Genetically
 Manipulated 


 

 
 
 Food


 News

11 May 99

Table of Contents

GM pests bite back
Corn Refuge Spreads Dominant Bt Mutants
Christian Aid demands a five-year freeze on GE technology
Need to Label GE food
Assessing the Threat to Biodiversity on the Farm
A Pragmatist Comes to the Defence of the British Countryside
Industry Critic Warns that Damages Claims 'could Run Into Millions'
Canada urged to follow U.K. lead on genetic ingredients
Canadians Want More Info on Biotech Foods
Canada: Genetically altered food should be labeled.
Spain's Largest Retailer Blocks Biotech Foods
Did Health Canada ask the right questions?
NFU fights 'genetic pollution';
Biotech products would get special treatment under environment law
Expert calls for moratorium on cattle hormones
Britain caught out by leaked genetic food report

Top NextFront Page

Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 10:19:14 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-9

GM pests bite back

By Helen Briggs of BBC Science, - BBC Online 7 May 99

Genetically-modified food: The row continues

Genetically modifying crops to protect them against pests may not work, according to research published in Science Journal.

A US laboratory study concludes that one of the main pests responsible for damaging crops may be rapidly developing a resistance to GM products.

Insect damage to crops like maize costs farmers billions of dollars a year.

It is one of the arguments for planting crops that have been modified to produce an insecticide capable of killing the pests that feed on them.

But this latest research, carried out at Kansas State University, is likely to fuel the debate over GM crops.

Immunity through exposure

The researchers found that insects can become immune to insecticide through over-exposure, in the same way that bacteria, responsible for human diseases, can become resistant when exposed to too many antibiotics.

The report confirms that corn borers, which attack maize, develop immunity to insecticide much quicker than was previously thought.

And this could spread rapidly as the insects breed.

So far these experiments have only been carried out in the laboratory.

But if the same results are seen in cornfields, it means scientists may have to think again about how to protect crops from attacks by pests.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 10:19:14 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-9

Corn Refuge Spreads Dominant Bt Mutants

Prof. Joe Cummins, e-mail: jcummins@julian.uwo.ca May 6, 1999

New study shows that the refuge strategy for Bt resistance hastens spread of insects resistant to corn borer!

Millions of acres of corn bearing genes for Bt toxins that poisons corn borer insects have been planted in the United States and Canada. This year Canada implemented requirements and the US recommends planting blocks of corn without the Bt resistant corn to provide a refugei where wild type corn borer insects will thrive.

The theory is that mutations will take place in the insects making them tolerant of the Bt toxin. It is assumed that all resistance will be recessive so that when the mutant mates with the conveniently available wild borers the off-springs will all be sensitive to toxin and die when feeding on the genetically engineered Bt corn.

However, if some dominant Bt mutants appear among the Bt tolerant insects those mutants will spread their genes by mating in the refuge and their off-springs will thrive on the genetically engineered Bt corn. The appearance of dominant borer mutants would create a disastrously rapid spread of borer resistant mutants because the refuge would provide a rich breeding ground for the resistant mutants (dominant mutants appearing in fields with out a refuge would have a long search for borers to mate with).

This weeks Science (May 7,1999:965-967) Inheritance of resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Dipel ES) in the European Corn Borer Haung,F.,Buschman,L.,Higgins,R. and McGaugen,W. report shows that dominant mutants conferring resistance to Bt toxin can be recovered from Corn Borers exposed to the toxin. Such mutants would spread like wildfire through corn fields with refuge plots because over half the off-springs of mating between mutant and wild type insects would be resistant to Bt toxin.The refuge would provide a rich breeding ground for spread of the dominant mutants.

The reported finding of dominant Corn Borer mutants should be enough to call a moratorium on the use of Bt corn. Furthermore, the required use of the dangerous refuge concept has often been promoted as a concession to environmental critics of genetic engineering. Even though those first promoting refuge were rabid biotechnology advocates the approach was taken up by environmental critics who seem unaware of the potential disaster associated with the appearance of dominant Bt mutants.

My repeated warning about the potential danger fell on deaf ears. Bureaucrats such as those in Biotechnology Canada are highly paid but not strong in genetics or for that matter in most substantial scientific matters. They are very slow to act to reverse a poor policy and quick to place blame when policy fails. My expectation is that if the dominant mutants spread rapidly promoted by refuge the bureaucrats will place blame on environmental critics and use that blame to promote even more destructive biotechnology.

