27 February 99

Table of Contents

13 companies own 80% of GM patents
Soured milk of Monsanto's 'kindness' Inside corporate America
RISE-Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment
The real facts of genetically modified food
Terminator's Inventor - Dr. Mel Oliver
GE Foods: The Dangers (Basic Information)
GE foods - Current tests are inadequate protection
Labs are full of researchers who can't see beyond the microscope
Royal Society
Distinction Between "good Science" and "advisory Opinions of Good Scientists"
Subject: Royal Society continued

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Date: 24 Feb 1999 13:39:30 -0600
From: (jim mcnulty)

13 companies own 80% of GM patents

Evening Standard - London, February 23, 1999
© Copyright 1999, _____via IntellX_____

MORE THAN 80 per cent of the patents covering genetically modified foods and their technology are held by a small number of companies, it emerged today.

The ownership of the food chain came under fresh scrutiny as a major public debate opened in London this morning on the patenting of genetic information, encompassing both GM foods and human cloning.

A computer search of 1,608 patents covering GM food technology reveals that 1,296 belong to only 13 commercial organisations. A further 256 belong to academic institutes worldwide, and 48 more belong to US government bodies.

Patenting the science which governs the production of foods has become extremely important to companies which invest millions of pounds into the research.

Five of the top 20 organisations with patents on transgenic plants and crop improvement using DNA technology are held by European organisations, two by Japanese firms, and the remaining 13 are based in the US.

The figures were released by Der-went Information, which is sponsoring today's debate. The firm sells information to companies in a bid to highlight the role of nonprofit making academic institutions. However, its managers refused to divulge the names of the companies holding the patents or how many patents were held by [ Monsanto ] , the GBP 5billion US company at the eye of the storm over so-called Frankenstein foods.

One of those speaking out at the debate against the way patents are being used to generate profit is Labour MP Alan Simpson.

The debate, chaired by Dame Fiona Caldicott of Oxford University, is being held on the second anniversary of the cloning of Dolly the sheep.

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Date: 24 Feb 1999 13:41:06 -0600
From: (jim mcnulty)

Soured milk of Monsanto's 'kindness' Inside corporate America

The Observer, February 21, 1999
© Copyright 1999, _____via IntellX_____

THIRTY SEVEN per cent of Americans over the age of 15 find sexual intercourse painful, difficult to perform or just plain unenjoyable. Who says so? Doctors Edward Laumann and Raymond Rosen, that's who. And because they said it in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, it popped up last week in every US newspaper.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the study's authors recently worked for [ Pfizer ] , maker of Viagra? In the article JAMA did not mention it either.

The not-tonight-honey study reflects a dangerous new problem: the threat to the impartiality of medical scientists evaluating the products of drugs companies for which they have worked.

Another example: calcium channel-blocking drugs reduce the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, they can also give you a heart attack. Yet 70 learned articles in medical journals vouch for the drugs' safety and efficacy.

According to an investigation by the New England Journal of Medicine, 96 per cent of the scientists who wrote articles supporting the drugs received financial benefits from the pharmaceuticals companies that make them. Only two out of 70 articles disclosed their authors' financial interest.

Such financial interests raise concerns as to the objectivity of scientists responsible for granting government approval for drugs. One US manufacturer, [ Monsanto ] , is a case in point.

The Observer has received copies of letters, memoranda and meeting notes indicating that Monsanto was sent restricted documents from an international regulatory committee investigating the company's controversial bovine growth hormone. BST boosts a cow's milk output, but some European experts say BST has such yummy side-effects as increasing the amount of pus in milk, promoting infection in cow udders and potentially increasing risks of breast and prostate cancer in humans who drink the milk.

According to an internal Canadian health ministry memo of November 1997, Monsanto received advance copies of three volumes of position papers intended for review in closed meetings of the UN World Health Organisation's joint experts committee on food additives. This is one valuable set of documents. The European Union's ban on the genetically altered hormone expires this year. The experts committee advises the international commission, which will soon vote on whether to add BST to the Codex Alimentarius, the list of approved food additives. Codex listing would make it difficult for many nations to block imports of BST-boosted foods.

Monsanto's cache included submissions by EC Directors-General for food and agriculture as well as analyses by British pharmacologist John Verrall.

