Genetically Manipulated Food News

19 August 98

Table of Contents

Immune System Damage In Tests
Mississippi Seed Arbitration Council Rules Against Monsanto
Genetically Modified Spuds Deemed Risky: Problems in Rats
Great Media Victory In Britain For Anti-gema Forces
More GE URLs for the WWW
We're All Just Guinea Pigs
Bees Make Honey From Genetically Altered Crops
India: Vigil Against Genetically Engineered Soyabeans
Genetics scientist suspended
Scientist's potato alert was false, laboratory admits
Danes Debate Safety Of Round Up Herbicide
Research Highlights Risk of using Viral Promoter Genes in New Foods
Monsanto Threatened TV Programme
Watch Those Beans
Give Us Back Our Precious Fungi, Thais Urge University
Add A Toxin To Potatoes And It's No Surprise They're Bad News
Do You Want Sour Cream With Your Vaccination?
Smoke Screen Around Fired Scientist
Scientists Worried By Modified Food Risks
Letter: Modified Food
Letter: Natural Defence
Letter: Another view of "Progressive" Evolution
Letter: Simplistic View
Letter: Labeling needed
Letter: More Pesticides and More Resistance
Gene Firm Tightens Grip On Food Chain

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Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 10:42:38 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Brit. Minister rejects calls for genetic food ban

Immune System Damage In Tests

By Tim Radford, Science Editor, Guardian (london) Tuesday August 11, 1998

The row over genetically engineered foods took a new twist yesterday as the Government refused to ban them after tests showed they could damage the immune systems of rats and stunt their growth.

The Tory health spokesman, Alan Duncan, yesterday talked of "massive consumer suspicion" after a television programme last night reported that rats at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen had eaten genetically modified potatoes for 100 days, and suffered stunted growth and damage to their immune systems - and questioned the safety of other products.

The Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Norman Baker, said the results "show that we have become the guinea pigs in a gigantic experiment".

The food minister, Jeff Rooker, turned down calls for an immediate ban but insisted that the Government would have an "ultra-cautionary" approach.

However, Labour MP Ian Gibson, a member of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said he was worried by the findings of the Rowett Institute and called on the Government to act. Dr Gibson said ministers should consider calling a moratorium on the sale of genetically modified (GM) products while more tests were carried out.

Derek Burke, a former government adviser on food technology, said calls for a moratorium on GM foods were "an over-reaction."

Philip James, director of the Rowett Institute, said the experiment was only one of many specifically concerned with the safety of potential new foods, none of which were available commercially.

There are only four genetically modified foods on sale in Britain - tomato paste, vegetarian cheese, maize and soya.

Although environmentalists are worried about the threat of "superweeds", triggered by the arrival of herbicide-resistant crops, the latest row is over research into the genes that naturally protect crops from attack by insects and worms. Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Institute took a genetically engineered potato containing a protein from a South American bean, and fed it to rats in the laboratory.

Later, he told the World In Action TV programme: "We are assured this is absolutely safe, and that no conceivable harm could come to us from eating it. But if you gave me the choice now, I wouldn't eat it."


Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 10:42:38 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to Eckart Stein stein@clri6a.gsi.de for posting this:

Mississippi Seed Arbitration Council Rules Against Monsanto

The Gene Exchange, Summer 1998 (Published by the Union of Concerned Scientists)
A Public Voice on Biotechnology and Agriculture
Source: http://www.ucsusa.org/agriculture/index.html

State board finds Roundup Ready cotton failed to meet advertised claims

The Mississippi Seed Arbitration Council ruled that Monsanto's Roundup Ready cotton failed to perform as advertised last year and recommended payments of nearly $2 million to three cotton farmers who suffered severe losses. The Council rejected Monsanto's assertion that unusual weather caused yields to fall and agreed instead with the farmers that the herbicide Roundup Ultra was responsible. The company had advertised that the engineered cotton would resist the toxic effects of Roundup Ultra, a glyphosate-based weed killer, as long as farmers followed label directions.

The Council ruling was the culmination of a state-mandated process that farmers must go through before they can sue companies for putative losses due to defective products. Last fall, 54 cotton growers filed for arbitration with the Council over failure of the new cotton. Soon thereafter, Monsanto began settling with farmers--reportedly paying out millions of dollars in Mississippi and neighboring states. However, three growers refused the company's offers and argued for higher compensation in a May hearing before the Arbitration Council. The board issued its nonbinding decision on June 12, giving farmers and the companies 30 days to decide whether to accept the recommended settlement.

Scientists are not yet certain why Roundup Ready cotton failed in so many Mississippi Delta fields. Monsanto is speculating that the cool, wet spring weather in the Delta slowed cotton growth--and the breakdown of glyphosate which is necessary to avoid its toxic effects. Spraying every 10 days, as the herbicide label allowed, probably meant that the engineered cotton was exposed to more glyphosate than it could effectively degrade. The company has since changed the label to caution growers to allow a certain amount of growth between sprays.

The company has been criticized by farmers and scientists alike for rushing the product to market without adequate testing.

