26 February 99

Table of Contents

US Sabotages Biosafety Protocol (with help from a few friends)
Compromise is Proposed for Pact on Genetically Altered Products
Key Brazilian state moves to block transgenic soy
India - Seeds of hope or seeds of despair?
India's High Court Stops Field Trials Of Biotech Cotton
US: Deal Unlikely On Biotech Crops:
Pigs Grown With Human Genes
The Real Facts Of Genetically Modified Food
U.S. and Allies Block Treaty on Genetically Altered Goods
GM foods to be taken off menu in schools
Talks at the UNís Biosafety Protocol in Colombia broke down
Rachel-Weekly: Genetically Altering The World's Food
What to Stay Away from to Avoid GE Foods:

Top NextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

Thanks to MichaelP for posting this

US Sabotages Biosafety Protocol (with help from a few friends)

By Jeremy Lennard in Bogota, Guardian (London) Tuesday February 23, 1999

A treaty among 170 countries to ensure safe trade in genetically modified organisms has been sabotaged by the United States, which believes its business interests are threatened.

The US has refused to allow commodities like soya bean and corn, which account for 90 per cent of the world trade in GMOs, to be included in the negotiations. If they were included they would need to be clearly labelled when being traded between countries, something the Americans are anxious to avoid because it could lead to their products being boycotted.

The US action came only 24 hours before a deadline for the biosafety negotiations in Cartagena to be completed. The US refused to bow to pressure from the vast majority of the 170 countries present, who called for a cautious approach to the international trade.

It is likely that a protocol will still be signed, but after working groups failed last week to produce a consensus on a paper for the final debates, the treaty is likely to favour free trade concerns over environmental prudence, and play into the hands of biotech companies such as the US giants Monsanto and Dow.

'The US is willing to threaten biodiversity in the name of short-term profits. It wants a biotrade, not a biosafety, protocol,' said Greenpeace's political adviser, Louise Gale. 'Over the past two years the US has flooded the world market with unregulated and unlabelled gentically-engineered [GE] grain. It is clear it wants to continue this practice and will sabotage any efforts to set international rules for GE crops.'

Although the US has no formal delegation in Cartagena, it sent a powerful lobby group of biotech company representatives. They have worked with a handful of other countries to ride roughshod over the concerns of the European Union and the developing world, which fears it will become a unwitting testing ground for biotechnology.

Last week the British delegation broke ranks with its EU colleagues when it helped to write a set of proposals strongly in favour of the US position, and which will form the watered-down basis of any treaty signed today

The proposals essentially reduce any potential agreement to govern the trade in genetically engineered seed, and offer few or no restrictions on the trade in genetically engineered grain to be used in food, and other commodities containing GMOs. If adopted, the paper will also sideline liability concerns for another four years while freeing up trade.

Unless the majority of the countries can force their agenda at the eleventh-hour, the right of countries to say no to the import of genetically modified organisms will not be subject to global agreement, except for seeds. Instead it will be reduced to a decision by individual states, which can be contested before the World Trade Organisation.

At the same time, the rights of individual countries to insist that genetically engineered grain, for example, be segregated from conventional grain, and that commodities containing genetically modified organisms be labelled, has been fudged.

The implications of a weak protocol for importer countries and the vast majority of the developing world were demonstrated at the weekend with the arrival of a US grain-carrier at the nearby Caribbean port of Santa Marta. Its cargo would be unaffected by the current proposed wording of the protocol.

The cargo ship Abydos docked on Saturday to unload 17,000 tons of maize, which even by the biotechnology industry's estimates could contain up to 3,500 tons of genetically engineered grain. Colombian law makes no provision for the presence of GE grain in the shipment, and the country becomes a passive recipient without the right of prior consultation.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

Compromise is Proposed for Pact on Genetically Altered Products

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Feb 22, 1999


New worldwide rules governing genetically engineered products likely would exclude corn, soybeans and other crops if the rules can be adopted by a deadline Tuesday.

In negotiations involving 130 countries, a proposed compromise released Sunday would exempt gene-altered farm commodities and pharmaceuticals from the treatylike agreement.

The U.S. government and manufacturers argue that strict rules on crops and drugs would impede international trade. But it remained unclear whether Europe and developing nations, which want strict rules, would agree to the compromise.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

posted by (jim mcnulty)

Key Brazilian state moves to block transgenic soy

Monday February 22, 1999

SAO PAULO, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Brazil's second-largest soybean-producing state of Rio Grande do Sul is trying to ban planting of genetically modified soybeans produced by a local unit of U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MTC - news), the state's agriculture secretary said. the state's Agriculture Secretary Jose Hermeto Hoffamann told Reuters. What we are doing now is looking into the ways that this legally can be he added.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

posted by (jim mcnulty)

India - Seeds of hope or seeds of despair?

