Genetically Manipulated Food News

5. April 1998

Table of Contents

EU to weigh approval for new gene maize, rapeseed
USDA's Definition of Organic: Chock-full of natural nonsense
Monsanto's altered sugar beet is not sweet to Irish
Pharmaceutical Money Drives the Medical Profession
US plans would banish genuine organic produce
Unauthorized rapeseed lines in Swedish field test in 1997
Pope condemns excesses of genetic engineering
Swiss find Banned GE Corn
USA's Patent on New Genetic Technology Will Prevent Farmers from Saving Seed
Biotech Setback
GE - ICELAND supermarket (UK) bans GMOs from own brand products
Gene maize shipment returns to Netherlands
India Girds To Defend Its Biodiversity
Gene Therapy Trials: Suffer the children
Transgenic Crops: GMO Crop Surface To Double In 1998
Genetic Engineering: Scientists And Doctors Call For Moratorium
Is Modern Medicine Our Only Option?
Website Addresses (URLs)
Alternative Scientists Expose Genetic Engineering Risks
French Farmer's Defence Speech
French Farmer On Trial

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Date: Wed, 11 Mar 1998 12:21:36 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Subject: International GE news

EU to weigh approval for new gene maize, rapeseed

BRUSSELS, March 6 (Reuters - European Union governments are due to consider on March 18 whether or not to approve the marketing throughout the 15-nation bloc of four new varieties of genetically modified maize and rapeseed. The products concerned are maize strains produced by U.S. chemicals company Monsanto, Swiss drugs firm Novartis and German group AgrEvo, and an oilseed rape variety produced by AgrEvo.

All four were approved by an EU scientific advisory panel on February 12 in a move welcomed by the biotechnology industry.

The panel's advice is not final and EU states will have to endorse it formally before marketing can go ahead.

Green Euro-MPs and scientists called on Friday for a moratorium on all authorisations of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until solid research data could prove they posed no long-term danger to health or the environment.

Two of the new varieties, the new Monsanto and Novartis maize strains, have been engineered to resist the European corn borer by the addition of a gene (the BT gene) which causes the plant to produce a protein that kills the insect. "This is a new and environmentally friendly way to control devastating insect pests and ensure yield," the European Association for Bioindustries (Europabio) said.

But environmentalists and the authorities in Austria, Denmark and Greece have voiced concern that the Bt gene could initially kill benign insects as well as the corn borer and over time lead to the pest developing a resistance to the toxin.

Austria and Luxembourg have imposed domestic bans on another strain of Novartis GMO-maize carrying the Bt gene, in defiance of an EU decision in 1996 to authorise it. A Commission spokesman said the EU would decide how to respond in April.

USDA's Definition of Organic: Chock-full of natural nonsense

New Scientist March 7, 1998

THE poor old US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has had to beat a hasty retreat after offending armies of organic farmers and their friends. It had tried to allow genetically engineered crops and food treated with radiation to be included under the "organic" label, if they were otherwise produced by organic means (see p 24). Given what the average organic farmer is likely to feel about genetic engineering, the USDA was pretty optimistic to think it could ever get away with it.

Logic might, however, be on the USDA's side. Most people would surely like "organic" to be a label for food that is produced to minimise risks to health, suffering to animals and damage to the environment. In other words, food that you can buy without worry and with a clean conscience. But neither genetic engineering nor food irradiation has any necessary bearing on these issues. Everything you eat has already been genetically engineered for thousands of years. Even the apple, symbol of good health, bears little relation to its wild ancestors. So might not ruling out new methods of creating foods mean that the label "organic" will stand for "traditional" rather than safe and environmentally friendly ? Organic farmers might like to be associated with a rosy view of country life, but that shouldn't rule out contributions from science. For more science news see

Monsanto's altered sugar beet is not sweet to Irish

By Bill Lambrecht
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau Sunday, March 8, 1998

SHANAGARRY, Ireland -- With her best-selling cookbooks and her television show, Darina Allen is Ireland's Julia Child, with a dash of Martha Stewart thrown in. But down at her Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Allen's cheery outlook is darkened these days by something other than fallen souffles.

Allen recently became Ireland's most prominent voice to speak out against St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.'s experiments with genetically engineered sugar beets.

After seeing its first Irish experiment sabotaged, Monsanto is asking for approval for expanded field tests in a few weeks. No other company has sought similar authority.

By U.S. standards, Monsanto's experiment in herbicide-tolerance is ordinary. But Monsanto and its rivals in the genetic engineering trade are finding that Europe is not the United States when it comes to public acceptance of genetic engineering. In picking a test plot near Darina Allen's school and organic farm, Monsanto poured fuel on an Irish controversy that packs far more explosiveness than debates in the United States.

Allen, a member of Ireland's governmental Food Safety Authority, tells her followers to buy fresh, natural foods for the best dishes and good health. To her, natural does not mean "fiddling around with genes," as she put it."I'm not a romantic; I'm a realist, a country girl," Allen, 49, said at her farm last week. "In my simplistic way of looking at things, you can't change nature and continue down this path of intensive farming without paying a price."

Allen's opinion represents a minority in Ireland. But it is a vocal, resolute and occasionally militant minority that is slowing the spread of a technology to Europe. The United States has two seasons of genetically modified soybeans and cotton behind it and this spring will mark the first plantings of bioengineered corn.

Americans pay scant attention to either field tests or to the source of what they eat. But in Europe, gene-splicing is meeting the food supply amid concerns both about the science and the ethics of manipulating the fabric of living things. So far, the vast European market has been a success for genetic engineering mainly with pharmaceuticals and diagnostics.

