Genetically
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13 February 99

Table of Contents

Expert Panel Rubber Stamps Human Safety of RBST
Discussion of Human Safety Issues Related to RBST: Human exposure to bovine food products
Blair rejects Tory call for three-year moratorium
Blair Accused of Ignoring Experts in GM Food Furore
'Organic' Snacks Destroyed after finding GM Corn
Award to Fired rBGH Reporters
European Opposition to Biotech Industry
UK Government Burns Biotech Canola
France Restrains
Brazil to Halts Biotech Soy
Texmati Boycott
Mimicking Nature To Grow More
Learning from a lifetime of experience
Superbugs' Possible From Genetically Modified Food
Mexican Billionaire Controls Seed Sales Amid Rush to Create New Strains
Carrefour To Withdraw Gene Foods From Store Shelves
Lord Sainsbury - surely he can't last much longer???
Canada favours pact on GE foods; THE BIOSAFETY TREATY
Fears erupt over genetic food - Dr Arpad Pusztai: Vindicated
Animal Hospital (or Xeno-Transplants)

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Date: Tue, 2 Feb 1999 21:22:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson
Expert critique of BGH Human Safety Report

Here is an excellent, expert critique of the recent Report by a panel from the The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada on the human safety of BGH or rbST (Bovine Growth Hormone)

This panel concluded that the hormone was safe for humans. The Report was inconsistent and seriously flawed, as explained below by Dr. George Neville, a research scientist retired from Health Canada.

(There were actually two reports on BGH. One by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association concluded there are safety problems for animals. The second report, by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, concluded it is safe for humans. Both reports can be accessed at the website http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/archives/rbst )


Expert Panel Rubber Stamps Human Safety of RBST

by George A. Neville, Ph.D., Health Protection Branch, Health Canada
Home telephone: (613) 729-0579

A Critique of the Report (January 1999) prepared for Health Canada by the "Expert Panel on Human Safety of rbST" of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

For a subject as important and as basic as the safety of Canada's milk production and supply, and for this subject to have been re-viewed by a supposedly "expert panel" constituted in April 1998 by the august Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), this report is superficial, seriously flawed on many points, and irresponsible to the national interest.

The actual investigation of the subject and writing of the report was accomplished in the remarkably short period of six months (June to December). The report per se consisted of 20 pages including the last page and half which set forth the panel's four conclusions. Of the 44 References cited in the report, 7 are Monsanto Technical Reports, 8 are various governmental publications not subject to peer scientific review, 3 were to abstracts or proceedings of meetings where information is presented but not necessarily later published (e.g., it may not survive the peer review process), one reference was to a pharmaceutical industry report, and the remaining 25 references were to peer reviewed papers in the open scientific literature.

The five panel members, ostensibly chosen for their expertise in medicine, paediatrics, oncology, nutritional science, epidemiology, pharmacology and toxicology, are all active or emeritus members of Canadian Faculties of Medicine or Health Sciences. It is noteworthy that no endocrinologist, immunologist, or microbiologist was part of the panel although it was intended from the outset that the panel should include representative expertise in the fields of endocrinology and immunology - the two areas of specialization most pertinent to the study. No accounting is given for the resignation of an original panel member, Dr. Richard Gallagher, and his replacement by Dr. Michael Pollak.

While each panel member was obliged to file a disclosure form describing any professional activities which might be viewed as affecting impartiality, the actual "conflict of interest" disclosure form issued by Health Canada is more invitational than obligatory in that it states, "I would like to bring the following to the attention of the Branch". It would appear that much of the literature research and report writing was done by a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Toronto who was recruited by the panel in June/98 as a Research Assistant. Extent of the Expert Panel Investigation

The panel appears to have limited its investigation and comment to the four questions posed to it by Health Canada, viz.

  1. Are there potential effects of the residues of rbST and IGF-1 on human immune response?

  2. Are there potential effects of the residues of rbST and IGF-1 on the intestinal growth and development of the neonate?

  3. Is there a need for chronic toxicity and reproductive studies in laboratory animals in the risk assessment of human food safety of rbST and IGF-1?

  4. Is there a potential risk of carcinogenicity in humans as a result of ingestion of residues of rbST and IGF-1 in milk?

Incidentally, these questions were said not to have been covered in adequate depth by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) report. In addition the Human Safety Panel was asked to comment on the quality of the scientific evidence available to the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs, Human Safety Division in its analysis of the Nutrilac (Monsanto) file.

It is interesting that the panel points out that there have been at least 1000 publications in the past twelve months (1998) in the peer reviewed scientific literature on biological effects of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1); yet the panel states that, within the limitation of available time (no time limit was ever declared by Health Canada for the preparation of either this report or that of the CVMA report), it restricted itself to those papers considered to address only the four questions raised by Health Canada.

Only eight citations (Ref. #9, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 44) of the panel's list of 44 References relate to IGF-1 biological impact; only two of these (#21 & 22) pertain to 1998 literature, two (#18, 20) from 1994, two (#9, 19) from 1995, one (#23) from 1997, and one (#44) for which no date was provided! It is obvious from this inspection that little, if any, investigation of the current literature for impact of IGF-1 on risk of breast and prostate cancer or diabetes (especially juvenile diabetes which is showing marked increased incidence) had been expended. This apparent lack of consideration is all the more remarkable since the biographical summaries of the panellists show that two members have relevant specific interests in these areas, viz. Dr Réjeanne Gougeon, whose main research interest addresses protein metabolism in obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus) and Dr. Michael Pollak, whose area of emphasis concerns the role of hormones in carcinogenesis and research into insulin-like growth factors; indeed, the only two papers cited in the report concerning the relationship between serum IGF-1 levels and the risk of prostate and breast cancers are from his research group (Ref. # 21 & 22).

Whereas the Food and Drugs Act requires that the sponsor of a New Drug Submission be responsible for proof of purity, safety, and efficacy of the product under review, the panel did not feel that there was any reason to enter into review of the (Monsanto) file with respect to proof of purity (good manufacturing) and efficacy. No reason was given for ducking purity considerations; however, the panel viewed efficacy as being within the mandate of the panel struck by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. The panel, therefore, sought no information bearing on possible impurities and/or by-products of rbST manufacture in the Nutrilac product, and the Monsanto documentation referenced in the report appears mute on the subject. In contrast, purification and bioactivity of human growth hormone (HGH) are prominent concerns in the open scientific literature, e.g., K.C. Olson et al., Nature 293, 408 (1981).


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Date: Tue, 2 Feb 1999 21:22:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson

Discussion of Human Safety Issues Related to RBST: Human exposure to bovine food products

by George A. Neville, Ph.D., Health Protection Branch, Health Canada
Home telephone: (613) 729-0579

It is puzzling that the expert panel has provided no comment or evidence of having considered any possible impact of elevated insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in milk from rbST treated cows on the increasing incidence of juvenile diabetes. Such omission raises concern particularly when two of the panellists profess to have interest and expertise in diabetes research, and the statement is made in the report (top p. 10) that "Type l diabetes mellitus has been associated with the early intake of cow's milk by neonates for whom breast feeding is normally indicated." Indeed, the panel failed in its public responsibility to consider broader issues of growing concern, e.g., declining sperm counts in western nations, and the rising incidence of testicular cancer.

The report states (bottom, p. 10) that "Compared to 1951, 2.9% more milk was produced in 1991 by 849,000 cows (a 49% decrease in herd size). What it neglects to say is that this reduction in herd size and efficiency of production was achieved through superior breeding practice, especially by artificial insemination, over the last 30 years." Pharmacology/toxicology of somatotropin

In discussing the nature of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), the report (p.11) is simplistic in stating "that the pharmacological properties (of rbST) are indistinguishable from its natural counterpart" when, later, it states that "In the product under review, Nutrilac, the N-terminal alanine of one of four natural variants of endogenous bST is replaced by methionine". This substitution of the terminal amino acid of one of the four natural bovine somatotropin (bST) molecular entities confers upon that particular recombinant somatotropin (rbST) different physical and chemical properties that make it a distinctly different and new substance from its natural precursor. As a new and unnatural substance, rbST has the potential to elicit an antibody response in either cows or humans and perhaps act at other receptor sites. It is, therefore, an unreasonable assumption on the part of the expert panel to say that "An identical antibody response would be assumed to occur with either natural or recombinant bST".

