Genetically Manipulated Food News

Thursday, 16 April 1998

Table of Contents

UK: Hundreds of GE crops found
EU To Approve Sale of Bio-Grains
Scientists Find Link Between Human Growth Hormone And Bone Quality In Mice
US chemical firm admits to PR errors
Scientists Link Gene Technology to Resurgence of Infectious Diseases
Organic Farmers Fight USDA Plan
Leading GE Experts Discuss The Genomics Revolution
Does having a patent make genetics valid?
Problems with the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy (CBS) review
Food Facts from Worldwatch Institute
US Patent Stops Farmers From Collecting Seeds
Adverse effects of "human" insulin: GE technology

Back to Index

Thanks to Allsorts for posting the following article:

UK: Hundreds of GE crops found

The Observer- Sun 12 April 1998

Hundreds of acres of genetically modified crops have been found by government inspectors to breach tight rules intended to keep artificial genes out of the food chain.

The crops - cultivated in plots of up to a hundred football pitches in size - are being grown in Britain as part of a huge experiment, even though the Government is still deciding whether to ban them.

Despite overwhelming evidence that three quarters of British consumers oppose such crops, their development is expanding on a dramatic scale, with scant regard for safety.

Inspectors have found genetically engineered potatoes growing in fields of beans and ordered entire crops of modified oilseed rape to be destroyed after plants were sited less than three metres from conventional plants, sparking fears of that cross pollination could occur.

MP's have condemned the scale of the 'so called' testing as dangerous. They want experimental use of genetically modified crops in Britain cur-tailed until more work has been done on the enviromental effects of cultivation.

'A hidden revolution is taking place which no one has voted on' said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat consumer affairs and enviroment spokesman.

Thanks to MichaelP for posting the following article:

EU To Approve Sale of Bio-Grains

© By The Associated Press April 15, 1998

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union plans to approve the sale of four new types of genetically-modified grain this week, a spokesman for the EU's executive agency said Wednesday.

Peter Jorgensen said the European Commission plans to approve Friday requests to sell gene-modified corn developed by U.S.-based Monsanto, Novartis of Switzerland and AgrEvo of Germany.

It also intends to approve the sale of gene-modified grapeseed oil by AgrEvo.

The move had been expected since a panel of EU scientists approved such a move in February, followed in March by environment officials from the 15 EU nations.

Environmental groups, including Greenpeace, have expressed concern about introducing biofoods on the market as have several EU governments, including France, Austria and Luxembourg.

The following text was taken from an article in the University of Michigan faculty and staff newspaper, The University Record, April 8, 1998, on page 18.

It refers to an article that appears in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 1998; 13:706-715 (published by the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research)

Scientists Find Link Between Human Growth Hormone And Bone Quality In Mice

by Sally Pobojewski, Health Systems Public Relations

Laboratory mice that have been genetically altered to produce human growth hormone grow to be 25-30 percent larger than normal mice - with much of that size difference coming from bigger bones, according to U-M researchers. The trade-off for bigger bones in adolescence appears to be poorer bone quality, increased brittleness and less resistance to fractures as mice age.

Thanks to Nickerson at for forwarding the following article:

US chemical firm admits to PR errors

by John Vidal, The Guardian Weekly for week ending 1998.4.19

MONSANTO, the huge United States chemical company that is facing mounting opposition in Europe as it spearheads the rush to hi-tech foods, has called for genetically modified (GM) crops to be separated at source from traditional foods and has admitted that it has misjudged consumers' concerns. ...

As Monsanto prepared to mount a multi-million dollar public relations campaign to convince European shoppers of the ecological and global benefits of GM foods, it admitted that it had underestimated ethical and scientific concerns and had pushed its products on to the market without explanation.

"We made mistakes which we regret. We should have listened more carefully," said Philip Angell, Monsanto's US director of corporate communications. The scale and speed of the GM food revolution has astonished observers and worried critics, who see a further global intensification of farming and no choice for consumers.

From: "M.W.Ho (Maewan Ho)"
Press Release 6.4.98

Scientists Link Gene Technology to Resurgence of Infectious Diseases

Call for Independent Enquiry

A review appearing in the scientific Journal, Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease* suggests links between commercial gene technology and the recent accelerated resurgence of drug and antibiotic resistant infectious diseases.

