23 February 99

Table of Contents

Monsanto saw secret EU documents, US biotech firm under fire in Europe
GM Foods - Revealed: False Data Misled Farmers
The Man With The Worst Job In Britain
All Monsanto's men?
Science is driving modern culture. Alas, most of us haven't even got L-plates
'Frankenstein' drives demand for organics
Biotech Battlefield: Profits vs. Public
Ethical investment
Milked for all its worth
If They Didn't Lie So Much, We Might Listen
Greens And Growers Wide Apart On Bio-tech Food
Prince Charles Defies Blair on GM Food
A Bad Taste Left
Terminator Gene Trips Alarms
U.S. Scurries To Scuttle Biotech Trade Curbs Fate Of GM Produce Splits Factions At Colombian Conference

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

Monsanto saw secret EU documents, US biotech firm under fire in Europe

By Gregory Palast and Terry Slavin, Sunday February 21, 1999 Observer

Hundreds of American farmers face legal action over genetic copyright

Monsanto, the US biotech group fined in an English court last week for failing to control genetic modification trials, is under attack on two new fronts. First for obtaining an advance look at confidential European Commission documents during its campaign to win regulatory approval for its controversial bovine growth hormone (BST). Second, because of its legal actions against hundreds of North American farmers for failing to pay for its genetically modified seeds.

Company faxes and Canadian government files obtained this week by The Observer reveal that Monsanto received copies of the position papers of the EC Director General for Agriculture and Fisheries prior to a February 1998 meeting that approved milk from cows treated with BST.

Notes jotted down by a Canadian government researcher during a November 1997 phone call from Monsanto's regulatory chief indicate that the company 'received the [documents] package from Dr Nick Weber', a researcher with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He was given them as a member of the Joint Expert Committee on Food and Drug Additives (JECFA), part of the World Health Organisation, which reviewed the Monsanto drug for Codex, the agency that approves products as safe for international trade.

Sources noted that Weber's supervisor at the US FDA is Dr Margaret Mitchell who, before joining the agency, directed a Monsanto laboratory working on the hormone. Monsanto also obtained an advance look at the submission to JECFA by British pharmaceuticals researcher John Verrall. Verrall, a member of the UK Food Ethics Council, told The Observer that slipping papers to Monsanto was 'totally wrong'.

BST boosts milk output in cows but, say critics, may increase the likelihood of human cancers for those who drink milk. Advance knowledge of objections to the hormone seems likely to have helped Monsanto to prepare arguments in advance of the EU meeting.

In September at a meeting of a Codex panel in Washington, the UK's opposition to immediate acceptance of the Monsanto hormone resulted in a tie vote on the drug among 24 nations. The US representative, citing the JECFA report, claimed a 'chairman's privilege' to treat the vote as approval. The Observer has also learned that Monsanto received documents from the files of a Canadian senator involved in investigating controversies surrounding BST.

Senator Mira Spivak stated that documents used in preparing hearings on BST were faxed from an office in the Canadian senate. Last month, Canada permanently banned BST after hearing testimony from researchscientists in its health ministry, who challenged the hormone's safety. Monsanto, whose GM seeds will account for between 50 and 60 per cent of the US soya bean harvest this year, is prosecuting or has already settled 525 cases ofwhat it calls seed piracy - farmers who fail to pay licence fees to plant Monsanto's Ready Roundup seeds.

Settlements have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. Monsanto has set up freephone tip lines across the US and Canada, encouraging neighbours to anonymously blow the whistle on neighbours, and has hired private investigators to follow up more than 1,800 of these leads.

The technology use agreement that farmers must sign when buying Monsanto seed not only forbids them to save seed for replanting, it also gives Monsanto the right to come onto their land and take plant samples for three years.

Hope Shand, research director for Rural Advancement Foundation International, said: 'Wherever in the world Monsanto is selling this I'd assume they will adopt the same draconian tactics.' In one case in western Canada, Monsanto is prosecuting a farmer who maintains he did not plant any genetically modified canola, but his crop was contaminated by GM seeds or pollen blown onto his field from nearby farms - the cross-pollination issue that so worries English Nature.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

Thanks to MichaelP for posting this:

GM Foods - Revealed: False Data Misled Farmers

By Marie Woolf SUNDAY INDEPENDENT February 21, 1999

Monsanto, the genetic engineering company, included false information about a genetically engineered crop it wants to sell in a safety assessment submitted to government advisers.

The gene giant was forced to carry out its research again after it emerged last month that crucial information about the gene it proposed to put in a new strain of maize was incorrect.

Monsanto was labelled "incompetent" by scientists from the Government's influential Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment (Acre). The committee accused Monsanto of submitting sloppy research, "poor interpretation" and work far below required standards.

The agro-chemical company misdefined the gene it planned to insert into the maize which was genetically engineered to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Minutes of Acre's meeting last month show that members were furious that Monsanto had asked them to approve a marketing application based on inaccurate information. Sources close to the meeting say Monsanto was called "incompetent" and that the standard of its work was "wholly unacceptable".

Acre told Monsanto to do its research again after Monsanto scientists - asked for clarification about their research - realised that their "molecular data . did not support the conclusions".

The minutes of the meeting, on 13 January 1999, deliver a sharp rebuke to Monsanto, saying that ". the molecular data submitted by the applicant did not support the conclusions regarding genomic organisation of the transgenes".

The Monsanto application was last month approved by the UK after the company spent several months redoing its research and scientists concluded that the GM maize would not harm human or animal health. It will now be submitted to other European countries for assessment.

But the decision to grant approval has proved controversial with other scientists who say that it casts doubt on other work carried out by Monsanto.

"It's very worrying. This means that somebody somewhere in Monsanto is getting it wrong," said Janey White, a molecular biologist.

The mistake also has international implications because Monsanto's maize is already grown in America and will soon be sold around the world.

Monsanto has had to tell regulatory authorities in Japan and Europe, now considering an application to sell the GM maize, that its data is incorrect. The same GM maize is exported widely from America and is believed to be used in food sold in Britain. "It is our policy to advise all the relevant authorities of any new information," said Alistair Clemence, regulatory affairs manager for maize in Europe. "We haven't totally messed up, but there was a certain part of the gene sequence we hadn't defined properly."

Licences to sell and plant GM crops in Britain are based on work done by the agrochemical companies themselves and not on independent tests carried out by the Government.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

From: genetics

The Man With The Worst Job In Britain

By Sarah Ryle The Observer (UK) Sunday February 21, 1999

The Government is in turmoil on genetic engineering, but PR Dan from Monsanto is still sure of his facts

The man from Monsanto is the picture of all-American preppiness. He has charm, a good salary...and probably the worst job in the world. Is Dan Verakis worried? Ready to take a bottle of pills? Haggard from lack of sleep? Well, no.

After two weeks of 'Frankenstein Foods', the 'Prime Monster' and dodging activists outside a Lincolnshire court, Verakis contemplates the furore about GM food and Monsanto over a glass of wine in a Piccadilly bistro. He says he is happy to leave the office 'early' at 7.30pm to 'separate myth >from scientific fact' before returning to complete a speech for a conference in Amsterdam tomorrow.

