Genetically Manipulated Food News

16 December 98

Table of Contents

Is Cow's Milk Additive Safe?
Monsanto Prosecutes U.S. Seed Violators
Internet Address of 'Risks and Opportunities of GE for Organic Farmers'
Blow to Hopes for Use of Genetically Altered Seed
US Senators want review of growth hormone's FDA approval
France: Novartis Genetically Modified Maize On Hold
UK: concern is growing over GE side-effects.
Monsanto taps Solly and Goldman for underwritings
Australia: Food engineers warned to take note of market resistance
Italian Government Joins Dutch Challenge Against "Life Patenting Directive"
Cloning Embryos - is it Ethical?

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Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 15:37:02 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Hot news from ABC-TV re: FDA and BGH drug in cows/milk

ABC News just aired an explosive report on the FDA's failure to evaluate properly recombinant bovine growth hormone (BGH) drug. The story can be accessed right on the front page at ABC's web site,

Or go directly to the story at the website:


Is Cow's Milk Additive Safe?

John McKenzie,

Consumer Group Launches Action Against FDA

A genetically engineered drug called bovine growth hormone (BGH) has been given to 30 percent of U.S. dairy cows over the last five years to make them produce more milk.

There has been indirect evidence that BGH might contribute to breast and prostate cancer in humans, and today a consumer group called the Center for Food Safety began legal action to have the hormone pulled off the market. CFS is charging that the Food and Drug Administration has ignored evidence of potential health hazards from BGH.

Twice a month, genetically engineered BGH is injected into 3 million dairy cows in the United States. The milk these cows produce is then shipped throughout the country as milk, cream, cheese and yogurt, and in baked and other goods. Products from cows that receive BGH are almost never labeled as such.

The FDA concluded that milk from these hormone-treated cows is "safe for human consumption." But a recent review of the evidence challenges the FDA's conclusion.

Company Supplied Data "It was their job to take a careful look at every study," says Andy Kimbrell from the Center for Food Safety. "We now know they did not do so."

When the FDA approved bovine growth hormone, it relied in part on an unpublished animal study done by the Monsanto Corp., the same company that wanted to sell the hormone.

The FDA publicly reported the study's results, saying that rats fed high doses of the hormone over a 90-day period showed no evidence they had absorbed the hormone.

Canadian Study Showed Risks In Canada, where the use of BGH is now being hotly debated, government scientists recently reviewed all the data from the Monsanto study, and came up with startlingly different conclusions.

The Health Protection Branch of the Canadian government says the Monsanto study actually provided evidence that 20 to 30 percent of the rats did absorb the hormone into their bloodstream. The Canadian scientists say that the data also showed that some male rats developed cysts in the thyroid, and that higher levels of the hormone were detected in the prostate.

Five government scientists in Canada had enough questions about the safety of BGH that they recently took the unprecedented step of making their concerns known to the public.

"If it wasn't for the Canadian government researchers, we probably never would have known the full results of this 90-day rat feeding study," says Michael Hansen of Consumers Union. "It should have triggered long-term toxicity testing, but the FDA did not require that testing."

The FDA declined ABCNEWS requests for an interview. As for Monsanto, it maintains that the hormone is safe, and that milk from cows treated with the hormone is no different from any other.

But Vermont's two senators are not so certain. They have now asked Donna Shalala, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, to formally investigate the FDA's approval of BGH and whether the agency "overlooked" important evidence about its safety.

Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 15:37:02 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Pesticide Action Network North America, Updates Service email


Monsanto Prosecutes U.S. Seed Violators

December 14, 1998

Monsanto is tracking down U.S. farmers who are replanting seed from Monsanto's genetically engineered crops. In the company's own words, "Monsanto is vigorously pursuing growers who pirate any brand or variety of its genetically enhanced seed, such as Roundup Ready soybeans and cotton and Bollgard cotton."* The company has hired five full-time investigators to follow up on seed saving leads that it receives. To date, Monsanto has at least 475 cases in the U.S., generated from over 1,800 leads. More than 250 of these cases are under investigation in at least 20 states. Monsanto maintains that seed saving is illegal even if a farmer did not sign an order or invoice statement for the seed at time of purchase.

