21 February 99

Table of Contents

Cow's milk to be made more human with New Zealand DNA engineering
North and South Split over Genetic Engineering
EPA Is Sued Over Gene-Altered Crops
UK: "Frankenstein" groceries give Brits food for thought
Activists Challenge Biosafety Protocol
UK: Wildlife endagered by GM Crops
Some more UK Internet links
UK GE Scancal: The Next Big Thing
Britain Pushes Panic Button over Biotech Foods
Scientists get the pip over GM tomatoes
Genetically altered foods bring new health scare to Britain
Scientist must not be gagged
Frankenstein Foods
GM foods: What's the hurry ?
Ship Boarded In Colombia Protest Against Gene Crop
GM foods - Revealed: the secret report
GM foods - Current tests are inadequate protection

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

posted by: MichaelP

Cow's milk to be made more human with New Zealand DNA engineering

Agence France Presse

AUCKLAND, Feb 8 (AFP) - A New Zealand government research project is planning to put human genes into cows so that their milk is more like human breast milk, a scientist confirmed Monday.

The proposal has outraged the Green Party here which called for public debate on the proposition.

Ag.research, the government's biggest research institute at Ruakura, south of here, is running the project which scientist Phil L'Huillier said was a world first.

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

POSTED BY (jim mcnulty)

North and South Split over Genetic Engineering

February 18, 1999

CARTAGENA - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : Countries of the North and South have split on whether there should be free markets or barriers to trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at negotiations on a biosecurity protocol in this port city on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

A group of industrialized countries which export biotechnology, led by the United States -- whose Congress failed to ratify the Convention on Biodiversity in 1992 -- and allied with transnational corporations is pushing for free trade in transgenic products.

"Although neither the United States nor the biotechnology companies are participating in the official negotiations, their pressure has produced results," said Marijane Lisboa of the environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

"They have the support of industrialized nations such as Canada and New Zealand, and of countries from the South like Argentina and Uruguay," she said.

At the other end of the spectrum is a group of countries from the developing South led by Ethiopia and comprised of nearly all the other African nations, as well as Ecuador and Colombia and other countries with wide biodiversity.

This bloc is demanding a strong protocol that would hold ethical, environmental and socioeconomic principles above trade.

It has the support of leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Latin America, Europe and the United States, including Greenpeace, Rafi, Grain, the Third World Network and the World Wildlife Fund.

A third bloc, made up of European Union (EU) countries facing conflicting pressures from consumers, environmentalists and farmers, is seeking a protocol that would allow countries to bar imports of GMOs on the basis of concern over potential risks to health, the environment and the economy.

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

Thanks to (jim mcnulty) for posting the next 3 articles:

EPA Is Sued Over Gene-Altered Crops

By JANELLE CARTER, AP Farm Writer 18.02.99 22:42

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A growing trend of genetically altering crops with an ingrown biological pesticide is too risky for the environment, a coalition of environmentalists and organic farmers charged in a lawsuit Thursday. They want to force the government to end its approval of what are known as Bt crops.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by Greenpeace International, the Center for Food Safety and the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements charges the Environmental Protection Agency with "wanton destruction" of Bt, which it calls the "world's most important biological pesticide." "This is just another short term fix that industry is willing to use up," said Jane Rissler, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Added Kalee Kreider, a Greenpeace spokeswoman, "These crops are an environmental disaster waiting to happen." The complainants are concerned that using the pesticide in genetically altered plants poses environmental risks that will change the ecological balance as well as hurt organic farmers who don't want to use genetically-altered products. They complain that EPA has failed to address their concerns since approving the product.

EPA approved the use of Bt in potatoes in 1995 and has since agreed to its use in corn and cotton. The lawsuit demands that EPA cancel registration of all genetically engineered Bt plants; cease approval of any new Bt plants and immediately perform an environmental impact assessment. "We can no longer sit idly by," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety. "EPA has shown a blatant disregard for federal law and its own regulations by approving Bt crops without fully assessing their environmental safety."

Bt is actually a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that produces toxins to kill insects. It has been used for years as a spray by farmers and gardeners who like the fact that it kills insects while remaining nontoxic to mammals.

But the use of Bt has changed in recent years with advances in genetic engineering. Scientists are now able to develop plants that contain a gene for Bt toxin, giving the crops built-in protection. The move has been controversial, however, as many groups have raised concerns that insects will become resistant to Bt, which would seriously hurt organic farmers who are permitted to use Bt insecticides as their only emergency pest control option.

An EPA spokesman defended the agency's decision. "EPA carefully makes sure that the biotech products we review fully comply with all legal requirements designed to ensure that they are environmentally sound and environmentally beneficial," said spokesman Dave Cohen. "We believe the actions we've taken with regard to Bt will be sustained against this legal challenge." Some organic farmers say an even bigger threat is pollination from the genetically-altered plant seeping from conventional farms to organic farms.

Charles Walker, president of Terra Firma Inc. -- an organic food company in Hudson, Wis., said he was forced to recall over $100,000 worth of organic tortilla chips that had been contaminated with genetically-engineered corn. He blames pollination from another farm. "Unless Bt corn is withdrawn, it will soon contaminate every corn field in the country," Walker said.