But agriculture in Europe offers Monsanto and other biotechnology companies the potential of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits in the coming years if they overcome regulatory hurdles and win public acceptance. Regulatory barriers in Europe have begun to melt; last month, a science advisory committee of the 15-member European Commission recommended approval of four modified crops. Imported foods processed with altered ingredients are largely permitted.

This spring, France will be host to Europe's first commercial planting of an altered crop if all goes well in a plan by Novartis, Monsanto's Swiss competitor, to sow a modified corn. Yet every European nation is embroiled in public debates over testing gene-altered products, labeling them and even banning them outright. The discussion is especially lively in Ireland. Unlike the United States, the Irish media carry stories almost daily about what are known in Europe as GMOs - genetically modified organisms. An international conference in Dublin that opens Wednesday is the third public forum on the subject in two weeks.

Last week, an association of Irish retailers announced a voluntary plan to label products that contain genetically modified soya and corn imported from the United States.In Ireland, Monsanto is deeply involved in political skirmishes and public relations campaigns. When the Irish debate intensified last year, Monsanto flew a half-dozen Irish journalists to the United States for sessions in St. Louis, Southern Illinois and Washington. For a conference at Trinity College in Dublin this week, Monsanto is picking up the tab for some of the travel costs. The lineup of participants says something about Ireland's debate: It includes Ireland's prime minister, Scottish sheep cloner Ian Wilmut and an assistant prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial.


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

Our website, contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months See website for details.

Date: Fri, 6 Mar 1998 10:25:15 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Subject: two articles

The first article is not directly about genetic engineering, but I thought you might find it interesting. The second article is an excellent editorial that is genetic engineering related.


Reprinted with permission from the March 1998 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby, BC V5J 5B9 Pharmaceutical Money Drives the Medical Profession

Pharmaceutical Money Drives the Medical Profession

Richard Wolfson, PhD
Action alive

Money from pharmaceutical companies strongly influences medical support of certain drugs. That may not be news to some. However, the first study documenting this fact was just published in a leading medical journal, and the influence is even more striking than expected. The study, published in the January 1998 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (338 (2): 101-6), highlights the hidden financial ties of the medical profession to drug firms.

"The influence of pharmaceutical funding on the medical profession and on the drug approval process is very widespread and dangerous," says Dr Michele Brill-Edwards, former senior drug evaluator for Health Canada and co-director of the Alliance for Public Accountability in Ottawa.

"My 15 years as an expert in drug evaluation told me that many researchers seem blind to the important role company money can play in their thinking about drugs. "Doctors funded by industry are like captains of the Titanic: they come to think their judgment is unsinkable and this puts public safety at risk. This study shows that whether they know it or not, doctors' judgments are being influenced in a very big way."

Shocking Study

The New England Journal of Medicine study shows that physicians and medical scientists who take money from pharmaceutical companies are much more likely to support controversial pharmaceuticals-drugs that other scientists feel increase the risk of heart attack death. This finding was in reference to calcium-channel antagonists, hypertensive medications whose safety has been under question in a number or journal studies (eg, JAMA 1995, 274: 620-5; Circulation 1995, 92: 1326-31; J Am Geriatr Soc 1995, 43: 1191-7).

The New England Journal of Medicine study, entitled "Conflict of interest in the debate over calcium channel antagonists," examined 70 articles on calcium-channel antagonists. The researchers then determined which authors of these studies were supportive, neutral or critical of these controversial drugs. Surveys were then mailed to these same authors, asking whether they received funding from drug corporations. (The funding could have been in the form of funds for travel expenses; honorariums for speeches; support for educational programs; research grants; or employment or consulting compensation.)

Of the 86 authors contacted, 80 per cent returned the surveys. The results showed the following:

The authors of the study state, "Our results demonstrate a strong association between authors' published positions on the safety of calcium-channel antagonists and their financial relationship with pharmaceutical manufacturers."

The researchers added that, as their study relied on reports from the authors themselves, the findings probably underestimated the actual ties between scientists and corporate funders.

Undisclosed Bias

Only in two of the 70 articles did authors divulge their connections to corporations. Yet 63 per cent of the authors actually had such connections. "The medical profession has failed to develop and enforce strict guidelines for disclosing conflicts of interest," the study concludes.

How can we trust the advice of the medical profession if their decisions are driven by hidden financial ties to pharmaceutical companies? These findings put the credibility of the entire medical profession at stake. According to the NEJM study, "Full disclosure of relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers is necessary to affirm the integrity of the medical profession and maintain public confidence."

Dr. Brill-Edwards says, "Millions of dollars and countless lives are lost when drug risks are downplayed by researchers with drug-company ties. The precautionary principle requires transparent, independent systems for drug assessment, free from the influence of this powerful, wealthy industry that gains massively when drug risks are downplayed. We cannot afford this bias."

Dr. Brill-Edwards' advocacy group, the Alliance for Public Accountability, calls for a public audit of the drug approval process. "It is time for the Minister of Health to call for a public audit. He cannot continue to protect pharmaceutical industry profits at the expense of Canadian lives and millions of misspent medicare dollars," says Dr. Brill-Edwards.

Canadians are encouraged to write to the Hon Allan Rock, MP, Minister of Health, and demand a full public audit of Health Canada's drug-approval process. Don't forget to send copies of your letter to the local newspaper, as well as to the opposition health critics, Grant Hill, MP (Reform) and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, MP (NDP), and to your own MP. Postage is not necessary if letters to the Minister of Health and MPs include their title as MP and are addressed to the House of Commons, Ottawa ON K1A 0A6.