In one case, an Illinois farmer admitted saving and replanting Roundup Ready soybeans and also acknowledged that he traded the seed with neighbors and a local seed cleaner in return for other goods. The farmer's settlement with Monsanto included a US$35,000 fine plus full documentation confirming disposal of his soybean crop. In addition, the farmer and all other parties involved must allow Monsanto to inspect their soybean production records and provide full access to all of their property, both owned and leased, for inspections, collection and testing of soybean plants and seed for the next five years.

Other cases include:

No one knows exactly how many farmers in industrialized countries save seed from their harvest each year. By some estimates, 20% to 30% of all soybean fields in the U.S. midwest were typically planted with farmer-saved seed, a practice now threatened by Monsanto.

Monsanto adds a US$6.50 "technology" fee to each 50 pound bag of Roundup Ready soybean seed, which is enough to plant just under one acre. Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybean seed three years ago, and by next year, analysts estimate that at least half of the 70 million acres of soybeans grown in the U.S. will be Roundup Ready. Based on these figures, Monsanto will collect approximately US$200 million in technology fees alone on the seed next year.

Worldwide plantings of Monsanto's genetically engineered crops more than doubled this year to approximately 55 million acres (22 million hectares). In 1997, some 23 million acres were planted, and in 1996 Monsanto's transgenic crops were grown on only three million acres. In 1998, the vast majority of these crops were grown in the U.S. -- primarily Roundup Ready soybeans (25 million acres) and YieldGard maize* (11 million acres).

Internet Address of 'Risks and Opportunities of GE for Organic Farmers'

For a recent presentation to the AGM of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario on the issue of risks and opportunities of GE for organic farmers, go to the home page of:

Dr. E. Ann Clark
Associate Professor
Crop Science, University of Guelph
Guelph, ON N1G 2W1
Phone: 519-824-4120 Ext. 2508, FAX: 519 763-8933,

Look up:

Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 15:37:02 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Blow to Hopes for Use of Genetically Altered Seed

By Robert Graham in Paris, Financial Times (London)
December 14, 1998, Monday London Edition 3 Section: World News - Europe; Pg. 02

Industry hopes that France might soon permit the use of certain genetically altered corn seeds have been delivered a new blow.

France's Council of State, which monitors administrative law, had previously deferred judgment on whether the government was justified in authorising the introduction in 1997 of three varieties of corn seed produced by Novartis, the Swiss group.

The council was due to rule on the issue later this month.

But the council has now decided to consult the European Court of Justice on whether France was obliged to authorise the sale of Novartis' genetically altered corn seeds, after European Commission permission in January 1997 to put the seeds on the market. This unusual step underlines the political sensitivity of the issue in France, where Greenpeace and radical Green farmers' groups oppose the introduction of this type of corn.

In September the Council of State decided to freeze the distribution of the three types of corn seed until it had made its ruling. According to lawyers familiar with the case, the referral could delay a Council of State decision by well over a year.

Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 15:37:02 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

This article comes from

US Senators want review of growth hormone's FDA approval

December 15, 1998

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Senators from the U.S. dairy state of Vermont last month asked Health Secretary Donna Shalala to review a federal approval of a bovine growth hormone, a spokesman for one of the senators said on Tuesday.

Republican Senator Jim Jeffords and Democrat Patrick Leahy, had urged Shalala to investigate whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had correctly appraised studies on the safety of the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST).

The hormone is used to boost average milk yields in dairy cows by 10-15 percent.

Canadian authorities reviewing an application for use of the growth hormone in Canada have raised questions about one of the studies the FDA cited when it gave Monsanto Inc. permission to market rBST in the United States.

