Genetically Manipulated Food News

5 February 1998

Table of Contents

Bayer on Shanghai Trial on Nifedipine -- and Response
Monsanto's Influence on the Missouri Botanical Gardens
GE Soja Scandal in Brazil
Organic Standards and Revoking Monsanto's Charter
Biotechnology and the Third World, by Richard Wolfson, PhD
TEN NEW Irish Sugar Beet Planting Trials?
Genetically Decaffeinated Coffee
COMING SOON: Wider Selection of GE Seedless Fruit
Testing for Genetic Manipulation

Back to Index


Bayer on Shanghai Trial on Nifedipine -- and Response

The November 1997 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health Nutrition contained an article written by me entitled "HPB: Who's Really in Charge?" (The article is available in full text at the website http://www.concentric.net/~Rwolfson/HPB.html ) In this article, "HPB" refers to the Health Protection Branch of Health Canada. One of the topics in this article was short-acting nifedipine, a hypertensive drug that is still on the market despite concern over its safety.

The February 1998 issue of Alive contains a letter from Bayer, the manufacter of this drug, in response to the November article. The Alive issue also contains a letter from me in response to Bayer's letter. As I thought you might find these two letters interesting, they follow below:

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Here is the letter from Bayer, which appears in the February 1998 issue of Alive on page 10:

Dear Alive:

Richard Wolfson's article in the November issue of Alive ("HPB: Who's Really in Charge?") does your readers a disservice. Instead of offering balanced, factual reporting, it perpetuates misinformation and may have created unsubstantiated fear among patients with heart disease.

The article does not report that an exhaustive review by Health Canada and an independent Canadian expert advisory panel completed in June 1997 confirmed that all forms of nifedipine are safe and effective when used as directed, or that many other leading international regulatory bodies have evaluated this issue and have come to the same conclusion.

The article also does not report on two recent and major long-term international studies. The Shanghai Trial on Nifedipine in the Elderly (STONE - 1996) involved 1600 patients and reported a 59% reduction in cardiovascular illness and death.

The Systolic Hypertension in Europe (SYST-EUR) study, involving 4,695 elderly patients, found that patients being treated with a dihydropyridine calcium channel blocker has 42% fewer strokes than patients receiving placebo.

Our concern has always been, and remains, that the confusion around this issue would cause patients to stop taking their antihypertensive medications and put their health at risk. We feel the recent coverage provided by Alive increases this risk. At a time when clarity needs to be brought to your readers about using nifedipine as directed, we find it unacceptable to see a misinformed story such as this.

Sincerely,

Corey B. Toal, PhD, Associate Director - Cardiovascular, Bayer Inc.

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Here is my response, which also appears in the February 1998 issue of Alive, directly following the letter from Bayer:

Dear Alive,

Bayer's letter alleging fear that "misinformation" will create harm for heart patients is misleading. Clearly, the harm to be concerned about is the excess deaths due to treatment with short-acting nifedipine. Even the HPB in its first warning letter of Feb. 23, 1996, states clearly for physicians that short-acting nifedipine may cause excess deaths as compared to other treatments and therefore should be used "rarely if ever."

Health Canada's 1997 review of nifedipine failed to include research that questioned the safety of short-acting nifedipine. It omitted a published 1996 Harvard study, funded by Bayer itself, which demonstrates that the short-acting form of nifedipine is less safe than the long-acting form for the approved use in angina. (J. Hypertension 1996 14[suppl 2]: S5-S7)

Bayer then tries to establish the safety of this drug by referring to research that did not even involve short-acting nifedipine!

The Shanghai Trial (STONE - 1996) mentioned was on long-acting nifedipine, while the SYST-EUR research did not study nifedipine in either form. Is Bayer so desperate to support short-acting nifedipine that it needs to refer to research that does not even involve their product?

Bayer claims that other agencies around the world are not concerned about excess mortality and morbidity with short-acting nifedipine. However, information obtained through access to information laws shows that Australia is moving to take short-acting nifedipine off the market.

When new information surfaces that puts into question the safety of a drug, by law doctors should be warned. Why has Bayer never issued a warning about widespread hazardous use of their product, short-acting nifedipine? What can citizens do when a multi-national firm adopts a standard of conduct to deliberately mislead people, in the interest of market profit?

Richard Wolfson, PhD

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Reprinted with permission from Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby, BC V5J 5B9

Date: Sat, 31 Jan 1998 12:46:51 -0500 (EST)
From: T4shea@aol.com
Subject: Monsanto's Influence

Monsanto's Influence on the Missouri Botanical Gardens

January 20, 1998
Confluence Banned from Missouri Botanical Gardens

The Confluence, an independent, locally published newspaper covering environmental and social justice issues was banned from distribution at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

A stack of the special double issue on Times Beach was dropped off for free distribution at the Gardens. Several days later, the Confluence office received a call from Delle Willett, PR manager for the Gardens, letting them know that they would not be able to give away Confluences there anymore and that she had placed them in the recycle bin. In a rare moment of honesty Willett asserted firmly but politely,

"If you have stuff that blasts Monsanto, we don't want it here."