Although rbST enhances bovine lactation by mimicking bST action, it is simplistic and misleading for the report to state (p. 11) that "rbSt is considered to be biologically inactive in humans because it demonstrates negligible binding to human growth hormone receptors", a statement unsupported by evidence or references. The acute toxicity data given for rbST in rats and mice is from Monsanto only, i.e., no external confirmation.

The report states that "somatotropin stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) which is responsible for producing many of the biological effects associated with somatotropin. It also states without substantiation or references that "IGF-1 shows no species specificity, and that it produces identical effects in cows and humans". Are we really sure that human and bovine IGF-1 are identical, are bound by the same plasma proteins, possess the same conformation, and express themselves in the same way at the same type of receptors? Why have Monsanto scientists and the expert panellists limited themselves to the consideration of IGF-1 action only when there is a whole family of peptide hormones with mitogenic properties and insulin-like effects that mediates the action of growth hormone (ST) on skeletal tissue. Within the group, several somatomedins have been described, all closely related chemically and biologically and having mol. wts of about 7,500 Daltons: somatomedin A (SM-A), somatomedin C (SM-C) insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II), and multiplication stimulating activity (MSA).

Concerned that humans consuming milk containing somewhat higher levels of IGF-1 arising from rbST treated cows, the expert panel discusses briefly (p. 12) the action of the negative feedback loop in regulating the amount of IGF-1 in blood of individuals within narrow limits. They state that, "If for any reason the blood concentration of IGF-1 increases beyond the usual level for an individual, the secretion of somatotropin is inhibited so that additional IGF-1 production is slowed". But what about the effect of children consuming such milk with above normal levels of IGF-1 on a daily basis during their normal growing years? Will not their activated negative feedback loops result in sustained suppressed secretion of human ST with consequent impairment of their normal expected growth? The panel has been unduly restrained by the limiting nature of the four questions posed to it by Health Canada, and it has not risen to its professional responsibility by looking beyond these questions. Somatotropin effects on the composition and characteristics of bovine products

On page 14 of the report, two sets of data are presented for the mean milk IGF-1 concentration determined seven days post rbST treatments in nine cows treated three times (with the manufacturer's recommended dose of 500 mg every 14 days) and compared to that of nine untreated cows on the same days. The origin of the study, which appears to have been so recent as to be cited as a 1998 abstract for a dairy science meeting, is not given in the report. Upon checking out its reference (#35) and finding it to be incorrect, it is found that the data were presented by a Monsanto team ten years earlier in 1988 at the 83rd annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association. None of these data or other data appearing in this abstract appear to have been published with discussion following peer review in the open scientific literature. Why did Monsanto report only averaged IGF-1 values; it would be far more instructive to have the original values for each of the 18 cows! Why did the study only embrace 9 treated and 9 control cows? Why has Monsanto not undertaken even one such supplemental study of this nature during the intervening decade? Why has the Expert Panel not lamented the absence of any statistical analysis of the Monsanto data especially when the Chair, Dr. Stuart M. MacLeod, of the Expert Panel is a Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Medicine and Paediatrics? Antibiotic Resistance

The product monograph for sometribove (Nutrilac) states that treatment of cows with rbST will lead to an increased risk of clinical mastitis. The RCPSC panel in stating that, "It can be assumed that this increase in incidence of clinical mastitis will result in a corresponding increase in the use of antibiotics" qualifies its concern (p. 18) by quoting another medical man to the effect that "The quantity of antibiotic use for the treatment of infections in animals is insignificant as compared to their long-term use as growth promoters." Nevertheless, there is world-wide growing concern over the development of farm-borne antibiotic resistant human pathogens (e.g., vancomycin resistant staphylococci) becoming not only a risk to the public in general but also untreatable, carrying disease and death.

In the autumn of 1997, a World Health Organisation meeting on the medical impact of the use of antimicrobials in food animals recommended tighter controls on the use of antimicrobials in animals and, in particular, that the use of certain antimicrobial growth promoters should cease (The Veterinary Record, 22 November 1997, p. 530). Because there is little prospect of any major new class of antimicrobial agent being developed in the near future, the guidelines emphasized that every effort should be made to avoid administration of subtherapeutic dosages of antimicrobials and that, where appropriate, narrow spectrum agents should be used in preference to agents with a broad spectrum of activity. One year later, at a meeting in Brussels on 14 December 1998, European agriculture ministers from 12 of the 15 EU member countries, including Britain, voted in favour of a European Commission proposal to ban the use of four antibiotics in animal feedingstuffs. Three countries, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain, abstained. The products affected are virginiamycin (Pfizer), tylosin phosphate (Elanco), spiramycin (Rhône-Poulenc) and zinc bacitracin (Alpharma). (The Veterinary Record, 19/26 December 1998, p. 671).

In a subsequent coverage (The Veterinary Record, 2 January 1999, p. 1), it was reported that Britain's agriculture minister, Mr. Nick Brown, said that "On the precautionary principle, it is right to suspend the use of these four growth promoters until more evidence emerges". He also said that the British Government was determined to put the consumer at the forefront of decision-making in this area. Likewise, the British Veterinary Association believes that antimicrobial use is essential for the maintenance of animal health and welfare and that antimicrobial agents should be prescription-only medicines for therapeutic and prophylactic use.

In regard to rbST treated cows, the more frequent incidence of mastitis necessitating antibiotic treatment tends to produce more highly stressed animals with increasing susceptibility to mastitic conditions requiring longer periods of medication that often necessitate use of more potent forms of antibiotics. The dangers, therefore, to the dairy personnel as well as to the herd as a whole for exposure to antibiotic resistant organisms is of real and pressing concern. Conclusion

The superficial manner in which the RCPSC Expert Panel appears to have dealt with the human safety concerns and implications of rbST treatment of cows to enhance milk production for public consumption is appalling. So too is the panel's apparent myopathy in restricting itself to the narrow consideration of the four questions posed to it by Health Canada in respect to the Monsanto rbST submission and its obvious unwillingness to reach out and discuss other related and possible considerations that quite properly fall within their respective domains of expertise. The sheer brevity of their report, coupled with the paucity of learned presentation and discussion of few issues, essentially accomplished in less than 6 months time, signals a travesty of trust perpetrated against the public good by a privileged, aloof group.

George A. Neville, Ph.D.
Retired Research Scientist
Bureau of Drug Research (Closed July 1997)
Health Protection Branch, Health Canada
Home telephone: (613) 729-0579


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Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 12:09:30 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-6

UK: MP links genetic food to 37 deaths

Blair rejects Tory call for three-year moratorium

By David Hencke Westminster Correspondent, UK Guardian, Thursday February 4, 1999

An outbreak of a fatal disease that infected 5,000 people, killing 37 and leaving 1,500 permanently ill, was linked to genetically modified food, a Labour MP claimed in a Commons debate yesterday.

The claim came as Tony Blair came under fire for rejecting demands for a three-year moratorium on GM foods. Tory leader William Hague accused the Prime Minister of ignoring his own advisers in refusing to implement a ban on GM crops until there has been more research.

Earlier Joan Walley, MP for Stoke North, called for an immediate ban on commercial use of GM food. She said: "Despite reassurances that these products are rigorously tested and safe, there have been unexpected incidents and illnesses apparently caused by them. "In the worst case, I understand a US epidemic of a disease known as EMS, affected apparently some 5,000 people. An estimated 37 died, 1,500 have been left permanently disabled with sickness."

She added: "The outbreak I understand was traced to a batch of food supplement produced by genetically engineered bacteria." Mrs Walley based her claim on a scientific article by Dr Michael Antoniou, a senior lecturer in molecular pathology at a London teaching hospital.

Dr Antoniou quoted a case involving a Japanese company that produced a food supplement, vitamin B2, saying "whether the presence of the toxin was a direct result of the genetic engineering or was due to sloppy manufacturing procedures is still under debate".

But he pointed out that under British government rules the product would not need to be labelled or be given marketing approval. Mr Hague demanded at Prime Minister's question time: "Why hasn't the Government accepted the advice of English Nature, which is by law the Government's advisers on these matters, by delaying for at least three years the commercial release of these crops until more research is done?"

Mr Blair countered: "There is a committee in the Government looking at this on the basis of scientific evidence - I think that is the best way to proceed. The worst way is to raise fears in the public mind before the evidence is put before them."

In the earlier Commons debate Mrs Walley won cross-party support from Labour backbenchers Barry Sheerman and Joan Ruddock, former Tory minister Alan Clark, and Lib Dem MP Norman Baker. Jeff Rooker, the deputy agriculture minister, said the modified food for commercial use in Britain. There is "none planned and when it does happen it will be a controlled introduction, it will not be a free-for-all", he said.