Canadian scientists said the study, prepared by the company itself, included evidence that 20-30 percent of test rats given high doses of the hormone showed signs of the chemical entering their blood streams.

Some of the rats developed cysts and prostate problems, the researchers found, concluding that more studies were needed on the long-term effect of rBST use. They also raised questions about the effect of the drug on cows.

Jeffords and Leahy had also cited concerns raised by Canada's review of the Monsanto study, and asked Shalala to evaluate the FDA's handling of the hormone's approval, said Leahy's spokesman David Carle.

Shalala's office had received the letter and promised the senators a speedy reply, Carle added.

ABC News reported earlier on Tuesday that a consumer group, the Center for Food Safety, had initiated legal action against the FDA, alleging the agency had not paid enough attention to the possible dangers of using the hormone.

Mark Ritchie of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said the hormone should be withdrawn from the market immediately until possible health risks could be assessed.

"We now see there's potential of cysts in thyroids, of prostate, perhaps breast cancer," he told ABC. "It should come up until we know what are the long-term impacts."

Date: 12 Dec 1998 04:00:04 -0600
From: (jim mcnulty)

France: Novartis Genetically Modified Maize On Hold

French Court Refers Authorisation to the European Court of Justice

"A Victory for the Precautionary Principle" says Friends of the Earth France's Conseil d'Etat decided today to maintain its prior decision of 25th September to suspend the French ministerial decree of 5th February 1998 authorising the cultivation of Novartis's genetically modified (GM) maize, and to refer the issue to the European Court of Justice.

The decision by the Conseil d'Etat - France's highest administrative court - to suspend the authorisation followed appeals by Friends of the Earth (FoE), Greenpeace, Ecoropa and the Confederation Paysanne, which submitted evidence to the Conseil's judges that the authorisation had been granted on the basis of an application by Novartis which was incomplete, in particular with respect to the presence in the maize of a marker gene conferring resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin. The court's ruling in September came too late to preclude the sowing of Novartis maize and it is estimated that some 1,500-2,000 and 16,000 hectares were cultivated this summer in France and Spain respectively. Other EU Member States, however, have taken a much more cautious approach, with Austria and Luxembourg imposing national bans on the import and cultivation of Novartis maize since early 1997.

Today's decision by the Conseil d'Etat that the question should be referred to the ECJ indicates that it is actually in favour of overturning the authorisation. However, it is seeking the ECJ's opinion on two legal questions in relation to the EU directive regulating the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms(*), notably whether a Member State which has forwarded an application to the European Commission is subsequently obliged to give its final written consent for market approval, and whether that Member State retains some right of determination.

The Conseil d'Etat's decision reinforces the wide-spread disapproval of Novartis's GM maize throughout Europe, according to Friends of the Earth. "The first genetically modified crop approved for cultivation in the EU has generated extreme controversy since the very beginning", said Gill Lacroix of FoE Europe's Biotechnology Programme. "It's a scandal that it was ever granted market release in the first place since 13 out of the 15 EU Environment Ministers voted against its authorisation in 1996, but it was nevertheless approved by the European Commission - something that would not be possible under the proposed revision of the relevant EU Directive". Welcoming the Conseil d'Etat's decision as a victory for "the Precautionary Principle" that FoE wants to see applied with regard to all deliberate releases of genetically modified organisms, Lacroix said that other EU Member States where Novartis maize has been grown this year, such as Spain and Germany, should now reconsider their position in light of the French decision.

(*) EU Directive 90/220/EEC

For more information :

Genet News

Date: 13 Dec 1998 10:22:06 -0600

With the suppression of a disturbing report into genetically modified food,

UK: concern is growing over GE side-effects.

By Charles Arthur, UK Independent on Sunday, 12. Dec. 1998,from the Comments Section

Earlier this summer the biotechnology giant Monsanto ran an advertising campaign to persuade Britons that its plans for introducing genetically-modified (GM) crops would benefit us all. Before the campaign started, 44 per cent opposed the idea of food with genetically-modified ingredients. After it, and with £1m spent, 51 per cent opposed the idea.

