Genetically
 Manipulated 


 

 
 
 Food


 News

14 March 99

Table of Contents

Australia: Label gene food, says jury
We are what we eat
Australia: Study reveals side effects of synthetic insulin
Low yielding GM-beet and rape in UK
Low-Yielding Bt cotton in Arkansas
Malaysia: GM food must be labelled
New Zealand: Doctors Want Extreme Caution on Altered Food
Gene food conference says more information needed
Third World rejects GM
UK: Fast-food outlets turn against GM food
South Africa produces first gene-modified maize
Stop GM Foods - Scientists find banned soya in UK products
Stop GM Food - Stray seeds land farmer in court
Secret deal will ban GM crops until 2002
Care Rejects Plan To Work With Monsanto
Japanese Choke on American Biofood

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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:19:04 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-13

Australia: Label gene food, says jury

By DEBORAH SMITH, Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, March 13, 1999

After deliberating through the night until dawn, a citizen's jury at Australia's inaugural consensus conference brought down a unanimous report yesterday recommending that all genetically modified (GM) foods be labelled.

The 14-member lay panel also called, in effect, for a short moratorium on any new commercial releases of GM foods in Australia, or the importation of unlabelled ones, until a better regulatory system was in place.

It criticised the present regulatory bodies, including the Australia and New Zealand Food Authority which assesses the safety of new GM foods, for not serving community interests. It said: "The decision-making process is currently inaccessible and open to bias." It recommended a new statutory authority be established to oversee the introduction of gene technology, and that its deliberations be public.

"The speed at which GM organisms have been developed and introduced by multinational companies and the scientific community has left many people completely unaware of and uninvolved in the process," the panel said.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:19:04 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-13

posted by allsorts@pop.gn.apc.org To:

We are what we eat

By Laurent Belsie, The Spectator (UK), Fri 12 Mar 1999

Guess what's coming to dinner!: We are what we eat. But what are we eating? Gene-spliced plants and hormone-treated beef raise serious ethical questions about the way the world is fooling with Mother Nature Geneticists are on the verge of revolutionizing agriculture and medicine in much the same way that computers have transformed business. Labs around the world are working on crops that could feed a growing planet, plants that could clean up contaminated soils, and pigs whose organs may one day get trans-planted into people.

But to do these things, scientists are fooling with nature's basic building blocks. As they do, they are kicking up dissent around the world as one nation tries to sell its genetically altered foods to another's grocers.

The current food fight between the United States and Europe -- over hormone-treated beef and genetically altered soy beans -- could be just a prelude of arguments to come.

That's because the greatest risks probably don't lie with today's simple genetic alterations. Future rounds of exotic agriculture pose bigger threats because they will put organisms to completely new uses. The fundamental question: How much should science manipulate nature to care for mankind?

And there's no going back, scientists say. Consider the U.S. experience. While Europeans debate how far to proceed with the new technology, North Americans are quietly ingesting the new foods, often without knowing it. says Marshall Martin, an agricultural Anyone who eats pizza or cheese on their hamburger has consumed genetically modified food ... We pulled the cork out of the bottle in a sense with the discovery of

For example, three-quarters of America's cheese gets its start with a bio-engineered enzyme. Nearly one out of six dairy farmers injects his cows with a genetically engineered growth hormone to boost milk production.

And genetically modified crops are increasingly taking over farmlands -- with some 70 million acres planted worldwide, 60 million of it in North America.

This planting season promises more inroads. For example, half of America's soybeans, perhaps more of its cotton, and a third of its corn could be genetically modified -- a remarkable adoption rate in the four years since the new seeds were introduced. Other countries are also moving rapidly to incorporate the technology. Last year, some 650,000 farmers in China planted genetically modified cotton.

And this year Monsanto, which produces the cotton seed, expects to double that number.

Even the European Union has approved bio-engineered soybeans and corn. Small quantities of corn, genetically modified to resist pests, are being grown in Spain and, if approved by France's high court, could start showing up in the fields of Europe's largest corn producer.

Biotech companies such as Monsanto hope that resistance to the technology will crumble once European farmers begin to adopt the new strains. That move is likely, companies say, because the new-fangled crops typically It's likely to be adopted because the says Philip Angell, a Monsanto spokesman. Take cotton, one of the world's most pest-prone crops. By incorporating the genes of a natural insecticide, scientists have created has been says Val Giddings, a vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington. In the three years since they began using it, U.S. farmers have saved the equivalent of 850,000 gallons of pesticides -- the equivalent of 48 railroad tank cars of chemicals.