'If I see one more picture of a doctored fish-tomaytoe...' The thought hangs in the air. His communications degree from a 'tiny college in West Virginia' (he won't name names) was not taken so long ago, and he has represented the internationally renowned Carnegie Institute - but nothing can have prepared him for such relentless attention.

'Where else in the world are there 10 daily national newspapers all competing for stories?' His pile of press cuttings from last week alone is, he estimates, about six inches high.

There are the 'mutant food will kill you' shockers, the role of Lord Sainsbury ('He has never been to a Monsanto facility') and the reports on Dr Arpad Pusztai that triggered a fortnight (so far) of fevered coverage. 'In America, if a journalist calls you to ask about safety it would be enough for me to explain that the FDA and other strict regulatory authorities like Canada's, as well as some of the finest scientific brains . OK, but we'd like you to say that on the So I've given them a story just by appearing.'

He speaks ruefully of British company Zeneca's relative reticence on its GM activity: 'We've been left to take all of the heat'. He would hate to sound like a whinger, he says, but some frustration shows. 'It's so easy to boast about working for Monsanto in the US because it is one of our oldest, most respected companies.' In this country people are less impressed. 'Everybody over here hates us.' Did he expect to fly into such a storm when he arrived in London last June? ' On my first day here we had to deal with a protest. I repeated the science over the telephone so often that my secretary said I should record the first 30 minutes.' But still the British fail to follow America's lead. 'I understand why it is so controversial here. It is complicated science which is frightening if you don't understand it, but it is applied to an industry which many people are interested in.

'Add in BSE, which reduced confidence. Add in activists who doctor pictures andask for £10 to help them fight us. Then dump it all into a competitive press.' BSE, he thinks, is the main reason why the British have failed to buy Monsanto's extensive, comprehensive advertising campaign. He 'cringed' when politicians said they fed their children GM food, because 'it gave everybody an opportunity to run that picture of Gummer and his daughter eating a burger'.

Challenge him on Monsanto's approach and he has ready answers. On Monsanto's alleged pulping of a magazine: 'I did not know the issue was about Monsanto, we thought it was general biotech. Their own printers were advised by their lawyers not to distribute'; Monsanto's dominance: 'We use only three proteins';

Monsanto's ubiquity: 'Our field trials in the UK add up to two football pitches'; Monsanto's disregard for the environment: 'Farmers in Alabama have reduced their use of pesticide by 80 per cent'; Monsanto's disregard for regulation: 'Field trials only go ahead once the regulators say the crop is safe'. His personal hate is the one about fish genes. So why bother with this tiny island at all? 'This is a global issue. I wish people would look beyond these shores and listen to the scientific and regulatory evidence.'

So Verakis gathers himself up and returns to his office and to his speech: 'Scientific fact versus myth: the need for a proper discussion'.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

All Monsanto's men?

By Nick Cohen Sunday February 21, 1999 The Observer (UK)

By Thursday Ministers' defence of genetically modified food had become so mortifyingly inadequate even their many enemies couldn't watch without muscle spasms crippling their buttocks. Workers at Friends of the Earth squirmed with delight until all their phones went dead and stayed dead.

Ian Willmore, the press spokesman, was inconsolable. He was supposed to be experiencing the most thrilling moment in the organisation's history. The dopey British had finally woken up to the implications of genetically modified food, the alarming nature of which had already caused riots from India to France. Dozens of journalists were ringing his number, but none could hear his denunciations.

A colleague called BT from a pay phone. 'There's a fault at the exchange and all the businesses in your street have been cut off for the day,' she was told. That night Willmore watched All the President's Men and heard Deep Throat warn reporters investigating the Nixon White House to assume their phones were bugged. He wondered if there was a link between the Government's embarrassment and the silent lines. He pulled himself together with a start. Conspiracy theories are silly.

The next day Willmore popped his head round the doors of neighbouring offices. 'Were your phones out yesterday?'

'No,' they all replied.

As the Earth's friends were disconnected from the planet they are meant to serve, a Greenpeace direct action team was trundling north. Its mission was to launch dinghies into the Liverpool docks and occupy cranes booked to empty American cargo ships carrying genetically-modified soya and gluten. Before the protestors could reach the Mersey, 30 officers stopped them on the M56 and impounded their boats.

As they sat in a Cheshire service station, one activist wondered if the police and security services had diverted scarce surveillance resources from drug dealers and murderers to come to the aid of pariah multi-nationals. His scaremongering was quickly dismissed as nonsense. The forces of law and order have no time to act as the private army of foreign corporations. Their near collapse has forced the Home Secretary to tear up the presumption of innocence and trial by jury - democratic rights his notoriously lax predecessors tolerated for centuries - because the poor dear cannot cope with evil-doers the like of which have never been witnessed before.

A Merseyside Police spokesman then said unidentified 'sources' had been spying on environmentalists. 'High levels of movement' were noted on Wednesday and a 'joint operation' was launched. Liverpool criminals enjoyed a risk-free day as police helicopters and manpower descended on the docks and mobile units were sent to the motorways to intercept and stop a peaceful protest before it could begin.

In Canada, environmentalists are wondering what has happened to an investigation into allegations from vets working for the Canadian health department - Health Canada. The Canadian authorities, along with the European Union, have banned rBGH (also known as BST), a hormone that forces cows to produce more milk, because of the suffering it brought to the animals and a suspicion that it may cause human cancers. Dr Margaret Haydon told the CanadianSenate that she and her superior in the Human Safety Division, one Dr Drennan, had met representatives of Monsanto, the hormone's manufacturers. 'An offer of one to two million dollars was made,' she said in October last year. The Senate then heard an interview Dr Drennan had given to local journalists. 'Was money offered?' they asked. 'Yes.' 'Did you consider that to be a bribe?'

'I would say so.'

Dr Drennan 'laughed off' the offer and asked the Canadian government to investigate. The inquiry has not reported its findings … many believe there was no inquiry. Ray Mowling, Monsanto's Canadian rep, admitted funding the impoverished ministry's research, but denied attempting to bribe civil servants.

Only paranoiacs could doubt him. In any case, it is the influence-peddling which is perfectly legal that is most telling: the subsidising of regulators and academics by business; and the recruitment of Jack Cunningham's special adviser, one of New Labour's spin doctors and former members of Clinton's administration as lobbyists for Monsanto.

The revolving door is now spinning in Brussels. David Earnshaw, the adviser to Ken Collins, chair of the European Parliament's Environment Committee, has resigned to take a post with the genetically modified food industry. A weak European Commission must soon decide whether to allow GM crops to be grown in the EU. It is terrified of legal action by the Americans who have established a global order based on what can be described as free trade extremism.