As successes go, that was not one of Monsanto's greatest. But it was in keeping with the problems that the company, and the technology, of GM foods and crops have faced when the public has encountered them over the past two years. The odd thing is that as opposition to GM produce has risen, so the amount we consume has risen. Nor have we begun to tap the potential benefits of this technology. Some 15 crop plants provide 90 per cent of the world's food energy. To match population growth food production will have to grow by between 1.4 and 1.6 per cent annually.

Speaking in May at the World Farming Congress, Graham Blight of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, said: "People must realise that these GM [plants] are going to be part and parcel of agricultural production. There's something like $18bn (#163#11.25bn) worth of crops grown now in the world from genetically engineered products."

Indeed, if you buy biscuits, bread, pastry crusts, noodles, cooking oil, margarine, mayonnaise and chocolate, you will have bought some of the results of biotechnology. Soya goes into 60 per cent of the processed food we eat. It was the arrival of the GM soya bean in 1996 which led us here - a point where people are left less keen on a technology after a calm advertising campaign than before.

The soya beans, developed by Monsanto, contain genes that carry the code for a protein which the plants then secrete. It is this that gives them resistance to a herbicide called Roundup (also a Monsanto product). Spray Roundup on to a field full of plants, with just a few GM soya plants in it, and a few weeks later you'll easily be able to tell which they are: they'll be the ones still standing. The weeds, and any other plants without the Roundup resistance genes, will be dead. The crop yield is 7 per cent higher than by normal methods. That's fine as far as it goes. But the commercial use of such plants raises issues because the soya is harvested to provide the ingredients for all those staple foods you see on the shelves.

FIRST, will farmers use herbicide less carefully, knowing that they can dose an area, confident that the crops they want - soya - will survive? Second, could those genes pass into wild plants such as weeds, to create "superweeds" that can resist herbicides? And third, is it safe for people to eat the extra proteins generated from the Roundup resistance genes?

The answer to the first is that yes, farmers will prefer an easy solution. That has led groups like English Nature to worry that insects which live on weeds will actually die, and in turn the birds which depend on the insects.

This is one of the most important aspects of the introduction of GM crops to Britain, where a delicate ecosystem depends on groups of species living in closely-spaced habitats. Hedgerows and crop fields give Britain's agriculture its special character.

In evidence to MPs in the House of Commons in the summer, Tim Galvin of the US Department of Agriculture admitted that the two countries' ecologies are very different, and that the effects of growing of a GM crop might also be very different. Just how different is now a matter for wider debate.

On the second question, there is a real worry that "superweeds" could be created. Scientists have discovered wild weeds interbreeding with commercial ones, and there is a real possibility that the genes could pass over. That will create an "arms race", whereby companies try to produce new herbicides and GM crops resistant to them while evolution selects the weeds that can survive. Evolution will win, as it always does.

But the answer to the key question that people are most worked up about - whether it is safe - is: almost certainly. Repeated tests show that during processing of the soya, the proteins tend to become degraded into their constituent amino acids. The human gut doesn't discriminate between amino acids (which it uses to build up new tissue); it simply absorbs them as required. Proteins are more complex; some are poisonous. But not, it is thought, the Roundup resistance ones; that was settled by testing long before the commercial release.

The strange thing is that everyone has become much more concerned about that last issue than the previous two. The most likely reason is the BSE crisis. Consumers were told that a new disease in cows would have no effect on humans, only for us to learn that the opposite was the case; that what you ate years ago might kill you - with no chance of treatment or cure - years from now. Thus in Europe we are less prepared to trust those who tell us that a novel technology in our food will make no difference. Mr Galvin told MPs: "In the US, fortunately, consumers have great faith in the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. That's probably why our consumers don't express any concern about biotechnology."