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

UK: "Frankenstein" groceries give Brits food for thought

By Louise Robson, AAP 18.02.99 01:55,
© Copyright 1999 The Australian Associated Press.

LONDON, Feb 17 AAP - The spirit of Frankenstein is stalking British dinner tables in the guise of a massive backlash against genetically modified (GM) food.

Genetic food engineering is big business for biotechnology companies and US gene-giant Monsanto has waged a massive Stg1 million ($A2.59 million) advertising campaign over the past year to persuade UK consumers to love their sci-fi tucker. But they and other agro-genetic firms now face a determined and unlikely coalition of political conservatives and environmental groups demanding a five-year ban on the development and introduction of GM foods.

Many of these foods have been on supermarket shelves for the past three years - about 60 per cent of processed foods, from bread and biscuits to baby milk, are estimated to contain GM soya. But revelations last week that key findings on rats fed on GM potatoes had been suppressed blew the issue sky high. Mad cow disease and repeated E coli and salmonella scares have made food safety a touchy subject in the UK and British palates are not prepared to accept mutant maize, pest-resistant potatoes or scientific soya without a fight.

Sacked Scots-based scientist Dr Arpad Pusztai found that the rats he studied had suffered damage to their immune system and internal organs.

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

Activists Challenge Biosafety Protocol

February 19, 1999

CARTAGENA - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : Representatives of the world's leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the environment gathered in this Colombian city today to call for a moratorium on the trade and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Thirty-six delegates of NGOs from Latin America, Africa, Asia, the United States and Europe protested the attempt by the industrialized North to monopolize control over food security, the production of medicines and agribusiness processes.

The NGOs are meeting this week in Cartagena parallel to the final stage of negotiations on the Biosafety Protocol.

The position of industrialized countries, backed by transnational biotechnology corporations, especially affects the countries of the developing South, the NGOs argued.

"The moratorium should remain in place until the risks posed to human health and biological and cultural diversity by the consumption and release of GMOs are assessed, and until it is clear how they affect the economies of developing countries," the NGO declaration stated.

The environmentalists appealed to the sense of responsibility of the government delegations from more than 150 countries taking part in the talks on the protocol in the port city of Cartagena in northern Colombia.

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

Thanks to MichaelP for posting this:

UK: Wildlife endagered by GM Crops

By Rory Carroll, Guardian (london) Friday February 19, 1999

A vision of genetically modified crops unleashing invasive species on the plant and animal kingdoms was given in a government report yesterday.

Domino effects could sweep through the food chain and threaten the survival of Britain's wildlife unless GM crops were properly regulated, the advisory committee on releases to the environment said. The technology could accelerate the decline in bird populations triggered 30 years ago by the introduction of specialised land use, hedgerow removal, pesticides and fertilizers.

The Government's commitment to protect farmland wildlife obliged it to take these declines into account when vetting GM crop applications, said the report. "The introduction of GM crops in the UK should not prejudice the objectives of enhancing biodiversity."

It identified the potentially adverse effects of releasing such crops into the environment:

The persistence, invasiveness and competitiveness of new species could change the population dynamics of surrounding areas by overwhelming native plants and reducing the animal species that depend on them for survival.

Wind or insects could transfer inserted genetic material to native plants, turning them into hybrids with selective advantages over other native plants, which may then suffer.

Soil decomposition may be affected by changed nitrogen and carbon recycling processes.

The law of unintended effect may result if GM plants unexpectedly turn out to be unpalatable to herbivores, a trait which could be transferred to native species.

The report said these effects could also occur as a result of conventional plant breeding programmes, but the risk of transferring genetic material between unrelated organisms was unique to GM technology. On Wednesday, Monsanto, one of the world's largest producers of GM foods, was fined 17,000 by magistrates in Lincolnshire for failing to stop an altered crop from escaping into the environment.

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

Thanks to MichaelP for posting this:

Some more UK Internet links
Dr Puzstai's report in full
The Audit Committee was established by the Director of the Rowett Research Institute in August 1998 to examine this report
UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions - ACRE This is the delayed brit government report about the effect of GM agricu lture on wildlife

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Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 17:04:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-19

UK GE Scancal: The Next Big Thing

By George Monbiot, Guardian (London)Friday February 19, 1999

Like a family in the midst of a massive domestic row, the participants in the great genetic war are already have trouble recalling how it began.

Dr Pusztai's potatoes have been all but forgotten, while the underlying tensions, ever present, but seldom acknowledged, have burst out into the open. At last, Blair's sordid affair with the corporate seductress and the terrible mess she has made in the garden are being discussed.

The row is threatening to split the Labour household apart. Jack Cunningham has been roaring up and down the stairs telling everyone else to shut up. Michael Meacher, having hidden in the potting shed, has run back indoors with the news that he's seen something nasty in the vegetable patch.

While Dr Cunningham continues to insist that the new plants carry no conceivable risks, Mr Meacher has hinted at the need to delay the introduction of commercial planting of GM crops in Britain. His department told journalists that there will probably be no approvals for full-scale cultivation before 2001. The neighbours are beginning to weigh in on his side.

