Date: 12 Feb 1999 02:45:45 -0600
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty)
Thursday February 11, 9:25 pm Eastern Time
WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - A handful of food "clusters' -- alliances of producers and processors -- will dominate world food production in the future, deciding who eats and reducing farmers to day laborers, a U.S. farm group said on Thursday.
The agribusiness goliaths of today will grow ever-bigger and intertwine to direct each step of the food chain from seed to the grocery shelf, the activist National Farmers Union said.
Three clusters already were apparent, it said -- Conagra (NYSE:CAG - news), Cargill/Monsanto (NYSE:MTC - news) and Novartis AG/Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM - news). The trend to a privately centralized food system puts our food security NFU president Leland Swenson said, in urging a moratorium on large-scale mergers in the agricultural sector.
NFU unveiled its study, written by a University of Missouri professor, at a House Agriculture Committee hearing on concentration in farming. There is concern in farm country that mergers give too much power to big firms and make it harder for farmers to get a fair price for their crops and livestock. They (farmers) are going to find themselves having to go out and be Swenson said, which would mean following orders on what to grow and when. are in a by owning a sizable part of the food supply and wanting to profit from it. will develop with numbers limited by access to biotechnology rights. The would form through joint ventures, partnerships, acquisitions, contracts and side agreements.
It used the existence of such links, even if they involved comparatively small operations, in sketching the clusters.
Cargill Inc, the world's largest grain exporter, and Monsanto Co, a biotech leader, were grouped based on a joint venture set in 1998 on seed marketing. There are a host of major players in the food system which are not the report Most likely, some of them will join together to form new food chain clusters, while others may join the clusters we
For example, it said, seed companies Pioneer (NYSE:PHB - news) and Mycogen could anchor new clusters, or Bunge, one of the world's leading grain traders, could align itself with a meat processor like Tyson Foods.
Conagra was listed as a food cluster by itself because it is the No 2 food processor as well as a leader in meatpacking and grain milling. supermarket to the and Novartis, a seed and pesticide giant, were because of a joint venture to develop specialty corn hybrids for food and feed uses.
A Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank economist, Mark Drabenstott, said the nation was seeing the development of that linked farmers with processors to produce lower-cost, higher-value foods.
Unlike the NFU, he said farmers and consumers could benefit, farmers by getting paid more for specializing their output and consumers by getting desirable foods.
Date: 12 Feb 1999 03:04:25 -0600
From: email@example.com (jim mcnulty)
Journal of Commerce,
Publication Date: February 11, 1999
© Copyright 1999, _____via IntellX_____
Seeds of hope or seeds of despair? American agribusiness giant [ Monsanto Corp. ] says it has a new plant that will be a boon for India's poor cotton farmers -- one bred with a naturally occurring substance known as "Bt" that repels insects.
But the sales campaign has run into a maelstrom of criticism born of Indians' fears about the mysteries of science and of their suspicions about the motives of multinational corporations.
In recent months, farmers raided small fields in southern India where Monsanto is testing its genetically modified Bt cotton. The Andhra Pradesh state government then had its officials yank out the plants, even though the federal government approved the tests.
The tests are a step in a long certification process that Monsanto must fulfill before it can sell Bt cotton seeds in India, the world's third biggest producer of cotton.
Despite the anti-Monsanto protests, the head of the federal biotechnology department, Manju Sharma, said the government is satisfied with the tests so far. Mr. Sharma, a plant physiologist, said government scientists are carefully monitoring Monsanto's field trials.
Seven years ago, India opened its economy to foreign companies, but a bitter debate continues over just how much foreign participation should be allowed.
Leftists often portray U.S. companies and others as monsters bent on destroying India's own industry and slashing jobs, while rightists say India has the strength to go it alone.
Suspicion about the motives of foreign giants wasn't helped last year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a private seed company, Pineland and Delta, patented a way to make plants produce sterile seeds.
Environmentalists in India joined a chorus of protests worldwide that multinational companies could control food supplies by denying farmers the centuries-old practice of saving seeds from each harvest for planting.
Critics say that with big companies controlling a growing portion of the seed market, farmers would be forced to buy so-called "terminator" seeds when a bad crop left them short of seeds.
Some scientists also worry that pollen from "terminator" plants could alter other crops in an area and make them sterile, too.
Monsanto bought Pineland and Delta and lobbied to get exclusive rights to the sterile seed patent.
Newspapers and farmers groups in India whipped up a frenzy that Monsanto's Bt cotton had a terminator gene, even though the technology is still only a concept and no seed has been produced in the world containing a terminator.
Monsanto's marketing manager in India, Mark Wells, says Indian farmers who are growing its genetically engineered Bt cotton agreed to participate in the test after being instructed about the plant.
The government maintains Monsanto and its technology will be good for India. Mr. Sharma says Bt cotton could save Indian farmers millions of dollars on pesticides, adding that the government is committed to introducing genetic engineering in the farming sector.
Date: 12 Feb 1999 06:25:14 -0600
20 leading scientists from around the world have stated that Dr. Putzai's research at Rowett is sound and would pass peer review and would be published!!!!!!!!!! Well done everybody who worked on that wherever you are....
Dr. Jack Cunningham is in a 'spin' about that and more confusion over what English Nature did or did not say. More later when I have time to scan everything in - unless someonelse (hopefully) does it first.