Last night Friends of the Earth food campaigner, Peter Riley, claimed licences had already been granted for the commercial planting of oil seed rape, fodder beet and maize for seed production. "The first commercially grown GM crops could be planted in our fields in the next few months unless the Government takes steps to stop them."


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Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 12:09:30 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-6

Blair Accused of Ignoring Experts in GM Food Furore

By Gavin Cordon

[UK Prime Minister] Tony Blair was tonight under fire from environmentalists after rejecting demands for a three-year moratorium on genetically-modified foods. In heated Commons exchanges, Tory leader William Hague accused the Prime Minister of ignoring his own expert advisers in refusing to implement a ban on GM crops until there has been more research.

Earlier, a senior Labour backbencher, Joan Walley, told the House that GM foods had been linked to an epidemic in the United States of the disease EMS, which left 37 dead and 1,500 disabled.

Mr Blair, however, insisted that ministers were acting on the best scientific advice and that the issue was being monitored by a Government committee. "I think we do have to proceed on the best scientific evidence since we are also talking about something where the potentials are very great indeed," he told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions.

"And it's important that we proceed logically and scientifically and not on the basis simply of prejudice of either side of the debate." But Mr Hague said English Nature, which by law advises the Government on such issues, wanted a delay of at least three years on the commercial release of GM crops.

"The effect of the muddle in Government policy is to increase public concern and not to decrease public concern," he said. "Why doesn't the Government do the common sense thing and listen to the advice of its own experts and at least put on hold the release of these new and unfamiliar seeds until the research is done?"

Environmental groups, who have also been pressing for a moratorium, said they were "extremely disappointed" by the Prime Minister's remarks. Friends of the Earth policy director Tony Juniper said: "The Government has promised that it will invoke the precautionary principle when it comes to GM crops.

"There is already enough scientific evidence to justify a halt on their further development."


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Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 12:09:30 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-6

the next article was posted by genetics@gn.apc.org

'Organic' Snacks Destroyed after finding GM Corn

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor, The Electronic Telegraph (UK) Friday 5 February 1999

HEALTH food importers revealed last night that they have destroyed 87,000 packets of organic tortilla chips after they were found to be contaminated with genetically modified corn.

The British distributor of the Apache brand of organic chips, De Rit, said that the most likely source of the contamination was cross-pollination of the organic maize used in them by GM crops grown around the organic farm in Texas where the maize came from.

If so, the incident will create further pressure on the Government to tighten controls on the introduction of genetic crops in Britain.

William Hague, the Tory leader, called in the Commons on Wednesday for a moratorium on all introductions until further scientific studies are carried out.


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 16:42:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-7 Alive Febr.99

Biotech News, by Richard Wolfson, PhD

Reprinted with permission from the February 1999 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby, BC V5J 5B9

Award to Fired rBGH Reporters

Investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson were recently awarded one of the top honors in journalism in the US: an Award for Ethics from the national Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). The journalists, working for a FOX-TV affiliate in Tampa, Florida, refused to alter a documentary on genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

According to the society President Fred Brown, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson "lost their jobs for refusing to incorporate false information into an investigative story about bovine growth hormone and then waged a post-employment campaign to make sure the record was set straight."

In recognition of their commitment to reporting the truth, Akre and Wilson received a standing ovation from the national conference of US journalists. Mr. Wilson said, "To what extent can viewers and readers be served if journalists start giving into pressure to falsify or slant their reports?" (See http://www.foxBGHsuit.com


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 16:42:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-7 Alive Febr.99

European Opposition to Biotech Industry

Internal documents from Monsanto show the biotech giant is considering crisis management over skyrocketing public opposition to genetically engineered foods. Despite a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in Europe, support for genetically modified foods is at an all time low.

"At each point we keep thinking that we have reached the low point ... but we apparently have not," writes the author of the papers, Stan Greenberg, a US poll adviser who has worked for President Clinton, Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. In the fall of 1998, 51% of UK consumers said genetically engineered ingredients are unacceptable, compared to 44% a few months earlier, and 35% in 1997.


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 16:42:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-7 Alive Febr.99

UK Government Burns Biotech Canola

A field of herbicide-resistant canola was destroyed in UK after it pollinated nearby plants. The biotech canola was planted only two meters away from normal canola. Regulations dictating a buffer zone of at least 6 meters were violated.

Regulators and environmentalists are concerned that herbicide-resistant crops could cross-pollinate with other species and produce herbicide-resistant superweeds that create havoc for agriculture and the environment. The UK Government is considering prosecuting the biotech companies involved, Monsanto and Perryfields, for allegedly contaminating the environment.


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 16:42:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-7 Alive Febr.99

France Restrains

French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany defended France's cautious stance over crop genetic engineering. "If there is a risk to be taken, I would take that of over-precaution over that of being blind or unworried," he said.

France is torn between environmentalists concerned about the risks and foreign firms eager to import genetically manipulated seeds. France is also resisting pressure for the European Commission, which is beginning legal proceedings against France for delaying authorization of several genetically altered crops.


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 16:42:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-7 Alive Febr.99

Brazil to Halts Biotech Soy

Japan has refused genetically engineered soy from Brazil, forcing Brazilian authorities to halt approval for cultivation of biotech soybeans. Soy exports from Brazil to Japan total $1.5 billion US, which is about 30% of Japan's soy imports. Consumer action in Brazil, including a lawsuit filed by the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Defense (IDEC), has also been instrumental in halting the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture's approval of Monsanto's glyphosate-tolerant soybeans.


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 16:42:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-7 Alive Febr.99

Texmati Boycott

The Basmati Action Group (based in British Columbia) has launched a boycott against Texmati rice, and other products of Rice Tec Corporation (USA). Rice Tec claims to have invented the basmati rice they sell under the trade name, "Texmati."

The corporation insists it has "invented" a "novel" variety of basmati by cross-breeding natural basmati rice varieties. These natural varieties have been cultivated in India and Pakistan for centuries. The purpose of the boycott is to heighten awareness of the patenting of life-forms for corporate profit, which has also been termed "biopiracy." Rice Tec products also include "Jasmati" and "Kasmati" rice. (See http://www.eciad.bc.ca/~lolin/basmati


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 21:04:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson Great article on successful organic farming

from from People &the Planet, featured on the OneWorld News Service, 17 April 1998. The URL is http://www.oneworld.org/news/by_country/index.html and then go to Honduras.

Mimicking Nature To Grow More

From Charlie Pye-Smith, who writes about development issues and is currently working with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

The poor red baked soils common in the hilly peasant farms of Central Honduras, are becoming dark, rich producing ones through new organic farming methods. Charlie Pye-Smith travelled through the region to research this report.

"I used to farm these fields using traditional methods," explains Francisco Cerratos. "I grew corn mostly, but the soil was so poor I hardly produced anything." Then in 1992 an organisation called COSECHA visited the hilly country to the east of Guaimaca, in Central Honduras, with news that even these hostile tropical soils could be made productive. "They suggested I grow beans as well as corn," recalls Francisco. "People round here said it wouldn't work, but in reality we'd never tried."

Four years ago Francisco sowed 5 lbs of beans and harvested 100 lbs. Since then his yields have tripled and the methods introduced by COSECHA - contour planting, mulching, minimum tillage - have transformed him, in his own words, from peasant to producer. "My life has changed," he says simply.

"Now we have enough money to buy the food and clothes we need." With a pistol poking from trouser pocket, and hat tipped cockily to one side, Francisco exudes confidence.

None of this surprises Eduardo Tomas, the Guatemalan Indian who taught Francisco new ways of farming. For the past 20 years - first as an extension worker for the American non-governmental organisation World Neighbours, now as co-ordinator for COSECHA (the Association of Consultants for a Sustainable, Ecological and People-Centred Agriculture) - Eduardo has been weaning farmers off crops and methods of cultivation which destroy soils, and introducing them to techniques which restore fertility.

"Chemically, I can't tell you how this soil has changed," he says, stooping to feel the earth in Francisco's bean field, "but I can see the difference. Before it was red and baked. Now it is black and rich in organic matter."

Francisco used to plant crops in rows across the slope of his fields. Now, using a simple device known as an A-frame, he plants along the contours. He also sows a green manure crop, velvetbean, alongside the food crops, and he practices minimum tillage: the less the soil is disturbed, the less erosion there will be.