Cutting pesticide use saves money.

According to newly released figures by one of Britain's leading plant-research centres, bio-engineered soybeans saved farmers an average $30 US a hectare (because they used 40 per cent less herbicide. Pest-resistant corn saved $42 per hectare. (A hectare represents some 2 1/2 acres.)

Doug Powell, associate professor in the department of plant agriculture at one additional tool that allows farmers and food processors to provide nutritious, low-cost food. We always need to be vigilant but I am confident there is a system in

Despite these benefits, environmentalists worry the new crops pose a bigger hazard to human health and the environment. They've caught the ear of many Europeans.

The environmental group Greenpeace, for example, has mounted an effective campaign across Europe to block the sale of genetically modified food.

In February, it persuaded biotech giant AgrEvo (Hoechst) not to conduct field trials of such crops in Austria.

In January, it organized anti-bio-engineering protests at the national offices of three European food companies in nine countries. Thanks to a Greenpeace suit, France's highest administrative court in December upheld its preliminary ban on genetically modified corn from a Swiss firm.

The debate rings loudest in Britain, where memories of the government's disease remain fresh. The issue has gone all the way to the top: Prime Minister Tony Blair is risking his popularity to support genetically modified foods, while Prince Charles says he will never eat any of them. Further confounding the issue have been the findings of Arpad Pusztai, a Scottish researcher who ignited the whole controversy. Last summer he was quietly feeding potatoes to rats. Then he went public with concerns about the genetically modified rations he was using. On one hand, the researcher claims he's enthusiastic about bioengineering's potential.

But he warns that it has to be done right because genetically modified potatoes stunted the growth of rats and depressed their immune system. Pusztai has not released his full results for review by other scientists -- a traditional practice.

And when an internal audit committee evaluated his study, it disputed the findings.

But 20 scientists, including one from Canada, have come forward since, saying Pusztai may have a point.

Whatever the outcome, even biotech executives acknowledge the controversy I think we have to be very, very careful about says Richard Gill, senior vice-president and general manger of BTG International Inc., a There needs to be ... more information shared with people in a form that can be

Even in the United States, activists remain hopeful they can slow down the technology. Dairy farmer associations and consumer groups, for example, Americans are expressing their concern with genetic engineering and agribusiness in says Ben Lilliston of the Center for Food Safety. That's why organic products are growing so rapidly, he says, and why some 200,000 citizens complained when U.S. agricultural officials proposed including bio-engineered food as organic. Concern is justified, scientists say, because no one can predict We're not talking about killer tomatoes. We're talking about plants that will pick up says Norm Ellstrand, a geneticist at the University of California at Riverside.

Genes can only transfer to relatives. So genetically modified corn in Iowa doesn't pose much danger because it has no wild relatives there. But planted in central America, it could create super-weeds that could out-compete the corn. And the risks increase as more of these genetically modified plants get released into the wild and interact.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14

Here is a newsletter of GE news

Mothers for Natural Law Biweekly News 99/03/14 http://www.safe-food.org Articles have been aggressively shortened.

Australia: Study reveals side effects of synthetic insulin

Australian General News, March 10, 1999, Wednesday
© Copyright 1999 AAP Information Services Pty. Ltd. AAP NEWSFEED

Up to 40,000 Australian diabetics may unwittingly be suffering adverse side-effects from taking genetically engineered synthetic insulin, The Sydney Morning Herald reported today. The paper was quoting British research completed six years ago but only now released. It said the availability of animal-derived alternatives, which doctors agreed suited some patients better, was about to be further limited by the withdrawal of the main brand of cattle-derived "beef" insulin from the market. Novo Nordisk would withdraw from the market in July, citing commercial reasons. The Herald said "pork" insulin was withdrawn in 1990 although the firm made it available to some people on "compassionate grounds". The UK research, commissioned by the British Diabetics Association, had found up to 10 per cent of diabetes patients might suffer side effects as a result of taking synthetic "human" insulin, the paper reported.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

Low yielding GM-beet and rape in UK

http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/farming.htm

Farmers Weekly (UK) for the 4th December 1998 reveals that the latest crop trials from the UK's National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) show yields from GM winter oilseed rape and sugar beet were up to 7% and 8% less than high yielding conventional varieties when the crops were managed using conventional weed control techniques. Even with the use of a total herbicide on the GM-beet, to which it was modified to be resistant, only a 2% improvement in yield was achieved in 1997 and 1998, leaving it still significantly outperformed by the conventional varieties. Interestingly, this appears to be the first report in the popular farming press of GM trial crop performance results for varieties grown in the UK.

