., a manufacturer of yogurt and ice cream products located in Londonderry, New Hampshire; Whole Foods Market Inc., the nation's largest chain of natural food supermarkets, based in Austin, Texas; and Organic Valley, a farmers' cooperative based in La Farge, Wisconsin that sells milk, cheese and butter products.

The suit, which was filed in Federal court in May of 1996 against the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, charged that their prohibition on voluntary anti-rBGH labeling was a violation of the companies' First Amendment right to honestly inform customers about the contents of their products amid a controversial political issue. The agreement announced today settles that lawsuit and allows the companies to proceed with anti-rBGH labels.

"The use of bio-engineered growth hormones in dairy cows is inconsistent with everything we stand for. This settlement is a great victory for Ben & Jerry's, for our family farmers, and most of all, for our customers" said Perry Odak, the CEO of Ben and Jerry's Homemade Inc. who himself grew up on a dairy farm. Noting Ben & Jerry's spent considerable resources to resolve this suit Odak added: "We regret that the State of Illinois forced us into a legal resolution of this matter. However, this is a fundamentally important issue. Manufacturers should be able to tell customers how their products are produced and consumers should have a right to information that allows them to make an informed choice."

"The family farmers who make up The Organic Valley Family of Farms, are in this business because we love cows. We would not knowingly subject our animals to a drug with side effects that could cause illness, death and create undue stress on the animal. Utilizing any genetically engineered product is counter to what we believe in here at Organic Valley," said George Siemon the cooperative's CEO.

rBST/rBGH smuggling still under dispute in Canada

It now appears that there is no way to know whether the allegations of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (technically called bovine somatropin or rBST) being smuggled by farmers from the USA into Canada to increase milk production in Canadian dairy herds are valid. In a domain involving multi-billion dollar stakes world-wide, such as the dairy industry, it is difficult to sort out what is truth and what is public relations. Also, because of the availability of rBST in the USA, and the extensive traffic through the USA border, it is impossible for Canadian regulatory agencies to assess, let alone control, illegal importation of rBST.

Officially, rBST has not been approved in Canada. Both the National Dairy Council of Canada (the processing industry) and the Dairy Farmers of Canada are strongly opposed to the introduction of rBGH at this time, due to unresolved issues of safety and consumer concern. One important issue is the claimed increased levels of insulin-like growth factor (a suspected carcinogen) in milk of cows injected with rBGH. Another unresolved concern is whether rBGH injections produce mastitis in cows.

Status of rBGH Approval in Canada

As far as rBGH approval in Canada, in media reports this past June, evaluators at the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs in Health Canada stated that management in their department were moving to get rBGH approved, without providing the relevant evaluators with documentation on its human safety. By law, before rBGH can be approved, evaluators in the Bureau need to determine its safety. However, management had apparently been pushing for rBGH approval, while hiding information from evaluators.

With continued concern from the public, scientific evaluators, the processing industry, and the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the government may be backing off. However, due to continued lobbying from the biotech industry for approval of rBGH, continued pressure from the public and industry to stop rBGH is needed.

Codex suspends rBGH decision

The international food standards body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, decided in June to suspend discussions on introducing rBGH on the world market. The USA had put forward a proposal that would have supported global rBGH approval. Technically, the US proposal stated that it was not necessary to set any "Maximum Residue Levels" (MRL's) of rBGH allowed in milk, or any "Acceptable Daily Intake" (ADI) levels of rBGH. In practical terms,the proposal could have allowed industry to use as much rBST as they wanted, and no one could complain.

However, due to concerns from many countries, the issue was put on hold for at least 2 years, asking for more evaluation. While official Canadian Codex representatives supported the USA position, concerns shared by Canadian evaluators, industry, consumers, and farmers were used by Codex members in deferring the introduction of rBGH.

Genetic Engineering and Mad Cow Disease on TV in Canada

An excellent show taped last year in Vancouver on Genetic Engineering and Mad Cow Disease is still being rebroadcast in Canadian cities. Featured speakers are Dr. Joe Cummins, leading Canadian environmentalist and Professor Emeritus of Genetics, and Howard Lyman, an internationally renowned spokesman on mad cow disease and other issues. (see the next article).