In nearby San Jose, Pedro Matute is one of 37 farmers - out of 56 - who have taken Eduardo's advice, and his bean yields have quadrupled in the past four years. "At first," says Pedro, "many farmers round here were suspicious. When they saw me planting along the contours they scoffed. But I carried on. I didn't listen." However, Pedro knew he was onto a good thing, having witnessed World Neighbours' endeavours in the Cantarranas region. Here, and in three other areas in Central America, its farmer-to-farmer extension programmes have had a profound impact on rural communities. Their success lies not so much in what was achieved during the years when the organisation was active, but in what has happened since it left: yields have continued to rise as farmers have adapted and improved the technologies introduced by World Neighbours.

Roland Bunch, the director of COSECHA, was a key player in World Neighbours' various programmes in Honduras and Guatemala in the 1980s. "Most farmers simply don't believe that soil can be improved while they're farming it," says Bunch from his office in Valle de Angeles. "And most western scientists seem to think the same. They claim you can only build up topsoil at the rate of an inch a century. But here we have indications that we are increasing topsoil by a third of an inch a year."

It took Bunch some time to work out precisely how he and the farmers were doing this. "What we now realise," he says, "is that if you are going to use these soils, you have to do what moist tropical forests do. You have to mimic nature and get nutrients from the mulch, from the litter layer." Planting along the contours counteracts the gravitational movement of water, slows down soil erosion and leads to the natural formation of small terraces. The use of green manure helps to protect the soil from the sun and slow down evaporation. Just as significantly, the manure and the mulches - rather than the soil - provide nutrients for the food crops.

Since Bunch and his Guatemalan colleagues left World Neighbours in 1992 - the latter had decided to dispense with non-Honduran staff - they have continued to promote what is cumbersomely termed participatory technology development. This involves farmers and agronomists working together to find the technologies which help improve soils and raise yields. Bunch stresses that what matters is not that the technologies are sustainable - often they are not - but that farmers become involved in a process of innovation which is sustainable.

Development agencies frequently pronounce their projects to be successful, forgetting that true success can only be measured long after their departure. All too often agricultural projects collapse once the agencies withdraw. Referring to a recent analysis of farm practices in three areas where World Neighbours were active in the 1980s and early 1990s, Bunch says: "We now have scientific proof that farmers have carried on the process of development and further increased their yields since we left."

In 1987, when World Neighbours arrived in Guacamayas, none of the farmers rotated their crops. When they left in 1993, 36 did; now 58 do. In the village of Xesuj in Guatemala, none of the farmers used green manure when World Neighbours arrived in 1972. By the time it left seven years later, 20 farmers were using green manure; now 36 are.

Irma Guttierrez's plot of steep land in Guacamayas, an hour's drive from COSECHA's office, looks like a model farm, yet the transformation from arid pasture to productive cropland has largely taken place since World Neighbours left. Above the house where her brother lives - he looks after the land while Irma works for COSECHA - are coffee and fruit trees; below there is a mix of soft fruit and vegetables. Scarcely an inch of soil is visible. Green manures and a mulch of crop residues form a dense mat around taller crops like maize, and the terraces are rimmed with 'live barriers'. The barriers help to slow down the movement of soil and water, and by trapping soil they actually encourage terrace formation. In Guacamayas, and in the Guinope region in South Honduras, the changing nature of the live barriers provides a compelling illustration of farmers improving an introduced technology.

When World Neighbours moved into Guinope in 1981, farmers were encouraged to plant king grass and napier grass along the contours. According to John Hellin, a researcher from the British Natural Resources Institute now based in Honduras, these two grasses proved far from ideal. "They are very good at retaining the soil," he explains as he tramps along a luxuriant barrier, "but they are very invasive. They suffocate other plants and leach nutrients away from the food crops. They may be good fodder crops, but in Guinope farmers have little livestock."

As a result many farmers have pulled out the grasses, but they have not abandoned the technology. Lucio Nunez, for example, has replaced the grasses with coffee, plantains, sugar cane, peaches and other perennial food crops. "What Lucio and many other farmers want," says Hellin, "is a barrier which helps retain the soil and at the same time provides them with food."

As an outsider, Hellin is well placed to judge the achievements of World Neighbours, and he highlights two factors which have contributed to its success in Guinope. First, World Neighbours recognised that farmers wanted to see tangible benefits as quickly as possible, so it encouraged them to use chicken manure as a fertilizer. Yields rocketed; the farmers were impressed. Second, World Neighbours understood that the new technologies were a means to an end, not an end in themselves. It encouraged farmers to be innovative, and the transformation of the live barriers is testimony that they have been. In one village alone, 16 innovations have been adopted since the programme finished in 1989.

Nowadays farmers in Guinope seldom refer to World Neighbours. Rather, they talk of los Guatemaltecos, referring to the Guatemalan extension officers who passed their knowledge on to the local farmers, some of whom were trained as village extension workers themselves. The latter received a three-year training and most were unpaid. "They did the job for the honour and self-esteem it brought," reflects Hellin approvingly, "not for material gain."

Bunch has come up with four key factors which contributed to the success of the World Neighbours programmes, and which should guide organisations working with farmers. The 'farmer first' approach, using village extension workers and participatory technology development, is of fundamental importance. There should be rapid, identifiable gains for the farmers. The process should be initiated using a small number of technologies. Finally, farmers should be encouraged to avoid all forms of dependency and be capable of taking over programmes when development agencies leave.


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 21:04:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson Great article on successful organic farming

Learning from a lifetime of experience

Charlie Pye-Smith writes about development issues and is currently working with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

For the past 30 years Roland Bunch has been tramping through the bean fields of Central America. His down-to-earth experiences with peasant farmers and his championing of 'people-centred development' were lucidly expressed in his celebrated work, Two Ears of Corn, which since its publication in 1982 has been translated into Gujarati, Vietnamese, Indonesian and many other languages.

Bunch is disturbed by the fads in agricultural development. "We are forever hearing that such and such a crop or technology is the answer," he says wearily. "And for a while there will be a boom, soon to be followed by a bust." A while ago people saw the winged bean as the salvation of poor farmer; then it was the miracle tree, Leucaena. At present it is vetiver grass, much-loved as a live barrier by the World Bank; at other times it was strawberries or mushrooms. Occasionally there is a boom which lasts. "The participation boom has worked out," says Bunch, but he swiftly adds that many organisations have been too starry-eyed about the ability of village farmers to provide all the solutions to their problems.

"The dominant theory now is that we should ask villagers what their problems are and how to solve them - then help them do it," says Bunch. "My feeling is that if villagers already know the solutions to their problems, why are they so dumb they haven't applied them?"

Bunch points out that poor people, left to their own devices, will often mimic the rich. In Honduras, for example, the poor often want to get hold of tractors, rear cattle and use chemicals. "It would be a tragedy if we went back to the we'll-tell-you-what-to-do mode of development," says Bunch, "but I do think there needs to be a partnership between agronomists and villagers."

In many instances villagers are not aware of technologies which can help them. Experience in Honduras bears this out. It was the Brazilians who first discovered the benefits of zero tillage; the Costa Ricans who realised mulches could be used as fertilizer. Organisations like World Neighbours and COSECHA have put farmers in touch with technologies they knew nothing about.

Bunch believes that work in Honduras and Guatemala proves that farmers can get very high yields using almost organic or low input systems. "I suspect organic agriculture could be more profitable than high input chemical agriculture," he says, "but nearly all the agricultural research goes on chemical farming." And what if there was a switch to research into organic farming? "Then in 15 to 20 years," replies Bunch, "organic farming would blow high input agriculture out of the ocean."


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Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 21:04:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson Great article on successful organic farming

Here is another article that I almost overlooked

Superbugs' Possible From Genetically Modified Food

From BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/default.htm
Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 19:14 GMT Some maize fed to cattle contains antibiotic resistance genes

Fears that genetically-modified foods might promote drug-resistant "superbugs" have been fuelled by new research. Dutch scientists used a computer-controlled artificial gut to show that DNA remains intact for several minutes in the large intestine.

Hub Noteborn, of the State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products in Wageningen, said in New Scientist magazine: "It was a surprise to see that DNA persisted so long in the colon."

This persistence means it might be possible for genes to jump from genetically-modified (GM) food into bacteria in the gut of farm animals. Previously some scientists have said there was no risk as the modified DNA breaks down too quickly.

If the transferred genes were the antibiotic-resistance genes used as markers in some GM crops fed to livestock, then serious health risks might result. The danger would be that antibiotic-resistant microbes would spread from animals to humans.