"So you don't like controversy?", replied Mark Quercus, publisher.

"It would be like biting the hand that feeds you. Monsanto has just given us $3 million for the new research center (named the Monsanto Center) and has given us millions in the past." Willett continued. "If Robert Shapiro (CEO Monsanto) would have walked in the door and seen this paper, it would have been very troublesome."

Thus, a public institution revealed that it is possible to control the range of political discussion if a corporation with an agenda gives them enough cash, as Monsanto has. So Monsanto has a foothold on a part of the environmental movement.

The company has a poor environmental record, having dumped 27 million pounds of toxic chemicals in the environment. (It is ranked 7th among the nation's largest toxic discharger according to TRI data compiled by the EPA.) Furthermore it is now subject to global protests about the potential dangers of its commercial genetically engineered products such as Roundup Ready soybeans. Increasing numbers of environmentalists and scientists, especially in Europe, are alarmed about the possibility of the spread of these "altered" genes into the environment. No one adequately understood Monsanto's toxic PCBs, now they are widespread in the environment. Will we soon see genetic pollution?

A coalition of environmental groups from the area held a protest at the St. Louis Science Center on Oct. 16, 1997 to call attention to the Science Center's biased display on biotechnology. The display described biotechnology in glowing terms while failing to mention the problems of genetically engineered crops and food. Monsanto donated $500,000 and two specialists to create this one-sided display. Everyone appreciates and honors the excellent work and education the Science Center and Botanical Gardens do for the environment and public. Allowing corporations, like Monsanto, to buy public institutions' agendas and shape political debate through the guise of friendly contributions should not be tolerated.

Monsanto realizes that they will have to fight consumers and concerned citizens to make a buck off their potentially dangerous products, and part of their strategy is to divide the environmental movement and co-op public institutions.

Contact: Mark Quercus at 314-772-6463 Confluence www.heartwood.org/MO/Confluence


Date: Sat, 31 Jan 1998 16:52:00 -0300
From: martin.rickinger@apis.com.br (Martin Rickinger)
Subject: one more scandal with GE soja

GE Soja Scandal in Brazil

CORREIO BRAZILIENSE, (major daily newspaper in the brazil's Capital City Brasilia) 31/01/98:

Investigation: Police closes circle around illegal cultivation of soja

Porto Alegre - The Federal Police in Passo Fundo, in the interior of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, has proven the plantation of 1,5 hectar of transgenic soja in the municipality of Getulio vargas, but has no confidence yet, that the farmer, who admitted his planting, has given complete facts. The illegal importation of the product preocupies the brazilian authorities. It was extra-officially confirmed, that the region was going to receive a truckload of seeds, with the capacity of around 200 bags of soja, illegally brought in from Argentina, sufficient for planting, at least, 133,34 hectars.

Other farmers in neighbouring municipalities, like Carazinho, Cruz Alta e the same Passo Fundo, are being investigated by federal agents and by technicians of the Agriculture Ministry, after being denounced by the Brazilian Seed Association to the Secretary of Sanitarian Defence, Mr. Enio Marques Pereira, in Brasilia.

After collecting all the facts, the official of the Federal Police, Antonio Ruschel, will send a report to the Central Intelligence of the Federal Police in Brasilia, for being distributed also to the Ministries of Agriculture and Science & Technology, which will have to determine the types of action how to control and punish the illegally imported seeds.

IDENTIFICATION

The police has even documents with the names of the suppliers of the transgenic soja from Argentina. "One of them is a argetninian seed subsidary of Monsanto", explained Ruschel. On Monday, the official wants to question a seller to identify the principle suppliers, that are introducing in this state this seed illegally. The regional representative of the Agriculture Ministry in Porto Alegre, Clovis Schwertner, already informed the Secretary of Sanitarian Defence in the Ministry about the investigations. From February on, the main specialist in transgenic seeds, the agronomist Jose Luis Mendes de Oliveira, will participate in the investigations.

According to Brazilian legislation, foreign transgenic products (resulting from combinations of genes) can only be introduced in Brazil after a period of quarentene and the realization of exams to avoid damages in agriculture and Brazilian flora.; which didn't happen in the region of Passo Fundo, according to Reschel.

"Apart from that, we don't yet know the effects of transgenic soja onto the human organism", he said. Ruschel observed that all from Brazil exported soja is not transgenic and for this well accepted in Japan and Europa. There is the risk that importers don't accept the Brazilian product, in case they would know that it could have a transgenic part; what would be a economical disaster for the country.