When the government of New Zealand issued proposals to label and test GM foods, which wouldn't have raised an eyebrow 10 years ago, the United States threatened sanctions. All last week pundits and politicians complained about mob hysteria and opined that GM foods offered great benefits. But crops modified to tolerate herbicides are designed to be soaked with poisons; plants restructured to repel insects destroy the food chain; and seeds fitted with 'terminator genes' turn farmers into a captive market for the bio-tech industry by sterilising seeds so they cannot be collected after a harvest and replanted.

Deciding to ban all of the above does not require the use of sophisticated scientific knowledge; it is a political judgment. Yet any government which tries to regulate GM foods runs the risk of being punished by the World Trade Organisation for restricting free trade. Not that our own Government is bold enough to stand up to the Americans or anyone else.

Yesterday Tony Blair, shaken by the spectacle of the many stickingtheir noses into the business of the few, denounced his critics as 'hypocrites', and Friends of the Earth and other pressure groups as 'tyrants'. 'There is no scientific evidence' to justify a ban,' he said, and anyone who contradicted him was - what else? - 'scaremongering'.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

Science is driving modern culture. Alas, most of us haven't even got L-plates

By Andrew Marr Sunday February 21, 1999 The Observer (UK)

Right at the front of the stage, there is a drama. It's about science. People run about waving their arms. They seem very scared. But what's the big picture?

What is the huge backdrop to the GM food affair? It is, surely, that the final decades of the twentieth century have seen a massive expansion of human understanding and ingenuity - what we might call the Age of Deep Science, comparable in its profundity and beauty to the Renaissance or the Enlightenment.

I'm not joking. These insights are open to anyone willing to read or listen. The threats and benefits are ubiquitous. For my part, I feel extraordinarily lucky to be alive at such a time. Bliss was it in that dawn - all that. In the life sciences, the adventure is understood by several millions of educated people who are not biologists, but are being carried along by gifted writers such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Pinker.

They know that our study of genetics, consciousness and the curled innerness of life is momentous, exciting and, though riven with ethical dilemmas, is transforming human life - changing medicine, food, drugs, our understanding of the brain and our environmental behaviour.

Then, not quite as well-known, is the other half, the revolution in mathematics and physics. This is popularly but misleadingly called chaos theory. It could be better described as the uncovering of matter's complex underlying rhythms and forms. It relates to everything from the shape of clouds to the behaviour of stock markets. Still young, still much argued about, it can nevertheless be compared to quantum mechanics and relativity, in that it shatters the old view of the world erected by Newton.

At its most ambitious, it promises a grand theory of everything. I suspect thisis a chimera. Yet, just as the life sciences have unfurled and spread across disciplines and into the general culture, so the new maths has smashed down barriers between academic groups and restarted the kind of common conversation science has lacked during most of this century.

The new science has returned from the textbook and the reductionist lab. The biologists are elbowing their way to the front of everything that matters. The maths people no longer speak only in equations but, thanks to computer graphics, express many of their most interesting ideas in shapes and colour - metaphors, perhaps, but metaphors that anyone can enjoy. They want to speak to us. Mathematicians and physicists are again struggling to describe useful underlying truths about our world, to create a great single story about how things are.

There's nothing new in that, of course - Archimedes was up to the same game in Syracuse 2,200 years ago, ditto Leibnitz in Hanover 300 years ago, Poincaré in France a century ago, and many more. But there is one character who is perhaps particularly relevant and requires a special mention.

A reader has complained that in a column last month I failed to point out that the borderline between mathematics and the natural world - today's most exciting frontier - was crossed by one D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson in 1917. True enough.

Time for a short tourist excursion, for D'Arcy Thompson is a man who may be as well known a hero to our children as Einstein is to us. He was an Edinburgh-born genius in classics, maths and languages who held the chair of Natural History at St Andrews for 67 years, parading around the town with a long white beard and parrot perched on his shoulder - somewhere between George Bernard Shaw and Long John Silver. His work, though, is curiously up to the minute. It was centred on trying to describe the mathematical origins of shapes and structures in the visible world - everything from skulls and jellyfish to wind-patterns.

He wrote: 'Cell and tissue, shell and bone, leaf and flower, are so many portions of matter and it is in obedience to the laws of physics that their particles have been moved, moulded and conformed. They are no exceptions to the rule that God always geometrises.' And again, he insisted that, in a mathematician's hands, numbers, order and position 'furnish the first outlines for a sketch of the universe'.

Sketching the universe and its hidden rules was his aim, and it's what today's followers are doing too. In his pioneering book Chaos, James Gleick quotes the great contemporary US mathematician Mitchell Feigenbaum, who is almost as eccentric as D'Arcy Thompson, using words that sound very like the old Scot: 'Somehow the wondrous promise of the earth is that there are things beautiful in it, things wondrous and alluring, and by virtue of your trade you want to understand them.'

This urge to understand, from maths to biology, provides the ideas that are shaping today's world. In genetics, in the study of consciousness and time, the big figures of our age are scientists whose sense of scale and reach make, let's be honest, pygmies of today's artists, fiction writers, politicians, economists (journalists are just hopping fleas on the pygmies' body hair). No, it is the biologists and mathematicians who are the driving forces, the controlling imaginations of the modern world. They are shaking our ideas about food and the environment, about our origins. They are challenging our ethical systems. They are giving us technologies so new and fast-changing we barely know what to do with them.

Which takes us, seamlessly, I think you'll agree, right back to tomatoes. Tony Blair has been reading up hard on genetic issues. But he has told friends he has never come across anything like this genetically modified food row. In yesterday's Telegraph, he described the experience as being like standing in front of a stampede.

Now Blair himself, clearly, made a bad mistake by volunteering that GM food is safe. He doesn't know. As he says himself, he is no scientist; and they don't know, either. So we rely on 'best advice' from people whose previous best advice - as on BSE - has been very poor. But the failure of the democracy to assert authority and speak against the commercial giants and their scientism is not an anomaly. It is how things seem to be.

Our democracy is struggling, and failing, to catch up with the Age of Deep Science. And I'm not talking about Cabinet committees only, but about the rest of us too. You don't need to know about chaos theory, perhaps - though it will influence economic models and medical judgments that will in turn affect you. But you certainly need to know about the biological thinking behind a host of bioethics problems, and have some sense of what you can believe, and what you should mistrust, when it comes to genetic engineering. Quite a lot of people understand this. The market for popular science books is huge. There is a hunger for information. But it's a minority thing.

Most voters are frankly mere info-peasants, scientific illiterates, vacant idiots at the mercy of glossy corporate-science propaganda and newspaper hysterias. They are told a 'government scientist' is an authority, whether he's spent his life on earthworms or planets. They don't ask about peer-group review. They don't even have a clear notion of scientific proof, or the simple big discoveries that lead to the front-page stories that shock them.

Between the scientific upper class, the latter-day Leonardos trekking into the brain or sketching the universe, and the majority of voters and politicians in all Western democracies, there is now a deep comprehension gap. After decades of smugly acknowledging the 'two cultures' division between science and the rest of human life, suddenly we find ourselves falling straight down the hole.