I hope that some others will recognize that dominant Bt mutants spell disaster and urge moratorium on the spread Bt crops until the problem of resistance can be dealt with in a scientific way, on recognizing the reality of dominant mutations.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 10:19:14 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-9

Christian Aid demands a five-year freeze on GE technology

By JOHN VIDAL GUARDIAN (London) Monday May 10, 1999

Christian Aid demands a five-year freeze on technology and calls for block on 'suicide seeds'

The introduction of genetically modified crops to the world's poorest countries could lead to famine instead of feeding more than 800m hungry people worldwide, says Christian Aid.

In a major report today the charity argues that GM crops are 'irrelevant' to ending world hunger, will concentrate power in too few hands and will strip small farmers of their independence.

It also condemns 'suicide seeds' that contain a terminator gene which makes the next generation of seeds sterile, forcing farmers to buy new seed every year. Currently, 80% of crops in the developing world are from saved seed. Christian Aid says the consequences of such massive influence on the world food supply could be one of the most serious developments in history.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 10:19:14 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-9

Gillian K. Hadfield is a professor of law at the University of Toronto. She has recently published a paper on labelling and biotechnology, with David Thomson, in the Journal of Consumer Policy.

Need to Label GE food

By: GILLIAN K. HADFIELD, GLOBE AND MAIL, Toronto, ONT, Canada
Mon, May.10,1999, Page: A15

We need a label to identify genetically altered foods Biotechnology may enrich our lives, but it has its risks. Companies should tell consumers what they're eating

Gillian K. Hadfield

I am very fond of tomatoes. I often indulge in the luxury of those expensive, still-on-the-vine tomatoes that recently appeared in my grocery store. But there's something about them I don't know. I don't know whether they have been genetically modified so they can ripen so deliciously and survive so impeccably the trip to a Canadian grocery store in the dead of winter. Should the producers and distributors of these and other biotech foods, of which there are tens of thousands on grocery shelves today, be required to tell me? Should there be a little double helix on the label, a simple alert, to signal that the product I'm about to buy has been genetically modified or contains genetically modified ingredients? Yes.

Biotechnology holds out the promise of important developments that will improve health, the environment and the economy. Genetic engineering could increase the vitamin content of foods, decrease the risk of spoilage, lower the cost of ingredients, reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture and improve the taste of the tomato in

winter. And, as biotech fans will not fail to remind us, changing the genetic code and hence the characteristics of plants or animals is as old as agriculture itself; the only difference is that rather than cross-fertilize different strains within a plant or animal species and wait to see what results, biotechnology lets us cut and paste DNA directly and cross the boundaries between species: mouse genes in crops, fish genes in tomatoes.

The catch is that, for all its precision, biotechnology is still a process with risks. With time and experience, we will increase our knowledge about the characteristics of genetically engineered foods -- and inevitably we will find that some of the foods that passed all the early health and safety tests are not, in fact, things we all should eat or produce.

A few years ago, for instance, plans to market soybeans containing a gene from Brazil nuts were discontinued after it was belatedly discovered that the protein produced by the gene is a major Brazil nut allergen. In another case, a genetically engineered soil additive almost made it to market, until it was discovered that the tests of the additive on sterile soil failed to reveal what a graduate student in the lab later discovered: In real soil, the additive killed every plant around.

There is nothing new about risks associated with foods. There are risks that animal feeds will infect livestock and resulting meat products, or that insecticides sprayed on fruit will prove carcinogenic. Many individuals have allergic, sometimes life-threatening, reactions to ordinary foods such as strawberries, shell fish, nuts, wheat and eggs.

With conventional foods, however, there are ways to link food reactions to their source. If you're allergic to nuts, you avoid nuts; if beef from cattle fed with sheep brains is potentially toxic, you ban the feed and destroy existing "beef" stock.

However, if you have no idea whether the tomato you are buying is conventional or genetically engineered, how can you link any adverse reaction you have (or don't have) to its source: the protein produced in the tomato by the gene introduced from some other species of plant or animal? How can scientists track the correlations between increased consumption of this protein and increased (or, for that matter, decreased) incidence of disease?