At the heart of the issue is horizontal gene transfer - the transfer of genes by vectors such as viruses and other infectious agents - which is exploited by genetic engineers to make transgenic organisms. While natural vectors respect species barriers, the barrage of artificial vectors made by genetic engineers are designed to cross species barriers, thus greatly enhancing the potential for creating new viral and bacterial pathogens, and spreading drug and antibiotic resistance. Totally unrelated pathogens are now showing up with identical virulence and antibiotic resistance genes.

Recent statistics are frightening. Infectious diseases were responsible for 1/3 of the 52 million deaths from all causes in 1995. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is now estimated to affect 10 million each year with 3 million deaths. At least 50 new viruses attacking humans emerged between 1988 and 1996. Between 1986 and 1996, E. coli 0157:H7 infections increased by 10-fold in England and Wales and 100-fold in Scotland. Vancomycin resistance rose from 3% to 95% in San Francisco hospitals in the four years between 1993 and 1997. And Staphyloccocus (toxic shock syndrome) is now invulnerable to all known antibiotics.

The first genetic engineers called for a moratorium in the Asilomar Declaration of 1975, precisely because they were afraid of inadvertently creating new viral and bacterial pathogens. The worst case scenario they envisaged may be taking shape. Commercial pressures led to regulatory guidelines based largely on untested assumptions, all of which have been invalidated by recent scientific findings.

For example, biologically "crippled" laboratory strains of bacteria can often survive in the environment to exchange genes with other organisms. Genetic material (DNA) released from dead and living cells, far from being rapidly broken down, actually persists in the environment and transfer to other organisms. Naked viral DNA may be more infectious, and have a wider host range than the virus. Viral DNA resists digestion in the gut of mice, enter the blood stream to infect white blood cells, spleen and liver cells, and may even integrate into the mouse cell genome.

"We may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg," the scientists state, "There is an urgent need to tighten existing regulations." Instead, the EU is relaxing the guidelines on both deliberate release and contained use of GMOs. "That is an irresponsible move in the light of existing scientific knowledge." The Editor of the Journal is inviting other scientists to contribute to the debate.

Contact: Dr. Mae-Wan Ho Biology Department, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, tel. 01908-653113, fax. 01908-654167, e-mail:

Thanks to jim mcnulty for posting this:

Organic Farmers Fight USDA Plan

April 14, 1998 © 1998, Associated Press

ASHLAND, ORE. - The Associated Press via NewsEdge Corporation : Irradiated potatoes, genetically engineered tomatoes, grain grown on sewage sludge and factory-farmed livestock fed antibiotics.

Many organic farmers and retailers are betting consumers will not like the sound of that. But, they assert, that is what can be expected to carry the "organic" label if proposed Agriculture Department standards backed by agribusiness take effect.

"It's a war over the word `organic'," said Mark Bassik of Windy River Farms in Grants Pass, Ore., as he sold his organic produce recently at the Ashland Grower's Market. "It's opening up organic to big business. It's opened up to the point where you can do almost anything."

The Agriculture Department has received more than 27,000 comments in the four months since the proposed rules were released and is urging opponents to hold their fire. The proposal is just that, USDA says.

"This is not the final rule and should not be read to reflect how USDA will finally resolve the many difficult issues involved," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said earlier this year.

Bassik and many other organic farmers and retailers say the proposed federal standards significantly water down organic certification as it now is defined by 17 states and 33 private organizations.

They are fighting back with an organized letter-writing campaign called Save Organic Standards, hoping to persuade USDA to maintain tough and meaningful rules. The public comment period on the proposed standards closes April 30.

Opponents say two things are at stake _ a $3.5 billion industry comprising mostly small farmers, and the future health of Americans who prefer natural foods.

Organic certification standards vary, but generally no pesticides, herbicides or preservatives are sprayed on organically grown fruits and vegetables. No drugs can be used to produce "organic" meats. Plants and animals must be raised in fields and pastures that have been free of chemicals for at least three years.

Organic farmers and retailers say natural foods are hard to replicate on a large scale by the agribusinesses now trying to rewrite the rules.