I spoke with Verrall just after he learned that his commentary had been passed to Monsanto. He was stunned, not just by the release of reports he believed confidential - participants sign non-disclosure statements - but by the source of the leak. The memo identifies Monsanto's conduit from the UN committee as Dr Nick Weber of the US Food and Drug Administration.

Weber, it turns out, works at the FDA under the supervision of Dr Margaret Miller. Miller, before joining government, headed a Monsanto laboratory studying and promoting BST.

After seeing the committee's documents, Monsanto faxed a warning to its allies in government that one participant on the expert committee, Dr Michael Hansen, was `not completely on board'. Indeed he is not. Hansen is furious. A BST expert with the Consumers' Policy Institute in Washington, Hansen regards the memos as putting in doubt the impartiality of the scientists in some US and Canadian authorities.

Other memos discuss plans by some US and Canadian officials to `share their communication strategy' with industry, speak to members of the experts committee and obtain Monsanto's comments ahead of the vote of the experts in February 1998 - in which Monsanto prevailed.

Because proceedings were confidential, we cannot know how a majority overcame objections of known dissenters. But we can presume Monsanto was not harmed by the late addition of BST defender Dr Len Ritter to the deliberations. An intra-office memo obtained from Canada's Bureau of Veterinary Drugs states that Ritter's name was suggested to the bureau's director in an August 1997 telephone call from Dr David Kowalczyk, Monsanto's regulatory affairs honcho.

Of course, obtaining government approvals to sell BST-laden milk is not much use to Monsanto if no one will buy the stuff. Luckily for Monsanto, the US FDA not only refuses to require labelling of hormone-laced products, but in 1994 published a rule that effectively barred dairies from printing `BST-free' on milk products.

This strange milk-carton exception to America's Bill of Rights was signed by Michael Taylor, deputy to the FDA commissioner. Prior to joining the US agency, Taylor practised law with the firm of [ King & Spalding ] , where he represented Monsanto. Taylor, no longer in government, did not return our calls to his office at his current employer, Monsanto Washington.

According to Canadian health ministry researcher Dr Margaret Haydon, Monsanto offered her bureau between US$1 million and $2m in a 1994 meeting. Monsanto counters that the funds were proffered solely to support the cash-strapped agency's research.

Haydon and five other government scientists have filed an extraordinary plea with Canada's industrial tribunal seeking protection for their jobs. They fear retaliation for exposing damaging facts about BST. America's rush to approve the hormone in 1993 rested on a study published in the journal Science by FDA researchers that concluded there were no `significant changes' in BST-fed rats.

The rats appear to tell a different tale. Their autopsies revealed thyroid cysts, prostate problems and signs of BST invading their blood. The US researchers failed to publish these facts and the FDA suppressed the full study.

The Canadian scientists, finally winning access to the full study, blew the whistle. The facts became public only weeks ago via their labour board action, a decade after the original.

Bon appetit.

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Date: 24 Feb 1999 22:55:25 -0600
From: (Judy Kew)

RISE-Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment

In These Times

(Trying to "divest themselves of pesticides"? The note below reminds me of the cartoon in the pulped Ecologist where the fat cat scientist is holding up a container of Roundup and says to a tour holding a booklet called "Monsanto: The Golden Future," "As you will see in the report, Ladies and Gentlemen, Monsnto deplores the use of pesticides. But we make one small exception...." )

In that same issue of In These Times as the "Monsanto Machine" article (below) is another story about EPA/pesticides on food.

It mentions a 35-member pesticide industry lobby group called Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment - including Monsanto, DuPont and Dow.

"RISE and its member firms spent more than $15 million in 1996 to employ 219 Washington lobbyists, including 24 former House staff members, 22 former Senate staff members, 10 former Executive Branch officials, nine former White House aides, four former representatives, and three former senators."

----------------------------------- modem: 512.288.3903

Green Building Professionals Directory at

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Date: 25 Feb 1999 07:08:47 -0600
From: (jim mcnulty)

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?
Is babyfood safe?
Why do we need GM food?
Does it live up to its promises?
How many GM crops are being grown in Britain?
What safeguards are there?
Can we stop GM foods coming to Britain?
Is there any firm evidence that GM foods could be harmful?
How concerned are scientists?
What are the supermarkets doing?
Is GM material getting into the food chain in any other way?
Does the introduction of GM crops mean fewer herbicides?
Has the biotech revolution gone too far to stop?
Can GM pesticides affect the environment?
What next?