Paul Davis Natural Law Party UK
Date: 12 Feb 1999 06:29:45 -0600
The Government is facing demands to ban genetically-modified foods after scientists backed alarming findings of a publicly discredited colleague.
Dr Arpad Pusztai was suspended by the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen and ordered to retire last August after claiming Government-funded research showed rats which ate genetically-modified potatoes suffered damage to their immune systems.
The institute said that Dr Pusztai had released "misleading information" and that he had been talking about the wrong potatoes. However a group of 20 international scientists who examined Dr Pusztai's findings said they could find nothing wrong with his conclusions.
In another development, Cabinet Office Minister Dr Jack Cunningham found himself at odds with the advisory group English Nature over the development of some genetically modified crops.
One of the scientists who came out in support of Dr Pusztai, Vyvyan Howard, a toxipathologist from Liverpool University, said his findings deserved to be taken seriously.
Meanwhile English Nature has written to Tony Blair warning that crops genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides should not be released for use until research is completed on the long-term health risks in three years time. Friends of the Earth went further, calling for an immediate five-year freeze on the licensing and cultivation of GM foods.
Dr Cunningham was accused of quoting selectively from English Nature chairman Baroness Young's letter when in the Commons he accused the Tories of "irresponsibly" claiming English Nature was on their side in calling for a three-year pause on the so-called Frankenstein foods.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Dr Cunningham again contested the suggestion that English Nature had called for a complete moratorium on genetically modified food.
"What English Nature said was 'English Nature is not against modification per se ... We are not asking for a moratorium on commercial release of all genetically modified crops'.
"That's a quotation from a letter from the chairman of English Nature to the Prime Minister and to me, so we are not ignoring their advice," said Dr Cunningham.
Date: 12 Feb 1999 12:18:12 -0600
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty)
For Immediate Release February 11th 1999
Greenpeace today (11th February 1999) welcomed a vote in the European Parliament (EP), which tightens the regulations governing the release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Europe. The vote will have direct implications on international negotiations on the handling and transportation of GMOs starting in Colombia tomorrow.
"This constitutes a strong signal to the international community, the biotech industry and the UK Government that there remain extensive worries about genetically engineered crops in food. The 175 governments negotiating the Biosafety Protocol tomorrow must adopt the precautionary principle and strict international rules," said Greenpeace Director, Dr Doug Parr.
The European Parliament demanded that the socio-economic impacts and full liability should be part of the legal framework. It was agreed that liability for genetically engineered crops should rest with the biotech industry and that companies wishing to release GMOs into the environment must get compulsory insurance.
The Parliament demanded the prevention of gene transfer from GMOs to other crops or wild species. A ban was also agreed on antibiotic resistance genes in genetic crops. It was the concern about antibiotic resistance that has just caused the UK to rule against the approval of a new cotton seed crop developed by Monsanto.
The European Parliament also accepted the European Commissions proposal to issue approvals for GMO releases only for a limited time.
Greenpeace also welcomed the explicit ban of any GMO export without a prior consent of the import country.
"Let's hope, in light of this, the concerns of Europe's citizens are not bulldozed in international horse trading tomorrow," added Parr.
------------- ENDS --------------------------
(1) The Biosafety Protocol is a set of international rules governing the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), mainly genetically engineered crops. Releasing GMOs into the environment threatens traditional crops and may disrupt ecosystems and ultimately reduce biodiversity. There may also be human health implications. The Biosafety Protocol has been set up by the international community to contain these risks. However, the rules have not yet been finalised and the way they are formulated will be crucial to their effectiveness.
For further information please contact the Greenpeace press office on 0171 865 8255/6/7/8
Date: 12 Feb 1999 12:30:02 -0600
From: email@example.com (jim mcnulty)
By BioWorld, © Copyright 1999, American Health Consultants, February 12, 1999
BioWorld via NewsEdge Corporation : WASHINGTON - Starting this weekend, more than 160 nations will enter final negotiations on a Biosafety Protocol in Cartagena, Columbia, that could severely restrict the trade of a wide swath of products exported by U.S. manufacturers, including foodstuffs, textiles and pharmaceuticals.
With global trade opportunities hanging in the balance, the U.S. has no seat at the negotiating table. Nevertheless, a contingent of State Department officials and representatives from a number of potentially affected industries will make the trip to Cartagena, in an attempt to sway the voting delegations into adopting more trade friendly policies.
"For the key issues in this protocol, there are a number of proposals, " said Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). "And [although] most of those proposals are bad, a few may be palatable. We really don't know what will happen."
The protocol is a part of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, and was originally aimed at ensuring that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) do not overwhelm native organisms, inhibit their ecological niche and cause their extinction. In other words, the convention wanted to ensure that genetically modified seed crops capable of reproduction do not wreak havoc on native species of plants by "out-competing" them.
Negotiations on the protocol have been ongoing in some fashion since 1992, but formally began in 1996. As the negotiations proceeded, some countries lobbied to expand the protocol to include all products that are derived from GMOs. This proposal risks putting in place an entirely new set of regulations that would require additional permits for any product that fits this description, including products such as recombinant insulin, garments and textiles made from genetically modified cotton, detergents using enzymes as cleaning agents, and a host of raw and processed food products.
Karil Kochenderfer, director of international trade and environmental affairs at the Grocery Manufactures of America, said cotton is "one of the crops where biotechnology has made the largest penetration. By expanding the scope of the treaty, [officials] have lost sight of the fact that biotechnology is an area where sound environmental policy and sound trade policy go hand in hand."