The argentinian transgenic soja possesses "high resistance against the applied herbicides", Schwertner says. Ruschel admits that in order to combat natural enemies of soja the so-called herbicide Round Up - the agent organge - is used, which kills everything that is green. "The only one that escapes that is transgenic soja", he said. According to Embrapa this soja is the result of the insertion of a bacteria gen of the proper poison in the same herbicide. So far, the official will not indicate the farmer in Getulio Vargas and hasn't decided yet about opening a formal inquiry by the police against him.


Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 19:28:52 -0700
From: pmligotti@earthlink.net (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: Organic Standards and Revoking Monsanto's Charter

I wanted to make sure everyone had seen this post by Karl Davies of Northampton, MA. It bounced and I'm not sure if we've all seen it.

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Organic Standards and Revoking Monsanto's Charter

Peter,

I appreciated your message on how writing USDA on organic standards is not enough. It's an important step, but we need to think about going further.

I'm part of a small group called People Against Corporate Takeover (PACT) in Western Massachusetts. We organized a protest rally against Monsanto in Springfield in October. Now we're working on a petition re the new organic standards. But we're also looking into the feasibility of a campaign to revoke Monsanto's Certificate of Authority to operate in Massachusetts.

The company is chartered in Missouri so we can't go after their charter here. But the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires corporations to obtain Certificates of Authority. We're considering a campaign to get it revoked.

Richard Grossman, co-author of Taking Care of Business (about corporate charter revocation), has offered to advise us. He believes--as you apparently do also--that taking on corporations like Monsanto on regulatory grounds is playing into their hands. It's their turf. They own it, literally. So we'll never win there.

We've all come to accept the legitimacy of corporations. We don't even question their right to exist. But we should. Our country was founded by people who questioned the authority of British corporations--the colonies and trading companies--to exist.

Thomas Paine put it this way: `...a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first formidable outcry in defence of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.` (Common Sense 1776)

We'll keep you posted as to our progress on this issue. In the meantime, readers of this list might want to do some web research on corporate charter revocation. See www.ratical.com/corporations for several articles by Richard Grossman; see also http://web.its.smu.edu/~dmcnick/miscell/hum2corp.html

If there's any corporation that deserves to have its charter revoked, it has to be Monsanto. The company should cease to exist.

Karl Davies
Northampton, MA


Biotechnology and the Third World, by Richard Wolfson, PhD

Reprinted with permission from the Feb. 1997 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby, BC V5J 5B9

Proponents of biotechnology have promised that their technology will allow us to feed the masses in the Third World. However, this statement is misleading because world hunger is caused largely by social and political factors, such as wars and political turbulence, and the uneven structure of international trade, rather than lack of food.

The real motivation for biotechnology is financial gain. Industry is making food crops patentable commodities, thereby gaining exclusive rights to techniques and agricultural products. Farmers are being coerced into switching to patented genetically engineered seeds and to sign gene licensing agreements that dictate what seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals are used, and require substantial royalty payments. In such agreements, seeds cannot even be stored for the next season.

The term "bioserfdom" is being used to describe this growing situation in which farmers are losing the right to control their own crops. Instead they are becoming "renters" of proprietary genetic engineered seeds and proprietary technologies, controlled by multi-national firms.

Lost Cash Crops

Another threat to the third world is biotech crops that replace their own major cash crops. For instance, genetically engineered high lauric canola oil (already on the market) could replace coconut and palm oil from the tropics as the main source of lauric acid. Lauric acid is a key raw material in the manufacture of detergents, soaps, lubricants, cosmetics, and other personal care products. This could displace 21 million people in the Philippines, or 30% of the population, who are employed by the coconut industry.

The economies of both the Philippines and Indonesia account for approximately 81% of global coconut exports--a several hundred million dollar industry. This would be devastated. Another example is genetically engineered vanilla, which has threatened the livelihood of over 70,000 small farmers in Madagascar.

Biopiracy (also called bioprospecting) is when foreign companies obtain patent rights and exclusive monopoly over genes found in plants and animals in the third world. Transnational corporations are racing one another to manufacture pharmaceutical and agricultural products, derived from the genetic materials of the medicinal plants and food crops of these local regions.

Capturing Quinoa

In 1994, US researchers patented a genetic variety of the quinoa plant, a high protein food crop central to the diet of million of people in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The researchers admitted that they did nothing to create the quinoa variety, which was part of the native population. Yet they now have the right to prevent anyone else from making, using, or selling the quinoa hybrids without their permission and payment of royalties.