"The concept of feed the soil is sustainable and life-giving," said Bassik. "Large industry can do it, but you can't get the same quality. Large-scale plants don't get touched _ it's all machines."

"They're not talking about lifestyle or health of the planet. They're just talking about how can they use that label without changing their methodology," said Sara Hammond of Elk Creek Gardens in Trail, Ore.

"It's also a way we can keep our waters clean and the air and the environment," said Suzanne Fry of Fry Family Farms in Talent, Ore. "The standards will be so low people won't know what they're getting."


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 tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596 email:

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: 14 Apr 1998 04:32:00 -0500
From: jim mcnulty
Subject: Leading GE Experts Discuss The Genomics Revolution

Leading GE Experts Discuss The Genomics Revolution

April 14, 1998

Leading Experts Discuss The Genomics Revolution and Other Leading Pharmaceutical Issues at Frost & Sullivan`s Annual Pharmaceutical Industry Conference

NEW YORK, April 13 /PRNewswire/ via NewsEdge Corporation -- The genomics revolution and the new technologies and exciting market opportunities it has spawned in recent years will be addressed by leaders in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, academia and consultants at Frost & Sullivan's second annual pharmaceutical industry conference, Business Opportunities in the Pharmaceutical Industry, May 13-14, 1998, and at the market engineering workshop, May 15, 1998.

A unique opportunity for pharmaceutical and biotechnology executives to gather a vast compendium of knowledge from leading experts, this valuable conference and the following workshop will offer solutions to the challenges and opportunities presented to the pharmaceutical industry by the incredible advances made in the field of genomics.

This conference will combine formal presentations, panel discussions, roundtable discussion and consulting sessions with an impressive roster of industry leaders:

In this competitive environment, only those players with the most effective strategies will survive. Therefore, Frost & Sullivan's conference seeks to provide strategic direction to the various participants in the biopharmaceutical industry. Participants in Frost & Sullivan's pharmaceutical conference include pharmaceutical firms, fully-integrated drug discovery companies, high-throughput screening companies, genomics players, combinatorial chemistry companies, consulting firms, information vendors, instrumentation and tool companies and CROs. Frost & Sullivan's consultants will interact with other industry leaders to strategize and discuss which method is best for your particular company.

The conference will be followed by an intense, full-day Market Engineering Management Seminar, May 15, 1998. Led by David Frigstad, chairman of Frost & Sullivan, and Chris Wright, Frost & Sullivan's director of healthcare consulting, this seminar will cover the Market Engineering system to identify growth opportunities. This system integrates market challenges, company goals, market research, marketing strategy, implementation and monitoring into a practical and useful methodology that can benefit every department in a company.

Both the conference and the workshop will be held at the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As an added bonus, all conference attendees will receive a complementary copy of Frost & Sullivan's best-selling training manual, "Healthcare Market Engineering," a $95 value. This practical guide on how to improve your company's market position in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries will show you how to utilize a measurement-based marketing and sales system to address challenges, drive strategy, and monitor results toward your strategic goals.

Sales Inquiries: Jason Brandi
Press Inquiries: Claire Keerl
Sponsorship and Exhibit Inquiries: Gary Robbins

Frost & Sullivan
90 West Street
New York, NY 10006
Tel: (212) 964-7000
Fax: (212) 619-0831

Or, visit Frost & Sullivan's Web site:

Conference: 2960-06 Date: May 13-14, 1998 Price: $1250
Workshop: 2962-06 Date: May 15, 1998 Price: $750
Conference & Workshop Package: Price: $1850

SOURCE Frost & Sullivan

Date: 14 Apr 1998 08:01:01 -0500
From: Prof. Joe Cummins
Subject: Re: Does having a patent make genetics valid?

Does having a patent make genetics valid?

Recently I have been pointing out that the patented process to put the herbicide resistance genes onto chloroplast chromosomes to prevent the resistance genes from being transmitted through pollen and spreading resistance to weeds is based on scientific "facts" that are false. Numerous publications show that chloroplast genes are transmitted through pollen in very many crop plant species and such genes are transmitted through pollen in plants that normally do not under environmental stress such as herbicide exposure or ionizing radiation.