The biotech industry complains that it would be costly to segregate ingredients from conventional and biotech sources and so keep track of which batch of stew, for example, contains genetically engineered soybeans. But unless manufacturing practices preserve the information that scientists, regulators and consumers need to identify genetically modified foods, we lose the potential for learning about these foods outside the development and testing labs.

The industry also fears that labelling would cause consumers to irrationally avoid genetically modified foods. It's wrong to view consumer resistance as just anti-science hysteria. Many people make food choices based on ethical considerations, deciding not to eat veal, or mass-produced chickens, or non-organic produce. If biotechnology raises ethical and environmental concerns for them, it is not irrational for them to act on these.

Nor is it irrational to act on one's idiosyncratic reactions to foods. If wheat products make you feel nauseous, don't eat them. If genetically modified tomatoes give you headaches, don't eat them. Consumers can't choose rationally in the biotech world unless they know what they're buying.

In any case, if consumers do entertain irrational fears about biotech foods, the risk of rejection is a powerful market incentive for producers to find effective ways to educate consumers about biotechnology. Producers often do a better job than governments of conveying information; we learned more about the positive health effects of fibre when cereal manufacturers were allowed to promote this feature than when the government tried to tell us about it.

If companies face a consumer revolt, they will consider it worth investing in creative ways to get the facts across: independent testing certification, industry standards, endorsements from health organizations, phone hot lines, Web sites and, of course, advertising copy. The only role for government would be to police conventional health and safety standards and truth in advertising.

If we have learned anything from the revolutions in information and technology, it's to expect the unexpected. We need to label biotech products to preserve our ability to make the unknown known.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed for research and educational purposes only. **


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 15:14:10 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-11

Thanks to: Cliff Kinzel ckinzel@mum.edu for posting this

Assessing the Threat to Biodiversity on the Farm

Nature 398, 654 (1999) Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 22 April 1999

The unintended consequences of genetically modified agriculture for the preservation of biodiversity have long been the focus of international attention, perhaps raising even more controversy than the potential impact on human health.

Talks on a new global treaty to minimize the possible adverse environmental impacts of GMOs broke down earlier this year, for example, partly because governments, environmentalists and industry disagree strongly over the ecological risks of GM crops (see Nature 398, 6; 1999).

This disagreement is fuelled by the patchy state of research on the issue. Although there is plenty of evidence that modern farming methods have reduced biodiversity in many countries, a report by the British government's advisers on GM releases expresses a widely held view when it says that researchers do not yet know whether the planting of genetically modified crops will make things better or worse (see http://www.environment.detr.gov.uk/acre/wildlife/index.htm).

These issues have perhaps been of more concern to small countries such as Britain, where most of the countryside is used for agriculture, than to larger ones with wide expanses of land that is not farmed. Growing protests from environmentalist and conservation lobbies have persuaded the UK government and the scientific community to embark on a comprehensive programme of research on the impacts of GMOs on wildlife and the countryside.

In contrast, there has been less consciousness of these research needs in the United States. This is partly because of a perception that such research is not required, as the distances between farmland and the wider countryside are much greater. But it may also be because the US biotechnology industry, the world's largest, has had greater success in conveying to the public the message that GMOs are environmentally friendlier than conventional agrisystems.

Most GM crops already in use have been modified to confer tolerance to herbicides or to insects (although many other varieties of GM plants have also been commercialized). Herbicide-tolerant plants, in general, are modified to resist the commonly used herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate, which can therefore be sprayed on crops without damaging them. Insect-resistant plants are modified to produce toxins made by the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kill specific target pests because of the interaction between proteins produced by the bacterium and the pest.

Whether insect-tolerant plants can in practice harm non-target insects -- and birds and mammals -- is high on the list of questions for multi-year farm-scale experiments with GM crops that are being planned by the British government. Another question to receive close scrutiny will be the extent to which modified genes can be transferred to other plants, and what effect this might have on, for example, organic produce. A third question is whether herbicide tolerance can spread to nearby plants, whether weeds or other crops.

The limited evidence available so far has left researchers apparently divided on the risks to non-target insects from Bt crops. William Hutchison and colleagues from the department of entomology at the University of Minnesota, for example, told a meeting of the Entomological Society of America last month that they found no difference in the numbers of 'beneficial' insects when they sampled fields of Bt sweetcorn and non-Bt corn in Minnesota (see http://www.ent.iastate.edu/entsoc/ncb99/prog/abs/d51.html).