Several patented herbicide-tolerance genes, used in genetically engineered crops, were isolated from soil bacteria in Cameroon. Another US patent is on proteins genetically engineered from the seed of Momordica charantia, a fruit commonly used in Southeast Asia as an anti-infection and anti-tumor agent, and as an immunomodulator. Yet another US patent grants exclusive monopoly on a biochemical derived from Trichosanthes kirilowii, a Chinese traditional medicinal plant. It is now being reproduced through biotechnology.

Those critical of bioprospecting claim that such natural remedies are common property, particularly of the indigenous people, and should be beyond human patent and foreign ownership. However, these products typically bring in tens of billions of dollars, with little going towards the originating community, who in fact may have to buy the products at high prices.

In addition to the economic effects of biotechnology on the third world are the ecological threats, such as herbicide resistant weeds, pesticide resistant bugs, and other damaging effects resulting from the increased use of toxic chemicals on the environment. For more information on biotechnology and the third world, see the RAFI website http://www.rafi.ca

...........................................................................

Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign, for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street, Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
email: rwolfson@concentric.net
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html contains more information on genetic engineering.

To receive regular news on genetic engineering and this campaign, please send an email message with 'subscribe GE' to rwolfson@concentric.net for details. To unsubscribe, send the message "unsubscribe"


Date: Tue, 3 Feb 1998 17:19:29 -0700
From: pmligotti@earthlink.net (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: TEN NEW Irish Sugar Beet Planting Trials?

TEN NEW Irish Sugar Beet Planting Trials?

MAKING A SUBMISSION TO THE (Irish) E.P.A.

U.S. Multinational Monsanto has applied to the EPA for licenses to carry out planting trials on genetically engineered sugar beet around the country. Please make a submission and help us stop these trials. The public (including those outside Ireland) can make a submission to the EPA by February 18th objecting to the trials.

THE SUBMISSIONS MUST ARRIVE WITH THE EPA BY FEBRUARY 18TH OR THEY WILL BE INVALID.

You can make your submission;

We have outlined some of the reasons why you might want to object - hopefully you may have a few more of your own. Either way, please make a submission to the EPA as soon as you can.

The trials are planned for the following locations;

The trials are to test sugar beet which has received genes from bacteria, viruses and a flower. The genetic changes render the beet immune to RoundUp, a weed-killer manufactured by Monsanto. If approved for commercial planting, this would lead to increased reliance on RoundUp as a single weed-killer. It would also enable Monsanto to enforce contracts on farmers which are already in use in the U.S.A. where farmers must pay Monsanto a technology fee, as well as a premium price for the seed. The farmer would be expected to use Monsanto's brand of weed-killer, and would be forbidden to save seed for future crops.

There are many risks associated with the trial, and we have outlined these below. There has been no public debate or Dail debate on whether Ireland needs or wants genetic engineering in its food and agriculture.

Write to politicians - If you are in Ireland, you may also want to write to your local T.D.s, and to the Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey. You can write to them at Dail Eireann, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. You might like to remind them that Joe Walsh and Noel Dempsey of Fianna Fail in a pre-election press release promised to implement a moratorium on planting genetically engineered crops in Ireland. They are now Ministers for Agriculture and the Environment respectively. Since their election, both have ignored requests for a meeting with Genetic Concern.

The following are some of the grounds on which you might wish to object. Don't feel you have to use all of them! Simply choose a few that you identify with and make a presentation to the EPA on the basis of those points, as well as anything else you can think of. We have a circular "objection letter". If you would like a copy of this, please let us know.

What the law says

Section 33(4) of the Irish GMO Regulations (1994) state that "The Agency shall not consent to a deliberate release unless it is satisfied that the deliberate release will not result in adverse effects on human health or the environment". Therefore the law provides a very strong test which the EPA must believe is met by Monsanto. Monsanto's World-wide Reputation

The EPA should not accept Monsanto's information at face value. Monsanto has a dreadful reputation for environmental pollution. They and their subsidiaries have been the subject of a number of investigations concerning fraudulent and misleading research presented to regulators such as the U.S. EPA and the FDA which under-estimated the risks associated with their products.

Ask the Irish EPA if they know of Cath Jenkins in the U.S. EPA and her findings which showed that Monsanto's research on dioxin had intentionally mixed up study victims who had been exposed to dioxin with those who had not.

Ask if they know that Eric Miller and Erik Millstone in the U.K. found that research presented recently to the U.K. Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries had errors and misleading summaries which negated the risk to cattle from using Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone.

Ask the EPA if they know that a Monsanto subsidiary, Searle, obtained approval for aspartame in the U.S., even though rats in feeding trials suffered brain tumours. The tumours were operated on and the rats were returned to the trial without the matter being included in the final report.

Ask the EPA if they have studied information widely available on the internet about Monsanto. Ask them to check out sites such as Monsanto in the McSpotlight, or Rachel's Environmental & Health Web Site http://www.monitor.net/rachel/

Effects on the Environment not Assessed.