The Government's chief scientist, Sir Robert May, has expressed grave concerns about the damage the new crops might do to wildlife - herbicide-resistant crops allow farmers to eliminate almost all other species from their fields. The environment department has been forced to publish a delayed report in which these warnings are echoed. On Wednesday, the biotechnology company Monsanto was fined for failing to isolate one of its test crops from the wider environment.

And Middle England has begun to realise that when Mr Blair is faced with a conflict between its needs and those of his other constituency, big business, he sides with the corporations.

If Tony Blair begins, at last, to listen to Mr Meacher's anxieties, he will rapidly find that he runs into a new problem: that whether or not it wants to act, the Government might be unable to do so. Both Tory and Labour governments have been so determined to facilitate 'free trade' that they have progressively signed away their right to intervene.

If the Government seeks to prevent corporations from forcing us to grow and eat their crops, the corporations will appeal, first to the European Union, then to the World Trade Organisation. And they will win, because the governments of the First World have already determined that, in cases like this, private profit outweighs public protection.

Food scares happen in Britain because people feel they have no control over what they eat. Our decisions are made for us by invisible and unaccountable corporations. We are just about to discover precisely how powerless we are.

In just under three months, the media will stumble across another issue which it has managed to ignore for years. This one is even scarier. Monsanto has developed an injectable growth hormone which increases the production of cow's milk. Some scientists argue that it also increases the levels of something called Insulin Growth Factor 1. IGF-1 can cross the digestive tract intact from milk to the bloodstream of consumers. People with elevated IGF-1 levels are at greater risk from breast and prostate cancer.

The EU banned milk and beef from cattle treated with this hormone. On behalf of Monsanto, the US government appealed to the World Trade Organisation. The WTO has given Europe until May 13 to start importing hormone-treated beef and milk. Blair will wriggle, Cunningham will roar, but, short of provoking a trade war, they can do nothing whatever to protect us.

The European elections will be fought, four weeks later, in the midst of this crisis. The Greens could win even more votes than they did in 1989 and this time they will carry seats. Labour's backbench guerillas will launch a frontal attack. And Tony Blair, lost as he always is when the politics of presentation yield to the politics of substance, will wonder how on earth so vigorous a vine grew from a humble potato.

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

Sender: "Environment News Service (ENS)" ENS-NEWS@PEACH.EASE.LSOFT.COM

Britain Pushes Panic Button over Biotech Foods

In the Enviroment News Service:

LONDON, UK, February 19, 1999 (ENS) - An unprecedented wave of debate on genetic technologies in agriculture has overtaken the UK over the past week, putting the government and biotechnology firms firmly on the defensive.

For Full Text and Graphics Visit:

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

Thanks to: Paul Davis for posting this

Scientists get the pip over GM tomatoes

By Steve Connor, Science Editor, The UK Independent 20 Feb 99

It could turn out to be the ultimate GM nightmare for a British biotechnology company, whose employees were pictured on the front of a national newspaper eating genetically modified tomatoes.

The photograph in The Daily Telegraph of Dr Nigel Poole and colleagues from Zeneca Plant Science showed the scientists munching their way through whole tomatoes, seeds included. Now the company is to be reported to the Government's health and safety watchdog for possible breach of the regulations governing the escape of GM organisms into the environment.

Officials fear that the seeds of the GM tomatoes could have passed straight through the digestive systems of the Zeneca staff and germinated in a sewage farm somewhere in deepest Berkshire.

Professor John Beringer, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, said yesterday that he has no option but to report Zeneca to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for prosecutions under the regulations governing the containment of GM plants and animals.

"If they were knowingly eating the tomatoes including the seeds then they are probably bringing about a release to the environment," Professor Beringer said. "My colleagues are uncertain whether it would be examined as a breach of the containment regulations, or whether it would be deemed a deliberate release. It's probably a breach of containment."

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

Thanks to: (jim mcnulty) for posting this:

Genetically altered foods bring new health scare to Britain

The Las Vegas Review-Journal
Chicago Tribune Publication Date: February 18, 1999

LONDON - After the mad cow scare, which put many Britons off eating beef for a couple of years, comes concern over genetically modified foods.

It started with the disclosure that research into the effects of genetically modified potatoes on rats showed that they suffered a weakened immune system and damage to vital organs.

From there it has snowballed into a major public health scare, with the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair on the defensive, competing teams of scientists confusing the public with conflicting reports as to whether genetically modified food is safe and newspapers fanning the flames with reports of "Frankenstein foods."

Blair's response to the controversy is being compared with that of the former Conservative government, which downplayed initial reports that British cattle were suffering from what became known as mad cow disease.

Later, a number of Britons died of a human variant of the disease, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and millions of cattle had to be slaughtered after the European Union imposed a ban on British cattle sales abroad.

Up to 60 percent of processed foods in Britain contain materials that have been genetically modified, but until last week there was no serious suggestion they could be bad for humans.

But the Guardian newspaper revealed that British scientist Arpad Pusztai, internationally renowned in the field of protein research, was forced to retire from his job with the government-funded Rowett Research Institute after he produced the report on rats, which was then suppressed. The newspaper said 20 international scientists had signed a memorandum supporting his findings.