For other articles by Richard Wolfson in Alive, see the website:

US plans would banish genuine organic produce


by George Monbiot
The [London] Guardian March 5 1998

OPRAH WINFREY is an unlikely hero of the battle against big business. Yet the case she won last week, in which she established her right to express an opinion about the merits of eating beefburgers, ranks with the McDonald's libel trial as one of the few serious setbacks suffered by the agro-industrial combines seeking to monopolise world food production.

She had been sued, by a syndicate of monster cattle ranchers, under the surreal "food disparagement" laws introduced in 14 American states to prevent people from questioning such practices as feeding bovine offal to cows.

These laws are a compelling demonstration of the lengths to which US legislators will go to defend the interests of corporations against the interests of the citizen. We can only be thankful that there's an ocean between us and American plutocracy.

Our happy state won't last, however. Winfrey might have won her battle, but the war waged by an industry that can tolerate no dissent has only just begun. Its latest attempt to silence criticism and eliminate good practice is already well-advanced, and this time the consequences for Britain are just as profound as the consequences for America.

ON MARCH 16, the US Department of Agriculture will close its consultations on a new national standard for organic farming. Its proposals have horrified small farmers, consumer groups and animal welfare campaigners. If adopted and implemented as protesters predict, they will outlaw genuine organic production all over the world.

The USDA would allow fruit and vegetables to be labelled "organic" in the United States which have been genetically engineered, irradiated, treated with additives and raised on contaminated sewage sludge. Under the new proposals, "organic" livestock can be housed in batteries, fed with the offal of other animals and injected with biotics. "Organic" produce, in the brave new world of American oligopoly, will be virtually indistinguishable from conventionally-toxic food.

The solution would seem to be obvious: genuine organic producers should call their food something else. But the USDA is nothing if not far-sighted. The new proposals prohibit the setting of standards higher than those established by the department. Farmers will, in other words, be forbidden by law from producing and selling good food.

The next step, if these standards are adopted in the United States, is not hard to anticipate. American manufacturers will complain to their government that the European Union is erecting unfair barriers to trade, by refusing to allow them to label the poisonous produce they sell here as organic food. The US Government will take the case to the World Trade Organization. The WTO will refer it to Codex Alimentarius, the food standards body dominated by corporate scientists. The Codex panel will decide that they cannot see -any difference between American organic produce and European organic produce, and the WTO will threaten Europe with punitive sanctions if it continues to maintain the higher trading standard. This is precisely the means by which European consumers are being forced to eat beef and drink milk contaminated with injectable growth hormones.

There's no mystery about why US agribusiness wants its Washington subsidiary, the USDA, to set these new standards. The consumption of organic food is rising by 20-30 per cent a year and, in some countries, is likely to become the dominant land use. Organic farming is labour intensive. It responds best to small-scale production, matched to the peculiarities of the land.

Big business simply can't operate in an environment like this. There is no potential for hegemony. What it can't control, it must destroy. The United States government claims to be the champion of free trade, but it is, in truth, emphatically opposed to it. It seeks instead to exercise a coercive power of central control and legislative diktat, on a scale which makes the command economies of the old Soviet Union look like a village paper-round.

I've long believed that we should be allowed to vote in US elections, as their outcome affects us almost as much as it affects the Americans. British people now have a brief opportunity to do the next best thing, and demand of the USDA that it drops this attempt to smother the seeds of rehabilitation. There are no second chances. Once the new standards come into force, our own Government will be powerless to protect us from the consequences.


** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **


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

Our website, contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months See website for details.

Date: Sat, 14 Mar 1998 11:09:02 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Subject: misc GE News

Unauthorized rapeseed lines in Swedish field test in 1997

from Peter Einarsson

A Swedish field test of gene modified rapeseed in 1997 contained two unauthorized lines in addition to the one line authorized by the government Board of Agriculture for testing.

The mixup was unintentional and was uncovered during analysis of test data by the testing company, Sweden's Svalöf Weibull. The lines, however, were produced by German transnational AgrEvo at their Canadian subsidiary, and this was where the mixup took place.

All three lines were modified for resistance to the herbicide Basta (glufosinate). Robert Andrèn at the Board of Agriculture regards the incident as serious and says their field controls will be increased.

Svalöf Weibull say they will seek damage compensation from AgrEvo.

Further information:
Peder Weibull, Svalöf Weibull, +46-418 66 70 00
Robert Andrèn, Board of Agriculture, +46-36 15 50 00

Thanks to the genetic engineering news group for posting the following two articles in its GE - GMO News 03/09

Pope condemns excesses of genetic engineering

Agence France Presse, VATICAN CITY, March 9

Pope John Paul II condemned Monday the excesses of genetic engineering, describing it as a technique used by totalitarian groups to violate human rights: "Totalitarian idealogies, which degrade Man by reducing him to an object while breaking basic human rights, raise in a worrisome way certain uses of the potentials offered by biotechnology, " he said.

The pontiff, who has already specifically come out against human cloning, was speaking to the assembly of the pontifical council for health matters, which amounts to the Vatican's health ministry.

The pope was opposed to the "manipulation of life, at the service of boundless ambition, which deforms the aspirations and hopes of mankind and which only increases its suffering."

Last week the Vatican renewed its strong opposition to cloning, saying it is a serious attack on human dignity, but said genetic research into illnesses could be useful.

Swiss find Banned GE Corn

ZURICH (Reuters) - 03/06/98

Swiss government scientists have backed up environmental campaigners who complained that shippers were importing genetically altered American maize barred from Europe. Two Rhine barges loaded with maize were impounded in the Swiss city of Basle during the past week after complaints from Greenpeace and two local Swiss environmental groups.

Prosecutors sent samples to government labs and reported on Friday that "both laboratories have stated independently of each other that there is evidence the two shipments contained genetically altered maize strains that are not approved."