Trials in other countries have not included proper Environmental Impact Studies in their protocols. Yet such trials are claimed as safe because no adverse effects were detected. Ask the EPA to find out what tests were carried out to support these claims. Court Case Still Pending

The Judicial Review into last year's granting of a license by the EPA has not been heard as yet. In granting leave to seek a Judicial Review, Justice O'Sullivan said that there was a substantial case to be heard.

We believe that the EPA should not consider any more license applications until that case has been heard. With current delays in the courts, it is quite possible that a license would be granted and plants in the ground before the courts have had an opportunity to consider the safety of these trials.

Location secrecy

Monsanto in their 1997 application asked that the identity of farmers on whose land trials were to be conducted remain confidential. On that occasion, the EPA refused to grant confidentiality, as a result of which Monsanto pulled out of two of their three proposed trials.

At the time of writing we have been told that a number of aspects of the application are confidential, which we understand includes location.

We all have a right to know if experiments are being carried out on neighbouring farms. Such attempts at secrecy are not acceptable in a world which increasingly demands transparency.

Monsanto's demands for secrecy are thought to be to prevent protesters from damaging their crops. In 1997, four Monsanto tests in Germany had to be cancelled because the fields were occupied by protesters. Ireland should not be host to experiments which are so controversial that they require a secret location.

Genetic Ingredients Unknown

In their 1997 trials, Monsanto insisted that the plasmid map containing vital information about gene sequences be kept confidential for commercial reasons. This sort of information must be available to the public if they are to make a proper submission on the proposed release. Ask the EPA for a copy of the plasmid map, and see if they will let you have this.

UNPREDICTABLE SIDE EFFECTS

Taking alien genes from bacteria or viruses and inserting them into plants is not a natural means by which plants can evolve in nature. Such genes may behave differently and cause unexpected side-effects in their new host plant. Nobody knows what these side-effects may be, so they will only be detected in the light of experience. Nobody can test for a side effect if they don't know what they're looking for.

Insertion of these genes may cause other side effects or "position effects" because they affect neighbouring genes and their activities.

Escape of Genes.

Genes travel from plant to plant through pollination. This is how evolution has developed new varieties of plants for millennia. If genes which cause side-effects escape into other neighbouring weeds, there will be no way of reversing the error. Ragwort is a weed which escaped into nature from a botanical garden, but at least is can easily be seen and removed. We would have no way of knowing genetically engineered weeds from their traditional relatives, so the process is irreversible.

Some of the trials are located near coastlines where weedy sea-beet could cross-pollinate with pollen from the trial site should such pollen escape.

Who is liable?

If something goes wrong with these trials, A gene spill could not be cleaned up. Who would pay? Austria has introduced regulations which would make the company carrying out genetic engineering liable for compensation of any damage which may arise as a result of trials. Ireland appears to have no such protection.

Antibiotic resistance genes used.

In the process of developing these plants, genes are used which make an organism immune to antibiotics. There are real risks that these genes will not break down and can be transferred to more harmful diseases via bacteria in the stomach of insects or small animals which graze on the sugar beet.

Monsanto may claim that these genes no longer exist in the plant, but many scientists do not accept that this is so. It is possible for example for genes to exist and not be detected because they have become dormant. Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, a U.K. based geneticist has submitted a report in the injunction proceedings of Watson vs. EPA and Monsanto PLC in which she disputes claims by Monsanto that the antibiotic resistance genes cannot be present.

Genetic Engineering is not natural

In normal breeding, similar plants or animals breed and exchange genes with each other. You cannot cross a dog with a cat, or a daffodil with a cabbage. Genetic engineering enables genes to cross the species barrier enabling cross-breeding - even between different types of organism. Scientists can thus take genes from a virus and a bacteria for example and insert them into the sugar beet.

This is not a natural system of breeding, and we do not know what the effects may be over the years. Nor do we know the effects of eating produce from such cross-breeding. If genetic engineering is allowed to continue in its present form, we will have few seeds left which have not been contaminated with genes from alien organisms. This must be stopped at every point until the risks and side-effects have been fully assessed.

Effect on Soil Micro-Organisms.

A single teaspoonful of soil may contain as many as 100,000 different living micro-organisms. Some genes used in genetic engineering are even sourced from such organisms. There has been no study into the effects of genetically engineered crops on soil micro-organisms, or to establish what happens to this new genetic material when it breaks down in the soil.

Rabbits may graze on the beet.

In Monsanto's Carlow trials, there was no fence erected to prevent rabbits or other wild animals from grazing on the trial site. Since rabbits are part of the human food chain, human health effects need to be taken into consideration. No feeding trials have been conducted on the GE sugar beet.