President Clinton has signed the Convention on Biodiversity, but Congress has not ratified it. In fact, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has never placed the item on the committee's agenda - in effect, tabling the treaty. As a result, the U.S., the country with the world's largest biotechnology industry, has no vote in the proceedings in Cartagena.
Instead, the U.S. must rely on nations with similar interests to ensure the protocol doesn't include all products derived from GMOs. Giddings said environmental groups opposed to biotechnology (such as Greenpeace) and several developing nations - India and Malaysia among them - have lobbied for strict regulations. They argue that little is known about the effects of releasing GMOs into the environment. In addition, some nations are proposing strict regulations in an effort to trigger technology transfer.
Many members of the European Union, Australia and New Zealand are lobbying for a much narrower definition of products covered under the treaty.
"The definition of the products covered under this treaty is critical, " Giddings said. "If the scope includes pharmaceuticals, we have a train wreck on our hands. If it is expanded beyond the original intent of the convention, we have serious problems with it."
Sara Radcliffe, research manager of biologics and biotechnology at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said her group is lobbying to ensure the protocol doesn't include human pharmaceuticals or research materials.
The Biosafety Protocol could take several different turns. At its most innocuous, the protocol could simply ratify current biotechnology regulation methods, which are left to individual countries, and could ensure countries do not use those regulatory barriers to unfairly block trade. Or, the countries could elect a new regulatory regime - one that covers the totality of biotechnology, and places strict limits on transfers of products derived from GMOs.
Kochendorfer said that, usually in such negotiations, "people meet and meet and meet, and a consensus begins to build. This protocol seems to be building more and more dissonance. The outcome is really uncertain."
Giddings noted that the entire argument over the protocol has obscured a basic fact about biotechnology, which is that it serves to protect rather than hinder biodiversity.
"The greatest threat to biodiversity is not biotechnology," he said. "It's razing the rainforest to plant crops to feed an expanding population. What biotechnology offers is the opportunity to plant on existing agricultural land more-sustainable, higher-yielding crops." *
Date: 12 Feb 1999 12:30:31 -0600
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty)
Legal Issues (Patent Protection); "The European Directive on the Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions."
By Binns, R.; Driscoll, B.
SOURCE: Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Patents, December 1998;8(12):1729-1735.
© Copyright 1999, CW Henderson, February 12, 1999
Immunotherapy Weekly via NewsEdge Corporation : According to the authors' abstract of an article published in Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Patents, "The European Biotechnology Directive, which finally came into force on 30 July 1998, will clarify a number of issues in connection with patents for biotechnological inventions and has generally been welcomed by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. The Directive generally confirms that, in principle, patent protection should be available in all European Union (EU) countries for most biotechnological inventions, including human and non-human-derived gene sequences and cell- lines and transgenic plants and animals.
It should bring the laws of EU member states substantially in line with the practice which has already been adopted at the European Patent Office (EPO), although some confusion remains over the patentability of transgenic plants. Certain inventions will not be patentable on moral grounds, including processes for human cloning or germ line gene therapy, certain uses of human embryos, certain transgenic animals and human/animal chimeras. In many cases, the Directive will extend the scope of protection available for biotechnology patents so that the patentee can prevent unauthorized replication of patented biological material, although farmers will have the right to propagate transgenic crops and breed transgenic animals in certain circumstances.
Finally, the Directive also addresses issues arising from the interaction of patent and plant variety rights, the deposit of biological material in recognized institutions in connection with filing for a patent, and the provision of further information on the impact of the Directive and developments in biotechnology patent law by the European Commission to the European Parliament." The corresponding author for this study is: R Binns, Simmons & Simmons, Pharmaceut & Med Grp, 21 Wilson St, London EC2M 2TX, England. For subscription information for this journal, contact the publisher: Ashley Publ LTD, 1st Fl, the Library, 1 Shepherds Hill Highgate, London, England N6 5QJ.
Date: 12 Feb 1999 12:34:06 -0600
From: email@example.com (jim mcnulty)
Friday February 12 11:59 AM ET
BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) - Two varieties of genetically modified cotton marketed by U.S. biotechnology firm Monsanto Co (NYSE:MCT - news) have failed to win enough support from European Union governments to be approved for sale in the bloc, the EU said Friday.
The EU's executive Commission also said that the Netherlands, on behalf of Dutch company Avebe, had retracted a request for a genetically modified potato variety to be approved for sale on the 15-nation EU market.
The developments come at a time of intense debate in many EU countries about the safety of genetically modified food.
Although the Monsanto cotton varieties did not receive enough backing in a regulatory committee, the European Commission said a final decision on whether to approve them for the EU market must still be taken by environment ministers.
Monsanto is seeking approval to commercially grow and sell genetically modified cotton seeds in the EU, particularly in Spain and Greece. Its request was submitted to the EU through Spain in 1996.
An EU scientific committee concluded last year that there was no evidence that the cotton lines would be harmful to humans or the environment.
Commission spokesman Peter Jorgensen said that Thursday midnight was the deadline for the 15 EU member governments to send in their responses on whether they favored the release.
Tom McDermott, a spokesman for Monsanto Europe, said the company was There is he told Reuters.
He said one of the cotton varieties concerned, Bollgard, was insect-protected and could reduce the use of chemical insecticides by up to 50 percent. The other variety is herbicide-resistant. These two products are bringing well documented benefits to growers, as McDermott said, adding that both varieties were used in the United States.