The usual source of performance information is the biotechnology companies themselves.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

Low-Yielding Bt cotton in Arkansas

http://www.ucsusa.org/Gene/su98.rain.html

According to the April 1998 Cotton Grower, Bt-cotton growers in Arkansas had less than a banner year last season. A University of Arkansas study of several Bt and non-Bt cotton fields showed that on average Bt cotton yielded fewer pounds and lower income per acre. One farm showed a remarkable difference in yield--Bt cotton produced 168 fewer pounds per acre than the non-Bt variety. Bt cotton, on the farms studied, yielded an average of 24 fewer pounds per acre. Also, the new varieties required more growth regulator to synchronize plant development and had to be picked twice at harvest. Non-Bt cotton is typically picked only once.

------------------

FOOD BYTES #17 March 2, 1999
Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston

The mid-January 1999 issue of the California Farmer magazine reports that Bt resistance has emerged among pink bollworms, a major cotton pest, in Arizona cotton fields Biotech critics have warned for years that genetically engineered Bt crops will cause major crop pests to develop resistance to Bt, thereby destroying the usefulness of the world's most important natural biopesticide.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

Malaysia: GM food must be labelled

© Copyright 1999 New Straits Times Press (Malaysia)
Berhad New Straits Times (Malaysia) March 11, 1999

... genetically-modified foods taste and look very much like their naturally-grown counterparts.

The unsuspecting and uninformed consumer thus is totally unaware that he is buying GM food. Although the dangers of consuming these food have not been scientifically established, evidence is mounting that they can cause increased levels of toxins in humans and animals, a higher susceptibility to allergies and resistance to antibiotics. The more troubling aspect of these GM foods is that no quick scientific method exists to identify these produce. Adding to the problem, is the fact that these foodstuffs are not labelled. Information on these GM foods had been available over the past several years. But only in specialised publications and science articles. But thanks to a food security conference held in Penang last week the controversial issue was extensively discussed and publicised.

The gist of the discussions was the call for the need to label these foods. The conference organiser, F. Josie of Consumers International's Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, pointed out the problems these foodstuffs would pose. For one, the European Union has banned these foods. Thus countries like Malaysia are at a "high risk of being treated as a dumping ground for these items". For another, nothing is being done to prevent the entry of such foods. More importantly, we do not have any law that requires description of how the food was produced. Clearly then the Government must act fast before the dangers of consuming the GM food manifest themselves at the cost of the health, and worse, the lives, of consumers. It must enforce legislation that lets the people know what they are buying and eating.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

New Zealand: Doctors Want Extreme Caution on Altered Food

NZPA News Bulletin, March 10, 1999, Wednesday
Copyright 1999 AAP Information Services Pty. Ltd. AAP NEWSFEED

WELLINGTON - Doctors have warned the Government to take "exceptional caution" about genetically modified food because research was incomplete and biased. The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners chairman Ralph Wiles said much of the research on genetically altered food raised serious health and environmental safety concerns. "Much of the information available is from the proponents of the technology - who stand to make a lot of money if it's widely approved - but we're now hearing more from independent scientists whose research points to significant risks," Dr Wiles said in a statement. "It's not being alarmist to urge that exceptional caution be applied until such time as we have available sufficient information to satisfy a reasonable person that the products of this technology are safe."