Sources:


Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 10:42:38 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Genetically Modified Spuds Deemed Risky: Problems in Rats

London, Aug. 10, 1998

Genetically modified potatoes can damage the immune systems of rats, according to British research released today that calls into question the safety of the new food technology. Research showed that rats suffered from slightly stunted growth and were more likely to be vulnerable to disease.

Professor Arpad Puztai of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute said he had fed five rats on genetically modified potatoes that carried genes from the snowdrop and jackbean for 110 days—equivalent to 10 years in human terms. His research showed that the rats suffered from slightly stunted growth and were more likely to be vulnerable to disease.


Date: Wed, 12 Aug 1998 15:21:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Here is a personal report from a few days ago in UK, that I thought you might appreciate:

Great Media Victory In Britain For Anti-gema Forces

From: JTGardens@aol.com 10 Aug 1998

Today was another normal day in the UK media. Front page articles on research funded by the Scottish Office on mice being affected by genetic potatoes (One normally sedate newspaper had the headline -Genetic Crops Stunt Growth). Bits and pieces on news items and a Monster big wig being interviewed on a middle of the road programme (The Jimmy Young Show). The Monsanto guy made your skin creep telling all their normal blatant lies. Audience phone in messages were overwhelmingly anti.

But the absolute best was 'World in Action' on one of the main TV channels tonight. World in Action has specialised for around 25 years on exposing what companies, governments etc do not want us to know.

Monsanto refused to take part. A member of the Government Advisory body gave out the usual things about safety and so on, and then the programme producers gave strong examples showing the true situation and basically making her look silly. They also brought in the L-Tryptophan incident and showed a letter from the Japenese company that pretty much admitted that the genectic modification was the prime cause of the deaths and disabilities.

A Monsanto site scientist, interviewed as a test site was being 'decontaminated' admitted that they did not do long term testing on mammals and was very confused about what testing they did do.

The programme lined them up and shot them all down beautifully. Star of the show was Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth .... great... If anyone would like a video copy I can probably arrange it. Contact: devatalk@mcmail.com

Today was one happy day....


Date: Wed, 12 Aug 1998 15:21:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

More GE URLs for the WWW

The following websites have recent articles. Great numbers of articles are coming out in England especially, as public concern rises:

GE potatoes that were harmful to rats. http://www.abcnews.com/sections/living/DailyNews/potatoes980810.html

BBC News - Scci-tech -Experiment http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_148000/148384.stm

Immune system fear over altered potatoes http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=000930489921268&rtmo=VJfg6gwK&atmo=rrrrrrYs&pg= /et/98/8/11/ngen111.html

Guardian http://reports.guardian.co.uk/articles/1998/8/11/15829.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/stories/F1108802.html Mirror

http://www.independent.co.uk/sindy/stories/A0908801.html Sunday 9th Aug 98, The independent (UK)

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/08/980814070618.htm "Genetically-Altered Crops Can Produce Tough, Hard-To-Kill Weeds"


Date: Wed, 12 Aug 1998 15:21:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

We're All Just Guinea Pigs

The Mirror http://www.mirror.co.uk/stories/F1108802.html

GENETICALLY modified food is a "huge experiment with the human race as guinea pigs", pressure groups warned last night.

They claimed it is used in a wide variety of foods without proper research into the possible impact on human health. In the US genetically engineered cows were used to produce more milk until fears of a link to breast cancer.

A new wave of superbugs resistant to antibiotics is being linked to widespread manipulation of genes in food. Friends of the Earth said a dietary supplement containing GM products was blamed for 37 deaths in the US. Greenpeace genetics campaigner Jim Thomas claimed a small number of US pharmaceutical giants would soon "control world food - they are controlling seeds used, crops developed and even buying into food suppliers.

"They do their own tests and are not really looking for problems. There is not enough independent testing."

Dr Mae-Wan Ho, head of the Open University Bio-Electrodynamics laboratory in Milton Keynes, Bucks, said: "Safety regulations seem to have been relaxed. The public is being used against its will as guinea pigs."


Date: Wed, 12 Aug 1998 15:21:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Bees Make Honey From Genetically Altered Crops

By Alison Craig Sunday 9th Aug 98, The independent (UK)
http://www.independent.co.uk/sindy/stories/A0908801.html

BEEKEEPERS say that genetically modified honey is being produced by default in Britain as bees come into contact with nectar and pollen from experimental crops.

There are 107 field crop trials of oil-seed rape planted in Britain and the beekeepers are concerned at the extent to which bees have access to the fields where modified crops are grown.

Licensed plant-breeders carrying out the experiments are under no obligation to monitor either the bees or the resulting honey. While there have been attempts to keep birds off by covering the crops with netting, it is impossible to stop bees. The result, say beekeepers, is that humans could unwittingly be exposed to the crops by their consumption of honey.

We eat about 25,000 tonnes of honey per year in the UK, and the health market in particular is expanding. Thick-set granular white honey is typically derived from oil-seed rape flowers.

The beekeepers yesterday became the latest experts to join the chorus of concern about the spread of genetically modified crops. Last week genetically modified foods were banned from Palace of Westminster restaurants, although the Government has refused to ban GM crops from shops and supermarkets.