The experiments used bacteria genetically modified to contain antibiotic-resistant genes. As these were digested in the artificial gut, half the DNA survived for six minutes.

"This makes it available to transform cells," said Robert Havenaar, of the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute in Zeist. His team designed the artificial gut which provides a mechanical model of the stomach and intestines and contains the normal microbes and enzymes.

For the first time the experiments measured the rate of transfer of DNA from GM bacteria to other bacteria normally found in the gut. Only one in 10 million passed on the DNA. But there are usually around a thousand billion gut bacteria, suggesting many would be transformed.

However, the Flavr Savr tomato, engineered by Calgene to resist rot, did not pass on antibiotic resistant genes, although up to 10% of its DNA reached the colon.

The crucial test will be whether GM foods and bacteria which have infected the gut can transfer genes. Havenaar says he will ask the European Union to fund further research.

The new findings show more research is essential, says Derek Burke, former chair of Britain's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. "We can only say that the risk is not zero," he says. "Anything that would help put numbers on this, would be useful."

A UK House of Lords select committee recently said that the potential benefits from genetically modified crops far outweigh the risks. However, they still recommended that the use of antibiotic-resistance genes in crops such as the maize fed to some US cattle should be "phased out as quickly as possible".


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Date: Mon, 8 Feb 1999 19:21:06 +0200
From: "Anthony van Zyl" antvz@onwe.co.za

Received recently from a friend in the US:

Mexican Billionaire Controls Seed Sales Amid Rush to Create New Strains

On 1/28, the WSJ ran a front page article entitled:

Produce Market: As Geneticists Develop An Appetite for Greens, Mr. Romo Flourishes. Mexican Billionaire Controls Seed Sales Amid Rush to Create New Strains.

For those of you who may have missed the article, I proffer the following synopsis, with my own editorial comments interspersed. Even as a synopsis, it's long, I know, but this is very important. Just the bare facts from the article are staggering in their implications.

40% of all vegetables sold in US supermarkets derive from seeds owned by Alfonso Romo. Revenue from his seed operation is nearly twice that of his nearest rival, Novartis (the pesticide and genetic engineering giant that recently entered into an unholy alliance with UC California researchers). Romo's stake of the world vegetable seed market is 25%.

The giants of agribusiness and genetic engineering so far have focussed on the few high margin crops of agriculture: corn, cotton, and soybeans. They have snapped up independent seed sellers of these crops, and have also genetically engineered the majority of the corn and soybean crops grown today. Cotton, too, is genetically engineered to withstand greater doses of Monsanto's Roundup. Monsanto alone has spent nearly $8 billion in buying up cash crop seed businesses. Tobacco companies experimented with engineering their prime cash crop, tobacco, to make it more addictive. Certainly the genetic engineering goals of these corporate behemoths so far has had little concern for the natural health of the planet, the plants, or the people. But up until recently, oThe chemical companies a paid little attention to the items people buy in the produce section of their local store: lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, squash. This business is miniscule compared with industrial crops such as corn."

What the WSJ really meant to say is that the chemical giants ignored these crops because the business potential read: profit margin was miniscule. Obviously the crops themselves are not unimportant: they feed mankind. What the WSJ inadvertently implies, is that food is important to business and industry mainly for profit and for profit alone which is probably accurate. Small family farms and sustainability have little to do with "business," in the thinking of this newspaper. Independent growers are "miniscule," and produce markets are inconsequential to stock markets unless some great visionary leader should appear with a plan to obtain ownership of the literal grass roots. Keep this in mind, since in the propaganda war that has already started, you will hear these chemical companies talk much about their noble intentions to feed the world. They have a sales job to do, in order to get us all to swallow their more expensive, patented, genetically engineered products. But remember, what is important and of magnitude to them, is profit potential. To return to the article:

"Nonetheless, fresh produce in North America is an $80 billion market, and the potential rewards of creating a sweeter strawberry or tearless onion are bountiful. At last, the giant chemical companies turned their attention to this market only to find that much of it belonged to a Mexican billionaire named Alfonso Romo. Suddenly, all plans to genetically enhance the salad bar had to pass through Monterrey."

"In a short period of time, Alfonso has become a major factor in biotechnology," say William S. Stravropoulos, chief executive officer of Dow Chemical Co., "which is pushing into agro-biotechnology."

The article then goes off into a pleasant portrait of Mr. Romo's background. The key to Romo's fortunes? The WSJ shares Romo's own self-assessment: "Things broke my way." Sure. This is guy operating in a country where generals help out drug smugglers, where the former President Salinas' brother was recently convicted of complicity in political murder, and where the legal system is notoriously corrupt. We are expected to believe that Mr. Romo got where he is, and stays there, by being just one lucky guy. (And Dow Chemical and Monsanto, both previously manufacturers of chemical weapons components, are really warm fuzzy companies that just want to feed and nourish all of mankind.) Actually, Mr. Romo made a good chunk of his fortune from buying, then selling, another sort of merchant of death: Cigarrera La Moderna, Mexico's largest cigarette company.

And how will these humanitarians work together for the betterment of mankind? "Monsanto has already agreed to apply its biggest biotechnology breakthrough to Romo seeds." And what might that great discovery be? "Scientists from Mr. Romo's company, Empresas La Moderna (ELM) SA, have placed in a lettuce a gene that gives it immunity to Roundup, a Monsanto herbicide designed to kill any green vegetation. This way, lettuce farmers can safely spray their crop to kill weeds without harming the lettuce."

Yes, folks, that's exactly how the article reads. What a great breakthrough! Now farmers everywhere can use even more of Monsanto's costly proprietary pesticide, a pesticide that kills any and all green vegetation indiscriminately. And if Romo owns the seed, they may have no choice. As the article notes, "ELM a supplies 55% of the lettuce seeds used by U.S. commercial farmers" and "plans to sell the altered seed for at least two times the price of conventional lettuce seed." Romo and Monsanto will split the premium. What progress: a golden future in which the only green vegetation that survives is genetically engineered and owned by monopolists. As the article says, "The same gene could be applied to most vegetables."

Mr. Romo's breeding experiments are already on the store shelves: low heat Jalapeno peppers and baby carrots, for example, are his scientists' inventions. He has a whole product line of genetically altered vegetables that will be appearing soon. Why don't you, the consumer, know about this? Well, the article finally gets to that:

"Even if science achieves the vegetable improvements [Romo] envisions, it isn't certain those products will win acceptance in the marketplace. For one thing, consumers will be asked to pay a premium for such items. And for another, eebiotechnology' isn't an appetizing word. Although everything from soda pop to cooking oil is already made from genetically modified corn and soybeans, few U.S. consumers know it. But U.S. regulators could find themselves under pressure to demanduas European regulators already haveuthat genetically modified produce be labeled as such. A 1997 survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers found that 93% wanted bio-engineered food to be labeledupresumably because many would avoid it."

So why wouldn't the mainstream political parties pick up on an issue that 93% of the public are for? It's not that they don't know about the issue: by now, most of them have run in races in which Natural Law Party candidates have highlighted the issue. There is a simple answer: any politician who introduced a bill to compel labeling would immediately become the target of powerful special interest money to get him or her out of office. Who wants to piss off Monsanto, Dow, Du Pont, Archers Daniels Midland, Cargile, all the drug companies that use engineered components in their drugs, and so forth? That would simply be political suicide (at least as long as voters vote according to the teachings of those who pay for expensive ad campaigns). It's just another example of how public policy and the public interest are held hostage to special interests. Don't expect all those politicians, now talking sanctimoniously about truthfulness, to be truthful, or require truthfulness, about something so unimportant as our food supply. After they have spent hours and hours dwelling on details of the sex lives of two people, there is not much time left over to think about the world, you know.

Back to the article: "Mr. Romo says he'll be happy to put labels on his produce." [Translation: he's savvy enough to see that the anti-GE grassroots groundswell will eventually carry the day on this issue, despite the foot dragging and inaction of our "representatives."] o'Once people understand the benefits of what we are doing, any controversy will disappear,' he says." [Translation: expect a PR campaign of enormous magnitude, as only can be deployed by billionaires and multinationals. The goal of the campaign is, as he says, "no dissent and controversy." After all, if they are successful enough, how will you dissent? There won't be much for dissenters to eat. Because:] "He predicts that within a decade, 80% of the fruits and vegetables grown in the US will be genetically modified in one way or another. He says ELM's work will touch frozen-vegetable packers, fruit-juice makers and, of course, the average shopper. eeWe will change consumer habits entirely,' says Mr. Romo, jabbing a cigar in the air."