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, NEW DELHI, February 21, 1999

American agribusiness giant [ Monsanto ] says it has a new plant that will be a boon for India's poor cotton farmers, one bred with a naturally occurring substance known as "Bt" that keeps away insects.

But the sales campaign has run into a maelstrom of criticism born of Indians' fears about the mysteries of science and their suspicions about the motives of multinational corporations.

In recent months, farmers raided small fields in southern India where Monsanto is testing its genetically modified Bt cotton. The Andhra Pradesh state government had its officials yank out the plants, even though the government approved the tests.

The tests are a step in a long certification process that Monsanto must fulfill before it can sell Bt cotton seeds in India, the world's third-biggest producer.

Despite the anti-Monsanto protests, the head of the federal biotechnology department, Manju Sharma, said the government is satisfied with the tests so far. Sharma, a plant physiologist, said government scientists are carefully monitoring field trials.

Seven years ago, India opened its economy to foreign companies, but a bitter debate continues over how much foreign participation should be allowed. Leftists often portray foreign companies as monsters bent on destroying India's industry and slashing jobs; rightists say India has the strength to go it alone.

Suspicion about the motives of foreign giants wasn't helped last year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a private seed company, Pineland and Delta, patented a way to make plants produce sterile seeds.

Environmentalists in India joined worldwide fears that multinational companies could control food supplies by denying farmers the centuries-old practice of saving seeds from each harvest for planting.

Critics say that with big companies controlling a growing portion of the seed market, farmers would be forced to buy so-called terminator seeds when a bad crop left them short of seeds. Some scientists also worry that pollen from "terminator" plants could alter other crops and make them sterile.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

India's High Court Stops Field Trials Of Biotech Cotton

By Frederick Noronha, Environment News Service (ens)

NEW DELHI, India, February 23, 1999 (ENS) - India's highest court, the Supreme Court, today intervened on the issue of allowing trials of genetically-engineered Bt cotton by companies linked to biotechnology giant Monsanto. The cotton has been altered by biotechnology to incorporate the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring insecticide. Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 1999

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

Thanks to Bradford Duplisea for posting this:

US: Deal Unlikely On Biotech Crops:

The Toronto Star, Wed 24 Feb 1999 Page A17

U.S. under fire for bid to `torpedo' negotiations

CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP-Reuters) - The United States came under intense criticism yesterday as negotiators from dozens of countries made a last-ditch effort to approve a treaty regulating international shipments of genetically-modified organisms.

Even if delegates from more than 130 countries agreed to a Biosafety Protocol by the midnight deadline last night, its scope is expected to be limited. I would say it's more unlikely than likely that we will reach a said Rafe Pomerance, of the U.S. delegation.

Many nations will leave this Caribbean port angered at what they considered bullying tactics by Washington and other major exporters of biotech products such as insect-resistant crops and vaccines produced by spli-cing genes - a hugely profitable growth industry. The United States came here to torpedo the negotiations and are happy to said Greenpeace spokesperson Mika Railo. I don't think that it's fair that we come here and negotiate for two said Joseph Gopo, of Zimbabwe's biotech research institute.

As he spoke, Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr made an 11th-hour attempt to find consensus among a polarized group at the U.N.-initiated talks, an outgrowth of the 1992 Earth Summit.

Opposed by most of the developing world, the United States and its allies - Australia, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile - insisted on a narrowly focused treaty with a minimum impact on a multi-billion-dollar industry.

`It's an ecological roulette'

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

Thanks to Bradford Duplisea for posting this:

Pigs Grown With Human Genes

By PAT EATON-ROBB Associated Press Writer, Monday February 22 3:32 AM ET

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - At a top-secret farm hidden in the Northeast, scientists are growing pigs whose DNA has been altered with human genes.

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, yet officials at Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq:ALXN - news) say they are close to figuring out how these pigs can figure in the treatment of human organ failures, spinal cord injuries and illnesses such as Parkinson's disease.

The idea of transplanting animal parts to humans, called xenotransplantation, isn't new. But, until recently, nobody knew how to keep the human body from rejecting the organs.

About 18,000 organ transplants are performed in the United States each year and more than 40,000 patients are waiting for donor organs, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. About 10 Americans die each day waiting for transplants, network officials say.

Alexion's first altered pigs, created with the help of researchers at Virginia Tech in the early 1990s, contained a human gene called CD-59. Scientists hoped the grafted gene would trick the human body's immune system into believing that the pig parts were human.

While transplanted organs from those pigs were able to survive for a couple of days in their new host, the body eventually rejected the parts.

A major breakthrough came last year when the small biotechnology firm, working with scientists in Australia, figured out a way to alter a sugar-like molecule in pig cells so that human antibodies would not recognize it as foreign.