According to Richard Jones, director of the International Bee Research Association: "We are concerned about the possible effects of GM crops on bees and hive products, such as honey and beeswax.

"Bees are the interface between us and the plant. We eat their product. They move on from the genetically modified plant and pollinate other plants. There could be a huge chain reaction we are not aware of yet."

The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, which has been assessing the risks of genetically modified crops, has identified three ways in which there are possible risks to consumers' health through GM transmission by bees:

"Honey bees are under enough stress as it is," said Richard Jones. "New pressures on them are just not needed."


Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 10:27:31 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

India: Vigil Against Genetically Engineered Soyabeans

August 13, 1998

NEW DELHI - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : A campaign against the landing of one million tons of soyabeans from the United States, suspected to be genetically engineered, got off today with a farmer's rally in the capital.

The suspicions arise from the fact that soyabean consignments from the U.S have been found to be mixed with crops from the biotechnology giant Monsanto which has more than five million hectares under genetically engineered (G.E.) soya.

"What the Europeans have rejected due to environmental and health hazards is now being dumped on Indians who traditionally do not consume soya," said leading activist Vandana Shiva.


Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 10:27:31 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

The scientist in UK who brought the information to the public that the genetically engineered potatoes injured rats has been fired. The institute he was working for has not said that his results were incorrect, but has said they require further analysis. It seems that the controversy he stirred up resulted in him losing his job.

----------

Genetics scientist suspended

BBC Science Correspondent James Wilkinson reports
BBC Wednesday, August 12, 1998 Published at 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK

Dr Arpad Pusztai will now retire

The scientist at the centre of controversial claims over the risks of eating genetically-modified (GM) food has been suspended.

Dr Arpad Pusztai claimed research on rats fed with genetically modified potatoes had suffered immune damage.

He had gone on the ITV World In Action programme to raise questions about the safety of GM food in the human diet on the basis of the study.

But his employers, the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, said the scientist had got into a "muddle" and had provided misleading information.


Scientist's potato alert was false, laboratory admits

By Nigel Hawkes, Science Editor, The Times (UK), August 13 1998 BRITAIN

WARNINGS about genetically modified food issued by a scientist earlier this week were improper and misleading, a top British nutrition laboratory admitted yesterday.

The scientist involved, Dr Arpad Pusztai, 68, has been suspended by the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen and will retire. He had claimed that experiments with genetically modified potatoes had shown immune-system damage in rats that ate them for more than 100 days.

The Rowett said yesterday that this was not true. The data to which Dr Pusztai had referred, first in an interview with World in Action and then with The Times and other media, did not involve genetically modified potatoes. Rather, it involved feeding trials in which a protein from the jack bean, a lectin, was added to a potato-based feed. Since this lectin is known to harm the immune system, the damage was not surprising. ....

Last night Dr Pusztai said ... : "I do not want to speak right now because I have effectively been sacked."

Dr Pusztai is thought to have arrived in Britain from his native Hungary in 1956. He is a leading world expert in lectins and, according to institute sources, has an "enormous international reputation". He has worked at the institute for 20 years.

............. The facts on this story may take some time before they are clear

Richard


Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 10:27:31 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to "Quentin Gargan," quentingargan@tinet.ie for the following two articles:

Danes Debate Safety Of Round Up Herbicide

Daily - 10/08/98 See Contacts

A debate is under way in Denmark about the health risks of one of the most widely used herbicides in Europe - Round Up - sold by US firm Monsanto, which contains the active ingredient glyphosate.

The debate was prompted by reports in the Danish press of research at Italy's National Institute for Cancer Research, which found that an "unknown compound" in the formulation of Round Up - not glyphosate itself -caused gene damage in mice, indicating that it could be a carcinogen. Around 86% of Round Up is made of so-called "inert" chemicals that support the action of glyphosate.

Newspapers have also been asking why Denmark has less strict rules on the use of glyphosate than neighbouring Sweden, where the national chemicals inspectorate has ruled that it should not be used within 10-14 days of crops being harvested because otherwise it left unacceptably high residues in food that were a "danger for human consumption."

Mounting public concern has led to a number of leading bread manufacturers in Denmark refusing to buy flour made from grain treated with Round Up close to harvesting. ... Tomorrow, environment minister Svend Auken is due to answer questions put to him by the Danish parliament's environment and planning committee, including why Denmark has not followed Sweden's rules on the use of glyphosate.

Contacts:


Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 10:27:31 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Research Highlights Risk of using Viral Promoter Genes in New Foods

Press Release, Journal of molecular genetics and genetics Vol 242: 495-504, 1994

Fragments of artificial genes inserted into foods were detected in the brain cells of baby mice in research conducted Dr. Walter Doefler of the Institute of Genetics, University of Cologne. (Ref: Journal of molecular genetics and genetics Vol 242: 495-504, 1994 ) Conventional wisdom had previously assumed that genetic material was destroyed in the process of digestion. The research emerged on the UTV World in Action programme last Monday.