Birds may fly away with the seed

Darwin in "The Origin of the Species" specifically states that beet plants are disseminated by birds who eat the seed and carry it to another site. Beet seeds can survive in the stomach of a bird and are planted complete with manure at their destination. The Carlow trial did not include any bird netting to prevent such dissemination.

Ethics

Genetic engineering is a science which interferes with the very building blocks of creation. Do we have the right to do this? In a country which has held numerous referenda on other ethical issues such as abortion and divorce, is it right that we allow scientists to tamper with creation in such a manner? Some ethicists would see such tampering with nature as a blasphemy.

The Power of Multinationals

Monsanto's declared intention is to have control over seed supply of the world's major staple foods. In the last year they have bought up several small seed companies to strengthen their hold on the market. Soon the majority of the worlds seeds will be controlled by just a few giant multinationals. Genetic Engineering and the granting of patents on such seeds facilitates this monopoly

Reduced Bio-diversity

Ireland from its famine times should know the risks of over reliance on a few strains of a particular plant. Bio-diversity ensures a range of versions of a plant which may be immune to different pests, fungi or climatic conditions.

Genetic Engineering reduces bio-diversity by reducing the number of varieties of seeds which will be planted. The expense involved in producing a new genetically engineered variety will inevitably mean fewer varieties available to farmers.

This is a Primitive Form of the Technology

Genetic Engineering is at a very early stage of its development. It is unreliable and unpredictable compared to methods currently being developed. Multinational companies have invested heavily in research and are rushing products to the market as soon as they have a plant in which genetic engineering has produced the desired traits from a financial point of view.

Thirty odd years ago, the nuclear industry produced power stations as soon as they found a system which worked (i.e. produced electricity). These early Magnox reactors have turned out to be particularly dangerous, and the cheap electricity they promised came with so many side-effects that they have become a terrible liability in the end.

The similarities between how industry utilised splitting atoms, and how industry now proposes to split DNA are quite disturbing. Such a rush to gain financial returns on research must not be allowed to happen with genetic engineering.

Premium Prices Paid For Non-Engineered Crops.

Many consumers do not want to buy genetically engineered foods. On the Rotterdam spot market, there is a 10% premium for soya beans that are not genetically engineered, and as Canada had no genetech beans last year, their produce automatically obtained this premium price. Ireland, by staying out of the genetic engineering race would qualify for a price premium on its food. Already our food has a reputation of being produced in a clean environment. Why let Monsanto spoil that?

The Usefulness or Otherwise of the Trials

These trials are not necessary. There have already been many trials in other countries. The sheer number of trials planned are basically a PR effort by Monsanto to make an unsuspecting public familiar with genetically engineered crops. Monsanto say that the trials are necessary to get approval for the use of their weed-killer in Ireland, but this only requires one trial. Running ten trials increases all of the risks tenfold.

Monsanto Carelessness on other Trials.

Monsanto's trials in Holland went terribly wrong. The trial crop was harvested accidentally and the beet sent to the factory and processed into sugar and pulp The pulp has already been used for animal feed and cannot be traced. At time of writing Monsanto are awaiting a decision from the Dutch authorities on what to do with 7,000 tonnes (350 lorry loads) of sugar into which the experimental beet has been mixed.

Lack of Public Debate

There has not been sufficient (or any) public debate. In Norway, a public consensus conference was briefed by experts from various organisations and from the genetic engineering industry. The conference concluded that Norway had no need for genetically engineered foods at this time and that the risks outweighed the benefits. Norway has since turned down a number of applications for genetic engineering trials.

In Ireland, the public has had little choice in the matter. Despite public opinion, Monsanto succeeded in getting their trial consents in Carlow last year - the EPA arranged for a public debate to take place a over a month after they had given consent - they subsequently cancelled the debate.

Irelands Clean Green Image up for Sale

Genetic Engineering experiments, and biotechnology in general threaten to spoil Ireland's reputation as a green and clean country. Tourism is our second largest industry and growing fast. Any experiments which put this at risk are simply not worth it. Isolation from other Beet Crops

Monsanto's first Irish trial took place in the middle of a 50 acre field of sugar beet. Growing the test crop in the middle of a crop of commercial beet takes unnecessary risks, both of accidental harvest, and of cross-pollination.

Trials for sugar beet should be as far away as possible from other beet to reduce the risk of cross-pollination.

Why Ireland?

Why have Monsanto not attempted to conduct sugar beet planting trials in Austria? The Austrian government and regulators are deeply concerned about the risks of genetic engineering. Austrian farmers believe that the future for their small farmers in the EU is with natural and organic farming. Monsanto may well fear the scrutiny to which regulators in Austria would subject their trials. Ireland should be seeking to emulate countries like Austria who clearly consider their environment to be more important that the financial ambitions of multinationals like Monsanto.