Recently I was given a publication in which the head of the US National Agricultural Biotechnology Council claimed that a genetic engineering process was valid because it was patented and licensed.Many bodies including the council of presidential advisors on science may share this peculiar view. The chloroplast gene patent shows that patents are granted to genetic processes that have little or not validity or in the case of the chloroplast genes are based on science that has been proven wrong.

Indeed, the opinions of patent judges and the high priced lawyers from multinational chemical companies may be dragging the practice of american justice, or at least patent justice into disrepute.

Prof. Joe Cummins e-mail:

Reply to Professor Cummins on patenting by Bob Klauber.

Although I am not a patent attorney, I have done quite a fair amount of patenting in the past 10-11 years.

Getting a patent accepted is similar in some ways to getting a paper accepted in a scientific journal. Getting it accepted doesn't mean it is right, it just means the person who reviewed it (the patent examiner in this case) thought it was. By "right" I mean in accord with scientific laws of nature.

However, I have seen a number of patents which could be proven, by those knowledgable, to be in violation of those laws. Unfortunately, the law considers issued patents as valid unless proven in a court of law to be otherwise. This, of course, is a very expensive procedure, and is usually only carried out by large corporations who wish to invalidate the patent of a competitor.

Dear Bob,

Thanks for your comments. I agree with you very much,however, that don't stop the PR guys in the chemical industry from validating science by striking a patent.

Cheers, Joe

Date: 14 Apr 1998 16:54:35 -0500
From: Prof. Joe Cummins Subject:

Problems with the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy (CBS) review

Previously I provided information on the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy (CBS) Review for which comments were due by April 15,1998 on the Agriculture and Agri-Food proposal. the documentation provided by the Canadian Government included an e-mail address for the submission. My submission met the following message on several tries over several days "message still undelivered after 4 hours Will keep trying until message is five days old". I finally sent in the proposal by FAX but suspect that submission may be "lost".

The strategy is set by the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee. The Committee advises under "The Social-Ethical Context of Biotechnology" that the committee "advisory body should start a national conversation on biotechnology to systematically incorporate public input."

The committee is made up as follows:


Mr. Dupuis Angers
Institut Rosell Inc. (Montreal)
Ms. Carolyn Armstrong
New Business Development
Bayer Inc. (Etobicoke)
Dr. Lorne A. Babiuk
Veterinary Infectious Disease
Organization (Saskatoon)
Mr. Jean Chagnon
Lallamand Inc. (Quebec)
Dr. Michel Chretien
Scientific Director and CEO
LOEB Institute
Ottawa Civic Hospital (Ottawa)
Mr. John Cross
Philom Bios (Saskatoon)
Dr. J. Regis Duffy
President and CEO
Diagnostic Chemicals Limited (Charlottetown)
Dr. Edna Einsiedel
University of Calgary (Calgary)
Dr. Jim Friesen
Professor and Chair
Banting and Best Institute
University of Toronto (Toronto)
Mr. Richard Glickman
President and CEO
StressGen Biotechnologies Corp. (Victoria)
Mr. Brian Gray
Blake, Cassels & Graydon (Toronto)
Dr. Robert Heft
IBEX Technologies Inc. (Montreal)
Ms. Suzanne Hendricks
National Institute of Nutrition (Ottawa)
Dr. Dennis Johnson
(former) Associate
University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon)
Dr. Kelvin K. Ogilvie
Acadia University (Wolfville)
Mr. Jean Shoiry
Groupe Serrener Inc. (Sherbrooke)
Ms. Susan Smith
Knowledged-based Industries
Royal Bank (Toronto)
Mr. Graham Strachan
President and CEO
Allelix Biopharmaceuticals Inc. (Mississauga)
Dr. Hugh Wynne-Edwards
President and CEO
BC Research Inc. (Vancouver)

The committee chairman is Strachan of Allelix Biopharmaceuticals, the Prime Minister's brother , Dr. Chretien of Ottawa University, is "French Contact" for the committee.Prof. Einsiedel of Calgary is listed as an expert in biotechnology journalism in the University of Calgary directory.There is little or no expertise in genetics in the committee and no clearly visible consumer advocates as claimed in government literature. In fact, the committee seems to be an industry lobby group, and acts like one by advocating tax breaks and "treble" government grants for the industry.