And why is the WSJ salivating over the prospects and cheering on Romo? Hey, it's the money, stupid! "Investors are buying it," the WSJ puts it simply.

The WSJ then cautions its readers with a history of biotech failures, such as the Calgene Flavr Savr tomato. But Romo vows to overcome such hurdles as "brutal entry barriers." How? First he will try to get farmers to buy his expensive seeds by the lure of more profit to the farmers. But ultimately, in a pattern now often used by other technology monopolists, he will either eliminate the middlemen or hold them hostage. Romo again: "We are trying to develop a fresh-produce company that goes from the earth to the supermarket shelf," he says. oWe are the only global company in this area."

Suppose, for a moment, that with his billions, he succeeds. Well then, move over Mr. Gates. But this guy Romo won't own the software you've gotta have. He'll own the food you gotta have.

I would like to leave you all, my readers, with this indisputable truth: The world we will all live in, in the near future, is taking shape now. One possibility is that in this brave new world, immense wealth, power, influence over the natural environment, and control of basic necessities will be concentrated in the hands of a very few people. This concentration of power and influence will be on a scale and with a omarket penetration" heretofore unknown and impossible on this planet.

And, if we do not attend to what is happening, this power will rest in the hands of individuals whom we have not chosen to lead us or control us. Moreover, there is nothing about how these individuals obtained such wealth, power and influence that ensures that the are good and moral; that they will use their power for generous, humanitarian ends; or that they will act in accord with natural law. What are you going to do about this? You don't have much time to think.

Time to read the Natural Law Party platform, I'd say.


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Date: Thu, 11 Feb 1999 11:13:54 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-10

Carrefour To Withdraw Gene Foods From Store Shelves

By John Carreyrou; (331) 53 00 03 03
jcarreyrou@ap.org (END) DOW JONES NEWS 02-05-99

F.CAR PARIS (Dow Jones)--France's Carrefour SA (F.CAR), the world's third-largest retailer, announced in an in-house magazine that it will take all genetically modified food products off its shelves, citing scientific uncertainties and French public opinion.

The decision affects 516 of the 1,783 food products the retailer sells under the Carrefour brand at its hypermarkets. Of the 516, 286 will be replaced with equivalent natural food products and 221 will be kept on the shelves and systematically tested to make sure they don't contain genetically modified organisms. Carrefour will stop producing the nine remaining products.

Carrefour said it won't put genetically modified foods back on its shelves until "the law is clear and precise on this matter." The company made its decision known earlier this week through an editorial in the February issue of Le Journal de Carrefour, an in-house monthly magazine.

Greenpeace, the international environmental protection group, praised Carrefour's decision in a press release issued Friday, predicting that it would "shake the industry in the U.K. and Europe."


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Date: Thu, 11 Feb 1999 11:13:54 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-10

Lord Sainsbury - surely he can't last much longer???

UK Daily Mail 10 Feb Genetic Food Watch Campaign

The Mail forces Sainsbury's to label "Frankenstein foods"

SAINSBURY'S is to label hundreds of products containing "Frankenstein food" derivatives in a major victory for Daily Mail readers.

The country's second biggest supermarket chain revealed the U-turn yesterday amid allegations that it had been "misleading" shoppers.

Foreign biotech companies such as U.S. based Monsanto, the food industry and the Government have been accused of forcing genetically modifled (GM) food on to the nation. Consumers are angry that the products were introduced without any proper consultation or any study on their long-term effect on human health.

The situation has been made worse by the fact the labelling of GM foods is hopelessly flawed, leaving people who want to avoid them in the dark.

EU rules, enthusiastically adopted by the Government and the food industry, mean some products containing GM crops are already identified. But many more are not. Sainsbury's had refused to label products containing the derivatives of crops such as soya and maize which have been genetically modified.

It argued that, because the DNA of the GM crop did not exist in the derivatives - for example, lecithin and oil from soya and modified starch from maize - there was no need to label.

The chain also insisted the derivatives had been so highly processed that they were no different to those produced from natural crops.

Yesterday, however, Sainsbury's issued a statement saying: "We have decided to label products which contain GM soya lecithin and GM soya oils, in addition to labelling products containing GM soya. The first labelled products will begin to appear on the shelf in the next couple of months."

"We will be informing customers about this with a new, updated leaflet."

Sainsbury's original policy put it out of step with rivals such as Tesco, which labels the derivatives. GM ingredients are used in huge range of products - approximately 60 per cent of supermarket foods - from curry ready-meals to chocolate puddings and steak pies.

If these are not labelled clearly it becomes impossible for wary families to avoid them. Now Sainsbury's, which con¬ tinues to refuse to label the derivatives of GM maize, will have to either reformulate its products or order new packaging for many own-label products.

The chain's statement added: "Our policy is still to reduce the number of products that contain GM ingredients by sourcing non-GM ingredients or, where possible, by finding an alternative to soya, but where we are unable to do so we will label products clearly."

Sainsbury's has been at the forefront of the GM food debate, not least because a member of the family behind the supermarket empire, Sainsbury of Turville, is Labour's Science Minister.

The former billionaire chairman of J. Sainsbury is seen as a powerful advocate for GM foods in government. He has poured millions into GM crop research through the Gatsby Foundation, a charitable trust. The industry and the biotech firms behind the food revolution have been accused of supporting a deliberately confused labelling system. There are clear indications that consumers who want nothing to do with GM foods will boycott products which are clearly labelled

A survey published today by market research analysts Mintel shows 78 per cent of the public want GM foods to be clearly labelled to allow them to choose whether to buy or not.

A Government study published yesterday by the Better Regulation Task Force found 53 per cent believe laws are needed to curb the spread of GM food

The survey found that almost 31 per cent of Britons consider GM foods "pose a serious' risk to their families" Friends Of The Earth food campaigner Adrian Bebb said last night: "This is a welcome retreat by Sainsbury's. It doesn't go far enough, but at least the stores are beginning to respond to public demands for fuller information."

The consumers' Association welcomed the move too but said it was only a small step to providing a "clear labelling regime'" A spokesman added: "The decision by Sainsbury's demonstrates that even supermarkets feel the current GM labelling rules don't go far enough." Tory trade and industry secretary John Redwood, who has been in the vanguard of calls for clearer government policy, said: "Consumers are concerned about what is in their food and labelling needs to be completely clear." "We welcome the decision by Sainsbury's. It shows the campaign for better information is beginning to bite."


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Date: Fri, 12 Feb 1999 22:32:57 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-12

Thanks to: Bradford Duplisea brad@pei.sympatico.ca for posting this:

Canada favours pact on GE foods; THE BIOSAFETY TREATY

By Andrew Duffy, Southam Newspapers The Edmonton Journal Fri 12 Feb 1999 PAGE A18

Final negotiations begin today on an international treaty to cover genetically engineered crops that could impose tough new rules on the export of Canadian grains.

Negotiating teams from 174 countries, including Canada, are meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, to finalize a pact aimed at setting new rules for the trade of genetically altered seed and food.

Canada, with an estimated 2.8 million hectares of land devoted to the cultivation of genetically modified corn, canola, soya, flax, cotton seed and potatoes, has much at stake.

Canadian agricultural exports accounted for more than $22 billion in 1997, about one-third of the country's favourable balance of trade.

The biosafety treaty could require Canadian exporters to separate genetically modified grains from natural ones, seek government approval of their products from importing countries and label their goods as "genetically altered."

The proposals are designed to ensure countries concerned about the possible impact of engineered crops can protect their fields and consumers.

One proposal to be discussed by negotiators would apply the rules to goods made with genetically altered ingredients: things like soda pop, potato chips, vaccines, even blue jeans.

"We believe this protocol has the potential to seriously disrupt trade in agricultural and agri-food products," said Jeff Atkinson, spokesman for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Atkinson said the protocol could heap millions of dollars of costs onto farmers, who increasingly rely upon export markets for their incomes. "Anything that impacts on agricultural trade impacts on the livelihood of farmers. "We're worried that there are too many holes in this protocol."

Seven years in the making, the biosafety protocol is the result of a United Nations environmental agreement that Canada played a key role in establishing. More than 130 countries signed the Biodiversity Convention at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. Canada was one of its leading proponents and was the first country to ratify the convention, which seeks to protect the world's variety of animals and plants and their habitats.

The new protocol is aimed at protecting crop diversity, which is among the most pressing of biodiversity issues.

An estimated 75 per cent of genetic diversity in the world's 20 key food crops has already been lost.