"This has huge implications for the use of genetically engineered foods" said Quentin Gargan of Genetic Concern. "Industry would have us believe that genetic engineering is a simple technology in which a single naturally occurring gene is taken from one plant and inserted into another, but nothing could be further from the truth".

We may have a gene which gives us blue eyes, and this gene exists in every cell in our body - part of this gene is a promoter region which ensures that it is only switched on in cells in our eyes - otherwise, every part of our body would be blue from our hair to our toenails.

When artificial genes are inserted into a plant, they are accompanied by a promoter region from a virus. This promoter ensures that the gene is switched on at all times and in all parts of the plant. Viruses such as the cauliflower mosaic virus and a figwort virus have promoter regions which are highly active, and these are included in genes which were inserted into the sugar beet currently being tested in field trials by Monsanto around the country.

"The idea that fragments of DNA from viral promoters could find their way into cells of new born babies is a frightening prospect", said Quentin Gargan of Genetic Concern "yet Monsanto admitted in the World in Action programme that they do not conduct long term testing of these genetically engineered foods". ....

"Once again, we hear regulatory authorities assuring us that there is no scientific evidence that genetically modified foods are unsafe - this was exactly the situation with BSE, DDT, Thalidomide and many other calamities" said Mr Gargan "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and with something irreversible such as genetic engineering, we must learn from past mistakes and take a very cautious approach"


Date: Sat, 15 Aug 1998 10:41:21 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Monsanto Threatened TV Programme

The Scotsman Aug 15, 1998

Food Row Firm's Law Threat to TV Show

THE biotechnology giant [ Monsanto ] last night threatened legal action against the makers of the World in Action television programme over claims made in a documentary about genetically modified food.

The United States company, which is at the forefront of agricultural bio-engineering designed to develop crops capable of greater resistance to pests and diseases, claims it was defamed.

It is accusing the programme's makers of misleading the public by not properly checking the facts before screening the documentary.

Dr Arpad Pusztai, the principal scientific officer at the independent Rowett Institute, near Aberdeen, had claimed in Monday's World in Action that genetically modified potatoes had damaged rats' immune systems and affected their growth.

It later emerged that Dr Pusztai had misinterpreted data and based his claims on the results of feeding rats with potatoes mixed with a toxic protein.

The research centre apologised for the "misleading information" and Dr Pusztai was suspended.

However, the producers of Granada Television's World in Action stood by the programme, claiming that the research had not been misrepresented and that interviews with other media had given rise to Dr Pusztai's dismissal. ....

Earlier this year Monsanto accused the Prince of Wales of being "out of touch" after he criticised genetic engineering and warned it was taking mankind "into realms that belong to God and God alone."

Last month the GBP 22 billion, St Louis-based company bought Plant Breeding International Cambridge, one of Britain's leading plant breeding and research firms, for GBP 320 million.

Monsanto has also started a GBP 1 million campaign to promote genetically modified foods in the UK.


Date: Sat, 15 Aug 1998 10:41:21 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to MichaelP papadop@PEAK.ORG for forwarding this:

Watch Those Beans

by George Monbiot, Guardian Weekly: 28 September 1998

IT'S EASY to miss even the biggest newspaper ads when you're not looking out for them. The three pages in Britain's Financial Times devoted to the corporate de-merger of a chemical company called Monsanto were not exactly riveting, but could not be ignored. It is one of the few public indications of a new chapter in the world's economic history.

The publicity, aimed at shareholders and corporate customers, announced that Monsanto is to split into two firms, to pursue "applied chemistry" and "life sciences". The life-science division will "provide better food, better nutrition, and better health for all people". With this, Monsanto has embarked on one of the most extraordinary and ambitious corporate strategies ever launched.

The story begins simply enough, with a single chemical. Glyphosate, sold as "Roundup", is the world's biggest-selling herbicide. Last year, it earned Monsanto nearly $1.5 billion, but its patent on Roundup runs out in 2000. Far from sowing corporate catastrophe, however, this event seems likely only to enhance Monsanto's market value. For the past 10 years it has cleverly been developing a range of new crops, genetically engineered to resist glyphosate. Spraying them with Roundup does them no harm, but destroys all the weeds that compete. New patent legislation in Europe and the United States allows Monsanto to secure exclusive rights to their production. The first "Roundup-Ready" plant that Monsanto released was a genetically engineered soya bean. Between 50 and 60 per cent of processed foods contain soya, so the potential market is enormous.

Alarmed at possible increases in the use of herbicides, as well as the health effects of genetically engineered crops in general, environmentalists and consumer groups in Europe started calling for products containing the new beans to be clearly labelled. But in the US - from where most of Britain's soya comes - Monsanto insisted that it would be impossible to keep Roundup-Ready beans apart from ordinary ones. About 15 per cent of this year's US crop is Roundup-Ready: the chances are that nearly all of us will soon be consuming manipulated soya beans every week.