They said they were investigating possible criminal charges against the shippers.

Greenpeace said the maize, a mixture of traditional and gene-change strains, came from a large U.S. shipment unloaded in the Dutch port of Rotterdam.

Swiss authorities have so far only approved only one type of gene-change maize, created by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG. About 10 other types are grown in the United States, Greenpeace says.

Distributed via the geno-types list, a news service from RAFI. Send standard commands to or see to subscribe.

US Patent on New Genetic Technology Will Prevent Farmers from Saving Seed

GENOTYPES, 11 March 1998

On March 3 Delta and Pine Land Co. (Mississippi, USA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they received US Patent No. 5,723,765 on a new genetic technology designed to prevent unauthorized seed saving by farmers. The patented technology, "Control of plant gene expression" would allow seed companies to control the viability of progeny seed without harming the crop. In other words, the new technology genetically alters the seed so that it will not germinate if re-planted a second time.

The patent is broad, applying to plants and seeds of all species, including both transgenic (genetically engineered) and conventionally-bred seeds. If commercially viable, the patented technology could have far-reaching implications for farmers and the commercial seed industry. If the technology is widely licensed, it could be a boon to the seed industry - especially for companies marketing self-pollinating seeds such as wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, oats and sorghum. Historically there has been little commercial interest in non-hybridized seeds such as wheat and rice because there is no way for seed companies to control reproduction. If commercially viable, the new technology could mean huge profits in entirely new sectors of the seed industry. For farmers, the patented technology will undoubtedly mean greater dependence on the commercial seed market, and a fundamental loss of control over germplasm. If widely utilized, farmers will lose the age-old right to save seed from their harvest.

Many seed corporations have tried to stop farmers from saving or re-selling proprietary seeds by using intellectual property laws (patents and plant breeder's rights) that make it illegal for farmers to re-use or sell harvested seed (for reproductive purposes). Monsanto, for example, now requires that farmers sign a licensing agreement that strictly forbids farmers from saving or re-using the company's patented seed. (See RAFI Communique on "Bioserfdom," March/April, 1997.) According to a recent article in Progressive Farmer magazine, Monsanto is aggressively enforcing its patents on transgenic soybean seeds, and has recently taken legal action against more than 100 soybean growers who have violated the licensing agreement. (see: )

The company has even hired Pinkerton investigators (hired police) to identify unauthorized seed-saving farmers.

If Delta and Pineland's new technology successfully prevents farmers from germinating a second generation of seed, then seed companies will gain biological control over seeds that they have heretofore lacked in non-hybrid crops.

Nobody knows exactly how many farmers save seed from their harvest each year. By some estimates, 20% to 30% of all soybean fields in the US midwest are typically planted with saved seeds; up to 50% of soybeans in the South are planted with farmer-saved seed. Precise statistics are not available, but many North American wheat farmers rely primarily on farm-saved seeds and return to the commercial market once every four or five years.

Impact in the South

A genetic technology designed to prevent farmers from saving seed would have a far greater impact in the South - and that is precisely the market being targeted. Murray Robinson, the president of Delta & Pine Land, told RAFI, "We expect [the new technology] to have global implications, especially in markets or countries where patent laws are weak or non-existent." The company says its new patent has "the prospect of opening significant worldwide seed markets to the sale of transgenic technology for crops in which seed currently is saved and used in subsequent plantings."

Up to 1.4 billion resource-poor farmers in the South depend on farm-saved seed and seeds exchanged with farm neighbors as their primary seed source. A technology that threatens to extinguish farmer expertise in selecting seed and developing locally-adapted strains is a threat to food security and agricultural biodiversity, especially for the poor.

According to USDA spokesman, Willard Phelps, Delta & Pine Land Co. has the option to exclusively license the patented technology that was jointly developed by USDA researchers and Delta & Pine Land. The USDA wants the technology to be "widely licensed and made expeditiously available to many seed companies," said USDA's Phelps. The goal is "to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and Third World countries," said Phelps.

Melvin J. Oliver, a USDA molecular biologist and primary inventor of the technology, explains why the US government developed a technology that prohibits farmers from saving proprietary seed: "My main interest is the protection of American technology. Our mission is to protect US agriculture, and to make us competitive in the face of foreign competition. Without this, there is no way of protecting the technology [patented seed]." Oliver says that the technology to prohibit seed-saving is still in the product development stage, and is now being tested in cotton and tobacco.

In RAFI's view, the fact that this technology was developed by USDA researchers, with taxpayer funds, should be a real kick in the teeth to US farmers. USDA researchers articulate a greater allegiance to the commercial seed industry than they do to farmers. Publicly-supported plant breeding was once the backbone of US agriculture. Its goal was to deliver superior crop varieties to farmers' fields - not to guarantee seed industry profits. A new technology that is designed to give the seed industry greater control over seeds will ultimately weaken the role of public breeders and reinforce corporate consolidation in the global seed industry (for more information, see RAFI's Communique on The Life Industry.)


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

Our website, contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months See website for details.

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 12:44:11 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Subject: good GE news

Thanks to To: Patricia Dines at Community Action Publications for forwarding the followinr report:

Biotech Setback

Thanks to Friends of the Earth (UK) for distributing the following information:

GE - ICELAND supermarket (UK) bans GMOs from own brand products

March 19, 1998

Britain's leading environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth today congratulated supermarket chain Iceland on its bold decision to ban genetically modified (GM) ingredients from its own brand foods. From 1st May 1998 no Iceland own label production will contain GM ingredients. Friends of the Earth today wrote to all major retailers calling upon them to follow Iceland's lead and ban genetically engineered ingredients from their foods .