Most of that diversity -- important to ensuring that crops survive in changing conditions -- has been lost in the past 50 years as genetically altered, high-yield crops have been introduced around the world.

Last year, about 30 million acres of farmland were planted with genetically modified seeds -- 10 times more than the year before.

But some areas, like Europe, have steadfastly resisted the invasion of the new, altered varieties. (Prince Charles has vowed not to let any genetically altered food pass his lips, saying "that takes mankind into

realms that belong to God and to God alone.") It's one of the reasons international observers expect Europe and developing nations will push in Colombia for a strong biosafety treaty, while big grain exporting countries like Canada, the United States and Australia will try to secure a narrowly defined agreement.

"Canada has invested heavily in biotechnology -- and we're trying to force these products into markets whether they want them or not," said Mark Winfield, research director of the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy.

Canada's negotiators want a treaty that requires approval permits for genetically modified products only when they pose a clear threat to the environment.

The Biosafety Treaty

* THE ISSUE: 174 countries, including Canada, are finalizing a treaty aimed at setting new rules for the trade of genetically altered seed and food.

* THE SIGNIFICANCE: The treaty could pass on millions of dollars in costs to Canadian farmers who might be required to separate genetically modified grains from natural ones and seek government approval of their products from importing countries.

KEYWORDS: BIOTECHNOLOGY; GENETICS; FOOD; CROPS; AGRICULTURE; GRAIN; TREATIES; CANADA; TRADE; EXPORTS


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Date: Fri, 12 Feb 1999 22:32:57 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-12

Thanks to MichaelP papadop@peak.org for posting this:

Fears erupt over genetic food - Dr Arpad Pusztai: Vindicated

BBC Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 12:48 GMT

Sections:
BBC's Pallab Ghosh reports
Support for doctor
Immune system and organ damage

BBC's Pallab Ghosh reports

Safety fears over genetically-modified food have received dramatic support after scientists backed a disgraced colleague who said that rats fed genetically-modified potatoes suffered health damage.

The BBC's Pallab Ghosh reports on the genetic food disputeThe public statement from 20 scientists has renewed calls for the UK Government to impose immediately a moratorium on the use of genetically-modified (GM) foods.

However Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected the calls from consumer, environmental and food pressure groups, as well as opposition politicians. Cabinet Office Minister Dr Jack Cunningham said the findings "were in dispute" and that a moratorium would not be "sensible".

He told the BBC: "We need to clarify what the scientific outcome of these experiments really is. But it is not a reason to ban all genetically-modified foods.

Support for doctor

The controversy began in August 1998 when Dr Arpad Pusztai, 68, made a public statement about his fears, following a £1.6m study he conducted at the Rowett Research Institute (RRI) in Aberdeen, Scotland.

He told Granada's World in Action that he would not eat the GM food and said it was "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs".

Within 48 hours he was suspended in humiliation and later effectively forced to retire. The RRI said he had misinterpreted his results.

But now the group of scientists, drawn from 13 different countries, have re-examined his work and signed a joint memorandum saying his conclusions were justified. The group included toxicologists, genetic engineers and medical experts.

Dr Vyvyan Howard: "We are going to have to test these plants like pharmaceutical agents""We found that his data is sound", their spokesman, Dr Vyvyan Howard, a toxipathologist at Liverpool University, told the BBC.

He said: "Dr Puztai did some direct hazard assessment, got some unexpected results and then spoke out. I think he was right."

Dr Howard said a new safety regime was needed: "We're going to have to test these plants like pharmaceutical agents. This takes years and costs about $400m to bring a new drug to market because of the level of testing."

However Professor Phillip James, director of RRI, stuck by his actions over Dr Putzai, saying the research was incomplete and unchecked.

Immune system and organ damage

Dr Pusztai's experiments involved feeding rats on GM potatoes for 10 days. He found that some of the rats' immune systems were weakened.

He also found that some organs shrank or did not develop properly, including the kidney, the spleen and the brain.

The cause of these problems is not known and the group of scientists has demanded immediate funding to investigate.

An audit carried out by the RRI last year cleared Dr Pusztai of fraud but said there was no basis for his conclusions. The group of scientists has now savagely criticised that audit saying it contained "serious flaws" and that a "great injustice" had been committed.

** 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. **


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Date: Fri, 12 Feb 1999 22:32:57 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-12

Animal Hospital (or Xeno-Transplants)

by Linda Pannozzo nspirg@is2.dal.ca (NS PIRG)
Published in The Coast (a Halifax news/entertainment weekly) January 14, l999.

"Certainly, in Canada we have some recent examples where policy has failed us. Our fisheries and oceans department has been criticized for its management of fish stocks, to the point where the supply is diminished to almost non- existent levels. We've been criticized in the recent blood commission, a regulator, that was under-resourced, underfinanced in dealing with health issues in blood...so certainly you may be skeptical in thinking that policy analysts can address the issue of xenotransplantation."

-Andre La Prairie, Project Manager for Blood, tissue, organ and xenograft project with Canada's Health Protection Branch, speaking to an audience at an international forum on xenotransplantation in Maryland, USA, January,l998.

Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, December, l994. Mavis McArdle was desperately clinging to life. After waiting for a donor liver for over a year, the 55 year old woman had fallen deathly ill. She slipped into a coma and there was little hope that a donor would be found on time. McArdle was placed on the National Transplant List as status 4 - priority from coast to coast. Time was running out. On the evening of December 19, Dr. Jean Tchervenkov, a well known transplant surgeon, and Dr. Joe Tector had an idea. They needed a way to keep her alive until a human liver donor was found. They needed a liver and decided to get one from a pig.

After getting authorization from the hospital and its human ethics committee and after discussing it with McArdle's family, they decided it was worth a try. The Montreal General Hospital obtained a pig and removed its liver. The liver was brought to the Royal Victoria Hospital where it was attached to the femoral vein in McArdle's left leg. Her blood was then pumped through an oxengenator and a warmer and eventually through the portal vein of the pig liver and then returned to her body via the femoral vein in her right leg. Within 40 minutes of being hooked up to the pig liver, McArdle opened her eyes. The pig liver was working at detoxifying her blood. After four and a half hours the pig liver was removed. Shortly thereafter a human donor-liver was found and McArdle was transplanted. She is alive today.

These same doctors performed this procedure on two other patients in l997. In January of that year, a woman was hooked up to a pig liver for 11 hours but later died on the operating table. In May, a young man who had a failed liver transplant was hooked up to a pig liver for 6 hours, transplanted two more times unsuccessfully, and finally died of infection.

In November of that same year, Health Canada, lead by Minister Alan Rock, held a national forum on xenotransplantation in Ottawa. The forum was by invitation only. Workshops were held in camera - no public, no media. According to the forum report, those in attendance agreed "there was not enough knowledge to justify starting clinical trials in the near future." But what about the pig liver procedures at the Montreal hospital just a few months earlier? Experiments with human beings were already taking place.

Andre La Prairie is the spokesperson for the Health Protection branch - Canadian's health watchdog. He also manages its Blood, Organ and Xenograft Project. La Prairie had never heard about the three pig liver procedures done at The Royal Victoria Hospital. In fact, he was surprised that they could have occurred at all.

In an email and a subsequent fax, La Prairie wrote, "I am surprised at your suggestion that pig liver transplants have taken place in Canada for the year l997. These activities have not been made public in any other Canadian forum...current knowledge on the risks and issues would not make this kind of procedure possible in a Canadian hospital without everyone knowing about it...perhaps you have been given incorrect dates or information."

Dr. Tector and Dr. Tchervenkov confirm the dates, one in l994 and two in l997. They haven't made an effort to hide the procedures either. In January, l995, McArdle's case made the front page of The Montreal Gazette.

La Prairie couldn't account for why Health Canada was not apprised of the Montreal cases. "They didn't tell us about it. It's a bit of a mystery how a procedure like that, especially in today's climate and with what we know about the dangers, that we wouldn't know about it or at least hear about it at international meetings or national forums."

La Prairie says it is the responsibility of Health Canada to "remind" physicians and hospitals that it is the regulator but he says hospitals need to get approval from Health Canada to do procedures like these. "They are supposed to inform Health Canada."

Dr. Tector, an American who plans on returning there for two years to start a xenograft laboratory, says he has spoken publicly about the procedures, just not in Canada. He says he didn't know what the regulatory bodies were in Canada. He says he didn't come forward with the procedure and findings at Health Canada's national forum on xenotransplantation in l997 because neither he nor Tchervenkov were invited.