Philip James, Rowett's director, has been accused of firing Pusztai because [ Monsanto Co. ] , a leading producer of genetically modified crops, donated $230,000 to the institute about two years ago. James denied there had been any pressure from the St. Louis- based company.

With the government considering applications for the first commercial planting of genetically modified crops in Britain, the scientists who supported Pusztai called for a five-year moratorium on the sale of such foods.

The government rejected that but ruled out any commercial planting of genetically modified crops this year, a decision that could be overruled by the European Union. France already faces legal action from the European Commission for trying to block genetic crops.

There has been no continuing independent research in Britain into the effects of genetically modified food on human and animal health.

The government was so eager to calm the public that it commissioned a scientist, Jonathan Jones, to write an article on the benefits of genetically modified food. Jones works for a research laboratory funded by a charitable trust administered by Lord Sainsbury, the Labor science minister whose family owns one of Britain's biggest grocery chains. Sainsbury is a leading advocate of biotechnology.

Trouble for the government piled up on Wednesday when the Daily Telegraph reported that a suppressed report written for the government last year found that genetically modified crops could wipe out some farmland birds, plants and animals.

The report was compiled by the biotechnology unit of the Environment Department. The Telegraph said the government delayed its publication indefinitely after the Agriculture Ministry expressed concern about its contents.

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

Here is a message and article forwarded from Jonathan Matthews in UK

The following letter appeared in the Eastern Daily Press on 16/2/98, the day that the Rowett finally lifted the gag on Dr Pusztai. It is worth noting that the gag was only lifted after the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee had invited Dr Pusztai to make a submission to them (by 2nd March 1999) and to give a presentation to the Committee (on 8th March 1999). At that point the gag had obviously become pointless.

It is also worth noting that Dr Pusztai was gagged under a BBSRC code that applies to all publicly funded scientists working in the area of biotechnology in the UK.

Scientist must not be gagged

BRIAN BAXTER, Lime Kiln Cottage, Swaffham., published in Eastern Daily Press on 16/2/98

Recently I spent some time in the company of Dr Arpad Pusztai and during the whole time I spoke to him I was impressed by his knowledge, his sincerity, his clear thinking, his good humour and his honesty. He was, in my humble opinion, a very good man in every sense of the word.

During our conversation he told me of his work in the past under different totalitarian regimes, all of which in their day were very repressive. However, when he said that none of them, even Stalinist Russia, had treated him with the repression that he has received in this country over recent months it made me realise that we have much to be ashamed of.

It would appear for instance that no scientist is allowed to disclose any discovery without it being passed by those in authority above. In other words truth is no longer acceptable if it goes against the ideas or ideals of those in power This is surely a disgrace to our nation as is the gagging order which Dr Arpad Pusztai is still under.

Our Prime Minister has stated that the best way forward in the debate on GM food is on the basis of scientific evidence, then surely Dr Arpad Pusztai's evidence of the harm done to rats when fed on GM potatoes should be evidence enough that everyone should proceed with more caution before any of this food appears, if at all, in our diets.

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

Thanks to the Vegetarian Resource Center for posting this article.

Frankenstein Foods

By Gwynne Dyer, The Globe and Mail, Canada, Saturday, February 20, 1999

"We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the wider environment [of genetically modified crops]. . . . If something does go badly wrong, we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating. I am not convinced that anyone has the first idea of how this could be done." -- Charles, Prince of Wales, June, 1998

Less than a year ago, that was about as tough as the opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods got, in Britain or anywhere else: genteel expressions of concern by people essentially without power, many of whom were seen as cranks. ("If Big Ears is against it, it can't be all bad.") The GM juggernaut, meanwhile, rolled on unimpeded, bearing Monsanto, Zeneca, Novartis and the other major biotechnology companies toward a very lucrative Promised Land.

How distant that all seems now. On Feb. 12, the first evidence of health problems connected with GM foods that was even remotely plausible surfaced in Britain. It is fairly flimsy evidence, one must say, but it has unleashed a frenzy of media criticism that had been just waiting to happen, and it's now virtually certain that no commercial GM crops will be grown in Britain for years.

It is quite likely that this will trigger similar revolts in the rest of Europe, and reinforce the growing Third World resistance to the spread of GM technologies there. It is even possible that the protests, boycotts and demands for segregation and clear labelling of GM products will spread back to North America, where criticism hitherto has been extremely muted.

To Bob Shapiro, chief executive of the St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and erstwhile Master of the Universe, it must all feel very unfair. After all, nothing specific has been proved about the dangers of GM foods, either to consumers or to the environment. He even claims to be an environmentally sensitive "green" himself, and looks hurt when anybody questions his motives. But there is certainly a strong whiff of nemesis about the proceedings.

When Mr. Shapiro took over as CEO four years ago, Monsanto was a middling-to-large agrochemical combine with a huge problem: The patent for the highly successful weed killer (Round-up) that provided the bulk of its income was due to expire soon. He came up with a brilliant solution.