I have had contacts with the committee and several committee members since 1989. I found that these individuals did not appear to be willing to hear or act on safety oversight.For example, in 1989 I raised several issues related to safety of genetic engineering at a meeting on safety in Montreal.

Several biotechnology firms were hired by the Canadian Government to answer the question they acknowledge I raised However, their reports were delayed several years and these reports were concealed from me by government bureaucratsWhen I finally obtained the reports under the Access to Information Law I found that the reports provided assurances of safety but were in direct conflict with well published facts

In Canada the news media tend to be uncritical of government committees that claim to represent the public interest.The public may be made to believe a lobby group is a committee dealing with"The Social-Ethical Context of Biotechnology".

Date: 14 Apr 1998 16:55:27 -0500
From: (Joe Toth)
Subject: Some Food Facts from Worldwatch Institute

Food Facts from Worldwatch Institute

Some food facts from

Date: 14 Apr 1998 23:41:30 -0500
From: MichaelP
Subject: Guardian spin on terminator tech and global dominance

Monsanto sez: This isn't too different from hybrid crops which don't reproduce.

US Patent Stops Farmers From Collecting Seeds

The Guardian Wednesday April 15, 1998

A potential end to an age-old farming practice may be in sight with a hi-tech development from the US government that can genetically switch off plants' ability to reproduce. US patent 5,723,765, awarded jointly last month to the world's largest cotton-seed company and the US Department of Agriculture will allow companies to stop farmers collecting seeds to plant again in following years.

What is being dubbed the 'Terminator Gene' by the genetic engineering industry would, when licensed to seed and chemical companies, pass more control of global crops to US companies and force farmers to buy new seeds each year.

While this is not such a great problem in developed countries where few farmers collect seed, it could have far-reaching economic and cultural effects in poor countries where the technology is aimed, say critics of the technology.

"The goal is to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open new markets in second and third world countries," said US dept of Agriculture (USDA) spokesman Willard Phelps.

"Our mission is to protect American technology and to make us competitive in the face of foreign competition," said USDA molecular biologist and primary inventor of the technology Melvin J Oliver.

"We expect the new technology to have global implications," said Murray Robinson, president of Delta and Pine Land, the company that developed the technology with the US government and dominates global sales of cotton seeds.

"It has the prospect of opening significant worldwide seed markets to the sale of transgenic technology for crops in which seed is currently saved and used in subsequent plantings." While proponents of terminator technology, which is being tested first on cotton and tobacco, claim that small farmers will be unaffected, concerned agronomists say the reality is different.

"It's terribly dangerous," said Hope Shand, research director of the Canadian RAFI group. "Half the world's farmers are poor. They provide food for more than 1 billion people but they can't afford to buy seeds every growing season. Seed collection is vital for them." News of the technology has created a furore in developing countries. "The better off farmers will be forced to pay, but their poor neighbours will no longer be able to exchange breeding material with them. No one will breed for their needs. It could force millions of small farmers out of plant breeding altogether," said Neth Dano of the Filipino group SEARICE which works with small farmers.

There are further fears that pollen from the crops carrying the Terminator gene will blow into and 'infect' the fields of farmers who either reject or cannot afford the technology, says Chilean agronomist Camila Montecinos of the Centre for Education and Training.

"Farmers could find that their seeds are infertile when it is too late. It could lead to a decline in food security for the poorest communities. This may be the neutron bomb of agriculture," she said.

The Terminator gene would be immediately attractive for agro-chemical companies now developing genetically engineered seeds. Because these seeds are patented, and licensed to farmers for one growing season only, the companies are having to employ private security guards to ensure that farmers do not reuse their seeds.

Philip Angell, US director of corporate communications of agro-chemical corporation Monsanto told the Guardian last week: "This technology might prove attractive." He added that it was "not very different from 'hybrid' crops", which do not reproduce.

Monsanto is spearheading the global genetically-modified food revolution with technology being used on 50 million acres of crops this year and it has a minor shareholding in Delta and Pine Land. The two companies have a joint cotton-seed venture in China. The $10-billion-a-year giant has spent more than $2 billion in the past two years buying up seed companies and developing genetically-modified crops.