Jorgensen also said that the Dutch authorities, on behalf of Avebe, had retracted a proposal to have the company's genetically modified potato released on the EU market.
The EU's Scientific Committee on Plants said last October that not enough study of possible risks had been carried out.
Date: 12 Feb 1999 15:28:10 -0600
Leader from the UK Guardian, Friday February 12, 1999
The pressure for a moratorium on genetically modified food - at least until more rigorous testing has been done - is beginning to look like a tidal wave. It has produced an unholy alliance of William Hague, John Redwood, leftward-leaning lobbies and the European Parliament (which yesterday voted for legislation that could make biotech companies legally responsible for the adverse effects of releasing organisms). Yesterday, the Consumers Association urged the Government to block further GM products pending overhaul of the regulatory system - the first call for a ban in its 40 year history.
There is a case for calling a halt if only to allow time for the fog to lift. Let's be clear: genetically modified food may turn out to be one of the great achievements of the twentieth century that will enrich our lives and bring cheaper, pesticide-free produce. Talk of Frankenstein foods is completely misleading. In the much longer run it may help to feed the poorer parts of the world by producing crops that grow in conditions of drought or salt (though no one yet knows how to do such things). But because of its very nature - manipulating the life process itself - it involves a huge leap into the unknown that could have truly fearsome consequences.
It is for this reason that new products must be tested in a far more rigorous and independent way even than other food products. The understandable desire of pioneering corporations to get an early return on the vast sums they have invested must not stand in the way of protecting the consumer. Memories of BSE are still too strong for new risks to be taken with the food chain when doubts remain.
There are several lessons to be drawn from the disturbing reports we published today of how suppressed research by Dr Arpad Pusztai linking genetically modified potatoes to health risks led an international group of 22 scientists to express their concern to the Guardian. The first is that if the safety of GM foods is a real issue - and it is then the research on which it is based must be open and beyond contention. The results of studies on rats of the kind Dr Pusztai has conducted are notoriously difficult to transfer to humans. If they had been we would have cured cancer ages ago. But that's not the point. Animal studies are our first line of defence and if research fails that test there is no point in pursuing it for humans unless proved otherwise.
Second, we should be doubly on alert when an issue like this is complicated by the spectre of business, science and government forcing through an unwelcome and uninvited extension of the run of foods on the public when the question how dangerous they could be is unanswered. Protagonists of GM foods would argue that it is a bit ironic that a public addicted to synthetic or junk foods should start worrying about tiny genetic alterations to staple crops that have been undergoing genetic alterations by random mutation, accident and natural selection for thousands of years. But, again, that's not the point. We can't rewrite the past, we can affect the future. And we simply don't know. The third lesson is to underline the necessity of labelling every food product that currently contains GM constituents in a clear way so people at least know what they are buying.
Tony Blair may feel that he is a victim of another media bandwagon - on to which Mr Hague was quick to jump. But that is not true. There is a growing consensus of people and experts of all persuasion deeply concerned about this leap into the unknown. Mr Blair should seize the initiative and declare a moratorium until further research can satisfy the burgeoning band of doubters.
Date: 12 Feb 1999 16:41:13 -0600
By Michael Sean Gillard, Laurie Flynn and Andy Rowell
Friday February 12, 1999
Twenty international scientists have signed an unprecedented memorandum supporting the controversial findings of suppressed research which found that rats fed on genetically modified potatoes suffered a weakened immune system and damage to vital organs.
In a report published for the first time today, the scientists from 13 countries also demand the immediate professional rehabilitation of the British scientist, Dr Arpad Pusztai, who discovered these preliminary findings last year and was forced to retire after speaking out about his concerns.
Dr Pusztai's pioneering research into the effects of GM crops on animal nutrition and the environment included feeding genetically modified (GM) potatoes to rats to determine for the first time whether they had any harmful effects on their guts, bodies, metabolism and immune system.
The unexpected results of the pounds 1.6 million Scottish Office-funded research project showed that after 10 days of feeding trials the development of the kidney, thymus, spleen and gut were adversely affected. The research also showed the rats' immune systems were weakened.
The Guardian can also reveal that the rats' brain size decreased. Dr Pusztai did not publish this at the time because he judged the political repercussions would be too severe.
A more recent piece of research on the same rats by senior pathologist, Dr Stanley Ewen, of Aberdeen University Medical School, is understood to validate Dr Pusztai's preliminary findings and points towards new potential health risks.
Dr Ewen found that rats fed the GM potatoes used in Dr Pusztai's experiments suffered from an enlarged stomach wall after 10 days of feeding trials.
The implications for the biotech industry, already suffering from a public backlash against GM foods, could be severe, says Dr Vyvyan Howard, a foetal and infant toxico-pathologist at Liverpool University, who also signed the memorandum.
'What this means for the industry is that they will have to do rigorous hazard assessment and do it repeatedly and monitor it.'
Jonathan Rhodes, Professor of Medicine at Liverpool University, said: 'One key problem that keeps coming back time and again is that regulation of food is nothing like as strict as the regulation for drugs. And when you start tinkering around with the genetic structure of food you have to move towards thinking of food products as pharmaceuticals.'
The memorandum demands an immediate funding programme to research the effects further and determine the causes.
If it can be shown that the lectin, a naturally occuring insect resistant protein inserted into the potato, was responsible, this could implicate GM crops containing other lectins, namely Bt toxin.