But he did admit that retailers there do not have to label such foods, so American consumers have no inkling when they are eating food with GM components. And biotechnology companies which make GM crops don't advertise that fact.

The truth is that American consumers care less about the source of their food than Europeans do. Visit a supermarket in the US, and the huge size of the tomatoes is stunning, as is their lack of flavour. Thus the introduction of the Roundup Ready soya beans at American farms in 1996 didn't cause much of a stir. In the first year the beans constituted only 5 per cent of the total acreage planted.

FARMERS and soya processors decided not to separate the GM soya crop from the standard soya. It would be difficult and increase costs. So the GM soya was lumped in with the rest. That was fine for consumers there, but the US grows 40 per cent of the world's soya, including the majority of that imported by Britain and Europe.

Environmental groups in Europe such as Greenpeace began to murmur. If the soya was shipped to Europe and then used to make food, consumers would be buying products containing genetically modified components. Yet there would be no labelling to indicate that fact. The first protests came with shipments in September 1996. Few people took any notice, but the campaign continued. In 1997 Roundup Ready soya constituted 15 per cent of the US soya acreage. British supermarkets agreed that foods containing soya should say that they "might contain" GM ingredients. The labelling came into force this year.

But it was too late for Monsanto to win the PR war. Because Roundup Ready was its technology, it was seen as the source of this technology, rather than some intransigent US farmers. It failed to see that what people wanted was to be able to choose their food. By not applying any pressure on the farmers, it was seen as being on their side. The advertising campaign simply rubbed that in.

Yet GM crops do offer opportunities to enhance agriculture. In countries where insects and other predators destroy huge proportions of the crop, GM plants and crops could literally save lives. Helped by Monsanto, African scientists have developed a variety of sweet potato which is resistant to a virus that presently kills 80 per cent of standard strains.

Another step forward is the development of plants which make useful products such as vaccines. The Cambridge-based Axis Genetics has developed a transgenic potato which confers resistance to "Delhi Belly". It mimicks a fragment of the bacterium that causes the illness and readies the body's immune system to attack the real thing. Axis is now working on a GM plant which produces a vaccine against hepatitis.

The trouble is nobody is listening to issues like that. By taking the cause unto itself with its advertising campaign, Monsanto drew people's attention to the fact that there was GM food on their shelves. And nobody knows how they are going to persuade people to like something they distrust.

Date: 13 Dec 1998 22:56:38 -0600
From: (Judy Kew)

Mothers for Natural Law Biweekly News 98/12/14

Monsanto taps Solly and Goldman for underwritings

Investment Dealers Digest

Still smarting from the collapse of a planned $34.4 billion merger with [ American Home Products ] and thirsting for capital to fund a recent acquisition binge, executives at [ Monsanto Co. ] turned to Citigroup for $2 billion in fresh credit and called on Salomon Smith Barney and Goldman, Sachs & Co. to manage $4 billion in debt and equity offerings.

Monsanto is tapping the capital markets to help bring order to its balance sheet after some $8 billion in acquisitions. These purchases were undertaken in the past two years as part of what Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Shapiro calls Monsanto's transformation from a chemical manufacturer to a "life sciences" company in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

"They have identified a new growth strategy, and they are attacking it," said one analyst. Executives at Monsanto originally hoped to finance this shift through a merger with a large pharmaceutical firm, so the company retained Goldman to advise it in negotiations with American Home Products. But that deal fell apart, amid widespread speculation of a struggle between Shapiro and AHP chairman John R. Stafford over who would run the show. As the dust from the failed deal cleared, Monsanto found itself without the capital to pay for its recent purchases in the seed and biotechnology sectors. So the company announced a major restructuring in which it plans to raise $5 billion through work force reductions, equity and debt offerings, and the sale of some businesses.