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.

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Date: 25 Feb 1999 15:10:42 -0600 From: (Judy Kew)
Via: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to Tom Balint for posting this.

Terminator's Inventor - Dr. Mel Oliver

By John Greenwood, National Post , Sat 20 Feb 1999, p. 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.

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Date: 25 Feb 1999 20:47:01 -0600
From: (Judy Kew)

GE Foods: The Dangers (Basic Information)

This excellent article can be used as a basic information document. The first version is Americanized; the original intact British article is after that.


Important excerpt:

(Thanks to Eleanor Mosher for pointing this out to me long ago):

The artificial nature of GE does not automatically make it dangerous. It is the imprecise way in which genes are combined and the unpredictability in how the foreign gene will behave in its new host that results in uncertainty.

From a basic genetics perspective, GE possesses an unpredictable component that is far greater than the intended change. There would still appear to be so many unknowns that the risks to health and the environment are simply unquantifiable. A potential problem arising from herbicide-resistance GE crops that is largely being ignored is what is the fate of these chemicals within the plant? Are they stable? If they are degraded, what are the products that are produced? And what health risks do they pose?

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Date: 25 Feb 1999 20:47:01 -0600
From: (Judy Kew)

GE foods - Current tests are inadequate protection

Sunday Independent (uk) February 21, 1999

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

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

Despite advances in our scientific knowledge, the gene "maps" for "higher"plants, animals and humans are still very incomplete, with only a few percent of all genes known.

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

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

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

GE plants and animals start life in a laboratory where artificial units of foreign genetic material are randomly inserted into the host in a way which, to a lesser or greater degree, always disrupts natural genetic order and function.

Furthermore, GE brings about combinations of genes that would never occur naturally. A gene from a common soil bacterium has been transferred to soya beans to make them resistant to a herbicide; anti-freeze protein genes from an arctic fish have been introduced into tomatoes and potatoes in an effort to confer resistance to frost.

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

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

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

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Date: 26 Feb 1999 06:58:49 -0600
From: MichaelP
Subject: Blinkered science

The Brits have been described as "panicked" over genetically-manipulated foods. Even with the precedent of how the previous administration handled "mad-cow" disease, the current administration seems loath to approve the taking of precautions, basing its public statements on "sound" scientific advice. A couple of days ago, 19 persons, eminent because they have been elected to the brit. "Royal Society" published a statement which was not helpful in distinguishing between the "advice of good scientists", and "good science".

So here is the advice of a "good scientific journalist". (That's my opinion !!)



Labs are full of researchers who can't see beyond the microscope

By George Monbiot, Guardian (London) Thursday February 25, 1999

When 19 eminent Fellows of the Royal Society publish a joint statement, the world, quite rightly, takes note. We need, the biologists told us in a letter to the newspapers this week, 'to distinguish good science from bad science' and 'bring good science into the centre of decision-making'. To which we all reply, quite so.

But what, precisely, is good science?

What the professors meant, of course, is research subjected to the scrutiny of other scientists, or 'peer review'. What they did not mean is science which improves the lot of humankind, rather than harming it.

Indeed, according to Professor Lewis Wolpert, until recently chair of the Royal Society's Committee on the Public Understanding of Science, science is 'value free': the pursuit of knowledge, whatever its nature, is neither moral nor immoral. This is precisely why we have learnt to mistrust it.

The physics labs in which some of the best scientific brains in Britain design grenades which maim without killing, or bombs which destroy people but not the infrastructure, practice 'good' science, subjected to peer review.

They are also saturated with values. They place a higher value on their research grants than on the lives with which they toy. Precisely the same approach appears to govern many of the nation's biology labs.

For the war now being waged across the planet is an economic one, as big corporations attempt to seize the resources upon which some of the poorest people on earth depend. And many of the best biologists in Britain are fighting on the wrong side.

In an article in the Guardian last week, another eminent Fellow of the Royal Society, Professor Christopher Leaver, argued that genetic engineering will save the world from starvation.

His assessment would be hilarious, were we to forget how influential he is.