The molecule had been acting as a magnet for human antibodies, betraying the fact that the transplanted tissue was not human. Alexion quickly patented the process. If you now take cells from those animals and challenge them with human said Stephen P. Squinto, the chief technology officer at Alexion.

Scientists at Alexion have already transplanted brain cells from their transgenic pigs into rodents with a syndrome similar to Parkinson's, a degenerative nerve condition that affects motor function.

The transplanted cells not only survived, they became neurotransmitters in the animals' brains and helped correct the tremors, Squinto said.

The same experiments are now being conducted in baboons. If those experiments work, Alexion hopes to begin human trials by the end of the year. Researchers hope that within 15 years humans will be able to receive permanent organ transplants from swine.

The company also has seen remarkable results by transplanting cells from a pig's snout into the damaged spinal columns of rodents, Squinto said. The cells replace the damaged protective sheath around the spine and allow nerve cells to regenerate. Would we expect that we will be able to take a person who is a paraplegic No, I don't think that's the case. But restoring some function to that person is

Xenotransplantation faces stiff opposition from some in the medical community and from animal-rights activists. Alexion was unwilling to allow a reporter or photographer to visit their facilities, in part because they could be targeted by animal rights protesters.

Among the medical concerns: the fear that transplanted organs could bring with them new diseases caused by viruses now living only in pigs. A virus originally transmitted from chimpanzees to humans is believed to have caused AIDS.

Because a transplant patient's immune system is suppressed with drugs, xenotransplantation provides an ideal environment for pig viruses to mutate, said Dr. Thomas Murray, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Case Western Reserve University. If you get an organ from a cadaver, you decide whether to accept that risk for yourself. But if

The FDA had temporarily banned animal-to-human transplant experiments because of pig viruses, but dropped the ban late in 1997. Scientists now believe they have identified all the so-called retroviruses that are unique to pigs and can screen for them, Squinto said.

Dr. David Hull, director of the clinical transplant program at Hartford Hospital, is excited by the idea of farms filled with transplantable organs.

The technology could dramatically improve the lives of thousands of people, many of whom can no longer even get out of bed because their own hearts or livers are failing, he said. You would save

But animal rights activists say they whole process is unnecessary. Rather than killing animals for organs, they suggest everyone be considered an organ donor unless they specifically request an exemption, the opposite of the current policy. That is the way to save a lot of money, and it would save a lot of said Sandra Larson, with the New England Anti-Vivisection Society.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:30:19 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-25

The Real Facts Of Genetically Modified Food

Sunday Times - London, February 21, 1999
© Copyright Times Newspapers Ltd, 1999, _____via IntellX_____

Have I eaten GM food?

Almost certainly. So far, only GM tomato puree and soya are being marketed in Britain but soya is an ingredient in about 60% of processed foods, everything from biscuits to ready-meals. The GM variety is being mixed with conventional soya before it is exported from America. Most stores have opted to label foods made with GM products, but there is no obligation on anyone to label GM "derivatives" such as oil and lecithin, an emulsifier made with soya and starch from GM maize.

Is babyfood safe?

The government says so, but then its line is that all GM food on the market is safe. GM products are certainly present in baby milk and also bread, soup and pasta, all staples of the early years.

Why do we need GM food?

We don't: GM alternatives are no more nutritious than existing food. But they are good for the food industry. In theory, at least, they are easier to grow, more reliable and therefore cheaper. Food that stays fresher longer will cut down wastage and crops that are pest-resistant need less spraying and will be cheaper to grow.

Does it live up to its promises?

The companies say so but the Flavr Savr, the first genetically modified tomato to be launched in America, turned out to be a flop: it tasted odd and rotted faster than its traditional equivalents. And in the US several legal claims have been brought by farmers over crop failures.

How many GM crops are being grown in Britain?

There are about 500 test sites, some 717 acres, with a variety of transgenic crops from sugar beet to oil seed rape. Permission for commercial crops has not been granted yet.

What safeguards are there?

All the products being tested in Britain have already been tested abroad and are grown commercially in America, Canada and Australia. Before they can be grown commercially in Europe they first have to be certified by the European Union, the National List of Seed and the Novel Foods Test as well as the government's own advisory committee. A seed will only be approved if the risk of cross-pollination is close to zero.

Can we stop GM foods coming to Britain?

Only temporarily. As it is an issue affecting the single market, decisions about GM food are ultimately made by an EU committee to which all the member states belong. Individual companies can delay the introduction of a GM product. France has imposed a three-year ban on the marketing and import of a type of rape seed and maize but it must produce scientific evidence to back up its decision. Otherwise, when the agreed time runs out, the country concerned must accept the food.

