Genetically Manipulated Food News

4 October 1997

Table of Contents

The Danger of Virus-Resistant Crops
Brazil being pressured to segregate transgenic soy
The Protein Bug
Distrusting Aspartame

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The Danger of Virus-Resistant Crops

by Joe Cummins, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Genetics, University of Western Ontario

Virus-resistant crops are becoming a mainstay in the biotechnology industry. These crops incorporate foreign virus genes, which are genetically engineered into the plants, for the purpose of producing resistance to the virus.

For example, crookneck squash with engineered virus resistance has been marketed in the United States--much of that product is marketed as baby food. US Permits to grow virus resistant beets, cucumber, lettuce, melon, pepper, potato, sunflower, tomato and watermelon have been granted or are pending, even though laboratory experiments showed that they could potentially give rise to new viruses-- deadlier than the viruses that the crops are being protected from!

Threefold Hazard

There are three kinds of hazards associated with the virus resistant crops, which incorporate foreign virus genes: recombination, transcapsidation and synergism.

Recombination is the scrambling of virus genes to create new gene combinations, some of which can give rise to deadlier viruses. Laboratory experiments showed that tobacco plants engineered with a virus gene created new virus strains by recombination when infected with a virus. With virus-resistant crops soon to be released on such a huge scale, there is a very high probability that super viruses will be created by recombination.

Transcapsidation happens when the virus "coat" from the plant cell is taken up and used by an invading virus. The transcapsidated virus could have an enhanced infection and extended range of hosts to infect.

In synergism, the virus gene in the plant cell potentiates the effect of the incoming virus. This may be manifest in more severe disease symptoms or in the increased concentration of virus particles in the cells.

Recombination is the most threatening of the three effects because recombination can produce a host of new virus diseases and create viruses capable of destroying a whole crop or many crops.

Professional Concern

In 1993 the Union of Concerned Scientists called for a moratorium on commercialization of virus resistant crops until a stronger risk assessment program was introduced by the government. The Union's proposal was ignored by government regulators.

The virus resistant crops are not being monitored for the production of new plant viruses. Any new virus problem from the use of transgenic crops would be detected by farmers, seed producers, and scientists as new virus disease. It is likely that such detection would take place too late to deal with a strong disease producing virus.

For example, a super virus could begin with the introduction of a crop such as potato bearing a "movement" gene to provide protection against virus. Recombination with a previously immobile virus might yield a superior, highly infectious virus that in one season could infect most seed stock. By the following season, most potato production would have been eliminated or greatly diminished in North America.

The marketing of virus resistant crops bearing copies of virus genes in each cell has begun. The number of biotech foods in general in this country is rising steadily, in spite of concerns of very serious risks.

As consumers, we need to let our governments and local supermarket managers know that we will not tolerate unlabeled genetically engineered foods. We deserve the freedom to make an informed choice about what we put on our kitchen tables every day. Visit with your supermarket manager soon. Support organic growers across the country with your produce purchases. And write your concerns to both:


Brazil being pressured to segregate transgenic soy

SAO PAULO, Sept 30 (Reuter)

Brazilian growers should segregate the planting of gene-modified (GMO) soybeans from conventional ones to guarantee European buyers a proportion of non-transgenic product, a French agronomist said.

There is a large demand for conventional soybeans in Europe, where debate has been raging about the potential health risks of GMOs, he said. "The demand exists in Europe, and especially in France," said Patrice Lequime, head of product buying at France's National Union of Agricultural Supply Cooperatives (UNCAA). France is the largest importer of Brazilian soymeal, buying 3.1 million tonnes per year, he noted.

The Protein Bug

Financial Times (London) September 30, 1997

The search for new ways to produce genetically engineered pharma-ceuticals is coming up with ever more ingenious solutions.

These have ranged from sheep that can be genetically engineered to produce medicines in their milk, to transgenic plants that can be made to produce medically useful proteins in their seeds and roots. And now researchers can turn insect larvae into tiny pharmaceutical factories.

Scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University have produced commercial quantities of "recombinant" pharmaceutical proteins out of caterpillar larvae.

The researchers infect the insect larvae with genetically engineered viruses that alter the insects' DNA structure to produce the required protein. After a few days, the insect dies and the protein is collected and purified.

The researchers use a technique developed at the BTI to reduce the cost of rearing the insects. This system, called a "high-efficiency rearing device", is a box full of tightly spaced small pillars. The caterpillar larvae attach themselves to the pillars, making it easy to infect them with the virus and harvest the proteins. Thousands of larvae can be raised in a device the size of a shoebox.

In some respects, the technique is not a radically new departure. Recombinant viruses have been used before to make pharmaceutical proteins in cultures of insect cells. But this is an expensive technique.

Alan Wood, a BTI researcher, reports strong interest from drugs companies in the insect larvae technique because it can make proteins -such as receptor proteins - that are hard to make in other systems. He thinks the approach has vast potential.

Richard Wolfson, PhD

Campaign for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods

Natural Law Party, 500 Wilbrod Street, Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2, Tel. 613-565-8517 Fax. 613-565-1596, email:

Our website, contains more information on genetic engineering.

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Here is the article as published today in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Page 16 A, October 2, l997, Thursday:

Distrusting Aspartame

Most people believe the Food and Drug Administration when it says aspartame (a.k.a. Equal, NutraSweet, etc) is safe. I did and I almost died. I used Equal in my coffee for 15 years. During the last 11, I experienced crippling arthritis and many other problems. In early l996, I was told by a rheumatologist that my "arthritis" could not cause tingling hands and feet, combination carpal tunnel/tennis elbow forearms that almost made them useless, shooting pains in my lower extremities, burning heels, memory loss, depression -- and more.

It is lamentable that so many doctors are so ill-informed as is Donald McCormick of the Emory School of Medicine ("Aspartame called safe for most people," HealthWatch, Sept 23) that they believe that aspartame is safe.

I am a victim of 15 years of cumulative poisoning from microdoses of methanol.

Aspartame was never proved safe and cannot be proved safe. It is a national disgrace -- a tribute to greed.

Dave Rietz

Rietz of Goose Creek, S.C. is a web/master of , the Web site of Mission Possible, a citizen group dedicated to the eradication of aspartame.

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