In Ontario, the show will be broadcast, on Friday Aug 29, at 9:00 pm on Rogers Community Cable TV. If you are in Ontario and have not seen this show, be sure to watch it. (You can check you local TV schedule to make sure it is not rescheduled) For those in other areas of Canada, call up your local Rogers Community Cable representative and ask when they will be showing the Mad Cow Disease and genetic engineering show taped in Vancouver last year. The show is quite well known to them.

Article on Howard Lyman and Mad Cow Disease follows:

Food Fight

by Evan Halper

from In These Times (Chicago, Illinois)

August 11, 1997 (page 24-25)

In April 1996, as Britain was swept up in a national panic over mad cow disease -- a sickness diagnosed in U.K. cattle that has been linked to a handful of cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans -- Oprah Winfrey devoted an episode of her widely popular show to the threat that the disease posed to cows and people on this side of the Atlantic.

Winfrey is hardly known for her nuanced, dispassionate examination of the issues of the day, and this episode was no exception. Howard Lyman of the Humane Society's Eating With A Conscience campaign, one of Winfrey's guests, argued that the U.S. beef industry's practice of feeding cows the ground-up remains of other cows could lead to an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States. In fact, Lyman warned the show's millions of viewers, the United States was heading toward a tragic epidemic.

"You said this disease could make AIDS look like the common cold?" Winfrey gasped.

"Absolutely," said Lyman.

Gary Weber of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and William Hueston of the Department of Agriculture argued that feeding rendered cows to other cattle was perfectly safe, but Winfrey emphatically sided with Lyman. "It has just stopped me cold from eating another hamburger," she said to audience applause. "I'm stopped!"

Cattle prices plummeted the next day, and dropped 10 percent by the end of May. Just days after the show aired, Texas Agricultural Commissioner Rick Perry called for action under a year-old state law banning disparaging remarks against perishable food. One of 13 states that have enacted so-called "veggie-libel" laws, Texas allows growers and ranchers to sue critics for damages suffered as a result of claims about agricultural products not grounded in "reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts or data."

Texas' attorney general chose not to pursue the matter, but a group of ranchers, led by Amarillo cattleman Paul Engler, filed suit privately in June 1996. The ranchers charged that the show's "carefully and maliciously edited statements were designed to hype ratings at the expense of the American cattle industry."

The case marks the first and only suit to be filed to date under a food-disparagement law. Proponents of these laws argue that the public needs to be protected from mavericks who make outrageous claims about the dangers of modern food technologies. "Part of the incentive is to, at least, get someone to think twice before making an accusation," says Steve Kopperud, vice president of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA). "The producer community and others have grown increasingly concerned by food scares that hit the media through activists with the price of an ad in a major publication."

Critics, however, assert that food-disparagement laws tip the scales too far in favor of the food industry and do significant harm to free speech rights. They are also concerned that the laws will make it harder for those outside the scientific establishment to question products and practices that they consider unsafe.

Agriculture -- Mississippi Investigating Monsanto's Cotton


JACKSON, MISS. - MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL from Dialog via Individual Inc. :

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce said Friday it is investigating complaints that Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready cotton isn't growing properly in some areas.

Lester Spell, commissioner of agriculture, said the department is reviewing complaints from at least four farmers in the Mississippi Delta who say the genetically enhanced cotton is producing bolls that are malformed or are falling off the plant. ``This is a big concern to us," Spell said. ``I have dedicated time to the issue and will continue to do so until we get a resolution."

Clones unlimited, by Daniel Pendick (Milwaukee)

New Scientist August 16, 1997

HERDS of cloned farm animals could be a common sight within a few years, following a breakthrough by the American company ABS Global of De Forest, Wisconsin. The company has developed a technique for mass-producing clones. Last week, it showed off its first success, a six-month-old calf called Gene.