How did this happen? How did we get to the situation where the most important and interesting ideas are utterly outside the experience of the vast majority of educated people? That's one for the historians, the gravediggers and memorialists of our culture. As I indicated earlier, these are not difficult or abstruse notions. It is almost as if we have decided to be stupid. We devote pages and pages to yet more books about Jane Austen, to pseudo-scientific rubbish about star signs, to psychology, to conceptual art. But the great beauty and glittering triumph of our age? Well that passes us by. Tony Blair is puzzled. And he isn't, I tell you, the only one.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

'Frankenstein' drives demand for organics

By Sarah Ryle Sunday February 21, 1999 The Observer (UK)

Record numbers of farmers are taking the first steps towards organic production, writes Sarah Ryle.

As consumer demand for organic food soars, the Soil Association is fielding more and more enquiries from farmers on how to convert to organic methods. The association's organic conversion service has taken more than 1,000 calls this year - 100 of them last Monday alone in response to press coverage of concern about the new biotechnologies.

Consumer interest in organic food is also rising to unprecedented levels. In 1997 it accounted for £260 million of the total £53 billion spent on food in the UK, but is expected to reach £1 billion within two years. Much of that, however, is expected to be spent on imported produce because UK organic food production falls far behind that in other European countries. A spokeswoman for the Soil Association, which accounts for 70 per cent of all certified organic products in this country, said that farmers in 'straitened circumstances' were looking for 'niche markets' and their confidence in consumer demand was growing. Farmers have been persuaded by successive food scares that the demand for organic food will continue.

Devonshire hill farmers Victoria and Christopher Eveleigh said they have recently become more confident in the potential for organic farming. 'It is a big decision,' said Mrs Eveleigh. 'It will be at least five years before we can get organic calves to the kitchen table. We hope that we are ahead of the game.'

The Eveleighs say they will be able to charge a premium for their organic food and will also qualify for enhanced government aid, worth approximately £18,000 over five years.

Retailers and wholesalers are also responding to demand. Baby Organix, which represents more than half of the UK market in organic baby food (one in four children eats organic products regularly), said it took three times the normal level of inquiries last week. Supermarkets also report increased sales. Asda said organic sales were up in the wake of the GM food scare.

Tesco is trying out organic aisles in 50 of its stores and Sainsbury has brought in more dry groceries during the past few weeks. Waitrose now runs a selective scheme to help farmers who supply it with produce. It intends to introduce designated aisles.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

Biotech Battlefield: Profits vs. Public

SUNDAY REPORT, Sunday, February 21, 1999

Private companies are refusing to share the genetic code of a deadly staph bacterium. They say it cost them millions to discover, but officials say the data are needed to avert a public health crisis.

WASHINGTON--The first reported case was in 1996. A Japanese baby nearly died of a raging infection, despite treatment with one of the most powerful antibiotics in existence. Over the next two years, there would be at least three more cases--including the first death, that of an elderly New York man struck down last year.

One of public health officials' darkest predictions had come to pass: A strain of Staphylococcus aureus, the most common source of life-threatening bacterial infections in hospitals, had arrived that was resistant to every antibiotic known to medicine.

But scientists working to divert a potential medical disaster have run into a significant roadblock from the most unexpected of places: their fellow scientists.

Biotechnology and drug companies have spent huge amounts of money decoding the genome--the genetic blueprint--of staph, with the hope of designing new drugs to challenge it. But they are unwilling to share that crucial knowledge with government and university scientists, a stance that many researchers believe is critically stalling the pace of scientific progress.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

posted from : GE - news 21st Feb

Ethical investment

Tony Levene investigates; UK Guardian, Saturday February 20, 1999

Mutants not to our taste The appliance of science to foods may please Tony Blair, but not the ethical investors.

Will "Frankenstein foods" cause two-headed rabbits to sprout in fields otherwise denuded of life except for giant tomatoes?

Or are they the product of a science which will ensure no one need ever suffer famine again and which will guarantee that the United Kingdom remains at the cutting edge of world bio-technology research?

Whatever your view on genetically modified (GM) foods, the line from Britain's ethical investors is clear: they are refusing to buy shares in the major gene manipulators - US group Monsanto, Swiss drugs giant Novartis, and the UK pharmaceutical group Zeneca. It is a worldwide ban - even though consumers in the United States do not appear to be worried by genetic experimentation.

The ethical investment industry is just as interested in the mixing of maize with fish genes in Argentinian cornfields as with the contents of cans of food at the local supermarket. Most funds are happy to hold frozen food retailer Iceland, which has a high anti-GM food profile, and to shun Marks & Spencer which has the least positive line on GM food avoidance and labelling.

Matthew Harragin of the ethical research unit at stockbrokers Rathbone Neilson Cobbold believes that there is "no excuse for an ethical fund holding Zeneca even if it did consult with Safeway and Sainsbury before puree based on its GM tomato was sold in those stores. It fails on the animal testing criteria which have been in place for years before GM food became an issue. Any fund found to have Zeneca would have faced a stream of investor complaints long before now."

NPI has a total ban on pharmaceutical companies including Zeneca in its Global Care ethical funds. According to NPI research analyst Toby Belsom, who has been monitoring GM foods for three years, the funds are also opposed to genetic testing of humans for life insurance proposals, cloning and genetic field trials. But it is prepared to approve limited genetic engineering in medical and industrial areas providing the waste stream is carefully controlled.

Many funds take their screening rules from ethical research group EIRIS which has developed a series of GM warning marks.

Co-op Insurance's CIS Environ ethical unit trust takes its line from Manchester Business School. It will accept some pharmaceutical companies but, again, it draws the line at Zeneca. Funds to shun Zeneca and other GM food manipulators also include; Abbey Life Ethical, Credit Suisse Fellowship, Equitable Ethical, Friends Provident Stewardship, Jupiter Ecology, Standard Life UK Ethical, and TSB Environmental.

Some of these trusts have pension fund equivalents. But the great majority of pension funds do not screen out companies that could offend scheme members. Most will have Zeneca, a major FTSE 100 constituent that will loom even larger in funds following its merger with Swedish group Astra to form AstraZeneca. However, pensions minister John Denham has proposed that retirement funds should take ethical questions into consideration.

Harragin believes the acid test is which supermarkets are in a fund. Around 60 per cent of all packaged food could contain GM substances or be GM contaminated. He says: "Iceland stands head and shoulders over competitors on GM foods.

It has banned them from its own label and avoids GM products from elsewhere where viable alternatives exist."

Safeway and Sainsbury are both rated "good" with good warnings on packages and a positive attitude to organic food. Somerfield and Tesco are "average" while Asda is "below average" for being "insufficiently pro-active towards either GM or organic food issues." Marks & Spencer is bottom of the heap.

Harragin says: "M & S has little organics, is behind most on labelling. There is no leadership - the GM food issue is part of the wider M & S malaise." Credit Suisse is the only mainstream ethical fund with a Marks & Spencer holding - 0.8 per cent of the trust.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:01 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN2-22

Milked for all its worth

Andrew Yates investigates Monsanto's latest foray into farming
The Times of London Feb 22, 1999

Is Frankenstein's milk around the corner?