Last year there were approximately 7.7 million hectares of these crops, such as maize, planted worldwide. The maize is found in various forms, such as corn flour and tortilla chips, in British supermarkets.
However, some scientists believe that the problem may lie with one of the key genes that forms part of the genetic engineering process itself. The so-called cauliflower mosiac promoter is used in most GM foods available in the UK, such as soya, present in an estimated 60 per cent of processed foodstuffs.
It was these far reaching implications for one of the world's most aggressively expanding industries, that put Dr Pusztai in the eye of the storm since last August when he spoke out on ITV's World In Action.
He said he would not eat GM potatoes and found it 'very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs.'
Some of the scientists who have viewed the evidence believe that the circumstances surrounding Dr Pusztai's removal and the closing down of his research team cannot be understood outside of political and commercial parameters.
The Aberdeen-based Rowett Institute, where the research was done, said at the time of his removal that they were unhappy with his having made public the results of preliminary research which had not been subject to peer review. He was subsequently exonerated by an internal inquiry.
Date: 12 Feb 1999 16:41:39 -0600
Guardian UK, Friday February 12, 1999
|November 1995:||Pusztai/Rowett research begins.|
|December 1996:||Dr Pusztai warns Ministry of Agriculture in writing to 'have proper experiments' on GM maize. 'Do not leave it to chance.'|
|March 1997:||Tony Blair asks Prof James to draw up FSA blueprint.|
|January 1998:||Dr Pusztai expresses concern on BBC about weakened immune systems in rats fed GM potatoes.|
|April 1998:||World in Action asks Pusztai/Rowett for interview on GM potato research.|
|April 1998:||Dr Pusztai tells government inspectors about preliminary findings.|
|April 1998:||Annual Rowett staff meeting; senior management told of preliminary results|
|May 1998:||World in Action informs Monsanto of intended programme. Company seeks more information on content of Pusztai interview.|
|June 1998:||Government inspectors' report criticises Rowett Institute but praises Dr Pusztai's department.|
|June 1998:||Additional funding to continue Pusztai research denied by Scottish Office and by Rowett Institute (CHK).|
|August 10, 1998:||World in Action film broadcast. Dr Pusztai says he would not eat GM potatoes. Prof James issues press release praising Dr Pusztai.|
|August 11, 1998:||Demand in Commons for moratorium on GM food sales. Prof James issues second press release backing Dr Pusztai.|
|August 12, 1998:||Prof James suspends Dr Pusztai, announces emergency audit of his research and regrets release of "misleading information".|
|August 14, 1998:||Monsanto attacks World in Action and Dr Pusztai.|
|August 21, 1998:||Audit report completed by Rowett.|
|October 21, 1998:||Government announces one year moratorium. Government sets up cabinet committee on bio-techonology and GM foods.(CHK)|
|October 1998:||Stanley Ewen completes rat stomach analysis. Identifies further organ damage in rats.|
|October 1998:||Dr Pusztai reconfirms original findings in reply to audit report.|
|October 28, 1998:||Audit report released. Clears Dr Pusztai of fraud but says his findings are not supported by the data. Prof James tells that Dr Pusztai "exonerated".|
|February 4, 1999:||Government food safety committee asks Dr Ewen for research details.|
|February 14, 1999:||Bio-safety convention begins in Cartagena, Colombia.|
Date: 12 Feb 1999 16:43:20 -0600
Laurie Flynn, Michael Gillard and Andy Rowell
on the tests on rats that raised serious questions about the effects of genetically modified food on internal organs
Friday February 12, 1999
Last week in parliament William Hague asked Tony Blair why the Government was ignoring advice from its environmental advisers to call a three-year moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) crops until more research is done.
The Prime Minister, wary of mounting public concern, especially in middle England, replied ebulliently: "It is important that we proceed on the basis of the scientific evidence. The first stage of meeting public concern is to debate the information."
Today the Guardian publishes for the first time worrying details of publicly funded scientific research. The authors, two eminent British scientists, demand that he Government honours its commitment to transparency on the issue of biotechnology and initiates an immediate evaluation of the potential health risks.
They are backed by 20 international scientists, who call on the Government to release further funding for follow-up research and the clearing of one of the authors who has been maligned.
The story begins in October 1995 when the Scottish Office commissioned a research project from the Aberdeen-based Rowett Research Institute into the effect of GM crops on animal nutrition and the environment. This included, for the first time, feeding GM potatoes to rats to see if they had any harmful effects on their guts, bodies, metabolism and health.
A former senior Scottish Office official involved in commissioning the project told the Guardian there was "little regard" at the time for research into the human nutritional and environmental consequences of GM foods. The £1.6m research grant was allocated to redress this imbalance. Dr Arpad Pusztai, a senior research scientist at the Rowett, beat off 28 other tenders to coordinate the project. He has always kept an open mind about GM foods and conditionally supported their release as long as there were rigorous and independent trials.
The other members of the project were the Dundee-based Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) and Durham University biology department who grew the GM potato used in the feeding trials. All three bodies had links with the biotech industry through the pursuit of commercial research contracts.
There was no reason to believe that the research project would produce the controversial findings that could threaten the scientific foundations of the biotech industry they sought to embrace.
In December 1996, Dr Pusztai suddenly became aware of the inadequate level of existing scientific trials on GM maize when a member of the Government's Advisory Committee on Novel Food Production (ACNFP) asked him to assess the validity of a licensing application from one of the industry's leading companies.