As the new beans were snapped up by growers in the US, Monsanto began an extraordinary round of acquisitions, buying shares in seed and biotechnology companies worth nearly $2 billion in the past 18 months alone. Among its purchases are companies that produce the famous "Flavr-savr" tomato, own the US patent on all genetic manipulations of cotton, and control around 35 per cent of the germlines of American maize. Monsanto is now experimenting with new rice, maize, potato, sugarbeet, rape and cotton varieties. It has suggested that within a few years all the major staple crops on Earth should be genetically engineered. The new products are so attractive to many farmers that the company has managed to get them to sign away their future rights to the seed they grow, and allow Monsanto to inspect their fields whenever it wants.

Monsanto's new crops could not have become commercially viable without major legislative change. As members of the trade lobby Europabio, Monsanto and the other big biotech companies have mastered the legal climate in which they operate. Despite significant public opposition, Europabio in July managed to persuade the European Parliament to adopt a new directive, allowing companies to patent manipulated plants and animals. Last week, the European Commission announced that it would force Austria, Italy and Luxembourg to repeal their laws banning the import of genetically engineered maize.

In the US a Monsanto vice-president is reportedly a "top candidate" to become commissioner of the food and drug administration, which regulates the food industry. Researchers and lawyers from Monsanto already occupy important posts in the FDA. It has approved some of the company's most controversial products, including the artificial sweetener aspartame and an injectable growth hormone for cattle. Only the New York attorney general's office has taken the company to task, forcing it to withdraw adverts claiming that Roundup is biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

But Monsanto has been most successful when appealing to multi-lateral bodies. Last month, the WTO confirmed its ruling that the European Union can no longer exclude meat and milk from cattle treated with bovine growth hormone, despite the protests of farmers, retailers and consumers.

As Scientific American magazine claimed, Monsanto's trials were incompletely analysed, obscuring the fact that it increases infected udder cells in cows by about 20 per cent. Biotech firms are now trying to persuade the WTO to forbid the labelling of genetically engineered foods. Any country whose retailers tell consumers what they are eating would be subject to punitive sanctions.

With astonishing rapidity, a tiny handful of companies is coming to govern the global development, production, processing and marketing of our most fundamental commodity - food.


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Give Us Back Our Precious Fungi, Thais Urge University

by Nick Nuttall, London TIMES August 17 1998 BRITAIN

Samples could be worth millions if they are proven to help in treatment of cancer, writes Nick Nuttall

A BRITISH university is being accused of "biopiracy" after refusing to return up to 200 strains of marine fungi discovered in the Far East.

The fungi, collected from floating wood, mangrove swamps and coastal waters around Thailand, are thought to carry promising compounds for treating everything from Aids to cancer and could be worth millions of pounds.

British scientists working for the Thai Government yesterday accused Portsmouth University of breaking wildlife rules enshrined at the Rio Convention on Biodiversity. Under agreements signed by John Major and other world leaders at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, taking wild plants, animals and other lifeforms without permission is forbidden.

Nigel Hywel-Jones, of the Biotech Institute, which is part of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment in Bangkok, said yesterday: "We had a gentleman's agreement with the University of Portsmouth. Nothing was written down. I have always operated this way with academia. But they seem to be playing by different rules and we are dismayed."

[Biopiracy has to do with the patenting of genes from third world countries, which are then used to develop pharmaceuticals and other products that bring huge profits to multi-national corporations, with little funds if any going back to the country of origin]


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Add A Toxin To Potatoes And It's No Surprise They're Bad News

By Andy Coghlan, Kurt Kleiner
New Scientist August 15, 1998 SECTION: This Week, Pg. 5

Spud U dislike

BACKERS of genetically engineered crops faced a fresh barrage of negative publicity last week, as new findings emerged linking altered plants with threats to human health and the environment.

At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Baltimore, Allison Snow of Ohio State University in Columbus reported that weeds in a laboratory became as hardy as their natural relatives when they acquired a gene for herbicide resistance from neighbouring genetically engineered crops.


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Do You Want Sour Cream With Your Vaccination?

by Mitchel L. Zoler, Philadelphia Bureau [Pediatric News 32(7):17, 1998. © 1998 International Medical News Group.]

Seeking to make immunizations more acceptable and less costly, researchers have taken the first step toward making a vaccine that is delivered as little more than a light snack.

Vaccine cuisine was shown to be feasible and immunogenic in a small study in which 11 people ate some raw potato that was engineered to contain an antigen from enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli.

The next step, already in progress, is aimed at developing edible vaccines for hepatitis B virus and for Norwalk virus, a common cause of infectious diarrhea, Dr. Carol O. Tacket, the lead clinical researcher on the project, told this newspaper.


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

From: allsorts allsorts@gn.apc.org

Smoke Screen Around Fired Scientist

Genetic engineering is not all bad news

The Telegraph 17.8.98 http://www.dailytelegraph.co.uk:80

STONE tablet bearing cuneiform script has been unearthed in Mesopotamia. As far as can be ascertained, it records a fierce debate that raged about 7,000BC on the subject of wheat breeding. On one side were those from Ur-peace, who argued that artificially bred wheat could only lead to disaster: it was unnatural, it would be vulnerable to pests, it would encourage population growth and it threatened the hunter-gathering way of life. On the other side, a spokesman for Ur plc pooh-poohed the fears and promised that hunter-gathering would not be threatened by the new wheat, which was quite safe to eat.