One farmer said: "We can't afford to take the risks as far as the purity of food is concerned. We need this like a hole in the head. It should be banned."

Another said: "We don't need it and we don't want it, and neither do the consumers. All it will do is put small producers out of business, line the pockets of the drug companies and damage the reputation of the product on which I and 30,000 other farmers depend."

The scene could have come from any rural pub this week, where so- called Frankenstein foods, genetic modification and the drug company [ Monsanto ] were the hot topics.

However, it took place 10 years ago this week at a National Farmers Union meeting in London. They were dairy farmers talking about a new product, created from biotechnology by Monsanto, called bovine growth hormone. It has been banned in Europe for the past five years, but it could well be on the market for the millennium.

The hormone, Bovine Somatotrophin or BST, boosts milk production in cows. It occurs naturally but has been engineered in the United States by Monsanto. Injected into dairy cattle it can increase milk yields by up to 20 per cent without any change in the animal's diet.

When it was first used in trials in this country a decade ago, public and political concerns were sufficient to persuade the European Union - after a good deal of procrastination - to impose a moratorium of five years on the product. That moratorium comes to an end when the new millennium breaks.

Yesterday a group of scientists from the Ministry of Agriculture sat down for the first time to consider the implications of the review. Dossiers of evidence from animal production specialists, welfarists, drug companies and health experts will be considered in minute detail.

The National Farmers Union, too, is looking at the drug, which is widely available in the United States but not Canada, where it is banned. "We will be considering the whole issue again during the spring and summer," said a NFU spokesman. "A lot of milk has passed under the bridge since 1994 when the moratorium came in."

Monsanto, which has made a fortune from the drug in the United States, is already beginning to lobby for the ban in Europe to be lifted.

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-23

thanks to (jim mcnulty) for posting this:

If They Didn't Lie So Much, We Might Listen

Mail on Sunday (UK) Feb 21, 1999

THE world entered this, our 20th Century, in a mood of exalted optimism. It leaves it, I fear, deeply pessimistic.

In 1899, the wonders which science was increasingly bestowing upon the world were regarded as wholly beneficial.

All of the manifest social problems of the era seemed susceptible to direct political action. Utopia was just around the corner.

We view the future through a glass darkly.

We deeply mistrust science and scientists.

We do not believe any more that politics can really find the solutions to our ills.

It's not the Utopia that Karl Marx promised that beckons any more, but the arid deserts of Mad Max. I know of no recent futuristic film or book which T envisages our tomorrow in anything but the most apocalyptic of terms.

Last week's so-called debate conducted on genetically modified foods has, I think, shown how far we have travelled.

Scientists have told me they are simply horrified by the way the Press has both misunderstood and distorted their work. Politicians cannot understand how such a gulf has opened up between them and the public so that they are simply not believed whatever they say.

When the Daily Mirror characterises Tony Blair as a Frankenstein monster we have pretty well touched the bottom of the sewer which these days characterises political reporting in our downmarket tabloids.

We have become frightened by science. I don't know when that began to happen, but I suspect the die was cast as early as 1905 when Albert Einstein published a paper called 'On The Electrodynamics Of Moving Bodies', but which became internationally known as the Special Theory of Relativity.

Suddenly the marvellous straight lines of Euclid's geometry, the notions of absolute time implicit in Galileo's astronomy and the beauty and simplicity of gravity as explained by Newton's physics were all up for grabs.

Euclid, Galileo and Newton had been the framework in which the Age of Enlightenment and the quite incredible expansion of human knowledge throughout the 19th Century had taken place. Any quite ordinarily educated person could understand their science and, if they didn't, they would know someone who could oblige. And then came Einstein. Every schoolchild knows his equation E=mc 2 . But how many of us understand it?

Einstein ushered in the Age of Technology. He transformed us into lost souls in a world we no longer understand. So we are both resentful and suspicious, similar in so many ways to our equally ignorant pastoral forebears who in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries reacted with such violence and hostility to Edward Jenner, who invented the process of vaccination which led to the elimination of smallpox, the greatest scourge of his time.

Jenner, who took his original vaccine from cows, was accused of offending all the laws of natural life. GM scientists today are told they are behaving like God. 'Stop playing with our food,' they are told. Heaven help us. For centuries they've been 'playing' with our food and, in the process, spared all of the advanced industrialised countries of the world the terrible spectres of famine and disease which, like smallpox, haunted our forebears for generations.

Diseases like rickets, caused by malnutrition, have been eradicated, giving children a fair chance of reaching maturity.

We are the first generation in the history of the world in which the thin people are the rich people, and the fat the poor.

Because we no longer have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, we can afford not to eat. That is an extraordinary revolution in the conduct of human affairs.

But people don't know their history any more. These ignoramuses seem to suppose that it was always that way that there always was a chicken in every pot. There wasn't. Famine stalked our continent until quite recent times. The Irish potato famine between 1845 and 1849 caused a million deaths and drove a million more to emigrate.

Only our wealth, which allowed us to import food, kept the spectre of famine away from these shores in the 19th Century.

Of course, it is right to be sceptical. Genetically modified foods have to be most carefully evaluated before they are widely grown. Science, as we know from the BSE crisis, can take a dangerous turning and it's not a bad watchword in life to treat whatever the [ Monsanto Chemical Corporation ] tells you with considerable suspicion.

E MUST therefore have a debate, but it must be a grownup one in which the protagonists seek not to frighten, but to enlighten us. There are dangers, but if these can be overcome, there are vast benefits to us all in this new technology.

The scientists believe they will produce better, healthier and cheaper crops. They won't destroy the living environment, they say, because so efficient will they be in producing a trouble-free harvest that less of our countryside will need to be under cultivation. With the right safeguards, GM foods offer hope and not desolation.

This is what the Government has been trying to say. So why can't it get its message across?

Well, let me tell you. Governments all over the world are not believed any more. We have all grown wise over the years to the weaselly words of politicians, their lies and half-truths.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's Press spokesman, says the media trivialises political debate. Maybe so, but Mr Campbell would do well to remember where that process began. Politicians these days spend so much time playing to the gallery that it's hard to believe them when they play it straight. They twist words. They subvert the very meaning of language. They obfuscate. They jump on every passing fashion and ask us to admire them for so doing. Like the Tories' stance over GM foods there is no issue known to man over which they won't play politics.

That 'cynicism' which Campbell deplores was not bred in Fleet Street, but within the corridors of power.

The utter mendacity of the political process, and its hypocrisies, has finally caught up with them all.

They cannot exercise the leadership which they want to provide and which the world, I believe, requires because we don't trust them any more.

We are left with no compass in our lives no one whom we respect or trust. So a debate on GM foods, so vital to us all, is held between competing extremes the companies which hope to make vast fortunes and unrepresentative, somewhat paranoid pressure groups who wish to impose a singular and, in my judgment, rather nasty model of how the world should be organised upon us all.