Is there any firm evidence that GM foods could be harmful?

Not even Dr Pusztai's supporters claim his research does anything more than pose questions over safety. Nobody knows if the GM food eaten by the public has had any health impact; government advisers have not even decided how this could be monitored. The worrying thing is that we are eating GM foods every day without knowing what the long-term effects could be.

How concerned are scientists?

Most experts in the field believe there is nothing to suggest that genetic modification is in itself dangerous. But some want the testing of each new GM plant to be improved to make sure a specific gene does not behave in an unforseen manner and cause a health or environmental problem.

What are the supermarkets doing?

[ Safeway ] says it will no longer sell genetically modified tomato paste after stocks run out in two weeks' time. Jointly developed by Safeway, Sainsbury and Zeneca, the GM tomato paste was the first GM food to go on sale here in 1996. But after a post-launch flurry, sales at Sainsbury dropped from its initial launch to around one- third of the ordinary tomato paste today.

Is GM material getting into the food chain in any other way?

Yes. Most animal feed now contains GM maize but it is not labelled - one of the big loopholes in the regulatory regime. The animal feed industry met agriculture ministry officials last week to discuss the feasibility of a voluntary labelling scheme ahead of Brussels legislation. Animal feed is said to be too cheap to make it worth segregating GM from non-GM (the organic food industry disagrees).

Does the introduction of GM crops mean fewer herbicides?

The companies say yes. If crops can be designed to be resistant to a certain weedkiller, the field can be sprayed with impunity, knowing only the weeds and not the crop itself will be damaged. But if, like [ Monsanto ] , the company manufactures both the weedkiller and crops, it is all the better for its profits. The creation of pest-resistant GM plants is not necessarily good for the environment. If pesticide is present in every plant cell - stalk, leaf and root - instead of sprayed, there could ultimately be more toxins in the earth.

Has the biotech revolution gone too far to stop?

While it would be possible to ban GM crops from being grown in Britain, it would be difficult to stop imports of GM food, particularly soya. Britain might suffer if it stood alone against the global GM food market. Our farmers would lose out to those using more efficient crops and our scientists, who rank second in biotechnology behind America, would be overtaken by those of other nations.

Can GM pesticides affect the environment?

Nobody knows, but the government's scientific adviser, Sir Robert May, has warned that "the more successful we get (at growing crops) the worse the news for the wild flowers, the insects, the birds and the countryside". New research suggests that ladybirds were damaged by eating aphids taken from genetically modified potato plants, similar to those Pusztai believes were responsible for the harm suffered by his laboratory rats. Scientists found the lifespan of female ladybirds halved to 36 days and that they laid significantly fewer eggs than before.

What next?

Scientists are working on a range of transgenic animals destined for the dinner plate. Pigs, cattle, chickens and fish are all being produced with genes that speed growth and improve the quality of their meat. Closest to reaching the market are transgenic salmon, which grow faster than conventional varieties and cut down the time a farmer has to look after them before they can be sold.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 16:54:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-26

U.S. and Allies Block Treaty on Genetically Altered Goods

By ANDREW POLLACK, The New York Times on the web, February 25, 1999

CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Attempts to forge the world's first global treaty to regulate trade in genetically modified products failed Wednesday morning when the United States and five other big agricultural exporters rejected a proposal that had the support of the rest of the roughly 130 nations. The treaty would have required that exporters of genetically altered plants, seeds or other organisms obtain approval in advance from the importing nation. The talks broke down over the question of whether this requirement would also apply to agricultural commodities like wheat and corn. Proponents of the treaty, especially European nations, have resisted genetically modified products, worried that not enough is known about the possible effects on human health and the environment. But Washington and its allies have argued that such regulations would entangle the world's food trade in red tape.

Some 25 percent to 45 percent of major crops grown in the United States are genetically modified, and American negotiators feared the proposal could block or stall more than $50 billion in annual farm exports. Bleary-eyed delegates from many nations, who have been negotiating day and night for more than a week, expressed fury at the United States, accusing it of intransigence and of putting the interests of its world-leading farming and biotechnology industries above the environment. "It's five nations against the world," said Joseph M. Goto, the delegate from Zimbabwe, although Washington and its allies actually total six.

Those in agreement with the United States are Canada, Australia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. "There could be no greater injustice than that," he said. The United States, he added, "is holding the world at ransom." The delegates agreed to suspend the talks and resume them no later than May 2000. The United States had urged this, saying there were still too many unresolved issues to allow a consensus to be achieved by the deadline, which was Tuesday. In the meantime, individual countries, particularly in Europe, will continue to limit the introduction of genetically engineered agricultural products, including food.

"It would be much better to get a sound instrument a year hence than to get a flawed instrument today," said Rafe Pomerance, deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and development.