It's already out there in the marketplace: Monsanto now sells seeds that are genetically engineered to be resistant to Round-up, allowing farmers to get a better yield for the same dose of herbicide. And just to make sure they don't buy some cheap knockoff version of Round-up from a competitor, the seeds come with a contract obliging the farmer to buy Round-up from Monsanto. That's two profit centres where there used to be one.

True, it meant that American consumers now had to eat these genetically modified foods, like it or not -- and since the United States exports huge amounts of food, all sorts of foreigners had to eat them, too. Moreover, Monsanto needed a lot of farmers to commit to Round-up Ready seeds before its patent on Round-up herbicide expired, so there wasn't too much time for lengthy trials to see whether its GM products were safe for the consumer and the environment.

Mr. Shapiro became one of the biggest contributors of "soft money" to Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. Next thing you know, he's special trade adviser to the President. Getting GM products onto the shelves of American supermarkets was a no-brainer -- the U.S. media are half asleep, and the public doesn't seem to care what it eats so long as the portions are huge -- and Canadian consumers didn't pose much of a problem, either.

Europeans, on the other hand, were deeply suspicious of these "Frankenstein foods," mainly because they had just been through a major health scare over bovine spongiform encephalitis (mad cow disease), which is transmitted from cattle to humans through the consumption of infected beef. Ten years ago, all the experts, apart from a few maverick scientists, were sure that BSE could not cross the species barrier and infect people -- but the alarmist mavericks were right. And that explains, according to John Durant, professor of public understanding at Imperial College, London, why "people in Europe [are now] very sensitive to new technologies in the food supply industry, and very wary of scientists and government attempts to reassure them."

Monsanto dealt with European fears (or rather tried to override them) by systematically mixing GM and non-GM products together before exporting them. When the Europeans objected, demanding clear segregation and labelling of GM foods, Mr. Shapiro got his good buddy Bill Clinton to threaten a trade war, and they quickly caved in. (Leaked New Zealand government documents from early 1998 show a similar pattern, with Washington threatening to pull out of a potential free-trade agreement if New Zealand went ahead with its plans for labelling and testing genetically modified foods.)

Late 1998, in retrospect, was probably the high noon of Monsanto's incipient world empire. Thirty per cent of the U.S. soybean crop and 15 per cent of its corn was grown from Round-up Ready seeds last year, with both figures set to double in the next two years. An orgy of acquisitions, including corn-seed producer DeKalb Genetics Corp., grain-trading and processed-foods giant Cargill Inc., and Unilever's crop-breeding unit, which specializes in hybrid wheats, turned Monsanto into the world's dominant biotech company, with an estimated worth of $35 billion (U.S.), up sixfold in five years.

Monsanto also bought cottonseed company Delta & Pine Land last year for $4-billion, thus acquiring its "terminator seed technology": a genetic modification that prevents seeds harvested from GM plants from germinating if replanted. This is a technology without much relevance in North America, where most farmers buy all their seed anyway, but it was vital to Monsanto's plans in the Third World. It also turned out to be a flashpoint for resistance.

"By peddling suicide seeds, the biotechnology multinationals will lock the world's poorest farmers into a new form of genetic serfdom," says Emma Must of the World Development Movement. "Currently, 80 per cent of crops in developing countries are grown using farm-saved seed. Being unable to save seeds from sterile crops could mean the difference between surviving and going under." More precisely, it would speed the consolidation of small farms into the hands of those with the money to engage in industrialized agribusiness -- which generally means higher profits but less employment and lower yields per hectare.

"The terminator gene will pose a serious threat to Indian agriculture," warned Babagouda Patil, India's Minister of Rural Development; in Karnataka state, the farmers' association launched Operation Cremate Monsanto and burned out two experimental fields of GM cotton. In Britain, meanwhile, Arpad Pusztai, a professor at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, reported in April that an experiment in which laboratory rats were fed genetically modified potatoes had caused weakened immune systems and damage to vital organs.

The protests from the Third World, however, were drowned out by a major advertising campaign claiming that GM crops were the answer to the threat of global famine. (This is tripe, as the world has plenty of food -- the problem is getting it into the hands of the poor -- but it sounds better than saying GM foods will raise the profits of biotech firms and farmers in the rich countries.) And the inconvenient British researcher was forced into retirement, with various experts saying his research was "muddled."

On the surface, the plan for global domination seemed to be unfolding serenely. And then, on Feb. 12, a group of 20 scientists from 13 countries published a memorandum demanding the immediate rehabilitation of Dr. Pusztai, and expressing support for his tentative conclusion, financed by a $2.4-million grant from the British government's Scottish Office, that GM potatoes had damaged the kidneys, thymus, spleen and gut of laboratory rats after only 10 days of feeding trials, and weakened their immune systems.

That memorandum ignited a firestorm of protest in Britain that forced the government to postpone authorizing the first commercial GM crops for at least a year, until the autumn of 2000, and may soon lead to a three-year moratorium. Last week, the European Commission blocked the sale or growth anywhere in Europe of two GM cottons that Monsanto markets in the United States, its third and fourth decisions in a row blocking the release into the environment of a genetically modified organism.

On Wednesday, Monsanto was fined $25,000 by a British court for "genetic pollution": inadequate barriers between an experimental field of GM oilseed rape and adjacent fields of natural crops. The free ride in public opinion is over -- but what are the real risks?