In Austria, there were 80,000 objections to recent trials proposed by another seed company. The trials were withdrawn after five of the ten farmers pulled out.

We must seek a similar response on these trials in Ireland.

Please ask anyone you know to write by Feb. 18th to the EPA.

GENETIC COCNERN Room 13, 24-26, Dame Street, Dublin 2. Ireland
Phone +353-1-670 5606
Fax: +353-1-670 5561
ge_campaign@geocities.com


Date: Tue, 3 Feb 1998 18:19:55 -0700
From: pmligotti@earthlink.net (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: Coming: Genetically Engineered Coffee

Picked up from Douglas A Powell's Agriculture Network agnet-l@ListServ.Uoguelph.ca

Genetically Decaffeinated Coffee

February 1998

Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report

Some day, you may notice that decaffeinated brews in your favorite coffee shop have a deep, full flavor normally found only in regular coffees. Researchers in Hawaii are working to develop coffee plants that are genetically engineered to have only a fraction of the normal caffeine content, thus the beans are, in essence, genetically decaffeinated. This means that they do not have to be subjected to the harsh physical and chemical decaffeination processes used now.

Coffee, the world's third largest traded commodity after petroleum and precious metals, is worth $25 billion annually. Health- conscious consumers increasingly prefer decaffeinated coffee, which accounts for more than a quarter of the coffee market. Excessive and chronic caffeine intake is known to result in restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, heartburn and even bone loss. Caffeine also has as a therapeutic agent to stimulate heart and respiratory systems and as a diuretic.

Decaffeinated coffee typically has 2 mg of caffeine per cup in contrast to about 120 mg in regular coffee. The caffeine is removed from coffee beans either by a chemical process or the "Swiss" hot water method. In the chemical method, steamed beans are rinsed in methylene chloride to extract the caffeine. Although the process is considered safe, there has been a recent controversy on the use of this chemical. In the Swiss method, beans are soaked in hot water to extract the caffeine through activated charcoal.

Both procedures affect the taste and aroma of the resultant brew. The beans treated with hot water further lose their protective wax coating and thus become sensitive to molds. Decaffeination is an expensive process and adds about $2.00 per kilogram to the cost of coffee, resulting in more than a billion dollars in extra costs in the U.S. alone.

The coffee biotechnology team, led by John Stiles of the University of Hawaii and funded by Integrated Coffee Technologies Inc., is engineering 'decaf coffee plants' by turning off a gene involved in caffeine production. The group began by isolating the enzyme xanthosine-N7-methyl-transferase, which catalyzes the critical first step in caffeine production in coffee leaves and berries.

They cloned the gene encoding this enzyme, and used Agrobacterium-mediated transformation to insert an antisense version into Arabica coffee cells growing in tissue culture. Transgenic callus was analyzed, and some lines were found to have only 2% of the normal level of caffeine found in regular plants. Thus, expression of the caffeine gene appears to have been silenced by the introduction of the antisense gene. In another approach, transgenic plants are being produced using the gene gun by Dr. Chifumi Nagai at the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center.

There is still a long way to go before you can have genetically engineered coffee in your cup. First, plants need to be regenerated from the transformed cell cultures; Stiles hopes to have such full-grown coffee plants soon. As coffee is a perennial plant, it may take another few years of testing to verify that the trait is stable and to determine whether the plants are ecologically and agronomically sound.

Caffeine is suspected to play a role in protecting coffee plants against attacks by insects and fungi. "We do not foresee that as a problem because caffeine may have been useful to coffee plants in the wild in its native state, but under modern agronomic conditions, far removed from the wild, caffeine does not appear to have any protective role," says Stiles.

The research team is also using genetic engineering to control the ripening process in coffee plants by targeting ethylene biosynthesis in berries. Integrated Coffee Technologies Inc. and ForBio, an Australian biotechnology company which owns 21% of the ICTI, have licensed both projects for commercialization.

C. S. Prakash
Center for Plant Biotechnology Research Tuskegee University prakash@tusk.edu


Date: Tue, 3 Feb 1998 18:19:24 -0700
From: pmligotti@earthlink.net (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: Wider Selection of Genetically Engineered Fruit

Picked up from Douglas A Powell's Agriculture Network agnet-l@ListServ.Uoguelph.ca

COMING SOON: Wider Selection of (Genetically Engineered) Seedless Fruit

February 1998

Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report How many times have you picked up a piece of fruit, anticipating the first flavorful bite, only to be faced with the tedious task of picking out the seeds? The commercial success of seedless oranges and grapes shows consumers' eagerness for such easy-to- eat produce, but currently few fruits come in seedless varieties, and when available they may be more expensive. The higher cost reflects the difficulties of making a marketable seedless fruit, which requires either mutant lines, infertile hybrids, or costly and labor-intensive treatment of flowers with phyto-hormones.