But delegates from some other nations feared the process would now lose momentum. Even without a treaty, countries can limit the import of genetically engineered seeds or foods under their own law, subject to challenge under world trading rules. Some countries, particularly in Europe, are doing this. The treaty was mainly meant to help developing countries, which now lack the expertise and the legislation to regulate biotechnology.

The United States has often taken a stance different from much of the rest of the world on trade and environmental matters. It has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity reached at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 because some senators fear that American interests would be jeopardized. The current talks on the so-called Biosafety Protocol are an outgrowth of the biodiversity treaty.

The Biosafety Protocol would require exporters of genetically modified organisms, such as seeds into which new traits had been added by gene-splicing, to obtain prior approval from the importing country. Such regulations are intended to allow countries to reduce the ecological risks from introducing genetically altered plants, animals and microorganisms into the environment.

Some scientists worry, for instance, that a gene conferring insect resistance or drought tolerance on a crop could spread to weedy relatives of that crop through cross-pollination, creating superweeds. The main sticking point in the biosafety negotiations was whether the requirement for advance approval by the importing nation should apply to genetically altered agricultural commodities meant for eating or processing, as opposed to planting.

Washington and its allies argued that such a requirement would not protect biodiversity because commodities like corn and soy beans do not enter the environment. Developing nations and the European Union argued that commodities should be included because they have seeds that can be planted. Some developing nations even wanted the treaty to cover products made from genetic engineering, such as cornflakes made from modified corn, or blue jeans made from altered cotton, but this was dropped from the final draft. Another unresolved point of dispute was Washington's position that World Trade Organization rules should take precedence over the Biosafety Protocol, to prevent other nations from using biosafety as an excuse to erect trade barriers.

The developing nations and Europe wanted the biosafety protocol to be equal to WTO rules or take precedence over them. Michael Williams, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, said this was the first environmental treaty he could remember in at least 20 years in which an agreement was not reached by the self-imposed deadline.

But officials here said the big stakes involved for industry made this matter particularly difficult. "It's the first time that you have really possibly a legally binding instrument dealing with trade and the environment at the same time," said Veit Koester, a Danish environmental official who chaired the working group that drew up the draft of the treaty. It perhaps complicated things that the industry involved was biotechnology, in which the United States holds a firm lead. There have been a rising number of disputes in recent years between developing and developed nations over the control of genetic resources, the raw material for biotechnology, which some analysts predict will be to the next century what oil and metal were to this one.

The United States in one sense was in a strong negotiating position because it did not want a treaty as badly as the developing nations and therefore had less reason to compromise. Indeed, three years ago Washington opposed starting the biosafety negotiations, and many people at this meeting thought its real intention was to torpedo the treaty.

"The last two years of negotiation have been a constant attempt to delay, not negotiate, block," said Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network, a Malaysia-based group working on environmental and development issues. "They've always said, 'No, No, No,' and they delayed and they diluted," she said.

Still, the United States could have been isolated. But it strengthened its hand by aligning with Canada, Australia and three agricultural exporters from the developing world: Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Without the support of such major exporters, any protocol would have been meaningless. "We were just too important, too big and maybe too thoughtful to be ignored," Pomerance, the American negotiator, said. He said Washington did make compromises. But he added: "There were two compromises we were not prepared to make. One is to tie up trade in the world's food supply. The second is to allow this regime, without a lot of deliberation, to undermine the WTO trading regime."

Both the U.S. government and the biotechnology industry would have something to gain from a treaty, were it not too onerous. A treaty could have helped assuage public fears about biotechnology, which are much greater elsewhere in the world than in the United States. And having a unified global regulatory scheme would be easier for companies than having each nation adopt its own rules. The European Union has extensive regulations restricting the planting of seeds as well as the importing of food that has been genetically altered. Individual countries have enacted their own patchwork of rules.

"We would like to see a little more international harmonization of the regulatory framework," said Willy De Greef, head of regulatory and government affairs for Novartis Seeds AG, a division of the big Swiss pharmaceutical company. "It creates a level playing field and clarity."

But the food and biotechnology industries and the U.S. government argued that genetic engineering has not been shown to be a big threat to biodiversity, especially compared with the destruction of tropical forests to create farmland. They also said that environmental groups and developing nations were trying to expand the treaty to deal with human health and the social and economic effects of biotechnology. "They are trying to get this protocol to develop issues that are really important but not part of the protocol," said Joyce Groote, a spokeswoman for Canada's biotechnology industry.