The direct fears can be summed up under three headings: "Frankenstein foods," "genetic pollution," and "green concrete." In each case, the anxieties arise not so much from what is known, but rather from what is not yet known about the possible consequences of this massive and ultra-rapid move into GM crops.

The latter two concerns have been relatively easy for the biotechnology industry to dismiss, since they tend to divide people along familiar lines, with the pragmatists usually outnumbering the greens. If the end result of adding alien genes to create crops resistant to herbicides and insect infestations is fields where there are no other plants, few insects, and thus hardly any birds, just the GM monoculture (the "green concrete" phenomenon) . . . well, modern intensive agriculture has travelled a long way down that road already. And most people never see the fields anyway.

Same goes, pretty much, for "genetic pollution." Scientists and environmentalists may worry about the risk that the altered genes that confer resistance to herbicides might get into other plants as well, creating a generation of "superweeds" that require bigger and bigger doses of weed killer to control. It was Monsanto's failure to ensure adequate safeguards against that danger (a six-metre gap between GM and normal crops) that resulted in Wednesday's fine. But, once again, the danger is too obscure and distant to mobilize popular opinion -- whereas any suggestion that GM foods are a threat to human health is (in public-relations terms) an absolute killer.

The tests that have caused such alarm on this front were started in 1996 by Dr. Pusztai, an international authority on lectins (natural poisons that plants produce as a defence against predators). Competing against 28 other tenders, he won an official contract to conduct research into the human nutritional consequences of GM foods -- which, as a former senior Scottish Office official involved in commissioning the project recently explained to The Guardian, were receiving "little regard" at the time.

Dr. Pusztai, a respected scientist with 35 years at the Rowett Research Institute and 270 scientific papers to his credit, probably won the competition because of his expertise with lectins, which are natural candidates for genetic manipulation since they confer protection against insects. He had the biology department of Durham University prepare a GM potato strain that incorporated genetic instructions for the manufacture of lectins, and began feeding it to rats. At the same time, he fed another group of rats with normal potatoes that were simply spiked with lectins.

All the rats suffered some damage, since lectins are poisonous -- but the stunted growth and damage to the immune system were worse in those given the GM potatoes. Moreover, the researchers began to suspect that the culprit was not the lectin gene itself, but rather the virus promoter, the "light switch" that GM companies use to activate the inserted genes. And the particular promoter used in the potatoes was the cauliflower mosaic virus -- which has already been used in most GM products on the market.

These were highly provisional and preliminary results, but Dr. Pusztai (by no means a dogmatic opponent of genetic engineering) was alarmed enough to seek further research financing -- which was refused. He was given permission by the institute's director, Philip James, to speak on British television in January of last year, and again in April. On the latter occasion, Dr. Pusztai said he would not eat GM foods himself and that it was "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs."

In the ensuing outcry, Mr. James defended Dr. Pusztai on the first day -- and, on the second, suspended him, condemned his research techniques, made him sign a gag order, and forced him to retire. An audit report conducted by the Rowett Institute in August, while exonerating Dr. Pusztai of the charge that his research methodology was bad, did not link GM potatoes to any health risks. But Dr. Pusztai, who was then given access again to his own research data, strongly reconfirmed his findings.

There the matter rested until Feb. 12, when the 20 scientists (including two who had worked at the Rowett Institute) published their letter of support for Dr. Pusztai. And then all hell broke loose in the British media.

One signatory, Ronald Finn, a former president of the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, told a London press conference: "We in the U.K. have just had a very narrow escape following the epidemic of mad cow disease. I think we have probably got away with it. We have been warned once . . . and we should be extremely careful to monitor any further major change in food technology."

Another signatory, Jonathan Rhodes, professor of medicine at Liverpool University, went further. "One key problem that keeps coming back time and again is that regulation of food is nothing like as strict as regulation of drugs. And when you start tinkering around with the genetic structure of food, you have to move toward thinking of food products as pharmaceuticals."

So what happens now that the cat is out of the bag? For there is not just a lot of money at stake. There is also the conviction on the part of various Western governments, most notably those of the United States, Canada and Britain, that GM technologies will bring them enormous trade benefits in the next century, and thus must suffer no major restriction or delay.

In Britain, it's probably a lost cause. Prime Minister Tony Blair is an enthusiastic supporter of GM foods because biotechnology firms contribute generously to his Labour Party, because his friend Bill Clinton phones him >from Washington to lean on him, and because he genuinely believes that GM technologies will assist in a British postindustrial renaissance. Government officials and ministers have met companies involved in GM foods 81 times (23 with Monsanto alone) since Labour was elected in 1997, and more than $22-million has been earmarked in aid for British biotech firms.

As part of the damage-control exercise, Mr. Blair let it be known that he himself ate GM foods and believed them to be safe (though his spokesman refused to be drawn on whether the Blair children also ate them). But it won't help. The British government is now in full retreat before an aroused public, and neither threats nor blandishments from Washington will keep it in line.