It's not the fault of the media that this is happening. It's because over the years we, and other countries like us, have been denied clean, honest and open government.

Trust is not freely given, it has to be earned. There are many lessons for politicians everywhere in the GM debate. I just hope Tony Blair, William Hague and all their friends are listening.

(Copyright 1999)

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-23

posted by (jim mcnulty)

Greens And Growers Wide Apart On Bio-tech Food

February 22, 1999

CARTAGENA, Reuters [BR] via NewsEdge Corporation : Fears of mutant maize Frankenstein have been pitched against promises of a horn of plenty to end world famine at a United Nations conference on genetically-modified crops this week.

More than 500 delegates from 130 countries are meeting in Colombia's colonial port city of Cartagena to hammer out rules for the import, export and use of crops and food engineered in laboratories by scientists mixing genes and DNA from plants and even animals.

Environmental activists accuse bio-technology companies of trying to make a fast buck in what is already a multibillion-dollar industry at the risk of sparking a huge ecological disaster and damaging human health.

The manufacturers of genetically-modified foods accuse the pressure groups arguments in a bid to wrap the industry up in red tape.

U.N. officials hope government representatives will adopt a protocol by the end of the meeting Tuesday but concede that any agreement would likely be -- effectively a dog with no teeth. It's now possible to do stuff that only writers could imagine before and build up completely new life forms. The argument that we need Mika Raila, a Greenpeace spokesman at the conference, told Reuters. The U.S. government has said it sees the bio-tech industry as the second most promising after information technology ... and it's been bullying he said, adding that other major grain exporters including Canada, Argentina and Australia were also lobbying for as few controls as possible on genetically-modified food.

Last year, about one-quarter of all maize, or corn, grown in the United States was transgenic, together with about 35 percent of soybeans and some 45 percent of cotton, according to industry estimates.

The bio-technology industry says their advanced techniques ultimately will allow the world to feed its ever-growing population by boosting crop quality and yields on existing farm land without encroaching on hitherto uncultivated areas.

But alarm over the potential environmental and health risks of genetically-engineered produce has reached fever-pitch in parts of Europe, .

This week environmental activists dumped four tons of genetically-modified, U.S. soybeans on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's doorstep, after he said he had no worries about eating the hi-tech food.

Raila argued that genetically-modified crops could cross- pollinate with wild species causing unwanted changes or even wiping out plants, insects and animals right up the food chain.

The health risk to humans of eating such foods is as yet unknown but there are signs it could cause allergies, resistance to certain medicines and possibly even affect internal organs, he said. Nobody has more of a vested interest than ourselves to make sure these products are safe for the consumer. Bio-technology gives us the possibility Val Giddings, vice president of the Washington-based Bio-Technology Industry Organization, told Reuters. The argument that gene exchange is problematic is bogus. Greenpeace and its likes have made a decision for metaphysical reasons that it is opposed he added.

Environmentalists and industry experts appear to be poles apart on the issue, but only government representatives are taking a direct part in this week's talks in Cartagena.

Michael Williams, spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program said the discussions, which began last Sunday, had been tough. This is a very complex issue and negotiations have been difficult. But he said.

Controversy has centered on whether new rules should just apply to modified seeds or extend to products made from genetically-modified crops. There has also been argument over who should be liable if a genetically-modified crop produces unwanted side effects or environmental damage. There's a potential incompatibility between environmental and trade Williams said.

[© Copyright 1999, Reuters]

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-23

Express your support for Prince Charles and his fight against GE foods at his website

Prince Charles Defies Blair on GM Food

by Andrew Pierce and Mark Fox Exclusive, Sunday Express 21 Feb 99

PRINCE Charles is locked in a battle of wills with Tony Blair over genetically modified food. Down ing Street is pressurising Charles to withdraw his website, in which he describes GM food as a potential risk to public health and the environment and an unacceptable challenge to the natural order A defiant Charles refuses to change the site which is visited daily by thousands of people worldwide. In it he states: "We should not be meddling with the building blocks of life in this way" Charles adds: "There is an important public debate needed on whether we need GM crops at all."

The Sunday Express has learned that far from being silenced, the Prince will continue to speak out strongly against GM food once the political controversy has died down, so that he can capitalise on the new wave of popular concern. Only last week he hosted a seminar at Highgrove with the Soil Association to discuss the best way of taking his campaign. forward.

With the Government increasingly rattled over the political fallout, Mr Blair dramatically intervened yesterday. In a newspaper article. he refused to bow to demands for a three-year ban on the commercial growing of GM crops and accused the media and Tories of distortion. Ministers fear Charles's outspoken comments, posted on his website in December -before the row erupted over Science Minister Lord Sainsbury"s involvement with the biotech Industry - will damage efforts to reassure the public.

Downing Street took the unusual step last week of phoning Buckingham Palace to advise the Prince to withdraw the website comments. He was also advised to refrain from any public comments until the political heat has cooled. Charles has decided the site, due to be changed this week, will now remain for several more weeks. As soon as the political climate allows, he will make an outspoken speech on the issue.

A Palace aide said, "The Prince feels very strongly this is absolutely the right moment to drive home his long held concerns about this sort of food. "He first made a speech on the subject two years ago. He is determined not to be left out of a debate he feels he helped to start."

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-23

Thanks to Brad Duplisea for posting this from

A Bad Taste Left

by Mark Abley, The Gazette (Montreal), Mon 22 Feb 1999, PAGE NUMBER B2

Genetically modified food is on sale at all Canadian supermarkets. Health Canada to date has approved 40 engineered foods and those foods can be found in hundreds of processed products that contain corn oil, canola oil, soybeans, tomato paste and potatoes. There is nothing to tell Canadian consumers that what they are about to ingest come from plants or animals that have been genetically altered.

In the multi-billion dollar industry that biotechnology has become, the consumer seems to have got short shrift. Most consumers want to be able to choose what they eat, and for that they need to know truly basic and important things like whether it has been genetically altered.

The most convenient way to know whether food has been genetically engineered would be to have a uniform, worldwide system of identifying food that has undergone genetic alterations. No such thing exists and even this week as 130 countries continue to meet in Colombia to thrash out the world's first treaty on genetically modified food, there was no mention of the need to inform consumers. As things stand now, the only sure approach is to buy food that a producer certifies is wholly natural.

Producers of genetically modified food are reluctant to label their produce as such. On the few occasions that a food has been labeled as genetically modified, consumers have rejected it. The average consumer - made nervous by scandals like Britain's mad cow disease - is in no mood to put implicit trust in the hands of food producers or government or multinational companies.

Biotechnology firms have long played down the possible dangers of ingestion by animals and humans of genetically modified food, but those dangers include the spread of toxins, allergies and resistance to antibiotics.

These firms also show little sympathy with the public's desire for more long-term testing. While some scientists and environmentalists claim it takes a generation to know the implications of new technology, bio-engineering companies continue to simply insist their products are safe.