"This is outrageous," says Shand. "The technology was developed with taxpayers' money. It is designed to give the multinational seed industry the capacity to control the world's food supply and weaken the role of public breeders." Further information: PO Box 640 Pittsboro, NC 27312 USA. US department of Agriculture, Washington DC.


** 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. **

Date: 15 Apr 1998 01:29:18 -0500
From: JHKew
Subject: GE - Adverse effects of "human" insulin: The context of genetic technologies

An example of what to expect from GE food and medicine wrote:

Adverse effects of "human" insulin: The context of genetic technologies

Many people who are concerned about patents on genes or some potential applications of genetic engineering or the trends of the technology feel that, nevertheless, they should mute their objections because of the promise of medical benefits. Because it is still uncertain whether these benefits are real or illusory, it can be hard to voice one's objections, knowing that to do so may contribute to hindering research and potential benefits.

The potential benefits, however, are not merely a scientific or medical matter. The context in which the technologies are being developed and applied is also important. The experiences of Jenny Hirst, Co-Chair of the Insulin Dependent Diabetes Trust, are illustrative. For several years, Ms Hirst's daughter used genetically engineered insulin, often described as one of the tangible benefits of genetic research and application in medicine. Following is a shortened extract of a presentation she gave in October 1997 at a conference entitled "A Voice for the Guinea Pig?", organised by Consumers for Ethics Research (CERES, PO Box 1365, London N16 0BW)

Consumer Involvement: A Dream or a Reality?

extracted from CERES newsletter, Winter 97/98 No. 23. [. . .] indicates cuts

[. . .]

"My involvement in diabetes is because my daughter, now 27, has had insulin dependent diabetes since she was 5 years old and had insulin injections for 22 years. People with diabetes do not produce insulin and so it has to be injected and because it is injected in boluses, it has to balance with food and exercise. Sometimes the blood sugar can go too high or too low. It is these low blood sugars, hypoglycaemia or 'hypos', that are of constant concern to those living with diabetes, because if the lows remain untreated by an intake of sugary food, then there are physical changes, behavioural changes and eventual seizure or coma. Usually there are warning signs of hypos: pallor, hunger, sweating, trembling. Sometimes these symptoms are reduced or not present at all.

From the discovery of insulin in the 1920s until the early 1980s, natural animal-derived insulins had been used, but in 1982, genetically produced so-called 'human' insulin became available and by the late 1980s, 84% of the diabetic community [in Britain] had been transferred to 'human' insulin and nearly all the newly diagnosed were put straight on it.

However, in 1985/96, patients started to complain of problems, mainly of low blood sugar without the necessary safeguard of warning signs. This meant they could not handle the hypos themselves, required outside assistance from family or friends, or went rapidly into seizure or coma. Additional complaints appeared from family carers - extreme lethargy, behavioural changes (aggression and violence), memory loss, confusion, depression, joint pains, weight increase and changes in the menstrual cycle.

All this happened to my daughter over a period of 4 years of the 10 years she was taking so-called 'human' insulin. She had tests for all sorts of possible causes, but was told by her doctor there was nothing wrong. By this time, her weight had increased from 9 1/2 stones [133lbs/60kg] to 13 stones [182lbs/83kg] in spite of eating very little; she spent all her time, when not at work, asleep, and could hardly walk to the nearest bus stop. In sheer desperation, she insisted on changing back to animal insulin and within three days showed an unbelievable improvement: her hypo warnings returned, she was no longer confused, the pains disappeared, and over a longer period, her memory largely returned, she went back to 9 stones and for the first time had regular periods.

One could say this is an isolated adverse reaction. But I was a trustee of the British Diabetic Association, and I knew that between 1986 and 1989 they received up to 3,000 letters from people with diabetes or their carers. These were desperate letters, angry letters, but all describing similar problems to those of my daughter after changing to 'human' insulin.

But there is more - the changeover took place often without the patient knowing or without discussion, a letter in the post or the pharmacist just gave them different insulin with no warnings [. . . ] Our doctors assumed that 'human' insulin would be cheaper and better - assumptions with no evidence except drug company sales patter [. . . ]

The anger that grew was because, when reporting problems to their consultants, patients were not believed, nor were they believed by the BDA [British Diabetic Association]. People were sent to psychiatrists and psychologists, including my daughter, and for some life was unbearable [. . .] People were told they could not change back to animal insulin.