Recent decisions in Strasbourg suggest that the tide in the rest of Europe is running in the same direction. Last week, the European Parliament voted to impose strict corporate liability and mandatory insurance on companies that release GM organisms into the environment, and for much stronger rules on the segregation and labelling of GM foods.

In the United States, however, turning the tide is much more difficult. Monsanto, which makes large donations to both the Democratic and Republican parties and to congressional legislators on food-safety committees, has become a virtual retirement home for members of the Clinton administration. Trade and environmental protection administrators and other Clinton appointees have left to take up lucrative positions on Monsanto's board, while Monsanto and other biotech executives pass through the same revolving door to take up positions in the administration and its regulatory bodies. (Mr. Clinton has even praised Monsanto by name in a State of the Union address.)

"The Food and Drug Administration," says Betty Martini of the consumer group Mission Possible, "is so closely linked to the biotech industry now that it could be described as their Washington branch office." And the industry has got its way: U.S. law does not require that GM foods be labelled as such, and 14 states have been persuaded to pass virtually identical "veggie libel" laws preventing the "spreading of false and damaging information about food."

So whether GM foods are safe or not, most Americans will be eating them for a long time to come. They will have difficulty even in finding out which foods contain GM products (though most processed foods already do), and they may discover that questioning the safety of any specific GM food publicly leads to a close encounter with a large firm of lawyers. In the rest of the world, however, the backlash is growing fast.

This week in Cartagena, Colombia, diplomats from 175 countries open the final stage of negotiations for a Biosafety Protocol that is meant to regulate the movement of GM products between countries. The biotech industries, with strong backing from the U.S. and Canadian governments, are aiming for a weak treaty that gives no country the right to keep GM products out in order to shelter its population from the socio-economic impact of industrialized, capital-intensive forms of agriculture, or even on health and environmental grounds.

But the Europeans are starting to waver, and large numbers of NGOs are in Colombia to push for a protocol that gives countries the right to say no to the import and release of GM organisms, requires a full assessment of the possible effects on farmers' livelihoods, as well as health and environmental impacts, and makes biotech multinationals responsible for the legal consequences (including compensation) if something goes wrong. And most of the Third World has already figured out what side it is on.

Whatever the real problems with GM foods, the strategy for their high-speed introduction throughout the world is shaping up as one of the great public-relations disasters of all time. Public suspicion outside North America is reaching crippling levels, and the reason is not at all mysterious. It is because the biotech firms literally tried to shove the stuff down people's throats without giving them either choice or information.

In the words of Malcolm Walker, chairman of the British food-store chain Iceland Foods (which now has banned all GM foods from its shelves), the U.S. food giants' tactic of mixing GM and ordinary soya to make sure it was all contaminated was "secretive, devious, and a terrible thing to do. People want food they can trust."

Gwynne Dyer, a Canadian-born writer based in London, is a regular contributor to Focus.

Copyright 1999 The Globe and Mail

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

GM foods: What's the hurry ?

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
BBC (London)Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 19:04 GMT

Science is generally a better guide than superstition, and the message from many - though not all - scientists in the debate over genetically modified food is that they could be an enormous benefit to humanity.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, for instance, "rejects the arguments of those calling for a blanket moratorium". And while English Nature, the government's wildlife adviser, wants a moratorium for at least three years on certain sorts of GM crops, it also rejects any suggestion of a blanket ban. What does unite many scientists is a belief that there should be more research, and that that will take time.

Ministerial Differences

So why does the government insist on pushing ahead with GM foods without conceding that a pause of a few years could help everyone? The government is not in fact united. Environment Minister Michael Meacher is noticeably more cautious than some of his colleagues. One of the most combative is the Cabinet Office Minister, Dr Jack Cunningham. But he is involved in a dialogue with organic groups like the Soil Association.

He has not so far changed his mind. But it would probably make little difference if he did.

The driving force for pushing ahead with GM technology straight away is the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Last year Mr Blair is reported to have had a telephone conversation with President Clinton about GMOs. [But an official source] "absolutely and categorically denies that Bill Clinton has ever raised the subject of GMOs with Tony Blair". But two [other]sources have told BBC News Online that they believe such a conversation did take place and that it led to the prime minister changing his mind on GMOs.

He is now resolute in arguing that there is no need for a moratorium, or for any other policy change.

And the government welcomes Monsanto and the other biotechnology firms.

Safer Not To Yield

But there may be another reason for it refusing to change its line. It is estimated that 60% of products on supermarket shelves already contain GM crop products.

They may well be as safe as their supporters say they are, although the BSE scandal should have taught politicians that "absolutely safe" is a phrase they should never, ever use.

But if the government now conceded that a moratorium was necessary, it would in effect be admitting that its confidence had been dented. Politicians say the science supports them. To an extent, it does. But the scientists are not unanimous. That is no way to restore public confidence.

And a question mark remains over the government's independence of pressure from Washington.

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

posted by: Bruce Martin

Ship Boarded In Colombia Protest Against Gene Crop

Saturday February 20 2:29 PM ET

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Environmental activists briefly boarded a ship carrying genetically-modified U.S. corn, also known as maize, in Colombia Saturday foods.