While they may in fact turn out to be safe, there should be greater concern with people's right to know what they are eating. That right should have been at the centre of the negotiations in Colombia, yet trade issues appeared to far overweigh any concerns the public may have about bio-engineered products.

For food and pharmaceutical companies in the United States alone, there is an annual $60 billion in trade at stake. Giants like Monsanto Co. of St. Louis led the push in Colombia to make sure that the negotiations would not end in a reduction of trade in genetically modified products. The Americans were backed by other major grain exporters like Canada, Australia and Argentina.

Arguments in favour of genetically modified plants include a decreased need for pesticides and herbicides, surely a boon for the environment. But biotechnology companies don't seem to want to make their case in public. Granted, it's not helpful when they don't seem to have anything

to offer the consumer other than tomatoes that are redder than normal, but public distrust will probably only grow in the absence of compelling arguments in favour of genetical modification. Today's public is rightly reluctant to take anything at face value.

As the 500 delegates meeting in Cartagena today try to hammer out the rules for the import, export and use of crops and food that have been genetically engineered, they should think about adding one more rule: the consumer should be informed.

The Gazette (Montreal)

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-23

Thanks to Tom Balint for posting this:

Terminator Gene Trips Alarms

BYLINE John Greenwood, National Post Sat 20 Feb 1999 PAGE NUMBER D11

Terminator gene trips alarms: A snippet of genetic material that causes crops to become infertile is drawing grave criticism. Modified plants still develop normally, but their seeds will not germinate, forcing farmers to buy a new supply every spring. Critics claim it's a corporate conspiracy to control world agriculture, and ecological disaster is a possibility.

Looking back, Mel Oliver is still a little shocked at all the fuss over his little switcheroo with the plant DNA. His employer, the United States Technology So does the Delta and Pine Land Co., a leading U.S. cotton seed company, which is bankrolling his research. The rest of the In the past, seed companies have used biotechnology to boost crop yields, but this is different. In essence, the Terminator is a self-destruct mechanism, a snippet of genetic material that causes crops to become infertile. Plants that have been modified to include the trait still grow and develop normally but their seeds will not germinate, forcing farmers to buy a new supply every spring.

The trouble started last March, around about the time Dr. Oliver's name appeared on a patent, jointly held by the USDA and Delta and Pine, Suddenly the once obscure scientist found himself on the receiving end of rants delivered by people he'd never heard of from all over the United States, Canada, and across Europe. They said he was part of a corporate conspiracy to control world agriculture, and the Terminator gene would cross over into wild plants and ecological disaster would result.

At first, Dr. Oliver tried to talk to his critics, to explain how that could never happen, and that in the long run farmers would benefit. He soon he says wearily.

Last May, the U.S. agri-giant Monsanto Co. agreed to acquire Delta and Pine Land for $1.9-billion (all figures in U.S. dollars) and the controversy rose to a new level of intensity.

Terminator technology has now become a subject of heated debate in parliaments all over Europe, and in a flash point in the battle over whether to allow genetically modified foods into stores. In India, the backlash against Terminator technology has been even more virulent, including one incident where angry crowds burned an experimental crop on the strength of a rumour (false, as it turned out) that Dr. Oliver's invention was being tested there.

Even Monsanto agrees the Terminator will have an enormous impact on the agriculture industry. The question is, who benefits? Monsanto says it's a We don't need that says Ken Archibald, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. He worries that it will put too much power in the hands of seed producers.

Others fear that if Monsanto goes ahead with Terminator technology, it will only fuel growing public anger, particularly in Europe, over genetically modified food. Canada, which now accounts for a significant proportion of the world's genetically modified crops, could lose in a big way if other countries opt to take action.

It is a testament to the break-neck pace at which agricultural biotechnology is developing that one of its most significant creations has become a public relations liability of alarming proportions.

As recently as the late 1980s, the business of coming up with new varieties was mostly handled by government departments that employed traditional breeding methods. But plant breeding is a hit-and-miss affair. You match plants with desirable properties and hope for the best.

By contrast, genetic engineering, in which scientists cut and paste DNA from different species to create so-called designer crops, is light-years ahead.

Take for example Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, genetically modified to tolerate the company's Roundup herbicide. Farmers can spray the crop directly killing only weeds with the result that they use less herbicide. In less than five years it's become one of Monsanto's top selling biotech products. Bt corn, a variety invented by the Swiss giant Novartis AG, makes its own pesticide. It contains a bacteria gene that codes for the production of a natural toxin (harmful only to the European Corn Borer). One company is said to be pasting jellyfish genes into wheat so as to render the plants fluorescent -- the idea being that they would start to glow when they needed water. Still another company has slipped leech genes into canola DNA to produce a life-saving clot-busting drug.

The science is astounding, but so is the dollar figures. Ag-biotech companies say it costs them between $30-million and $100-million to develop a single transgenic variety. As an industry, they've already forked out billions. They want to recoup their investment through seed sales, but there's a problem with that.

For thousands of years farmers have been saving last year's seed to grow next year's crop. All over the world farmers regard the practice as a right and one of the few ways they can stay in business during lean years. In the developing world it's a necessity. Not surprisingly, industry's attempts to change things haven't been a roaring success. agreement before allowing them to buy genetically engineered seed -- basically, a promise not to save it. To ensure the farmers take heed, who monitor who's growing what. The agreement gives them the right to go onto a farm and inspect the contents of the barn and fields when ever they choose. The farmers hate it. The system is expensive and not particularly effective.

In some parts of the United States, particularly cotton growing areas, seed piracy has become so widespread that the ag-biotech companies have been forced to suspend crop development programs.

It's not the first time the industry has grappled with the issue. Years ago, researchers came up with hybrid seeds that rapidly lose their potency after each new generation. But hybrids had their drawbacks, too.

By the time Mel Oliver arrived on the scene, the search for a way to control the flow of genetic technology had become the industry's Holy Grail.

Born and raised in England, Dr. Oliver came to the University of Calgary, a world leader in crop development, to do his graduate work. In 1983, he earned his PhD in plant genetics. In 1990, after teaching stints at two U.S. universities, he joined the USDA as a research geneticist.

Then, and now, most of Dr. Oliver's work has been in the study of traits he says. In time, he believes his his work will lead to the development of If you can alter drought tolerance by just 10%, you can do a significant amount, it means farmers can use he says. Even if they knew of this work, Dr. Oliver's critics would likely not share his confidence.

Part of the USDA's mandate is to look out for the interests of the agricultural industry. So it was not unusual when, back in the early 1990s, Dr. Oliver was asked by Delta and Pine Land, based in Scott, Miss., to think about a technology protection system. There was a group of them, he recalls, both breeders and scientists, and they had come to see him at the We were looking at ways of developing a hybrid system and we discussed ways of doing that, but later decided it was way to expensive to

The meeting ended without success but that night, Dr. Oliver had a he says.

Though the details would take months to flesh out, Dr. Oliver saw how the system might work. The Technology Protection System is actually a group of three genes -- two from bacteria and one from a plant. They come into play only when triggered by a chemical wash given before the seed is sold.