We now know that both sides were half right. In a strong field, last week's fiasco over genetically engineered potatoes has to be a contender for the silliest story of the silly season so far. An elderly and distinguished scientist was bamboozled, probably by pressure from hysterical journalists desperate for a story, into claiming that he had done an experiment which he had not done. He has since been suspended and his institute has apologised.

But even if he had performed the experiment, it would have proved next to nothing about the safety of genetic engineering as a procedure. The experiment was designed to discover whether potatoes into which lectin genes had been inserted were bad for mice. Lectin genes make lectins and lectins are poisons, invented over millions of years by plants for the express purpose of poisoning animals that tried to eat them. Ergo, the aim of the experiment was: if you cause a plant to make a poison, does the plant become poisonous?

Of course it does. To claim that this somehow proves genetic engineering to be dangerous, as many journalists rushed to do, is equivalent to claiming that cauldrons are dangerous, because if you cook poisons in them and then eat the poisons, you die. Genetic engineering is as safe and as dangerous as the genes that are engineered. Some are safe, some are dangerous.

SCIENTISTS are happy with such an answer; the public on the whole is happy with such an answer. The media, however, are not. The producers of late-night news shows are scouring the land daily for people with views on genetic engineering; but if you say "it all depends," they say "we'll call you back". They want black and white, red-corner-versus-blue-corner certainty. They want extreme views. The typical journalist's notion of balance is to quote an industrialist and Friends of the Earth, disfranchising everybody in between.

The true argument is not between the pro- and anti-genetic engineers. Such people are a small and eccentric fringe and they are on the same side, the side of certainty. The real argument is between them and those who think genetically modified food is neither good nor bad, but depends on the context or the detail. Plants engineered with genes that make them more

pest-resistant, more frost-resistant and more productive - and that are proved to be safe - promise to improve the lives of farmers, peasants and consumers in poor and rich countries alike. They also promise to be good for the environment.

But plants engineered with genes that confer resistance to pesticides, and which promise to spread that resistance to weeds, or plants engineered with genes that make them toxic to us as well as to pests, are indeed to be shunned or banned. If a scientist wishes to engineer a plant so that it can make, say, benzene in the hope that it can compete with oil refineries as a source of benzene, then we should at the very least discourage him from using the potato lest his potatoes are mistaken for edible ones. Let him use a plant that is poisonous - daffodils, for instance.

According to Stephen Nottingham, author of Eat Your Genes (Zed Books), 60 per cent of the crop seed sold in the America will be genetically modified by the year 2000. That is neither a good nor a bad thing: it is just a thing. In some cases good, in others bad. It is time we rose up and rebelled against the tryanny of the media: not all grey areas are slippery slopes.


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Scientists Worried By Modified Food Risks

By Charles Arthur and Steve Connor, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/stories/A1708813.html

Leading British scientists are concerned about the risk to the environment of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods - although most would still eat the products - a survey by The Independent has found.

Some fear that genes inserted into crops to confer new traits could escape into the wild, or even affect human health in unpredictable ways. They suspect that the long-term experiments necessary to assess the risks have not been carried out.

"I see worries in the fact that we have the power to manipulate genes in ways that would be improbable or impossible through conventional evolution," said Colin Blakemore, Waynflete professor of physiology at Oxford University and president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. "We shouldn't be complacent in thinking that we can predict the results."

Gordon McVie, head of the Cancer Research Campaign, is also concerned. "We don't know what . genetic abnormalities might be incorporated into the genome [the individual's DNA]. I'm more worried about humans than about the environment, to be honest. One of the problems is that because it's a long-term thing, you need to do long-term experiments."

David Bellamy, the botanist, condemned the commercial motives behind the "gene revolution". It would "disenfranchise poor people from their genetic inheritance and their lands", and he warned: "Supercrops and superweeds know no boundaries".

The Independent spoke to a broad range of scientists from a variety of disciplines, including biology, physics and astronomy, to ask them if they eat GM foods; if they have any concerns about GM foods and crops; and if they think the public is being well-informed.

The inquiries followed a letter published in The Independent on Friday from Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary scientist, who condemned "ignorant hysteria over scientific matters" that led many people to question the safety of transgenic products.

But The Independent's survey reveals that prominent scientists are not convinced that biotechnology firms are completely in control of their products. "I have concerns about the long-term environmental effects of these crops," said Susan Greenfield, a leading brain researcher at Oxford University. The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, said: "Although I would eat them, I think one should have some concerns."

Tom Kirkwood, professor of biological gerontology at Manchester University, would eat genetically modified food, but with reservations.

"I don't think GM food would be toxic, but I do have concerns about gene transfer . to other plants. I think the risks are not being properly assessed," he said.

John Sumpter, professor of biology at Brunel University and an expert on chemicals in the environment that mimic female hormones, is also concerned about the risks to wildlife. "Eating GM food probably would not worry me a great deal. My concerns are about what would happen when GM crops escape from fields - which they will do."