He faxed his two-page assessment to the Ministry of Agriculture warning that tests into nutritional performance, toxicology or allergenicity were insufficient and inadequate.
In his final paragraph he asked for "proper experiment" with the GM plants and added: "Do not leave it to chance."
There was no legal requirement for further tests to be carried out and approval for licensing was granted.
His own project, now a year old, was also presenting difficulties. Rows had broken out after preliminary findings emerged from Dr Pusztai's team and the SCRI and Durham University's biology department showed growing discomfort sources told the Guardian about the validity of some of his methodology and the implication of the results.
A Scottish Office immunologist was called in. She approved the methodology used by Dr Pusztai's team.
The preliminary results of Dr Pusztai's work had begun to show unexpected and worrying changes in the size and weight of the rats' bodily organs. The team found liver and heart sizes were decreasing worse still, the brain was getting smaller. There were also indications of a weakening of the immune system.
With so many unanswered questions, far more public money would be needed, Dr Pusztai concluded. But the Guardian understands that the Scottish Office and the Rowett Institute declined his funding requests.
For Dr Pusztai, the funding crisis and the prospect of his unexpected results not being published led him to reconsider his attitude to the media.
In January last year he appeared, with the Rowett Institute's permission, on BBC2's Newsnight and voiced his concerns in measured terms about weakening of the immune system in the rats fed GM potatoes.
In April, Granada TV's World in Action approached Dr Pusztai and again with the institute's consent he gave an interview which was broadcast in the documentary that August.
Dr Pusztai told ITV viewers that he would not eat GM food. He found it "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs. We have to find [them] in the laboratory," he insisted.
Two days later Dr Pusztai was summarily suspended and forced to retire by the Rowett Institute's director, Professor Philip James, who had personally cleared the interview with Granada and put his name to official press releases supporting the programme.
Dr Pusztai was denied access to his research data and an internal investigation by the Rowett's senior management was launched after unsourced allegations of scientific fraud against Dr Pusztai appeared in a scientific journal.
Six months later, the truth about what happened in those two days is still shrouded in mystery. The Pusztai camp claim there was industry and political pressure on the institute to silence him but a press release at he time stated that Dr Pusztai had presented provisional data in public without peer review.
This week the institute director declined to discuss the matter or to be interviewed by the Guardian. The deputy director, David Blair, also refused all requests for further information.
But the institute did complete an audit report in August last year with the input of two outside scientists. The report concluded that the research data did not link GM potatoes to any health risks.
Dr Pusztai wrote his reply once he was allowed access to his data. He strongly re-confirmed his findings.
In another twist, Professor James gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee on European regulation of GM in agriculture on the same day last October that his audit report was published.
Asked about events at the institute, Professor James told the Lords "there is no question of any malpractice [by Dr Pusztai]." He apologised for the confusion, saying: "Dr Pusztai has come out of this audit review exonerated."
As for Dr Pusztai's conclusions, they remained unproven, said the Rowett report. Dr Pusztai was not called to the committee hearing. But the Guardian understands that a Liberal Democrat MP, Archy Kirkwood, provided the Lords with a copy of the scientist's alternative report.
By October, Dr Stanley Ewen, a pathologist at Aberdeen University Medical School, working on Dr Pusztai's team, was finalising his measurements on stomach sections of rats used in Dr Pusztai's experiments.
Dr Ewen believed he had established that something in the GM potato had caused elongation of a section of the stomach. In addition, after 10 days' feeding, a section of the stomach wall had increased dramatically.
The Guardian has seen evidence of this and also learned that Dr Ewen did not expect these results. According to a source close to the research, the differences caused Dr Ewen concern.
As a result of the preliminary findings, Dr Ewen and Dr Pusztai are strongly in favour of more research to further test their controversial results and their implications for human beings. The scientists are anxious not to repeat the mistakes of the BSE scandal.
They are asking for further funding to examine these problems in a more benign atmosphere away from the secrecy, intrigue and recriminations of the past six months.
The treatment of Dr Pusztai and the virtual disbandment of his research team led the international group of 20 scientists to go public. Two of the signatories have worked for the institute. Both were concerned about the attack on scientific freedom.
Dr Kenneth Lough, aged 71, who was the principal science officer at the Rowett Institute for 31 years until he retired 12 years ago, attacked the "draconian position" taken by the institute in suspending Dr Pusztai without the proper "free exchange" of data.
The absence of this free exchange of publicly funded data would be useful to the GM industry which is unable to convince the British public about the quality of their product.
The 20 scientists want to know why the changes in organ size and weight are taking place whether the problem was the new gene or the method of transplanting.
Alternatively, was it the "virus promoter" the "light switch" which GM companies are using to turn on the genes? Increasingly, the Pusztai team began to focus on the promoter, the so-called cauliflower mosaic virus.
Preliminary analysis redoubled their anxieties and with it the possible implications for the GM industry. This was the same virus that had already been used in the modified tomato paste, soya oils and maize that the Government and the European Union had approved for use in industrial and convenience foods and which were making their way into hundreds of products on supermarket shelves.
Dr Pusztai's preliminary research also questions the safety testing for the products the biotech industry is bringing to the supermarket shelves, in some cases unlabelled. None of the food that has been approved for consumption in the UK has undergone long-term feeding trials.