Charles Secrett, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, said today: "Iceland must be congratulated on their tough stance against genetically engineered foods. It is outrageous that large multinational companies are changing the fundamental nature of the food we eat simply to make more money. This is immoral. The long term health and environmental effects are totally unknown. We call on all other supermarkets to follow Iceland's lead and ban genetically modified foods from their shelves".

With the UK Government likely to decide imminently whether to allow genetically engineered crops to be grown commercially in the UK, FOE believes that supermarkets should be giving a clear message to farmers here that they don't want these new foods and neither do their customers [5].


In a separate press release, Peter Melchett, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK, said: "Iceland has shown the way by proving it is possible to avoid foods containing genetically modified ingredients. Other supermarkets and food producers now have no justification for forcing genetically engineered soya down our throats." Peter Melchett added: "Scientists can no more guarantee the 'safety' of genetically engineered foods than they could predict the BSE crisis. They are playing with genes to produce unnatural foods and using us, the consumers, as human guinea pigs to assess the long term health risks and environmental impact."


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

Our website, contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months See website for details.

Date: Wed, 18 Mar 1998 21:06:14 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Subject: Misc GENews

Gene maize shipment returns to Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, March 12,
from : GE - GMO News 03/12 ) (Reuters)

A barge carrying genetically modified U.S. maize has returned to the Netherlands after being rejected by Swiss authorities, Dutch officials said on Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Environment Ministry said the Maria Elsiena had docked in Zwijndrecht near Rotterdam and the customs department would decide the fate of the cargo.

from GE - GMO News 03/12 )

India Girds To Defend Its Biodiversity

By Narayanan, March 15, 1998 ASIA: Madhavan

NEW DELHI, Reuters - Many Indians were outraged last year when they heard that a US firm had sought a patent for a familiar home remedy - the healing properties of turmeric. A similar furore has erupted over news that another US firm, RiceTec Inc, had named new lines of rice it patented "Basmati", the long-grained, aromatic variety widely recognised as unique to India and Pakistan.

Indian officials, who won the turmeric patent dispute and are now waging a legal war over basmati rice, recognise the need for a long-term strategy to preserve the nation's vast genetic wealth and traditional knowledge. The government is developing a biodiversity law expected to help India ward off patenting predators and claim a slice of a biological business that some estimate is worth $ US200 billion ($ A301 billion) a year.

Gene Therapy Trials: Suffer the children

by Nell Boyce (Washington DC)
New Scientist March 14, 1998 Pg. 7

The great taboo of gene therapy may have been broken TAMPERING with genes in human sperm and eggs is outlawed, since any unforeseen side effects would be passed on to future generations. But US health officials are worried that human reproductive cells may have accidentally been contaminated during gene therapy trials.

Therapeutic genes are usually shuttled into the body inside "vectors" such as viruses or loops of bacterial DNA called plasmids. But researchers have no way of restricting these vectors to tissues that need gene therapy. So patients have always been warned that germ line contamination is a potential danger and been advised to use barrier methods of contraception. Most of those treated so far have been terminally ill, and were not very likely to consider having children.

But as researchers develop gene therapies for less serious conditions (This Week, 25 October 1997, p 20), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have become alarmed at reports of vector DNA sequences showing up in the gonads of experimental animals - and, in one case, a human subject.

Transgenic Crops: GMO Crop Surface To Double In 1998

Agri-Industry Europe March 13, 1998 No. 17

The amount of land sown under transgenic crops throughout the world is expected to more than double between 1997 and 1998, from 14.2 million hectares to 35 million, French seed suppliers estimate. In 1998, 88% of the area on which transgenic crops are grown will be in the United States, 6% in Latin America and 6% in Asia, according to these seed companies.

Only "a few thousand hectares of transgenic maize" will be grown in France in 1998, in the wake of Government approval for the genetically -modified maize marketed by Novartis of Switzerland, according to the Groupement National

Interprofessionel des Semences (GNIS) and the Union des Industries de Protection des Plantes (UIPP). By the year 2000, transgenic crops are expected to cover 60 million hectares throughout the world, of which 81% will be found in North America, 8% in Latin America, 10% in Asia and 1% in Europe.

In 1998, soyabeans will be the main transgenic crop with 17 million hectares (15 million in the United States and two million in Argentina). Genetically -modified maize will cover more than eight million hectares, mainly in the United States.

Transgenic cotton will be planted on about 2.3 million hectares, essentially in the United States, with a bit in Australia, while transgenic rapeseed will be popular in Canada (two million hectares in 1998) and to a lesser extent in the United States.

In the area of research, seed producers hope that "France and Europe will go into overdrive against the United States", as they have fallen behind.

The European Commission has established a forum to promote funding for research in this area. In France, which ranks third in the world in varietal selection, "laboratories are on the cutting edge in plant biology, but the industrial fabric in biotechnology remains inadequate", according to GNIS officials.

Genetic Engineering: Scientists And Doctors Call For Moratorium

Agri-Industry Europe, March 13, 1998 No. 17

Genetically -modified organisms (GMOs) have appeared rather suddenly on the medical and agricultural scene, leaving no time for scientists to assess their real benefits and their possible negative impact on health and the environment. These observations have led a group of European scientists, doctors and health professionals to appeal on March 6 for a moratorium on the marketing of GMOs, their dissemination into the environment and their presence in food. They cite the "precautionary principle" adopted by more than 100 Heads of State and Government at the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992.

In a Statement on Genetic Engineering issued at a public hearing on GMOs organised by the Greens in the European Parliament on March 5 and 6, the doctors and scientists point out that GMOs are the product of a considerable effort in the area of molecular biology and genetic engineering in both the public and private sectors. However, the consequences of releasing GMOs into the environment, their behaviour in ecosystems or in animal or human food have been the subject of very little research.