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

Gene food conference says more information needed

By Stephen Spencer © Copyright 1999 AAP Information Services Pty. Ltd.
AAP NEWSFEED March 13, 1999, Saturday

CANBERRA, March 12 AAP - A landmark conference today called for the comprehensive labelling of genetically modified food and a halt to its import and development until a new regulatory regime is established. However the food industry welcomed the findings, saying they gave the green light to genetically modified foods to be sold here, and earn billions of dollars in exports. The consensus conference brought together 14 lay people who questioned experts of genetically modified foods and others with an interest in the topic. Their report released today was hailed by Australian Democrats Deputy Leader Natasha Stott Despoja, because of its call for comprehensive labelling to allow consumers to decide whether or not they bought such foods.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

Third World rejects GM

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent, Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999

The world's hungriest nations have resolved to oppose genetically modified foods. A senior Ethiopian government official last night told the Independent on Sunday they were "absolutely united" in resisting US plans to "decide what we eat". Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher was speaking after last week's talks collapsed in Cartagena, Colombia, following the United States' accusation that the developing countries were endangering free trade. An international treaty to regulate trade in GM produce had been discussed by 132 nations.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

UK: Fast-food outlets turn against GM food

http://news2.thdo.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid%5F292000/292829.stm
Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 16:39 GMT

Some restaurants are banning GM ingredients A survey has revealed further signs that consumers are turning against genetically-modified (GM) food.

Almost half of the UK's leading fast-food outlets are turning their backs on GM food, according to research conducted by environmental group Friends of the Earth. The organisation asked 11 fast food chains with 50 or more outlets whether they were going to remove GM ingredients from the food they sold.

Between them the 11 companies have 3,548 outlets across the UK.

Three of the chains - Wimpy, Pizza Express and Domino's Pizza - already believe they are GM-free. Two others - Burger King and KFC - are in the process of removing all GM ingredients from their products. And McDonald's and Perfect Pizza said they were currently considering going GM-free.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

South Africa produces first gene-modified maize

By Allan Seccombe, © Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. 10:06 a.m. Mar 05, 1999 Eastern

PRETORIA, March 5 (Reuters) - South Africa's first genetically modified grain has been grown commercially and will be sold on the market mixed with Up to 50,000 hectares of genetically modified maize has been planted this season and will be sold he said. Two strains of yellow maize, both resistant to stalk borer, a pest that attacks maize, were being commercially cultivated.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

Stop GM Foods - Scientists find banned soya in UK products

By Rachel Sylvester, Sunday Independent 14 Feb 1999 (UK)

Government controls fail to stop illegal beans entering the food chain, writes Rachel Sylvester

UNLICENSED genetically modified crops are entering the food chain in Britain because the Government is unable to control the import of ingredients.

Traces of genetically modified soya beans which have not been licensed as safe for human consumption in Europe have been identified in products on sale in this country.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14 MNL News 99/03/14

Stop GM Food - Stray seeds land farmer in court

By Marie Woolf in Bruno, Saskatchewan, Sunday Indpendent (UK) 14 Feb 1999

Farmers who find that stray genetically modified seeds have blown on to their land from neighbours' fields and then taken root could face massive fines if the agrochemical giant Monsanto wins a test case in a Canadian court.

Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, is being pursued by Monsanto for damages and the profits from his fields because the company claims that the patent on its genetically modified (GM) seeds has been violated. GM canola (rape) plants from Monsanto seeds were found growing among his crops. The farmer believes that the seeds blew on to his land.

If Monsanto wins the test case, due to go to court this autumn, British farmers in similar situations could also face court cases culminating in having to pay thousands of pounds in compensation. But Mr Schmeiser never signed a contract to grow Monsanto's GM canola and says he is not liable to the big fines the company imposes for using seed from crops. His fields run along a main road which links a grain silo and a rubbish dump where used seed sacks are thrown away. The prairies can be windy and cut crops are often blown on to neighbouring fields.


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Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14

Secret deal will ban GM crops until 2002

By Marie Woolf, Political Correspondent, Sunday Independent 14 Feb

Genetically modified crops are to be banned for three years under a landmark deal being secretly negotiated between the Government and biotechnology companies. After weeks of confidential talks, ministers are poised to announce a breakthrough. Seed companies will agree to a voluntary freeze on growing GM crops in Britain until at least the year 2002.

The deal, expected to be announced within the next three weeks, will mark a victory for campaigners, including the Independent on Sunday, who have called on the Government to delay planting GM crops in Britain until there have been more tests on their environmental effects. The new freeze will allow scientists to examine the effect of growing GM crops on other plants, birds and animals.


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Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 21:12:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14

posted by: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew )

Care Rejects Plan To Work With Monsanto

St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 03/12/99

After meetings in St. Louis this week, the international relief agency CARE said it would not enter a partnership with Monsanto Co. because of worries by farmers in developing countries about Monsanto 's genetically engineered crops.