Environmental groups have complained in the last few days that the protocol had been watered down to the point of near insignificance. But in the end, some said that even the weakened treaty would have been better than none. "The environment's the loser, always," said Beth Burrows, president of the Edmonds Institute, a nonprofit organization in Edmonds, Wash., which deals with biosafety issues. "There was no moral high ground here," she added. "There was no scientific high ground here. It was just cheap power politics."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 16:54:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-26

GM foods to be taken off menu in schools

By Lucy Ward, Political Correspondent, Guardian 25 February 1999 UK

GENETICALLY modified food is to be taken off the menu in schools, old people's homes and town halls after local government leaders recommended a five-year ban in the face of ministerial reassurances that the food is safe.

The advice from the Local Government Association followed pressure from parents and relatives of elderly people in council-run care homes, who contacted local authorities with concerns over the possible health effects of GM products.

The association said yesterday that "the spectre of many unknown factors" surrounding GM foods had raised public alarm.

The recommendation, which will affect almost 10 million children in 26,000 schools in England and Wales as well as 1.5 million local government workers and thousands of people receiving meals-on-wheels, will come as a blow to ministers, who hoped they had succeeded in riding out the explosion of concern over GM foods.

Tony Blair, who says he is happy to eat GM products, has rejected calls for a five-year moratorium on the commercial growing of crops, arguing that sufrlcient safeguards are in place.

The association's public protection committee took its unanimous decision to advise English and Welsh authorities to wait until 2004 before deciding whether to use GM products after receiving a report detailing health concerns

The study, by the head of consumer protection and environmental health, Ian Foulkes, said that scientists did not "fully understand what happens when they fuse genes into the DNA of an other organism", and urged the Government to take "an even more precautionary approach" because of the uncertainty of the long-term health impact.

The committee is to write to Mr Blair about its fears. Councillor John Ryan, chairman of the committee, said: "As major buyers and suppliers of food councils should be very cautious on behalf of the public many of whom are vulnerable, such as schoolchildren and the elderly"

The association wanted the public to be involved in decisions on the use and regulation of these foodstuffs, he added, in a direct challenge to the Government's contention that it has taken public concern into account. Mr Ryan said that seven of the 13 members of the main advisory committee for approving releases of GM crops were involved in GM companies.

The recommendation is not binding on councils. But the association strongly advised them to heed public concerns and comply.

The advice is doubly embarassing for the Goverment since the Labour-led association is generally highly loyal, despite Mr Blair's often combative approach to local government.

Association sources insisted that there was no intention of "getting into a fight with the government".

But the Tories were quick to exploit the challenge, claiming that even Labour councillors had lost faith in the Government's policy

Ministers yesterday dow played the recommendation. The food standards minister Jeff Rooker, said:"It is their decision - they are responsible for it. Our task is to give people a choice. We can do that with labelling and information about alternative non-GM supplies."

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 16:54:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-26

Talks at the UNís Biosafety Protocol in Colombia broke down

By John Ingham, Environment Correspondent, Daily Express 25 Feb 99

THE floodgates for unrestricted global trade in genetically modified food were thrown open last night after Mr Clinton's personal intervention.

Talks at the UNís Biosafety Protocol in Colombia broke down after a US-led coalition of pro-GM countries blocked restrictions on trade. Delegates from two EU countries revealed that the President had called their governments in a bid to persuade them to agree weak regulations.

The talks, attended by more than 150 nations, were intended to lay down worldwide rules allowing countries to say no to GMcrops. In Britain, Tony Blairís defence of GM food was in crisis after council leaders voted to ban it from schools, care homes and staff canteens. The public protection committee of the Local Government Association voted 60-0.

Downing Street officials arranged an emergency meeting after the Prime Minister "hit the roof" over revelations in The Express that the association was set to act. "Our message is that all the GM foods on sale are perfectly safe to eat," said a No 10 official.

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 16:54:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-26

==================  Electronic Edition  ===================

---February 25, 1999---
Back issues are available from
To start your own free subscription, send E-mail to with the words

Rachel-Weekly: Genetically Altering The World's Food

On January 14, after an 8-year scientific review, Canada rejected Monsanto corporation's request for approval of its genetically altered milk hormone, rBGH, a drug that makes dairy cows produce 10% more milk than normal.[1] This was a serious setback for Monsanto because rBGH was the company's first genetically-engineered product and Monsanto had hoped international acceptance of rBGH would smoothe the way for its other genetically-engineered farm crops like cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, rice, corn, and soybeans.

The approval process for rBGH in Canada became an embarrasing political fiasco when Canadian health officials claimed Monsanto had tried to bribe them, which the company denied, and government scientists testified that they were being pressured by higher-ups to approve rBGH against their better scientific judgment. (See REHW #621.)

Ultimately, Canada gave a thumbs down to rBGH because, as the product label acknowledges, it can cause udder infections, painful, debilitating foot disorders, and reduced life span in treated cows.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of rBGH in U.S. dairy cows in November, 1993, without taking a position on the issue of cruelty to animals. Monsanto will not reveal how widely the drug has been adopted by U.S. dairy farmers.