There is as yet no scientific consensus as to the safety of these products. Economic considerations dominate, due to the enormous profit potential on the biotechnology market. Policy-makers, they note, are "overwhelmed by the rapidity of scientific advances and pressure from industrial groups.

They comment that more and more voices are being raised concerning scientists' responsibility as concerns the risks involved in commercial applications of their research. They feel that total liability for damage to health or the environment must be assumed, in the EU, by GMO users, both as concerns experimentation in open fields and in commercial applications.

Better yet, they say, an independent and multidisciplinary scientific tribunal must be established to study the long -term impact of the use of genetic engineering in agriculture, stock breeding and food production on human health, the environment and biodiversity.

No cross-border movement of living GMOs may be authorised until the United Nations Protocol on Biosafety comes into effect.

Patents on man, animals and plants or their components must be prohibited, according to the scientists. All products made using genetic engineering must bear clear labelling to this effect.

Date: Mon, 16 Mar 1998 16:45:48 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Subject: alternative medicine, letter to the editor

The following letter to the editor was published in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday March 16: {The letter was edited down a little from what was sent in)

It is not about genetic engineering, but I thought you would find it interesting.



Is Modern Medicine Our Only Option?

by Richard Wolfson, Ph.D.
Ottawa Citizen, Monday March 16, 1998, Letters section

Lynne Cohen has every right to say "No alternative medicine for me." (March 9, 1998). But should Canadians really want to discount all forms of alternative medicine? A strong case can be made that our existing health care system does not serve us well.

The New England Journal of Medicine has stated that 1/3 of our hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from iatrogenic disease, disease caused by the side effects of medical intervention. In addition, it is well known that hospital acquired infections are the most resistant and deadly infections to treat. According to the bestseller, Second Opinion, "most medical therapies have never been rigorously evaluated to see whether they work or not."

As Ms. Cohen mentions in her article, the real concern seems to be with the "wild and wacky" forms of alternative medicine. But not all alternative approaches are wild and wacky.

Many historically effective practices of alternative medicine are making their return to address the current problems of our health-care system.

At present, a Parliamentary Health Committee is hearing testimony on various approaches of alternative health care. Its aim is to provide necessary safety standards, as well as to ensure the effectiveness of alternative medicine for the consumer.

My recommendation -- the same recommendation favourably heard by the health committee -- is that the government should support methods that have been proven safe and effective through long traditions of practice and/or through well-documented modern scientific research.

Is our only option to stay on board with modern medicine? This is like bravely committing to stay aboard the Titanic. Clinging to our current system of health care is putting our faith in an approach that is overly expensive and preoccupied with disease. It is sinking.

Incorporating alternative medicine, with it's emphasis on prevention, and therapies which aim at maintaining the body's innate balance, holds the promise of achieving a health care system that truly promotes good health.

Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Ottawa

Date: Mon, 16 Mar 1998 15:05:23 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Subject: websites, Green Conference, report on French farmers

Website Addresses (URLs)

  1. A new website has been designed to make it easier to make comments to the USDA's on its new proposed rules on organic foods, which would allow food producted with genetic engineering, irradiation, and grown on toxic sewate sludge to be called organic:

    The website is

    If you go to this website, you can easily make comments to the USDA.

  2. Canberra Organic Growers Society have an excellent new website on genetic engineering:

Here is a press release from the GREEN GROUP in the European Parliament. Thanks to Helmut Weixler for posting this:

Alternative Scientists Expose Genetic Engineering Risks

Brussels, 9 March 1998

Greens Hail Successful Gene Tech Conference

Over 300 participants at the Green Conference on Genetic Engineering in Brussels last week heard a panel of distinguished scientists pull apart the official line that risks from genetically modified organisms are under control through strict application of the precautionary principle.

Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Professor of Biology at the UK Open University and author of "Genetic Engineering: Dreams or Nightmares?" told the conference "Science is not bad, but there is bad science. Genetic engineering is bad science working with big business for quick profit against the public good"

Kjetil Hindar, Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research examining the case of transgenic salmon said "To enable us to make accurate predictions about the risks, we need to understand fully the genetic make-up and behaviour of the fish. Today we know almost nothing"

Heikki Hokkanen, Head of the OECD Research Programme on Biological Resource Management and Professor at the University of Helsinki, Finland warned of the dangers of making only short-term risk assessments. Speaking on the commercial use of plants engineered to be toxic to insects he said "If we assume that there are no harmful effects from GMO releases just because they are not obvious at the beginning, we will be repeating the mistakes of the past"

Beatrix Tappeser, Head of the Department of Genetic Engineering and Risk Management at the Oko Institute in Freiburg also highlighted this knowledge gap. "In 1977 we were told that isolated DNA was fully broken down and neutralised in the human gut. In 1994 we were told that this was an unproven assumption"

"95% of the human genome is called "junk DNA". This is because we don't understand what it is there for" commented Jean-Claude Perez, author of "DNA Decoded"

Jean-Marie Pelt, Director of the European Institute of Ecology in Metz, France was also highly critical of the risks we are taking "Because the Titanic was declared to be unsinkable, the risks from icebergs were thought to be negligible. Scientists today are equally compartmentalised in their thinking"

In a discussion on genetically modified foodstuffs, Gilles-Eric Seralini Professor at the University of Caen, France demolished the idea that they could be compared to existing foods, stating that "The notion of substantial equivalence has no relevance at the present level of risk" Italian Research scientist Grazielle Picchi told delegates that "GMO foods have low nutritional values compared to naturally grown produce"

Huib de Vriend of the Dutch Consumer and Biotechnology Foundation demonstrated the futility of trying to impose an arbitrary labelling regime for gene foods. "Labelling based on physical detection of GMOs in consumer end-products is not a realistic option" he told the conference, arguing that the only workable scheme was one based on certificates of origin throughout the food chain.