Date: 13 Dec 1998 22:56:38 -0600
From: (Judy Kew)

Australia: Food engineers warned to take note of market resistance

By Barbara Adam


The push towards genetically engineered food could leave Australian-grown food shunned by the rest of the world, Queensland sociologists have warned. A nation-wide survey conducted by Central Queensland University PhD student Janet Norton found strong resistance to genetically altered food among Australian consumers, particularly women...

"This survey found consumers would accept products that assisted animal welfare or were neutral, like the blue rose, but when it came to ingesting food, they became very coy," he said. "What we find is that the more people learn about these products, the less they support them." Prof Lawrence said the survey findings pointed to a tension between food producers' desire for economically-produced foods with a longer shelf life and consumers' demands for "clean and green" produce.

"We're saying to scientists: 'You're doing this work in the laboratory with millions of dollars of public and private money without thinking about public acceptance'," he said. Prof Lawrence said the Australian food industry did not seem to be coming to grips with the yawning gap between what consumers wanted and what scientists were intent on producing. "Australia could be left with food that no other nation will want by going down the biotechnological path," he said.

Date: 15 Dec 1998 10:17:52 -0600
From: (jim mcnulty)

Italian Government Joins Dutch Challenge Against "Life Patenting Directive"

14 December 1998, Rome/Luxembourg/Brussels The government of Italy has started proceedings to join The Netherlands in their fight before the European Court of Justice against the highly controversial EU "Life Patents Directive". This move by the government in Rome means significant political support for the Dutch initiative which challenges the validity of the directive 98/44/EEC on the grounds of legal basis, subsidiarity, human/basic rights and conflict with international treaties. Even though in legal terms the Directive remains valid until a ruling of the ECJ, which might take as long as two years, Member States will now be inclined to wait as long as possible with the implementation of the Directive. Until that time the patenting practice in Europe does not change, and patents on plants for example wi remain impossible.

The larger aim of the directive has always been to move the EU into a position within the WTO to oppose the right of countries to choose whether they want to patent plants and animals or not. This right is granted under the current global patent regimes (TRIPs) within the WTO, which is up for a review next year. Most countr s of the planet have opted not to grant patents, including the largest democracy in the world, India.

"The political importance of the Dutch/Italian challenge lies in that the EU now will not present a united front (with the USA) against the South, which increases the chances for these countries to defend their rights," says Thomas Schweiger from the European Campaign Ob Biotechnology Patents. Member organisations of this netwo of NGOs have lobbied hard and successful for the governments in The Netherlands and Italy to take legal action. "But ultimately", says Schweiger, "we want the Directive to be anulled by the ECJ."

Date: 15 Dec 1998 10:17:52 -0600
From: (jim mcnulty)

Cloning Embryos - is it Ethical?

The Independent 14 Dec 98

Right of Reply Cloning embryos for transplant cells has become the latest medical holy grail. Remarkably, the report of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority fails to discuss whether this is ethical.

It explores why cloning a human being is wrong - although missing the most conclusive ethical argument: that no human being should have the right to control the complete genetic complement of another. It rightly concludes we should say "No" to creating a cloned embryo and allowing it to go on to become a baby. Yet it gives no ethical case to justify creating the same cloned embryo and in effect killing it off for spare parts. This ultimate aim of the research - to use embryos for such non-reproductive use - raises a profound ethical dilemma. The report only says that it wouldn't change the law very much, and implies that medical possibilities override other considerations. What no one asks is how can it be right to create a cloned embryo, knowing full well you would have to destroy it on ethical grounds to avoid cloning a human?

The HFEA consultation document quotes the Warnock Report that "the human embryo ought to have special status" - restricting embryo use primarily to research on reproduction. If the Government accepts these recommendations, as you want it to, we will de facto have removed the special status. The biggest use, if the proponents are right, will be as sources of spare parts.

We should now begin a nationwide public consultation to find out if as a society - not just the 200 of us who submitted evidence - we agree or disagree with this profound change. Personally, I have my doubts.

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:

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