Environmental group Greenpeace said five members from Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and Colombia used jet skis to reach the cargo ship Abydos, which was traveling from New Orleans, shortly before it docked at Colombia's Caribbean port of Santa Marta.

Shore-based protester Isabelle Meister of Switzerland said the group spoke briefly with the ship's captain to complain against the lack of import and export controls on genetically modified foods. The protesters then left the ship.

Media in Britain, where a debate is raging on such foods, have dubbed the food in a reference to the fictional mutant monster We're protesting against transgenic crops being dumped on these countries Meister told Reuters in a phone interview.

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Thanks to MichaelP papadop@PEAK.ORG for posting the next two articles:

GM foods - Revealed: the secret report

By Marie Woolf SUNDAY INDEPENDENT February 21, 1999

A damning scientific study, carried out for the Government two years ago but not published until now, has concluded that genetically engineered oilseed rape could breed with ordinary farmers' crops and make them "inedible". It says that "contamination" of farmers' ordinary fields is "inevitable" under current farming practices.

The report was carried out by the prestigious Scottish Crops Institute for the Department of the Environment. Its most worrying conclusion is that GM oilseed rape is much hardier than previously thought and can survive to breed and pass on its traits to ordinary plants of the same species. It found that the pollen from genetically altered oilseed rape could travel far farther than the designated distance between trial-crops fields and create hybrids which could ruin farmers' ordinary crops.

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Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:58:08 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN 2-21

GM foods - Current tests are inadequate protection

SUNDAY INDEPENDENT February 21, 1999

We asked Michael Antoniou, molecular geneticist, to explain the dangers

Since its inception 20 years ago, genetic engineering or modification (GM) has spurred major advances in our understanding of how genes are organised in DNA. Genes are the inherited blueprints for the tens of thousands of proteins that act as the building blocks of the body for all forms of life from bacteria to humans. In the form of enzymes, proteins carry out all the biochemical processes, such as digestion of food, that keep us alive. Plants are made up from between 20,000 and 80,000 genes depending on their complexity. Estimates for animals, including humans, range from 80,000 to 150,000 genes.

Despite advances in our scientific knowledge, the gene "maps" for "higher" plants, animals and humans are still very incomplete, with only a few per cent of all genes known. More importantly, we know even less about how genes are switched on as an integrated whole to produce the correct combinations of proteins in the right place, time and quantity. What is clear is that genes and the proteins they make do not work in isolation but have evolved to exist and function in groups, the complexity of which we are only just beginning to appreciate. Nature has established boundaries so that reproduction can normally take place only between closely related forms. Tomatoes can cross-pollinate with tomatoes but not soya beans; cows can mate only with cows and not sheep. These same genes in their natural groupings have been finely tuned to work harmoniously together by millions of years of evolution.

It is claimed that GM in agriculture is a natural extension of traditional breeding methods, only more precise and safer. However, technically speaking, GM bears no resemblance to natural reproduction. The Government's Genetic Modification (Contained Use) Regulations define GM as "the altering of the genetic material in that organism in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination or both".

GM allows the isolation and transfer of only one or a few genes (eg, herbicide or pest resistance) between totally unrelated organisms. This is contrary to the understanding that genes work in groups within a given form of life and not in isolation.

GM plants and animals start life in a laboratory where artificial units of foreign genetic material are randomly inserted into the host in a way which, to a lesser or greater degree, always disrupts natural genetic order and function. Furthermore, GM brings about combinations of genes that would never occur naturally. A gene from a common soil bacterium has been transferred to soya beans to make them resistant to a herbicide; anti-freeze protein genes from an arctic fish have been introduced into tomatoes and potatoes in an effort to confer resistance to frost.

The artificial nature of GM does not automatically make it dangerous. It is the imprecise way in which genes are combined and the unpredictability in how the foreign gene will behave in its new host that results in uncertainty. From a basic genetics perspective, GM possesses an unpredictable component that is far greater than the intended change. There would still appear to be so many unknowns that the risks to health and the environment are simply unquantifiable. A potential problem arising from herbicide-resistance GM crops that is largely being ignored is what is the fate of these chemicals within the plant? Are they stable? If they are degraded, what are the products that are produced? And what health risks do they pose?

Disruption in genetic function can lead to biochemical changes which in turn may give rise to novel toxins and allergies. In 1989 in the USA, consumption of the supplement L-tryptophan derived from GM bacteria killed 37 and rendered 1,500 permanently disabled. Many argue that this was due to sloppy manufacture.The scientists at the Japanese company concerned think otherwise and blame the GM process for producing traces of a potent new toxin.

Does our regulatory system protect us from these potential hazards? Health-risk assessment of GM foods compares only known components (eg, nutrients, known toxins and allergens) between GM and non-GM equivalent varieties. If things match up then all is assumed well. Short-term animal feeding trials are conducted in some cases. The fact that the L-tryptophan tragedy would repeat itself by these criteria highlights the inadequacy of this system. No tests with human volunteers are required for either toxicity or allergic reactions prior to marketing. Clearly the current regulatory process does not fully take into account the unpredictable side of GM. At the very least, long-term animal feeding trials followed by tests with human volunteers of the type required for GM drugs should be mandatory.

Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign, for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596 email:

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