Milo Stanojevich, CARE's chief of staff, said Thursday that it became clear at the end of two days of discussions that brought CARE representatives from around the world that his organization had no interest in an alliance that St. Louis-based Monsanto was suggesting.

The partnership could have meant contributions from Monsanto for CARE's projects. The rejection is a setback for Monsanto , which stood to boost its image around the world and perhaps counter suspicion of its genetic technologies that exists widely outside of North America.

But Stanojevich said his organization wasn't persuaded that genetically modified crops would benefit subsistence farmers in developing countries where CARE works. He said the concerns reflected fears by many farmers that they could become dependent on Monsanto if the use of modified seeds becomes dominant in farming.


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Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 21:12:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN3-14

posted by Dr. S. Epstein namofo@jps.net

Japanese Choke on American Biofood

By SONNI EFRON, LA Times Staff Writer
LA Times - SUNDAY REPORT, Sunday, March 14, 1999

Genetically altered produce reaps opposition. But moves to label it threaten $11 billion in U.S. sales.

TOKYO--The video whirs, and an American food exporter's nightmare rolls across the screen. A potato bug is shown munching on the deep green leaf of a potato plant--genetically engineered in the United States, the narrator says, to produce a toxin that kills Colorado potato bug larvae. The bug falls off the leaf, flailing its legs in the air in what looks like insect agony.

"They say this is safe, but I don't want to eat it. Do you?" asked the filmmaker, Junichi Kowaka, in an interview.

Surveys show that most Japanese do not. In this land where food is considered most delicious when eaten raw or as close to its natural state as possible, genetically manipulated food is seen as synthetic, unwholesome and definitely unappetizing.

To blunt a nascent consumer rebellion, the Japanese government has proposed labeling bioengineered food to give consumers the freedom to reject it. That in turn has alarmed the United States, which fears that the move could threaten its $11-billion annual sales--including about $1.3 billion from California--to Japan, the No. 1 market for U.S. agricultural exports.

Japan is not the only nation gagging at the idea of genetically altered fare. A truly global food fight is underway. The outcome of the regulatory, marketing and public perception battle that has been joined in Japan could have far-reaching effects on what U.S. farmers plant next year, on the skyrocketing U.S.-Japan trade imbalance and on the struggle between biofood promoters and foes for the hearts and palates of consumers around the world.

At issue in the emotional political debate that has erupted worldwide is how much to regulate and whether and how to label genetically modified organisms, known in biospeak as GMOs. These organisms are created when new genes--sometimes from another species--are introduced into a plant or animal to produce "desirable" traits, such as resistance to cold, pests, disease, spoilage or even a particular brand of herbicide.

While U.S. farmers are quickly increasing the acreage planted with GMO seeds--to 40% or more of some crops--there is growing opposition in Europe, Japan and in some Third World countries on environmental, health, philosophical or religious grounds. The European Union has slapped restrictions on genetically modified plants and passed a law requiring GMO foods to be labeled.

Well-organized environmental groups are crusading against what they have branded "Frankenstein food," fanning doubts about the products from Iceland to New Zealand. Anti-GMO protests have been staged in the Philippines, India and Hungary, according to activists, who are flooding the Internet with virulent attacks on biofoods. In London, where foes dumped bags of bioengineered soybeans onto Downing Street in protest last month, a poll by the Independent newspaper found that 68% of Britons were "worried" about eating GMO food. Only 27% said they were happy to eat it.

Not all countries are hostile to foods altered by gene-splicing: GMO seeds reportedly have received a warm welcome in Russia, China and Argentina. And plenty of consumers have nothing against GMO foods so long as they know what is on the menu. A 1994 poll in Australia, for example, found that 61% were happy to try GMO foods, but 89% wanted them labeled. Australia and New Zealand are now trying to set up a common labeling system. New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley said earlier this month that consumers have a right to know whether their food contains GMOs.

Nevertheless, a heated battle broke out last month at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Cartagena, Colombia, where delegates from more than 130 countries failed to agree on an international treaty to govern biosafety and trade in GMOs.

The U.S. government warned that the restrictions being debated in Cartagena would paralyze international trade. According to media reports and conference participants, the United States and five other agricultural exporters that opposed labeling GMOs were bitterly accused by the other nations of torpedoing a global environmental pact to safeguard the interests of their farmers and biotech firms.