Economist Ulrich Dolata from Bremen, Germany in a concluding speech dissected the idea that the biotechnology industry would become a key source of employment in Europe. "One thing I am sure of--biotechnology is not going to be a job-creating machine. The net effect will be minimal"

The Green Group has drafted a 6 point Declaration drawing on the findings of the Conference which is open for signature by all concerned citizens, whether they are scientists, parliamentarians or consumers. It states:-

  1. That uses of genetic engineering in agriculture, animal husbandry and food production pose potentially unacceptable risks for humankind and the environment.

  2. That strict liability for damage to human health or to the environment should be imposed on all users of GMOs in field trials and commercial applications in the EU.

  3. That an independent and multi-disciplinary scientific tribunal be established to investigate the long-term impact on human health, the environment and biodiversity of the uses of genetic engineering in agriculture, animal husbandry and food production.

  4. That no transboundary movements of living modified organisms should be permitted before the implementation of a comprehensive U.N. BioSafety Protocol.

  5. That there should be no patents on human, animals or plants or their component parts.

  6. That all products derived from genetic engineering techniques should be clearly labelled as such.

Thanks to the genetic engineering news group for posting the following report:

French Farmers Defence Speech

What follows is a moving account of why the French Farmers from Confederation Paysanne destroyed GE maize. It is written by Jose Bove, one of the farmers that stood trial for this 'crime'. I hope it inspires all of you as it has all of us.


For those that have not heard about this action before, the background article is pasted below the account. You may want to read it before you read the account - then again you may not!



Today, I am present in this court together with Rene Riesel and Francis Roux, accused of committing a serious crime according to the law.

The alleged crime is: the destruction of sacks of genetically modified maize.

Yes, this is serious, and that's why I assume full responsibility for it.

I am not going to hide behind collective, anonymous responsibility. As a trade unionist in the Confederation Paysanne, I believe in the ability of everyone to act as an individual. There is no place in our trade union for a heirarchy of responsibility. Each member of the union plays a main part in her or his own future, and is fully engaged in this. The strength of our union movement rests on this determination to mobilise free individuals who accept all the consequences of their acts knowing fully the motive for them.

Yes, on the 8th of January I participated in the destruction of genetically modified maize, which was stored in Novartis's grain silos in Nerac. (And the only regret I have now, is that I wasn't able to destroy more of it.)

I knew that by acting in this way I was doing something illegal. But it was necessary, and we had no other choice. The way in which genetically modified agricultural products have have been imposed on European countries didn't leave us with any alternative.

When was there a public debate on gentically modified organisms? When were farmers and consumers asked what they think about this? Never.

The decisions have been taken at the level of the World Trade Organisation, and state machinery complies with the law of market forces. The WTO dictates its own law on the opening of trade barriers. The obligation to import bovine somatotrophine meat from the USA is a good example of this. The Panel of the WTO, the true policeman of world trade, decides what's "good" for both countries and their people, without consultation or a right of appeal.

The countries or groups of countries which refuse the importation of bovine somatotrophine meat or genetically modified products have to prove that these are dangerous, and not the inverse! The Codex Alimentaris, the norm dictated by the multinationals, is there to fix the rules of the game!

Why refuse something which is presented as "progress"? It's not because of old fashionedness, or regret for the "good old days". It's because of concern for the future, and because of a will to have a say in future development. I am not opposed to fundamental research. I think that it would be illusory and detrimental to want to curb it. On the other hand, I don't think that every application of research is necessarily desired, at the human, social or environmental level.

The current discussion on cloning is like the one on genetic modifications. Is everything that is possible actually desired by and gainful for people?

Today, no intelligent person can say that genetically modifed maize is an example of progress, neither for agriculture, nor for the economy. On the other hand, the greatest concerns surrounding genetically modified maize are as equally important for human health as for nature.

Novartis's Bt maize is associated with multiple long-term risks because of the presence of the three introduced genes. Even the director of Novartis recognises that a "zero risk" simply doesn't exist. Is this an admission of powerlessness, or a way in which to cast aside his future responsibility in case there are problems? The problems arising today with certain agricultural practices (such as animal-based feeds, the effects on bee populations etc.) only serve to reinforce our caution when dealing with the sorcerer's apprentices.

The biggest danger which genetically modified maize represents, as well as all the other GMOs, is the impossibility of evaluating the long-term consequences of their use, and to follow their effects on the environment, animals and humans.

No separation of genetically modified and non-manipulated products is carried out. For example, non-manipulated and genetically modified soja are actually mixed together when they arrive in France. As a result, there is no way of tracing the genetically modified soja. There is no choice left, neither for the producer, of which I am one, nor for the consumer, amongst whom we all number. What's going to happen about the French AOC label which verifies the origin of a product, and other labels which indicate quality?

What guaranteee can we offer to those who claim to eat healthy products?

This type of culture also poses a threat to the future of farmers. For some decades productionism has served to enslave farmers. From being a producer, the farmer has now become someone who is exploited, who can no longer decide on her or his way of managing the land, nor freely choose her or his techniques for this. However, a real revolution has been taking place for the last 15 years amongst members of the Confederation Paysanne, who have put this other type of agriculture back into action. Today, more and more farmers lay claim to a farmer's agriculture, which is more autonomous, economic, and which integrates problems associated with the environment, employment, and regional planning. We are faced with a real choice for society.