"One key problem that keeps coming back time and again is that regulation of food is nothing like as strict as the regulation for drugs," Professor Jonathan Rhodes, of Liverpool University, told the Guardian. "And when you start tinkering around with the genetic structure of food you have to move towards thinking of them as pharmaceuticals."
Vyvyan Howard, also of Liverpool University, added: "We are saying that we need a moratorium."
The vast majority of the British support this call, although Tony Blair's government stands by the biotech industry, recently putting another £13 million into the DTI's Biotechnology means Business programme. A Mori poll last June showed 77 per cent of respondents in favour of a moratorium; 61 per cent did not wish to eat GM food.
A clear sign of the importance attached to the unpublished research was given last week in private by the Nick Tomlinson, secretary to the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods.
In a letter to Dr Ewen on February 4, he stated: "If there are lessons to be learned, it is vital that these are taken on board as soon as possible." He asked for Dr Ewen's research as "a matter of urgency".
At the weekend, British negotiators will fly to Colombia to negotiate the Biosafety Protocol in an attempt to set up international regulations governing GM organisms.
The Government is being criticised by many countries pushing for rigorous safety assessments in the protocol. Tewolde Egziabher, representing the African nations argues that "the position of the UK delegation is shaped by corporate interest, probably reinforced by transatlantic pressure."
Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, argues: "Our aim is to establish a predictable, science-based and transparent regime which establishes controls proportionate to the risks."
Will these new findings force Tony Blair to change Britain's negotiating position to adopt a stance based on the precautionary principle? Mr Blair's position on GM organisms is now at odds with public opinion.
Labour MP Alan Simpson said: "What on earth would it take to put the people's government at such a remove from the people that they have a delegation flying out to Colombia on Sunday that could end up signing the country to an agreement that prevents interventions to protect human health?
"For a government that has been meticulous in courting middle income, middle England, there has to be a bigger explanation why they want to side with an industry increasingly heading towards zero public tolerance.
"I think as the Government we have an obligation to identify who frustrated this research? If Dr Pusztai is right, this could be BSE mark two.
"What is at stake here is the whole scrutiny process affecting human and environmental health."
Date: 12 Feb 1999 17:05:24 -0600
Friday February 12, 1999 Scientists speak out against 'serious flaws in the conclusions arrived at'
Twenty-two prominent scientists have signed a public statement in support of suspended food scientist Dr Arpad Pusztai, who lost his job last year for warning the British public of possible risks associated with the way bio-technology companies were introducing genetically modifed food without long-term feeding trials.
The scientists from 13 countries state that their independent examination of all the published data shows that Dr Pusztai was right to be concerned and should never have been attacked or suspended.
|Dr Malcolm Fuller, honorary research fellow of the Rowett Institute, Scotland:||'To my mind the most important data you have that is largely overlooked by the audit report relates to organ weights.'|
|Dr Kenneth Lough, FRSE, former principal scientific officer Rowett Institute 1956-87:||'In my view the evidence presented in the
audit report must be considered as unsafe
and is without justification for use against
the scientific reputation of Dr Pusztai.'
'The institute is at risk in sending out signals to scientists working in (this) field of research that any sign of apparent default will be treated with the utmost severity. The awareness will of course act as a strong deterrent to those who wish to conduct research in this vitally important field.'
|Professor Ronald Finn, University of Liverpool:||'At the very least they should have concluded that there may be an immunological effect. The full data should now be discussed.'|
|Professor Jonathan Rhodes, University of Liverpool:||'The conclusions drawn [by the audit report] from the facts are biased to an extent that in my opinion would not be deemed acceptable if subjected to peer review as for a scientific journal.'|
|Professor Ian Pryme, Bergen University, Norway, and honorary research fellow Rowett Institute:||'There are serious flaws in the conclusions which the auditing committee has arrived at. There can be little doubt that in light of the available data further detailed experimentation is certainly warranted in order to provide more thorough documentation concerning the possible detrimental effects of these diets.'|
|Professor Joe Cummins, Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University of Western Ontario, Canada:||'A great injustice appears to have been committed by a respected research institute. That institute continues to look inward to cover up its mistakes.'|
|Professor B.C. Goodwin, Schumacher College, Devon:||'I regret also that there has been no attempt on the part of the Rowett... to re-establish Dr Pusztai's high scientific credentials with the media after the damage done to him by the Director in reporting publicly that Dr Pusztai was responsible for producing confusion and muddle about the results and implications of his research, a charge later withdrawn. This is the most serious damage that any scientist can suffer and it requires rectification.'|
|Dr Vyvyan Howard, foetal and infant toxico-pathologist, Univeristy of Liverpool:||'An objective review of the data from these
experiments leads to the conclusion that
the consumption of GNA-GM potatoes
[modified with a snowdrop lectin] in rats
has led to significant differences in organ
weight and lymphocyte responsiveness.
Further work should be undertaken to
elucidate the meaning of these findings.
'A major problem with the [audit] report is that the authors have been selective with the data they have included, which makes an objective appraisal of their conclusions impossible from solely reading the audit report. I have the impression it was hastily compiled and systematically biased towards brushing aside your experimental finding.
'It is urgent that the full data from these experiments should be brought into the public arena and debated. Your findings are of considerable importance in the current debate on the safety and hazard assessment of genetically modified foods.'
|Professor S Pierzynowski, Dept. Animal Physiology, Lund University, Sweden:||'I must stress that there is enough strong evidence that the work of the audit group was not objective and per se dangerous, not only for Dr Pusztai but generally for free and objective science.'|
Those in favour...