In contrast, Nicholas Birch, a research entomologist at the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee, has demonstrated in lab studies that an anti-aphid toxin expressed by an experimental GM potato reduces the fertility and shortens the lives of ladybirds that eat the target aphids. Critics, though, point out that the toxin in question, snowdrop lectin, is unlikely to be approved for a GM crop given previous evidence of its toxicity.

Perhaps a more realistic pointer to potential dangers has come from Angelika Hilbeck, of the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture in Zurich, who has found that lacewings, another beneficial insect, have higher death rates when fed the larvae of target insects that have eaten Bt corn compared with larvae fed on ordinary corn.

But Hilbeck's studies were conducted in the laboratory (see Environmental Entomology 27, 480-487; 1998). Under farm conditions, the results may be different, as the target insect -- the European cornborer -- lives inside corn stalks, where under normal conditions it is largely protected from lacewings.

Research has also been under way for some time to assess the impact on nearby flora of herbicide-tolerant GM crops. Researchers from Denmark, France and the United States have already suggested that the results of >trial experiments indicate that herbicide-tolerant genes can in principle 'escape' from GM plants to nearby weedy relatives through pollen transfer.

Similarly Anne-Marie Chevre, a plant researcher at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Le Rheu, France, has found that oilseed rape genetically modified to withstand herbicide easily produced fertile offspring when crossed with a common weed, the wild radish -- although she also found that the herbicide-tolerance genes became more diluted with each generation of hybrids.

Scientists working for environmentalist groups are among those who claim that such gene transfer could encourage the proliferation of 'superweeds', which might turn out to be highly invasive.

The consensus from a recent gathering of scientists, regulators and research managers in Bethesda, Maryland, convened to consider the ecological impacts of GM crops, was that there is little risk of enhanced weediness from the handful of transgenic plants on the market. Their genetically enhanced traits would not confer any competitive advantage over other plants, and would eventually die out, it was concluded.

But overall the jury is still out. For example, the scientists attending the Bethesda meeting agreed that, when many different GM plants exchange genes, a kind of 'gene stacking' of multiple desirable traits could theoretically produce a highly competitive weed. And some, such as Allison Snow, an ecologist at Ohio State University, point out that this is not likely to be known until many GM crops are in wide use.

Nor do researchers yet know whether a fitness-improving gene -- such as one that confers resistance to pests, herbicides or drought -- will necessarily make a weed or a GM crop more invasive. In the case of herbicide resistance, unless the weed is sprayed with herbicide, there should be no selection pressure favouring the survival of resistant plants, and the trait should die out in time.

Representatives of the biotechnology industry are among those who believe strongly that the benefits to agriculture and the environment from GM crops tend to be understated in debates on the impacts of such crops.

One such benefit is that insect-tolerant crops need smaller quantities of conventional pesticides, whose ability to harm the environment is well documented. Indeed, a report by the privately financed National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy in Washington D.C. points out that pesticide applications in southern US states have dropped significantly in recent years, coinciding with the spread of Bt crops (see http://www.ncfap.org/biotech/sld014.htm).

Despite such a benefit, however, the use of Bt as a spray, as well as what has been described as an exponential increase in 'Bt plants', has raised concern that target insects could eventually become immune to the toxin, a scenario that would harm both agriculture and the environment.

One exponent of this view is Bruce Tabashnik, an entomologist at the University of Arizona. Tabashnik admits that there are no well documented cases of pests becoming resistant to Bt crops. But, in common with many farmers, he believes that resistance is inevitable. So far, Tabashnik and others have shown that one species, the diamondback moth, has shown widespread resistance to Bt spray. And Fred Gould, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, has found higher than expected frequencies of alleles conferring resistance to Bt in field populations of the tobacco budworm (Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 94, 3519-3523; 1997).

Gould, in common with other researchers and farmers, says that methods need to be found to deal with the risk of pests becoming immune to Bt. One method being proposed is for farmers to deliberately set aside more field space for growing non-Bt-cotton. The idea behind such 'refuges' would be to allow budworms to breed with Bt-exposed pests, so diluting Bt-resistance genes in future generations of budworms.