Patent number 5,723,765 for the control of plant gene expression was issued in the United States last year, and patents are pending in more than 80 countries, including Canada.

One of the most vocal critics of the technology is the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a Winnipeg-based organization that describes itself as dedicated to the interests of farmers around the world. Over the past year, RAFI has launched a global protest against Monsanto and its technology protection system. When searching on the Internet for Terminator, nine out of 10 references are courtesy of RAFI. But the cry has also been taken up by an assortment of environmentalists and groups fighting for legislation against genetically modified food. Despite RAFI's Canadian base, the fiercest skirmishes against Terminator technology have been fought in Europe.

The main argument of the anti-Terminator contingent is that the technology only benefits big business. They say the seed companies will use it as a tool to force farmers to buy their product instead of using the traditional unmodified varieties. The final result, they say, will be that millions of subsistence farming families who can't afford the new designer seeds coming down the pipe will be forced from their land.

In Europe, the issue is wrapped up in the debate over genetically modified crops, something many see as the thin edge of a Faustian wedge being driven by technocrat businessmen too busy playing God to realize the dangers of what they're pushing.

They claim that the biotechnology companies need to do more research to prove that genetically modified products are safe. Last year, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a British scientist, set off an uproar in the media there after claiming that rats fed a diet of genetically altered potatoes had suffered damage to their immune systems. His employers at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, which receives funding from biotechnology companies, said he was mistaken.

Some groups go even further. They fear a nightmare scenario where the suicide gene somehow crosses the divide into wild species, eventually killing them off.

Supporters of the technology counter that that's exactly the kind of thing it's designed to prevent. In the rare event that a modified plant does breed with a wild variety, they say the modified traits would disappear in a single generation. I don't think people need to worry about this technology, in fact they should be happy about it stopping transgenic genes from getting into the says Dr. Oliver. Most experts agree that that facts are, by and large, on Dr. Oliver's side.

Still, there are nagging doubts. At one point, the industry claimed that modified traits would not survive in wild species, because they would be a liability. But that appears not to be the case. Already scientists have documented a number of cases where wild weeds have acquired, for instance, a tolerance for Roundup herbicide, which has stood them very well in the wild.

As for the argument that Terminator technology will put farmers out of business, Delta and Pine Land says that doesn't hold water either. Harry Collins, the company's vice-president of technology transfer, believes it will actually work to the farmers' advantage. Dr. Collins argues that the Terminator will enable companies like his to justify their investment in transgenic research. They will spend more money developing superior crops and farmers will end up with access to high quality seeds they wouldn't otherwise be able to buy.

Third World farmers would benefit too, he says. His company has no interest in putting its Terminator into traditional crops. Terminator technology is expensive and would only make economic sense in top-of-the-line Cadillac crops. Farmers will always have the choice, he says, either to save their traditional seed, or to invest in superior modified varieties.

But farmers should take comfort in the fact that they will have the final say. If in the end it doesn't pay them to grow newfangled genetically modified crops, they'll stop buying them. And Monsanto will lose its market.

Top PreviousFront Page

Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 22:25:12 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-23

next article posted by (Judy Kew)

U.S. Scurries To Scuttle Biotech Trade Curbs Fate Of GM Produce Splits Factions At Colombian Conference

Florida Today; 02/14/99

The U.S. government and scores of corporations are scrambling to prevent a proposed international accord from sharply restricting the global flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of genetically engineered products, ranging from cotton seeds to soft drinks.

The intensive lobbying effort will climax this week as negotiators from more than 170 countries convene to draw up final language on the pact.

It would be the world's first accord to regulate the spread of genetically manipulated organisms. Depending on how the agreement is worded, it could promote or restrict the burgeoning biotechnology industry worldwide.

Despite years of preparatory negotiations, however, philosophical rifts loom between the handful of countries ready and eager to ship genetically engineered products around the world and the many other countries that remain wary of the biotechnology revolution.

Environmental groups see the proposed agreement as their first opportunity to set ecological standards for trade in gene-altered crops, livestock and other products.

Economic pitfalls

Yet many American companies - along with the governments of the United States, Canada, Australia and others - are alarmed about draft language they say could undermine the global economy and severely disrupt world trade.

Former President Jimmy Carter and others have warned that if a badly worded agreement goes through, grain could rot on docks, regulators could freeze shipments of vaccines and other vital drugs, and trade in products as mundane as corn oil and paper could slow to a snail's pace.

"If applied broadly, this could affect an enormous amount of trade," said Rafe Pomerance, a deputy assistant secretary of state and one of several U.S. observers attending the talks in Cartegena.

But diplomats from several other countries contend the greater risk is that unregulated trade in gene-altered seeds, microbes, plants or animals will seriously harm the environment and human health. They say scenarios of stymied world trade amount to scare- mongering by governments and commercial interests opposed to tighter control over the growing global marketplace in genes.

"Genetic pollution is considerably more dangerous than oil spills," said Kristin Dawkins of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis.

American hopes that the accord ultimately will favor less stringent trade rules were weakened Thursday as the European Parliament passed new restrictions on the importation and use of genetically engineered seeds and organisms. Several of the new provisions, including a demand that exporters take on legal liability for environmently damaging genetic accidents, run directly counter to U.S. positions.

Although the legislation must be passed by the European Council of Ministers before it becomes law, passage by the parliament was seen by some as a strong signal of support for countries pushing for more regulation.

No country has more to lose from overly strict regulation than the United States. It is the world leader in biotechnology, making and exporting a wide variety of products whose manufacture depends in some way on organisms that have been genetically altered, including the glue in many cardboards, the corn sweetener in soft drinks, much of the insulin that keeps diabetics healthy, many of the vaccines that protect children from deadly ailments and thousands of other products.

Lately, however, concerns have grown about the potential ecological, social and economic effects of world commerce in engineered seeds, organisms and biotech products. Although there has been little public controversy in the United States, genetic engineering has become highly controversial in many European and developing countries.

'Biosafety protocol'

Some fear that engineered microbes or plants will disrupt local ecologies and undermine traditional farming practices. Others have focused on perceived, albeit unproven, health threats from eating genetically engineered grains or cereals. A third concern is that important economic sectors in some developing countries could be undermined by scientists' ability to grow rare food ingredients or flavorings in the laboratory.

The "biosafety protocol" being negotiated in Cartegena is an outgrowth of a treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity, which emerged from the June 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The diversity agreement, ratified by 174 nations, calls for protecting the variety of plants and animals found in the wild. Ecologists have recognized that diversity, which is under grave threat from development and other human pressures, is one of Earth's most valuable treasures.

Unfortunately for the United States, the many U.S. government and industry representatives traveling to Cartegena have no official standing in the weeklong talks because the U.S. Senate never ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. President Clinton signed the treaty in 1993. But lingering U.S. concerns have stalled Senate approval.

At a glance

The "biosafety protocol" being negotiated in Cartegena is an outgrowth of the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect wild plants and animals, ratified by 174 nations since the June 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

(Copyright 1999)

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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