"We aren't Santa Claus," says La Prairie. "We don't know about everyone who does anything in Canada. We tried our best to find people doing work in this field," he says.

Another Health Canada spokesperson, Bonnie Fox-McIntyre explains, "It was our first look at the issue and we wanted to set up a balance." She says they needed a mixture of medical, legal, ethics experts, men and women and people from Canada and abroad. She couldn't explain why the Montreal doctors who had first hand knowledge and experience, and success in McArdle's case, weren't invited but said there were experts invited from other countries. As for Health Canada not being informed of the Montreal procedures, she says "if people are choosing not to tell us what they're doing they're beyond our control."

At the time, there were no guidelines or standards available in Canada regarding the use of animal organs and tissues in humans. Draft guidelines had been released by the United States Food and Drug Administration in l996. But, since the l970's it was well known in medical research circles there were dangers in using animal tissue and organs in humans. Dangers of spreading viruses and other infectious agents from the animal to the patient and the larger community.

The pig liver used in l994 saved McArdle's life, but did it also threaten the lives of hundreds, thousands or millions of others?

Many of the worlds worst plagues and epidemics are believed to have originated from animals. The influenza virus of l918 that killed between 20 and 40 million worldwide is now believed to have originated from pigs. Malaria, the Bubonic Plague, Ebola, Hantavirus and the human version of mad-cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, are all thought to have originated from animals. Even HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, is thought to have originated from primates.

In March of l997, Robin A. Weiss and his colleagues reported in Nature Medicine that viruses from pig cells could infect human cells in-vitro, that is, outside of the human body in a laboratory. His studies showed that porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs), part of the pigs genetic material are not harmful to the pig but could infect human cells. His findings were discussed at the Health Canada forum in l997.

The forum report states "It is not known whether PERVs can infect human cells in real life, whether infected humans could transmit PERVs among humans, or whether human infections would result in disease or be the source of a new AIDS-like epidemic."

According to Weiss, since the retroviruses are part of the DNA, their threat can only be removed by choosing a pig breed that doesn't have them. However, a follow-up study showed the viruses were found in a wide variety of pig breeds, including the breeds onsidered for human transplants.

Even prior to Weiss's findings, there was some trepidation about the possibility of infecting humans. The US Food and Drug Administration draft guidelines stated that donor animals should be from"screened, closed herds or colonies that are well-characterized and as free as possible of infectious agents. Animals should have documented lineages and be bred and reared in captivity."

However, the pig in McArdle's case came from a regular farm. "We bathed the pig and made it sterile, but that didn't address the viral issues," says Dr. Tector, one of the surgeons who performed the procedure. "It may or may not make any difference." But just to be sure, Mavis McArdle has had blood taken every year since the surgery. Tector guesses the possibility of infecting people with PERVs is small.

"If you go back 100, 200 years and try to predict what the next horrible virus is going to be, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack except you don't know what the needle is. The only way to find out is to do the transplants."

The use of animal tissues or organs in Canada falls under the Food and Drug Act. "Part of the onus is on us to remind or announce to transplant programs that we are the regulator," admits La Prairie. But according to Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, this just isn't happening. She used to be the Senior physician responsible for prescription drugs and clinical trials and prescription drug approvals at the Health Protection Branch. She resigned in January, l996 because of the failure of Health Canada at the time to address the health hazards related to a heart drug. Edwards says it is the responsibility of Health Canada to inform physicians and hospitals directly about the Food and Drug Act, but she says "my guess is their just letting people find out by happenstance." She says doctors just wouldn't have a clear idea of what their responsibilities are under the Food and Drug Act.

The way it's supposed to work is that anyone wanting to do a clinical trial using xenografts must make a submission to the Therapeutic Products Programme of Health Canada where it will be reviewed in detail and a decision made within 60 days.

While a great deal of pre-clinical research (not on humans) is going on across Canada, no applications for clinical trials for xenografts have ever been received by Health Canada, says La Prairie. This could soon change.

In a recent Globe and Mail article it was reported that researchers from universities in Guelph, Toronto and London plan to use "for the first time" the livers of genetically engineered pigs to keep transplant patients alive by the end of this year. While the procedure is identical to what has already taken place in Montreal, they were not mentioned in the article. The only difference is this time the pigs are part human - developed by U.K company Imutran.

Gilles Gagnon is the Vice President of External Affairs at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Inc., the company sponsoring the project to the tune of $1 - billion (U.S.) He says a human gene was introduced into the fertilized egg of a pig to create a new transgenic pig with a genetically modified liver. Two generations of these lab created piglets are now housed in sterile, isolated conditions at the University of Guelph, where they await the removal of their livers. He says the project's first step will be to attach the livers to monkeys. "We have to make sure there will be absolutely no transmission of viruses. We also have to eliminate the possibility of biochemical transformations." Gagnon is refering to the possibility that sugar metabolism, cholesterol or proteins could be affected by the pig liver. He says it's just a matter of confirming results they have been collecting worldwide. However, Gagnon had never heard of the Montreal procedures either.

Lead researcher for the project, Dr. Gary Levy, says he had heard about the McArdle case, but not the others. He hesitated to comment on the Montreal procedures exept to say that "science should be done in a way that we can evaluate the benefits and risks of what we're doing." He says future trials must be done under controlled conditions with guidelines in place. "Right now there are no rules - there's a void, a vacuum...there is no way to control what people do."

Controlling what people do is key to protecting public health, says Levy. "If it isn't safe, there will be no way to protect the public - they have to be informed of what is going on."

Levy and his team plan to go to the federal government next month to get permission to start the trials on humans.

According to La Prairie the draft guidelines are almost ready. Once released they will go to experts, transplant programs and to the public.

But, he says, public sentiment will have little bearing on Health Canada's decision. "We don't have to complete our public work to say yes or no to a trial," he says. "The purpose of the public consultation is to develop appropriate policy - we want to make sure we're crossing our t's and dotting our i's." Bartha Maria Knoppers is a lawyer and professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Montreal. She is also part of a research group in Montreal looking at xenotransplantation.

"The public has not been adequately involved in this and surely Health Canada should be using regional offices to organize public events. You don't want an ad-hoc post-fact approach like we had with Dolly in l997 or Louise Brown in l978. This has to stop." Knoppers says that with an issue that could potentially affect entire populations, there has to be informed consent from all affected, not just the patient and their family. "I don't think it should be a local matter only, it should be national."

Dr. Michael Gross, a surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, attended the Health Canada forum and acted as forum co-chair as well as chair of a Xenotransplantation Expert Working Group. In the forum report, Gross states "transplantation of viable cells, tissues or organs from animals into humans is not an acceptable therapy at this time and any standard we would generate must describe a complete ethical and scientific framework for proposed clinical trials." He goes on to say that the public must be informed of the benefits and risks of xenotransplantation before any clinical trials take place.

But how can the public consent if they aren't consulted? Up to now the public has been absent from the debate. Health Canada's forum was in camera. However, pharmaceutical companies, such as Novartis, Imutran, Genzyme Corp. and Diacrin were invited and participated.

Most of the research being done worldwide today is funded by the private sector and the expected profits to be made by transforming animals into organ and tissue factories is astronomical. One estimate is that by the year 2010, there will be a need for over 500,000 pig organs alone - a revenue of $10-12 billion in the drug industry. Levy dismissed the possibility that business interests could influence the results. "We will not proceed regardless of the potential financial gain unless it is proven beneficial and the risk is low."

But Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards disagrees. She says she resigned from Health Canada because "over and over the public interest was being unlawfully compromised for pharmaceutical interests." Brill- Edwards says regulations are what preserve and protect the public interest, but since the l970's the political climate has been to deregulate. At Health Canada this has translated to mean no new programs, cuts to existing programs and a general decline in expertise, she says. "After 20 years of deregulation, most of the agencies are under the gun." Brill-Edwards doubts that public opinion will have much sway with Health Canada. "When a company like Novartis, one of the top five pharmaceutical companies in the world, walks into a country and throws around that kind of money who's going to stop them?"

Brill-Edwards says politicians such as Alan Rock and Prime Minister Chretien have made it clear to Canadians that what's good for business is good for Canadians. She worries about who is going to keep business honest and make sure the health of Canadians isn't compromised. "That's what Health Canada is supposed to be doing. Instead, incentives are high to take risks, take shortcuts and speed on the highway to profit where human beings become road kill."

Since our intitial interview about a month ago, La Prairie says he has tried to contact the Montreal doctors, but his calls haven't been returned.


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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