The debate is by no means limited to food. Genetically modified material is being used in a wide range of products, from textiles to pharmaceuticals.

Food Draws the Most Emotional Response

Yet it is food that seems to generate the most emotional response.

Consumer advocates say that people must have the right to know--and thus reject--food that has been subjected to genetic "tampering."

Biotech backers say that requiring such labels is tantamount to branding demonstrably safe food as inedible and would raise food prices for all consumers.

Proponents of bioengineering also say "genetically enhanced" species are essential to generate the crop yields needed to nourish the world's exploding population and to reduce use of herbicides and pesticides. They say the foods have been exhaustively tested and demonstrated to be safe enough to pass muster with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as international regulators.

Foes assert that long-term studies on the effects of eating GMO foods have been inadequate. They question the environmental risks of developing pest-resistant or chemical-resistant crops, and they fear that bionic organisms could crowd out native species.

A subtext in many countries is suspicion of scientific "miracles," new technologies and imperfect regulators, and the perception that the U.S. biotech industry has been heavy-handed in trying to shove new foods down frightened consumers' throats, said Beth Burrows, president of the nonprofit Edmonds Institute in Edmonds, Wash., who attended the Cartagena conference.

Europeans have been sensitized to food-safety issues by the outbreak of "mad cow" disease. In Japan, the credibility of the Ministry of Health and Welfare was severely damaged by the 1996 revelation that its bureaucrats had knowingly allowed the sale of HIV-tainted blood products--a scandal that broke the same year that the ministry approved the first of 22 GMO crops for human consumption here.

Availability of GMO foods in Japan has not led to acceptance. More than 80% of those questioned in a 1997 government survey said they have "reservations" about such foods, and 92.5% favored mandatory labeling.

Unease is beginning to translate into action. The city of Fujisawa, near Tokyo, has banned all GMO foodstuffs from its school lunches. A tofu maker has begun advertising its product as "recombinant-DNA-soybean free." And a number of powerful food-buying co-ops--which claim nearly 20 million members, or about 1 in every 6 Japanese--are trying to screen out or label GMO foods.

"It seems Americans only care about the quantity of their food, but Japanese are concerned about the quality," filmmaker Kowaka said. "Nobody wants to eat this stuff."

Kowaka is a food-safety activist with the Japan Descendants Fund, a nonprofit group that has succeeded in provoking widespread concern among Japanese consumers about chemical-emitting plastics in food packaging and the use of post-harvest chemicals on food. Last year, a number of ramen makers changed their packaging after Kowaka's group reported that chemicals suspected of disrupting the human endocrine system leached from the plastic bowls when boiling water was poured over the dried noodles.

Kowaka's current video, titled "The Dangers of Recombinant-DNA Food," has sold about 1,000 copies at $130 each and is being shown at lectures and gatherings by consumer, environmental and religious groups, he said.

The Japanese government is countering anti-GMO groups like Kowaka's with a campaign to convince a skeptical Japanese public that genetically altered foods are not only safe but desirable.

In fact, despite its draft proposal for a GMO labeling law, the Japanese government has been actively promoting biotechnology as a vital technology for the coming century and is investing billions to try to turn Japan into a world-class competitor. It is even attempting to genetically engineer strains of rice that will be tastier and hardier than conventional varieties.

The politics of genetically engineered food here have been complicated by the fact that all the GMO foods offered for sale so far have been imported. Japanese companies have not dared introduce gene-spliced foods of their own, and although farmers can legally plant GMO seeds, so far none has chosen to do so, said Kazuhiko Kawamura, who deals with the labeling issue at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Foreign food producers complain that Japan's powerful agricultural interests are trying to scare off consumers from GMO foods as part of a campaign to boost domestic agriculture.

"Over the last 30 years, there has been a concerted effort here in Japan to paint imported foods as being dangerous, as being less desirable," said Dennis Kitch, Japan director of the U.S. Grains Council.

The effort has included everything from asserting to Japanese that their intestines are ill designed for digesting Western beef to convincing them that foreign produce is more chemical-laden than home-grown fare. Though false, U.S. officials and industry sources say, such claims have succeeded in instilling alimentary xenophobia.

Kowaka's video is no exception. As the narrator warns that "we Japanese are being used as guinea pigs" for inadequately tested GMO foods, the camera shows unwitting children eating French fries--by suggestion, those made from genetically altered plants that kill potato bugs--at that archetypal American eatery, McDonald's.