Gene was created from a cell removed from a fetal calf. But the process works just as well with the cells of adults, says Michael Bishop, ABS's director of research. This is important because it allows the cloning of animals that have proved their worth. More than 10 clones of adult cattle have been implanted in cows and are due to be born over the next few months. Earlier this year, Scottish researchers revealed that they had cloned Dolly from the cell of an adult sheep (This Week, 1 March, p 4)

Sting in the tale for bees by Charlene Crabb

New Scientist August 16, 1997

It was only supposed to kill pests, but genetically engineered rapeseed could turn out to be a very mixed blessing. PLANTS that have been genetically engineered to ward off destructive insects could also harm beneficial ones such as bees, shortening their lives and impairing their ability to recognise flower smells, researchers have found.

Fields of Genes

by Kurt Kleiner (Washington DC)

New Scientist August 16, 1997

They have the biotechnology, but it may be running out of control, and the US is starting to worry RENEWED fears over the safety of plants carrying genes from viruses may lead to curbs on genetically engineered crops in the US. Moves to clamp down on altered crops come as the biotechnology giant Monsanto awaits permission to market a potato that carries a viral gene. Meanwhile Canadian research shows that the risk of wild viruses hijacking genes from engineered crops could be far higher than suspected.

At a meeting in Washington DC last week, the US Department of Agriculture outlined possible restrictions aimed at reducing the risk of creating harmful new plant viruses. Crops are given viral genes to make them resistant to attack by the virus they come from, but the USDA has become increasingly concerned that that genes might be hijacked by other viruses to create new hybrids and new diseases.

The USDA called the meeting to sound out opinion on the need for restrictions. These include a possible limit on the length of genetic sequences introduced into crop plants and the banning of genes that make functional proteins. The department is also worried about particularly high-risk sequences, such as those that trigger the process of viral replication.

Advocates of the technology argue that there is no evidence that recombination - swapping of genetic material between viruses - will produce dangerous hybrid viruses. But critics believe that not enough is yet known to say what the risks of recombination are. And some of those at the meeting suggested that it might be a smoke screen. "Will this be used to make people like me feel that these issues have been addressed ?" asked Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

There is, however, evidence that existing viruses may pick up a trait from a transgenic plant. Some viruses seem to be recent products of recombination that arose naturally. And in laboratory experiments, viruses from which a genetic sequence has been removed have reacquired it from transgenic plants carrying the missing genes. Traits such as the ability to move more efficiently from cell to cell or to infect other kinds of plants could prove dangerous if transferred to another virus.

The technology's proponents claim that if recombination were likely, new hybrid viruses would be turning up all the time. "You can go to a potato field or a tomato field, or corn or wheat, where all these viruses are living together. You don't get new viruses jumping out of these fields infecting dogs and small children," says Chuck Niblett, a plant virologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

But Allen Miller, a plant virologist at Iowa State University, points out that transgenic plants will contain the viral genes in all their cells all the time, increasing the risk of recombination. "It's really hard to predict what's going to happen if you have a million acres all expressing a viral gene," he says.

The risks may be much higher than bio-technology companies want to admit. D'Ann Rochon, a plant virologist with Agriculture Canada, described how she infected plants with a cucumber mosaic virus that lacked the gene to make a protein that allows it to move from cell to cell, and then took an equivalent gene from another virus and inserted that into the plants. She found that there were properly functioning mosaic viruses in one in eight of the plants - which must have arisen through recombination.

"Within 10 days you get a virus which is very, very fit," says Rochon. This appears to be the first time anyone has shown recombination between two different kinds of viruses within a plant. Only two weeks ago, Monsanto applied for a permit to market the transgenic potato it calls Newleaf, which carries the replicase gene from the potato leaf roll virus. Replicase is responsible for making copies of viral genes. With a plant's cells awash with such genes, says Miller, recombination would be even more likely. For more science news see

Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., 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, e-mail:

Our website is: It now contains previous biotech articles from Alive, articles from Joe Cummins and John Fagan, other GE website links, etc.

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