The distinguished professor correctly identified the problem: that the world's population is growing and the amount of land on which food can be produced is shrinking. He then went on to enthuse about the tremendous potential for genetic engineering: the new crops it is producing mean that farmland can now be used to grow soap, plastics and high-tech animal feed.

These crops, presumably, for this is the point of the research, will have a higher market value than food crops grown for humans. Farmers, in other words, will be encouraged to stop contributing to the world's diminishing supplies of food and start, instead, to produce industrial chemicals.

Prof Leaver argued that genetically modified crops would help developing nations. He went on to boast that, thanks to genetic engineering, rape, a crop most effectively grown on vast factory farms in the northern hemisphere, can now produce plenty of lauric acid. The new technology threatens to destroy the market for coconut oil that sustains millions of peasant farmers across South-east Asia and the South Pacific.

It's hardly surprising that scientists, even the most illustrious, can no longer distinguish good from bad. British students are forced to specialise earlier than those of most other countries.

Post-graduates discover that research money flows more easily for narrow science with precise technological outcomes than for visionary science with no immediate application. Our laboratories, as a result, are crammed with idiot savants, people with a profound understanding of their own subject, but who know nothing whatever about the political and economic realities which govern its deployment. Christopher Leaver's primitive Modernism, his childish faith in technology's ability to solve political and economic problems, are shared by some of the best researchers in Britain. Unable to see beyond the sub-microscopic, they have, unwittingly, become mercenaries in the corporate war against the poor.

If the world's impending food crisis is to be solved, it will be done through a fairer distribution of food and the means to grow it, soil conservation strategies and a switch away from the consumption of vast quantities of meat and milk.

Genetically engineered plants offer the world very little of benefit that conventional breeding has not already produced. But they offer the corporations control over what, indeed whether, we eat. The people who develop them have got the science right, and everything else wrong.

Scientists have become mercenaries in the corporate war against the poor.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

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Date: 26 Feb 1999 14:22:52 -0600
From: joe cummins

Royal Society

Yesterday Paul Davis commented on a letter from 19 eminent Fellows of the Royal Society. It is worth pointing out that the president of the Royal Society Sir Aaron Klug has been an outspoken advocate of biotechnology and genetic engineering beginning with his first presidential address in 1997. In Feb. 1999 the society commented on the regulation of Biotechnology in UK. That report included the following excerpts :

iv) Could the current system for providing advice to Government be made more transparent?

We welcome indications that the current Government is seeking to conduct its affairs more openly. We recognize that confidentiality can often be important, but believe that a policy that favors extensive use of confidentiality and the Official Secrets Act irrespective of need is unhealthy and counterproductive. We support the approach set out by the Chief scientific Advisor in eThe use of scientific advice in policy makingi regarding transparency.

We also welcome moves by ACNFP and ACRE to increase transparency in the regulatory system by the publication of agenda and minutes and ACNFP's initiative to convene open meetings. We recommend that other advisory committees involved in the regulation of biotechnology consider such measures.

We also recommend that greater information should be made available on the Internet. Web Sites for individual Government departments involved in biotechnology regulation should be linked and should contain sufficient detail on the regulatory process, applications received and advice given to Government by non-departmental public bodies.

We strongly endorse the recommendation of the Chief Scientific Advisor that there should be a presumption that scientific advice to Government will be made openly available, unless it is demonstrably against the national interest to do so.

Where public comment is possible within the regulatory system, for example under the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 1992 (as amended 1995, 1997 and 1998), we recommend that sufficient time be made available for such comment to be received and considered. Currently periods in which comments may be submitted are very limited and we urge the Government to press for the inclusion of adequate consultation periods in the revised European Directive currently under discussion at EC level.

We also urge the Government to press for greater transparency in the provision of scientific advice by expert committees at the European level.

(v) Are ethical and other wider issues addressed fully within the current system?

Ethical issues are not considered under the current regulatory framework for release and marketing of GMOs. There is widespread concern at this lack of consideration and we support the possible revision of directive 90/220/EEC to include consideration of such issues. Nevertheless, such issues may not be best considered by advisory committees in their current structure since they have been formulated to provided a scientific evaluation of the risk of an individual GMO.

(vi) Are stakeholders given the appropriate opportunities to make their views known? For example, would an environmental stakeholders forum be a valuable addition to the current framework?