[I resigned from the BDA] and a few months later formed the IDDT [Insuling Dependent Diabetes Trust] with Dr Matt Kiln, a GP with diabetes who had experienced very real problems himself. [. . .]

We gather information with which to do battle. We gathered information from people with diabetes and we looked at insulin manufacturers, the research and the systems which are in place for our protection. [. . . ]

We made contact with patients in Switzerland who already had formed an organisation for the preservation of natural animal insulins. The drug companies and BDA said the problems only existed in the UK and Switzerland, but our investigation showed that in many countries 'human' insulin was introduced gradually, unlike the UK and Switzerland where over a relatively short time, huge numbers of people were transferred and hecne the problems all started to appear at the same time. In the States, for instance, transfer was gradual and is still going on with 300,000 people still using animal insulins, but patients are now starting to complain. In other countries, such as Australia, animal insulins were simply withdrawn, leaving patients with no alternative but to use 'human'. [. . . ]

So what did we discover about the insulin manufacturers? We wrote to them but always received the same reply - no scientific evidence of problems and guarantees of animal insulin supplies to the year 2000. [. . . ]

But let us look at the real situation, always bearing in mind that 'human' insulin in cheaper and easier to produce than animal but in the UK sells for 50% more than animal. In real terms, the NHS [publically-funded National Health Service] has been spending 19 million pounds per year more on 'human' than if everyone had remained on purified pork insulin which was causing no problems.

Basically, the world is supplied with insulin by two major companies, Lilly and Novo Nordisk. In the UK, 'human' insulin is supplied by Lilly and Novo, and pork insulin is supplied by one company only - Novo only. We are at the whim of commercial decisions, so that insulin producers are able to dictate to consumers and prescribing doctors, which again makes us ask why the doctors have not supported patients on this issue. But the reality is that the insulin manufacturers:

  1. pay for research in diabetes
  2. pay salaries of diabetes specialist nurses
  3. pay for conferences and all that!
  4. donate to the British Diabetes Association

We looked at the research and what did we find? In 1980, the first study was published, carried out under Professor Harry Keen wtih 17 non-diabetic men. By 1982, 'human' insulin was licensed and on the market. Remarkably short time considering it was the first genetically produced drug ever to be used on mankind. Was two years really long enough to carry out studies in the whole spectrum of people with diabetes: the young, the old, the pregnant, those with complications? Were these trials carried out and within two years? Neither was there any formal post marketing surveillance.

No large-scale trials have ever been carried out and bearing in mind that there are 350,000 people with diabetes who are insulin dependent in the UK alone, problems are not going to be detected in small studies with 20, 30 or 50 participants. Very few studies of any size have been carried out looking at people in their normal living situation. [. . . ]

We know that there is scientific evidence to show differences between 'human' and animal insulins, but this evidence is ignored. There is no evidence to show that 'human' insulin has any clinical advantages for patients. We also know that there is very little effective protection for us, the patients or consumers, and that our voice and experiences count for very little. We know that the pharmaceutical industry has power beyond most people's dreams and that the medical profession and researchers are being sucked into this power game. They have lost or are losing control and it is not in the consumers' interests that this should happen.

Vast sums of money are spent on research, only a fraction of which is published and certainly, in diabetes, much of it is funded by industry, so we are receiving a biased picture. [. . .]

I, and many people like me, have a daugher, only 27, who future health and life is no longer in the hands of the medical profesion but in the hands of the powerful pharmaceutical industry. Government cannot force them to produce an insulin which they consider to be not commercially viable, but surely the consumers, the medical profession and government could, if they united, insist on obtaining the answer to one very simple question: where is the evidence to show that genetically produced 'human' insulin has any benefits for patients to justify the actions that have taken place and the use of 'human' insulin as first line treatment? [. . . ]

PO Box 3137,
Station Road,
Sturminster Newton,

Tel: +44 (0)1258 473795 Fax: +44 (0)1258 473748 Email:

Nicholas Hildyard/Sarah Sexton/Tracey Clunies Ross/Larry Lohmann

Back to Index