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said: "I think these should proper safety testing, like a drug, on animals, and then on humans."

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, said: "Nothing in life is ever safe, but compared to other things we have to worry about - bacteria and BSE, say - the risks are tiny."

The most assured response came from Dr Keith McCullagh, chief executive of British Biotech, the pharmaceuticals company. "The way in which they (GM foods) have been modified doesn't introduce any new hazard to human health."

l The Women's Nutritional Advisory Service, which is opposed to GM food, has named 20 suppliers and retailers that actively use GM products - including Sainsbury's, Safeway, Somerfield, Tesco, Asda, Budgens, Kwik Save and Spar. It also lists 47 firms that avoid genetically modified soya - the most widely used GM food - including Waitrose and Iceland.


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Letters: Modified Food

The Independent 18.8.98; Letters replying to Richard Dawkin http://www.independent.co.uk/stories/C1808805.html

Sir:

Professor Dawkins (letter, 14 August) may be right in saying that introducing genes from one species to another "does not inherently make it bad or good." However, that is beside the point. The point is that there could be tremendous risks involved about which we have not the slightest idea as yet.

While genetic engineering may have the potential for efficient and harmless food production, we must beware of letting profit-oriented organisations take our fundamental food base into their hands to manipulate it without sufficient knowledge of the ecological consequences.

The mixed blessings of poisonous agrochemicals should have taught us a lesson about manipulating the natural system according to our needs.

There is absolutely no need for genetic modification. Traditional breeding methods have already provided us with an over-production of food, and those countries which might benefit from genetically engineered crops will not be able to afford them.

Nicolai Jungk, Aberdeen


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Letters: Natural Defence

The Independent 18.8.98; Letters to the Editor http://www.independent.co.uk/stories/C1808805.html

Sir:

When I lecture to my students on plant biotechnology I try to capture their attention by asking the question, "Why do you suppose the coca bush produces cocaine?" The answer is that it is probably an insecticide. Plants, like any other living organism, have evolved defences against their predators. These are animals, mostly insects, but also including us. This is why out of the hundreds of thousands of species of plants on the planet we can safely eat very few. Even these are the outcome of thousands of years of breeding to partially eliminate the components that do us damage. On the other side we, the survivors, have acquired immunity to some of them. Those who did not are no longer with us.

We now have much more powerful methods of removing undesirable components from our food plants by gene manipulation, and to reject what is by far our best chance of dealing with this situation because it makes a few people feel uneasy is lunacy.

The possibilities are far-reaching. One that is particularly intriguing

for the ruling classes is that it may now be possible to go back to pre-phylloxera vines. The European vine was virtually wiped out in the last century by phylloxera. It was only saved because an American root stock was found that was resistant to it, and grafting continues to this day. It is potentially possible to transfer the gene for resistance to phylloxera into the European vine and, we must hope, to do away with the need for grafting. I cannot wait to see what wine buffs make of this.

Professor Michael P Tombs, Pavenham, Bedfordshire


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Letter: Another view of "Progressive" Evolution

The Independent 18.8.98; Letters to the Editor http://www.independent.co.uk/stories/C1808805.html

Sir:

Has the world gone quite mad? I am reliably informed that there are plans afoot to bury corrodible pipes in every street and into most every house in the land to carry colourless but highly poisonous and flammable, not to say explosive gas. This is supposed to improve our way of life!

Other so-called do-gooders are seeking to develop a new form of personal transportation relying on a device which involves exploding, at the fantastic and frightening rate of around ten thousand times a minute, a highly noxious liquid refined from the bowels of the earth. These "progressives" assure us that the explosions will be "totally controlled" and safe. I even hear that there are others trying to make this sort of device fly!

Quite obviously, if we had been meant to enjoy or suffer these things, they would evolve by chance and accident. To seek to plan, organise, manufacture and test them is plainly to court disaster on a massive scale. These Grand Modernising Operations should be stopped before it all ends in tears.

David Harvey, Tynemouth


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Letter: Simplistic View

The Independent 18.8.98; Letters to the Editor http://www.independent.co.uk/stories/C1808805.html

Sir:

Books have been written by scientists as eminent as Richard Dawkins to refute his "reductionist" view of biology. In fact the "one gene, one effect" picture of DNA has become quite old-fashioned. There is a complex web of interaction between genes, and even between genes and the environment. Dawkins has wrongly assigned the public and scientific doubts about the safety of genetically engineered crops to the introduced gene itself. It is the process of genetic manipulation that is suspect.

Although molecular biologists know something of the interactions involved, they do not know the whole story. There will be unpredicted and unpredictable biochemical outcomes in the life of the plant. These will be toxic in very few cases or to a small proportion of susceptible people. But the risk is real.

The statutory testing of genetically modified foods involves measuring levels of known toxins and allergens similar to those listed by Dawkins. It is the unpredicted toxins arising from the GM process that are not tested for. This is what the fuss is about and it is disingenuous of Professor Dawkins to imply a superstitious, ignorant basis to our concerns.