The following scientists have signed the memorandum:
Date: 13 Feb 1999 01:12:47 -0600
From: MichaelP firstname.lastname@example.org
By Andrew Mullins and Frans Abrams, INDEPENDENT Feb 13
Members of the Government committee that advises ministers on genetically modified food are so deeply involved in genetic research that they are unlikely to question it, a member of the committee said last night.
Several members of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes have links to the biotechnology companies, while others are academics researching the subject.
Kate Venables, a senior lecturer at the National Heart and Lung Foundation, who was appointed to the committee in May last year, said its remit was too narrow for it to address public concerns. "Scientists who are desperately excited by the idea of genetic modification are not going to be deflected from this as an interesting and exiting research tool.
"If companies have put millions of pounds into research of something or other then I suspect the Government is going to listen to them. Wouldn't you?" she asked.
She was backed by other experts. Julie Shephard, of the Consumers' Association, was nominated by three organisations for a place on the committee but was rejected. There have been rumours that she was ruled out because of her sceptical views on the subject.
"I would not dream of accusing anybody of acting for improper reasons because of links with commercial interests. I don't think that happens. But I do think it happens in a more subtle way. You are hardly likely to question the fundamental assumptions about its safety if it would mean questioning your whole career," she said.
With political pressure mounting from biotechnology firms including the American corporation Monsanto, the Downing Street policy unit is now arguing that the spread of the foods in Britain is inevitable.
The view of Liz Lloyd, who has responsibility for the subject in the unit and who met Monsanto representatives last year, was apparent when Tony Blair ruled out a moratorium on the crops at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.
The only minister who has continued to argue for a moratorium, Michael Meacher, looks increasingly isolated on the subject.
The pressure for full-scale production of the crops is not just coming from companies within Britain, though. As reported in The Independent on Sunday last year, President Bill Clinton phoned Mr Blair to argue that Britain should accept genetically modified food. [snip]
By Steve Connor, Science Editor, INDEPENDENT Feb 13
A group of scientists warned of serious health dangers from eating genetically modified (GM) food yesterday, citing unpublished research allegedly showing that GM potatoes have damaged laboratory rats.
The independent scientists vigorously defended the work of Arpad Pusztai, an expert on plant toxins, who was forced to retire last year from his post at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen after prematurely releasing the results of his experiments to the World in Action television programme .
Twenty researchers from around the world have signed a memorandum condemning the way Dr Pusztai was treated by the Rowett Institute, which said the 68-year-old scientist had become "muddled" over an experiment that did not in fact involve genetically modified potatoes.
Dr Pusztai was suspended and his annual contract not renewed. He has since been told not to talk publicly about his work on GM potatoes by his former employer.
But yesterday Vyvyan Howard, a toxicologist from Liverpool University, released data from further experiments carried out by Dr Pusztai which, said Dr Howard, supports the principal conclusion that genetically modified food can be harmful to health.
Dr Howard said that "transgenic" potatoes, which had an added gene responsible for a plant toxin called a lectin, produced damaging effects on the immune systems and internal organs of the laboratory animals. "There is obviously something going on with this transgenic potato which is not just due to the lectins. We don't have an answer to that. It needs further research," he said.
Stanley Ewen, of the department of pathology at Aberdeen University, released preliminary results of his own experiments, which showed that animals fed on GM potatoes experienced the take-up of lectin proteins into the cells of their intestines. "It may be that in GM food a drug-delivery system has been created, delivering something you didn't want to," Dr Ewen said.
Another supporter of Dr Pusztai, Professor Brian Goodwin, of Schumacher College in Dartington, Devon, said the latest results will strengthen support for an immediate moratorium on the growth of GM crops, a ban on patenting genes and an independent inquiry into the use of genetic engineering by the food and agricultural industries.
Ronald Finn, past president of the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, said Dr Pusztai's research raised serious concerns. "Dr Pusztai's results to date at the very least raise the suspicion that genetically modified potatoes may damage the immune system." If that happened, he said, the consequences of something like a flu epidemiccould be extremely serious. "You can imagine a doomsday scenario. If the immune system of the population was weakened, then the mortality would be increased many, many times."
Other scientists criticised Dr Pusztai's supporters for taking his research out of context. Professor Ray Baker, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, said the potato experiments did not cast doubt on the safety of all GM food. "These potatoes were part of an experiment and were never intended for commercial production, nor are they available on the market," he said.
As the row over Dr Pusztai erupted, Tony Blair yesterday rejected calls for a moratorium on GM food and played down mounting concern. "There is no GM food that can be sold in this country without going through a very long regulatory process," he said on BBC radio. "Let's proceed on the basis of genuine scientific analysis and inquiry, proceed with very great care and caution and not get the facts mixed up."
Philip James, director of the Rowett Institute, vigorously defended his decision to suspend Dr Pusztai on the grounds that the lectin expert had become confused over key experiments on GM potatoes.
Dr James said that Dr Pusztai had claimed in media interviews to have found ill-effects on rats fed with GM potatoes with a lectin called GNA - a protein derived from the snowdrop plant - but in fact he had mistaken these results for those on ordinary potatoes that had been deliberately laced with high concentrations of another, highly toxic lectin called Con A, which would never be used in human food.
Dr James strongly denied that he had come under any political pressure to dismiss Dr Pusztai.
The environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth called on the Prime Minister yesterday to hold an inquiry into the affair.
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