Monsanto says it will appeal the rBGH decision within the Canadian government. But more importantly, Monsanto will ask the World Health Organization's Codex Alimentarius to declare rBGH safe when Codex meets in Rome this coming summer. If Codex issues the statement that Monsanto wants, under the World Trade Organization's rules, Canada will lose its right to ban the use of rBGH within its borders, and Monsanto will be one step closer to its goal.[1] At bottom, this is what "free trade" is about -- freeing transnational corporations from control by nation states. Codex Alimentarius is widely perceived to be dominated not by public-spirited health specialists but by scientists aligned with the interests of transnational corporations.

Despite the recent setback for rBGH in Canada, Monsanto is pressing ahead with its plan to dominate world agriculture by selling genetically modified seeds -- a plan it is pursuing with powerful aid from the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Both inside and outside the U.S., Monsanto is selling two basic varieties of genetically-modified seeds: "Roundup Ready" seeds that have been genetically modified to withstand a heavy soaking with Monsanto's best-selling herbicide, Roundup (glyphosate). And a group of seeds implanted with a Bt gene, which produces a pesticidal toxin in every cell of the resulting plant. Caterpillars that eat any part of such a plant will die, at least until the whole caterpillar population develops "resistance" to the Bt toxin. (For more detail, see REHW #637 and #638.)

Within the U.S., genetically altered crops are rapidly coming into widespread use. In 1995, no genetically-modified crops were grown for commercial sale. Three years later, in 1998, 73 million acres of genetically-modified crops were grown worldwide, more than 50 million acres of them in the U.S. To allow this rapid change to occur with a minimum of resistance from consumers, the FDA has declared that genetically modified foods do not need to be labeled, thus depriving consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice in the grocery store. You cannot refuse to buy what you cannot identify. It is presently estimated that some 30,000 items in U.S. grocery stores already contain genetically modified organisms.[2]

Monsanto has announced that by the year 2000 (next year), 100% of U.S. soybeans (60 million acres) will be genetically modified.

Actually, 100% really means something like 99.9%. Even if Monsanto reaches it's "100%" goal, there will continue to be a small acreage devoted to organically-grown, traditional soybeans. However, if Monsanto has its way, even these organically-grown non-genetically-modified soybeans will become difficult to identify. Last year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed national standards to define what "organically grown" means, Monsanto and USDA proposed to allow genetically-modified crops to be labeled "organic." (See REHW #583.) After USDA received 300,000 letters of opposition from an angry public, USDA and Monsanto both withdrew the proposal. But three years from now, Monsanto will be back, urging the government to allow the "organic" label on genetically modified crops. If USDA goes along with Monsanto's plan, then the "organic" label will become meaningless and consumers will have to trust their grocers to supply soybeans that have not been genetically modified. But few grocers will have any way to know.

According to a series of reports by Bill Lambrecht in the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, Monsanto's overarching plan is to gain approval for genetically modified crops in Europe, then use the European imprimatur to sell its technology to Europe's former colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

It won't be easy. In Ireland, Great Britain, France and India, farmer-led uprisings have burned and destroyed Monsanto's test plots. In India, Monsanto is growing genetically modified plants in green houses constructed of bullet-proof plastic. Monsanto insists its goal is "doing well by doing good" but farmers outside the U.S. are deeply suspicious.

Of particular concern is Monsanto's latest genetic technique called the Technology Protection System, commonly known as "terminator technology." Developed with taxpayer money by the U.S. Department of Agriculture but patented by a Mississippi-based seed company that Monsanto has recently purchased, terminator technology is a genetic technique that renders the seeds of crops sterile after one or two years. This assures that Monsanto's seeds cannot be illegally saved and re-planted year after year.

With terminator technology, anyone who becomes dependent upon Monsanto's genetically-modified seed will have to come back to Monsanto year after year to purchase new seed. By this means, Monsanto will gain a substantial measure of control over the food supply of any nation that widely adopts the company's genetic technologies. It is not a conspiracy, merely a shrewd business venture, but it is clear that Monsanto's goal is effective control of many of the staple crops that presently feed the world.

From its own perspective, the U.S. government evidently believes Monsanto's goal is worth supporting. According to Bill Lambrecht of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, when Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern arrived in the U.S. in 1998 for a St. Patrick's Day visit, he was met by Sandy Berger, the director of the U.S. National Security Council. The topic of conversation at lunch was not peace in war-torn Ireland, but Ireland's pivotal vote in a pending European Community decision on Monsanto's genetically modified corn.[3] Lambrecht reports that when Monsanto flew a group of Irish journalists to the U.S. to help them prepare for the debate over genetically modified foods, their trip included a stop in the Oval Office at the White House -- an inner sanctum that few visitors to Washington ever see.