It is of the greatest importance to develop a mechanism by which public values can be taken into account at all stages of the process and the proposed overarching body should consider ways in which this may be accomplished. It is unclear from the information issued to date in what way an eenvironmental stakeholdersi forum would contribute to the regulatory framework for biotechnology, and in any case, it would be advantageous to ensure that both environmental and industrial interests are adequately represented in any advisory committee considering biotechnology, at all levels of the regulatory process.

If the stakeholders forum is to review individual applications for the production, use, release, or marketing of GMOs then it will be duplicating the work of the existing committees rather than promoting a dialogue between interested parties. If, on the other hand, the forum will advise the Ministerial Group on biotechnology directly, this should be complemented by an industrial stakeholders forum to give a balance of opinion. "

The report commented that the current regulatory system had aroused concern in the public and urged that such concerns be respected. The Royal Society members who participated in the joint statement should declare any potential conflicts of interest in their dealing with the large companies that profit from genetic engineering and should as well insist that government officials regulating biotechnology, as for example Lord Sainsbury, should make clear and public any financial benefits and patents from biotechnology.

The Royal Society web page: includes the Society statements on biotechnology but does not include the President's public devotions to biotechnology industry. In my opinion, Prince Charles web site is far more informative on the issue of genetic engineering and biotechnology than the Royal Society Web site. The Royal Society deals in generality and assumes that genetic engineering is beneficial and safe while Prince Charles web site deals with both ethical and scientific issues of substance.

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Date: 26 Feb 1999 17:40:39 -0600 From: MichaelP

Distinction Between "good Science" and "advisory Opinions of Good Scientists"

Prof. Joe Cummins just posted some useful comments regarding the involvement of the (brit.) Royal Society in support of GM.

Meanwhile, as a non-biologist, I've been trying to sort through the distinction between "good science" and "advisory opinions of good scientists", particularly in regard to the Pusztai experiments.

It seems to be established that

  1. GM potatoes exist which produce the snowdrop lectin.
  2. The snowdrop lectin can be isolated from snowdrops.
  3. Dr. Pusztai conducted rat-feeding experiments.

My view is that the good scientific experiment would involve at least three groups of rats - one being fed the GM potatoes, one being fed "ordinary" potatoes, perhaps the variety subjected to GM, and the third being fed ordinary potatoes spiked with lectin derived from snowdrops.

If only the first group is affected, I would conclude that the GM process has unexpected effects which require further study and experiment. At this point the one "good scientist" may have a hunch that GM can have nothing to do with the observed effects, will begin to make critical examination of the experiment and the experimenter, another "good scientist" will repeat the experiment and a third will devise further studies on what modification the potato gene may have undergone when the lectin gene was introduced.

Will someone please translate the existing info. so I can understand where Dr Pusztai went beyond my conclusion (that the GM process has unexpected effects which require further study and experiment) in what he said to the world, OR where Dr Pusztai failed by designing an experiment on which his conclusion could be based.


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Date: 26 Feb 1999 18:44:20 -0600
From: joe cummins

Subject: Royal Society continued

Michael P today asked whether or not Dr. Pusztai had gone beyond the conclusion that the GM process (introduction of a gene for snowdrop lectin along with an antibiotic resistance gene and the CaMV promoter)has unexpected results which require further study and experiment in what he said to the world, or where Dr. Pusztai failed by designing an experiment on which is conclusions could be based.

I have read the comments of the Rowett committee and dr Pusztai's full and truthful report of the experiments.Any person who studies the report of the chief of the experiment ,Dr. Pusztai, recognizes that he drew the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from such an experiment. The genetically engineered potatoes were not substantially equivalent to potatoes that are not genetically engineered.

The poor science was the selection of data ignoring effects not wished to be seen by the Rowett review committee.Certainly the true results had a potential impact on the stock market and the financial standing of, for example, the minister of science.However, the Royal Society seems to have chosen to abjure the actual facts and instead strike fatuous solemn poses about "good" science presumably done by the "right kind of chap" who wouldn't dream of upsetting the minister.As the Feb. Royal Society report on genetic engineering says"ethical issues are not considered under the present regulatory framework" and I think that their view may extend to the relationship of Minister to genetic engineering and perhaps the relationship of Royal Society to Minister.