But consumers should take heart, as Italian researcher Angelo Spena and colleagues in Italy and Germany have developed a new and elegant method for tricking plants into making fruits with no seeds. In normal plant reproduction, a fruit is formed only after successful fertilization of the ovule in the flower ovary. Levels of auxin, a plant hormone, rise in response to fertilization, and stimulate seed growth and formation of fruit tissue surrounding the seed. In some cases fruit development can occur in the absence of fertilization, but this is the exception to the rule. Spena and coworkers produced transgenic eggplant and tobacco plants that set seedless fruit by engineering them to produce auxin in the unfertilized ovary.

To do this, the researchers took advantage of two unique genes. The first, isolated from the plant pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. savastanoi, is the coding region of the iaaM gene which leads to the production of auxin in plant tissue. The second gene sequence is the promoter region of DefH9, a gene from snapdragons which is expressed specifically in ovules. They linked the two together and transformed tobacco and eggplant, thinking that localized expression of the auxin-producing gene in the ovule would mimic auxin synthesis in fertilized ovules, and thus lead to fruit development. Indeed, this is exactly what seems to happen.

Transgenic tobacco plants that expressed the new gene construct grew normally, but in the absence of fertilization produced smaller-than-normal capsules that contained only aborted seeds. However, if flowers of these plants were self-pollinated, they set normal capsules and fertile seeds. Similarly, transgenic eggplants showed vegetative development identical to that of untransformed control plants, but when emasculated to prevent fertilization, they set fruit that was equal in size and shape to fruit of fertilized flowers, yet contained no seeds. The weight of a typical fertilized eggplant fruit was about 250g. Fruits of transgenic, unfertilized eggplants were indistinguishable from this, while those few fruits that formed from unfertilized, untransformed plants weighed only 60g.

The transgenic seedless fruits were therefore of marketable size and quality. Transgenic plants had an additional important advantage over untransformed plants - they produced fruit under unfavorable weather conditions.Fertilization of most plants is dependent on favorable environmental conditions such as temperature, light intensity, and wind, and the absence of an optimal environment may result in incomplete fertilization. Eggplant is a warm weather crop and does not set fruit well under cool, short-day conditions. However, when grown under such unfavorable conditions the transgenic plants produced fruit where none was obtained from untransformed control plants. The ability to set fruit under conditions adverse for pollination adds a significant agronomic advantage to these plants and offers hope of extended growing seasons and increased yields along with the value of a seedless product.

It is also significant that seedless fruit is only obtained from flowers that have not been fertilized. Pollination of transgenic plants results in fruit with viable seed through which the genes for seedlessness may be passed to subsequent generations of plants. However, this means that seedless fruits may only be obtained when flowers are not pollinated. Incorporation of a male sterility gene will be required in most crops before seedless fruit can be produced under large-scale field conditions. Nevertheless, the results of these experiments are very encouraging and one can only hope that Spena and coworkers quickly turn their attention to cherries, plums, raspberries, pomegranates . . .

Reference

Rotino, GL, E. Perri, M. Zottini, H. Sommer, and A. Spena. 1997. Genetic engineering of parthenocarpic plants. Nature Biotechnology 15:1398-1401. Jim Westwood Dept. of Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science, Virginia Tech westwood@vt.edu

Date: Wed, 4 Feb 1998 17:08:36 +1100
From: pcjournl@nor.com.au (Permaculture International Ltd)
Subject: Genetic Testing

(Please note that this is a personal email from Martin Oliver, and has no other connection with Permaculture International).

Testing for Genetic Manipulation

To Gene Campaigners -

I feel that it's important to be aware that (contrary to widely-accepted beliefs) the presence of genetically-modified material can be detected by Genetic ID in the US. Contact details for Genetic ID are;

GENETIC ID
500 NORTH THIRD ST, SUITE 208, FAIRFIELD, IOWA 52556, USA
PHONE: +1 (515) 472 9979
FAX: +1 (515) 472 9198
EMAIL: info@genetic-id.com

The test is also being carried out in Europe by;

TNO NUTRITION AND FOOD RESEARCH INSTITUTE
UTRECHTSWEG 48, 3700 AJ ZEIST, NETHERLANDS
PHONE: +31 30 694 4144
FAX: +31 30 695 7224

This also includes liquids such soya oil, as well as solid ingredients - despite the fact that mainstream scientific opinion claims that it's impossible. If we keep reminding food companies and ingredients suppliers about the availability of this testing, it will become increasingly difficult for them to pretend that it can't be done.

Best wishes,

Martin Oliver

Warm regards Su Shea, for the team at Permaculture International
PO Box 6039, South Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia
Ph: int +61 (0)2 6622 0020 Fax int +61 (0)2 6622 0579
Website: http://www.nor.com.au/environment/perma

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