When the French were reluctant to allow Monsanto's seeds to sprout on French soil, Secretary of State Madeline Albright and U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshevsky intervened on Monsanto's behalf. When the French still refused to yield, President Clinton personally took up the matter with French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and gave him "an earful," Lambrecht writes. When that didn't work, Vice-President Gore followed up with a phone call to the French Prime Minister. Ultimately, the French gave in to the steady, high-level pressure. "Wherever Monsanto seeks to sow, the U.S. government clears the ground," writes Lambrecht, who calls the U.S. government Monsanto's "most powerful ally."

"From the White House and the National Security Council on down," Lambrecht writes, "the apparatus of the U.S. Government worked this year [1998] on behalf of biotechnology. For Monsanto, at this moment, it is like having an Olympic basketball team with several Michael Jordans."[3]

We are speculating, but it appears to us that the U.S. government may view genetically modified crops as a powerful new arm of U.S. foreign policy. Nations whose staple foods are grown from seed that they must purchase year after year from a handful of U.S. corporations are nations likely to see the world the way the U.S. wants them to see it. When asked, they are likely to play ball, whether they want to or not. A new world order, indeed.


[1] Kelly Morris, "Bovine somatotropin--who's crying over spilt milk?" LANCET Vol. 353 (January 23, 1999), pg. 306. For more detail on this story, see Brewster and Cathleen Kneen, "rbGH--for the last time?" RAM'S HORN No. 166 (February 1999), pg. 1. The RAM'S HORN [ISSN 0827-4053]: S-12, C-11, R.R. #1, Sorrento, B.C. V0E 2W0, Canada, is $20 (U.S.) per year (11 issues). E-mail:; or phone (250) 835-8561. Well worth the price.
Top PreviousFront Page

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 16:54:53 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GENews2-26


What to Stay Away from to Avoid GE Foods:

[2] These big-name products include genetically modified ingredients:

If you want to avoid genetically modified products entirely, stay away from


Aspartame--the artificial sweetener Equal or NutraSweet--contains a genetically engineered enzyme, as do most non-organic cheeses.
Amylase (used in making bread, flour, whole wheat flour, cereals, starch),
Catalase (used in making soft drinks, egg whites, liquid whey) and Lactase are all genetically altered. Most livestock and commercial seafood are being fed genetically modified feed. Commercial pork has been genetically altered with DNA from human beings.

Data from: Phillip Frazer and Annie Berthold-Bond, editors, NEWS ON EARTH, December, 1998, pg. 4. NEWS ON EARTH [ISSN 1099-0054] is a high-quality environmental newsletter published monthly; write them at 175 Fifth Avenue, Ste. 2245, NY, NY 10010; or; or phone (212) 741-2365.

[3] Bill Lambrecht, "World Recoils at Monsanto's Brave New Crops," ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH December 27, 1998, pg. A1.


Readers who would like to become active on this issue are urged to read the new publication, MONSANTO MONITOR, which is now being published in the Netherlands. Available via mail or E-mail. E-mail:

Or write: P.O. Box 92066, 1090 AB, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Phone: +31-20-468 2626; fax: +31-20-468 2275. Or:


Other excellent sources for action ideas and information include these:

1) Canada's Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) at;
In North Carolina, phone (919) 542-1396; fax: (919) 542-0069; e-mail:
In Canada, phone (204) 453-5259; fax: (204) 925-8034; e-mail:

2) Physicians and Scientists Against Genetically Engineered Food at

3) The Campaign for Food Safety at; telephone (218) 226-4164; e-mail

4) Food & Water, 389 Vermont Route 215, Walden, VT 05873; phone: (802) 563-3300; fax: (802) 563-3310. Their FOOD & WATER JOURNAL is must reading.

Descriptor terms: monsanto; biotechnology; food safety; pesticides; food security; U.S. foreign policy; genetic engineering; rbgh; bovine growth hormone; canada; roundup; glyphosate; bt; resistance; organbic standards; usda; fda; bill lambrecht; france; ireland; terminator technology; national security council;


Environmental Research Foundation provides this electronic version of RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY free of charge even though it costs our organization considerable time and money to produce it. We would like to continue to provide this service free. You could help by making a tax-deductible contribution (anything you can afford, whether $5.00 or $500.00). Please send your tax-deductible contribution to: Environmental Research Foundation, P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403-7036. Please do not send credit card information via E-mail. For further information about making tax-deductible contributions to E.R.F. by credit card please phone us toll free at 1-888-2RACHEL, or at (410) 263-1584, or fax us at (410) 263-8944.

--Peter Montague, Editor

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:

Our website, contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months See website for details.