"They think all imported food is bad. That gets to be protectionist," said a U.S. government official who argues that GMO labeling should not be used to reinforce unfounded consumer fears.

U.S. Wants Japan to Accept Standards

The United States has decided to require labels on genetically altered foods that are nutritionally different from traditional fare, that might contain allergens or that pose religious problems--such as a plant containing a pig gene--if and when any are introduced. Yet it doesn't require labeling of foods whose chemistry is essentially unchanged, solely on the basis of genetic origin. GMO foes in the United States have filed suit in an attempt to reverse that decision, but meanwhile, the U.S. government is lobbying Japan to accept its standards.

"We're asking them not to have a labeling requirement that stokes the fear that these foods are bad without any basis in fact," said a U.S. official, adding that there is no evidence these foods are unsafe.

Kowaka insisted, however, that a potato with an inborn insecticide is no ordinary spud, and should bear a warning label if it cannot be banned altogether.

The Japanese committee studying labeling for the Agriculture Ministry has not yet ruled on the issue or decided what any label would say. The influential American Chamber of Commerce in Japan warns that GMO labeling "will create new nontariff trade barriers to imports." And while U.S. officials are trying to keep their criticisms scientific and low-key, they also have hinted to Japan that they may protest any mandatory labeling requirement to the World Trade Organization--as they have done over the European Union law.

Japanese consumer advocates are outraged by the American stance.

Setsuko Yasuda, who runs the "No! GMO" campaign for the Consumers Union of Japan, said Americans should not meddle with Japan's right to regulate food safety and quality.

If Americans truly believe in free trade and consumer choice, she said, they should label GMO food for what it is and let international customers make up their own minds.

"But to try to hide information [about product origin] and force-feed people what they don't want to eat . . . is wrong," Yasuda said. "It is American arrogance, and it will provoke anti-American sentiment here. You will lose hearts around the world."

For Japan and the United States, the stakes in the GMO battle are high. Japan absorbs nearly 20% of all U.S. food exports. With the American farm economy ravaged by the Asian economic crisis, the affluent Japanese market is one that farmers and food processors can ill afford to lose, grain lobbyist Kitch said. Japan's decision on labeling will be vital, and not just because of the size of its market; Tokyo's decisions tend to influence regulators in other Asian capitals.

For Japanese, who must import more than half of the calories they consume each day, the increasing prevalence of GMOs in their food supply reinforces a feeling of food vulnerability.

For example, 97% of Japan's soybeans are imported, mostly from the United States, and are turned into tofu, fermented miso, natto and other staples of the Japanese diet. However, 28% of last year's U.S. soybean crop came from GMO seeds, according to the American Soybean Assn. That percentage could double when farmers plant this spring's crop.

"We will have to find non-GMO sources," Yasuda said, adding that if American farmers want Japan's business, they will have to segregate crops. Trouble is, U.S. farmers often plant GMO and traditional crops in the same field, use the same machinery to harvest and transport them, and pour their grains into container ships that bring a river of food across the Pacific to Japan.

However, DNA testing is so sensitive that it can detect one GMO part per trillion, Kitch said. That means a few stray kernels of GMO corn could "contaminate" bushels. To certify a product GMO-free would require costly testing and segregation at every stage in the processing and distribution chain, he said.

These obstacles have so far prevented Europe from fully implementing its labeling law, industry sources said.

As GMO crops or livestock come to dominate the U.S. market, genetically pristine products will become scarcer and more costly.

No one knows how much more expensive--though some estimate a "GMO-free" label could add 30% or more to the price, and wonder whether Japanese consumers will be willing to pay it.

Japan's draft proposal on labeling does not specify how pure a non-GMO product would have to be. But without a threshold standard, a can of California tomato paste containing a smidgen of cornstarch that might have been made partly from GMO corn could wind up with a warning label--even if the tomatoes are all natural, Kitch said.

Consumer advocate Yasuda and her allies say that imperfect labeling is better than none. And the fewer the "food miles" from farm to dinner table the better, they argue, even if home-grown fare is more costly.

"Now, with globalization, we don't know where our food comes from, how it is produced, and what kind of contaminants it might contain," Yasuda said. "Does free trade automatically mean that the cheapest food is the best food? We don't think so."

© Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved


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: rwolfson@concentric.net

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