Patrice Gladwin, Cambridge


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Letter: Labeling needed

The Independent 18.8.98; Letters replying to Richard Dawkin http://www.independent.co.uk/stories/C1808805.html

Sir:

Richard Dawkins has overlooked a simple fact: as a consumer I have a right to know what is in my food. As a vegetarian I want to know that there are no animal products, genetically modified or not. There is a clear case to require food to be labelled stating whether it contains any ingredient that has been genetically modified.

Kevin Daws, London E8


Letter: More Pesticides and More Resistance

The Independent 18.8.98; Letters replying to Richard Dawkin http://www.independent.co.uk/stories/C1808805.html

Sir:

In the present debate about genetically altered food there seems to be a common belief that crops so treated will require fewer pesticides and weedkillers. This is not correct. Farmers will feel free to apply larger amounts in the knowledge that the crops themselves will be immune. Furthermore, pests and weeds are likely to adapt to the changed challenge and become more resistant.

Tony Hills, Crediton, Devon


Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 16:13:55 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Gene Firm Tightens Grip On Food Chain

By Louise Jury, The Independent 16.8.98

Environmentalists are alarmed at Monsanto's growing influence, reports Louise Jury

MONSANTO, the multinational company powering the growth of genetically modified food, is edging closer to controlling the food chain.

Recent acquisitions have enabled it to gain a stake in every stage of food production from the farmer to the market place. From patented genes to a global seed distribution network, its influence is now so extensive that aid agencies have voiced concern about its role, in particular its claims to be able to solve the problems of famine and poor harvests in the Third World.

The company, now estimated to be worth $35bn (£22bn) - a sixfold rise in five years - even owns the patented genes to develop new seed varieties resistant to herbicides and insects.

In the past few weeks, biotechnology companies such as Monsanto have come under fierce attack from MPs, retailers and pressure groups over their development and marketing of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. Last week, however, the GM food companies won a boost to their credibility when a scientist who had claimed that genetically modified food could damage human health was suspended after it emerged he had confused two experiments.

But the companies themselves remain dedicated to the development of GM foods. So keen are they that to date there have been 25,000 field trials on 60 different crops, conducted in 45 different countries, in consultation with hundreds of scientists from all over the world. Most significantly, Monsanto paid $4bn for Delta and Pine Land, the company that developed and patented "terminator technology", which genetically alters seeds so they will not germinate if replanted.

Among products and companies Monsanto owns are:

Sano Shimoda, of US analysts BioScience Securities, said Monsanto had "taken the market by storm" over the past three years. It was set to become one of three or four companies, such as DuPont and the Swiss Novartis, that will dominate the field, Mr Shimoda said.

Monsanto spokesman Philip Angell claimed the company's influence was not as widespread as critics claimed. "We're probably the largest biotech company but it doesn't necessarily mean we dominate the market. This is a very young industry in a state of flux."

The sceptical British consumer is proving one of the biggest sticking points for Monsanto and its rivals, whatever their market power. As Europe prepares to introduce new labelling for foods containing GM products, Monsanto has spent £1m on an advertising campaign to persuade people to trust such foods.

"There's a unique problem in the UK because the institutions that the Government has established to check safety are not trusted because of BSE," Mr Angell said. "But there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever in any study by anybody that says these foods aren't safe."

Monsanto's public-relations battle to convince doubters that genetically modified crops are harmless and could help to solve world food shortages took a further blow when a bank that pioneered small loans for the poorest peoples pulled out of a partnership deal. The Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank ended its relationship with Monsanto after widespread criticism from green groups and aid agencies.

The joint venture was announced in New York in June at a summit of the microcredit movement with a $150,000 donation to launch a new technology centre in Dhaka.

Robert Shapiro, Monsanto's chairman and chief executive, said: "The Grameen Monsanto Centre will provide the opportunity to demonstrate how sustainable technologies, combined with microcredit, can transform people's lives, allowing them to improve their quality of life and the environment."

But the arrangement was immediately condemned by Third World campaigners who feared it would be used to encourage small farmers to buy grain and herbicides they could not afford.

Professor Mohammed Yunus, the Grameen Bank's founder, said: "We were not informed of Monsanto's massive involvement in agriculture which the environmentalists at home and abroad have argued is detrimental to the interests of the poor farmer."

Mr Angell said the bank ended the deal only because of the pressure; Professor Yunus accepted the benefit of the centre and it would continue in Bangladesh without him.

Mr Angell also claimed that in the face of a rapidly growing world population and limited arable land available, biotechnology could help. Genetically improving seeds could produce higher yields without the need for lots of environmentally damaging chemicals.

However, aid agencies claim that poor distribution of food - not any absolute shortage - is the main problem with feeding people in the Third World.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research also fears that cross-pollination could kill off the country's ancient cereal varieties, such as basmati rice.

Dr Vandana Shiva, an Indian environmentalist, said genetically engineered crops were not environmentally friendly or sustainable. "Monsanto ... is emerging as a global monopoly which threatens food security worldwide," she said.


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: rwolfson@concentric.net

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