- either we accept intensive production and the huge reduction in the number of farmers in the sole interests of the World Market,

- or, we, create a farmer's agriculture for the benefit of everyone.

Genetically modified maize is also the symbol of a system of agriculture and a type of society which I refuse to accept. Genetically modified maize is purely the product of technology, where the means become the end. Political choices are swept aside by the power of money.

Agriculture is a perfect illustration of this type of logic, which pervades every facet of food production. Agricultural production has now become the agro-industry. From the farmers who formed their small cooperatives, we have seen a conversion to the firms who have rationalized their systems of production in order to maximize profits on their investments. Since the 1920s, maize in the USA has been hybridized in order to oblige all farmers to buy seeds through a trust.

The trusts merged in order to invest in new techniques, which were capable of releasing new profits.

Novartis, the world's leading pharmaceutical group, invests billions in order to remain number one: they sell seeds, herbicides, pesticides and medicines. But competition is strong, and as a result of the merger which took place between two of their main competitors last week, they have announced a plan to lay-off 2000 employees in order to assure their shareholders of the profitablility of the company.

Is it this kind of logic we want?

No - I reject this lurch forwards where the aim of the economy isn't to satisfy needs, but is merely production for production's sake, without any link to the interests of the individual or the whole.

Do we need genetically modified maize in Europe?

No - in 1997 the maize production increased yet again. It's overflowing the silos. The European Union has to stock the excess. And who's got to pay for this - citizens. Who needs these new seeds? No-one - it's only Novartis who wants to get the returns on its investment and remain the number one pharmaceutical group in the world!

By destroying the genetically modified maize seeds on the 8th of January at the Novartis factory in Nerac, we wanted to put this short-sighted logic into the spotlight.

A democratic debate simply doesn't exist. The conspiracy of silence organised by the companies and the sovereign states is the sole logic which prevails. Like with the blood contaminated with the HIV virus, or mad cow disease, the public musn't be alarmed. Everything has to be allowed to continue in silence.

By appearing before you today, I'm aware of being in breach of the law which wants every citizen to be content with expressing her or his views by simply putting their vote in the urn every six years.

But it's not in this way that social and economic problems are resolved - on the contrary.

Through the action which we undertook and for which we are being judged, we kicked-off a vast citizen's movement whch refuses the use of GMOs in foodstuffs for animals and for humans. These actions will stop when this mad logic comes to a halt.

Yes, this action was illegal, but I lay claim to it because it was legitimate. I don't demand clemency, but justice. Either we have acted in everyone's interest and you will acquit us, or we have shaken the establishment and in that case you will punish us.

There is no other issue.

3rd February 1998, Agen, France


French Farmer On Trial

On January 8th 1998, one hundred and twenty members of the Confèdèration Paysanne the 2nd largest French Farmers Union, entered a Novartis conditioning and storage plant/stocking factory in Nèrac (France) and destroyed transgenic (GE) maize seeds. This was in order to protest against the decision of the French government last November, to clear the production of gene-altered maize, thus reversing a ban on cultivation imposed by the previous conservative government.

After "looking around" they finally found 5 tons of transgenic maize which they mixed up with non-modified maize before humidifying it - rendering it useless. The modified maize has been at the centre of European debate over the use of genetic technologies in agriculture for over a year, with Austria and Luxembourg maintaining national import bans despite EU marketing approval given in December 1996.

Genetically modified to resist attack by the European corn borer through the addition of the "Bt" bacterial toxin gene, the Novartis maize is also herbicide resistant and contains an antibiotic resistance gene introduced as a marker.

Novartis has estimated the damages to 30 tons (more or less 2 to 5.000.000 FF) and claimed 1 million US Dollars in damages (the five tons of seeds destroyed were apparently "total seed" kept in cold storage). Three of the people involved were arrested and put on trial on the 3rd of February. Coinciding with the start of the trial, a coalition of consumers, farmers and environment groups launched a campaign to reverse the French government decision allowing the cultivation of the genetically altered maize. The weekend before the trial opponents of GE staged protests at two Novartis sites in northern and central France.

During the trial the court was packed out and about a thousand people gathered outside. About eleven varied and distinguished witnesses addressed the court on the folies of GM maize.

Sentence was passed on February 18th. Rene Reisel and Jose Bove face an 8 month suspended prison sentences and Francis Roux 5 months. Novartis, which owned the maize, was awarded FFr500,000 (Ecu75,000) in compensation.

Although the act of the farmers was made in the public interest, and aimed to bring to full attention the political expediency, scientific deficit and lack of democracy of the imposition of genetechnologies, and specifically the maize, the judge was not really interested. The farmers were given heavy sentences. It is not clear whether the three farmers will appeal the decision or whether they will agree to pay Novartis. Renè Riesel, one of the farmers involved, is national secretary of Confèdèration Paysanne, which represents smaller farmers, the association has strongly supported the three defendants during the trial.

Though a "guilty" verdict was never in doubt, the case has sparked broader discussions in France over the risks and benefits of using genetically modified crops in agriculture. In questions to agriculture minister Louis Le Pensec tabled on the day of the hearing, several MPs demanded more details of the government's plans to hold Danish-style "consensus conferences" on the issue of transgenic plants. The minister responded by announcing a debate for June.

Preparations have already begun, with the French parliamentary office for scientific and technological evaluation holding hearings for industry, union and public interest groups. An initial report will be published in mid-May, and will be used as the basis for the larger public consensus conference.

Contacts: Parliamentary office of scientific and technological evaluation, tel: +33 1 40 63 88 19;

Confèdèration Paysanne , tel: +33 1 43 62 04 04.


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

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