There appears to be a consensus among corn growers, researchers and biotechnology companies that at least 20 per cent of the growing area should be set aside for non-Bt corn in this way -- farmers currently set aside just four per cent. The loss of Bt as an effective pesticide would not necessarily pose a new ecological hazard; resistance to pesticides predates GM crops. But it could make biotechnology's victory in increasing food production a short-lived one.

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1999 Registered No. 785998 England.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 15:14:10 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-11

A Pragmatist Comes to the Defence of the British Countryside

Nature 398, 654 (1999) Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 22 April 1999

No-one would lightly accuse Sir Robert May, the British government's chief scientific adviser, of being a romantic. The Australian-born theoretical-physicist-turned-population-biologist has established a powerful reputation for applying mathematical modelling to problems ranging >from the preservation of biodiversity to the spread of AIDS.

His pragmatism has been well to the fore during the recent British controversy over the potential health effects of GM foods. A willingness vehemently to criticize the unscientific nature of many of the claims being made turned him into a key spokesman for the government. Equally passionate was his dismissal of the popular newspapers whose reports were fanning the controversy over so-called 'Frankenstein foods' as "straight entertainment".

Where May does have concerns is about the long-term implications of GM-based agriculture on biodiversity. He points out that the history of agricultural change is in the direction of growing crops "that no one eats but us". This has obvious consequences for the animals that also depend on the fields we use. May quotes, for example, recent surveys of the decline of many bird populations, and says he is convinced by evidence for corresponding effects on invertebrate and plant diversity. "The thrust of GM crops is to accelerate this trend."

May admits that there remain scientific uncertainties about the health and environmental effects of GM food and crops. But he has little time for the claims by Scottish researcher Arpad Pusztai to have detected a depressed immune response from eating potatoes genetically engineered to produce the toxin lectin.

"That is not scientific uncertainty; as long as it remains unpublished, it is outside the canon of science," says May.

May is confident that, if there had turned out to be such a danger with existing GM foods, Britain's regulatory authorities would have picked it up. But he also points out that the experience with bovine spongiform encephalopathy has brought home the need to expect the unexpected. "We must test," he wrote in a paper for the Prime Minister Tony Blair. "No-one was looking for untoward effects in cattle. In the case of GM food, we are testing for unexpected and unwanted effects on health and the environment."

Some widely quoted risks are, he says, relatively low, even if undesirable. One is the spread of 'superweeds' resulting from the interbreeding of herbicide-resistant crops with wild relatives. Although admitting that this could happen, he argues that the weeds would remain vulnerable to other herbicides.

Of slightly greater concern, he says, is possible cross-pollination with other crops. "We need to know rather more about this than we do at present."

His real worry, however, is about the impact of GM crops on biodiversity. "We need wider mechanisms to reconcile farming with preservation of the countryside," he says. "There is a much larger role for trying to understand how subsidies and other instruments interact with environmental protection."

But May is adamant that the remaining uncertainties provide a basis for field trials "on a scale sufficient to answer the questions we face" -- not for a moratorium on trials.

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1999 Registered No. 785998 England.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 15:14:10 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-11

Industry Critic Warns that Damages Claims 'could Run Into Millions'

Nature 398, 656 (1999) Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 22 April 1999

"It's an 'emperor has no clothes' situation," says Jeremy Rifkin, one of the biotechnology industry's most vocal critics. "You cannot have governments telling us that the technology is safe when there is no science to judge it by."

The absence of what he calls a 'predictive ecology' will, he suggests, have a direct impact on the industry: insurance companies will be reluctant to issue protection against claims for environmental damage if there is no way of quantifying what this damage might be.

"You're going to see lots of litigation when genes start flowing to organic crops, or to wild relatives on neighbouring lands," he predicts. "The gene flow is going to be on a scale that people have not understood. Liability is going to be the Achilles' heel of the biotechnology industry."

Rifkin has headed a small but influential Washington-based pressure group, the Foundation for Economic Trends, since the late 1970s. His apocalyptic scenarios have won him few friends -- and many enemies -- in the biotech community.

But the themes he emphasizes -- in particular, that genetic engineering is somehow 'unnatural', and almost by definition potentially dangerous -- have hit a responsive chord among the public. And it is the implications of that for indicating the direction of consumer demands, such as growing insurance claims, that have given him a ready audience in US boardrooms.

Rifkin has a clear sense of where he sees future problem areas. With herbicide resistance in plants, for example, he identifies the issue of such resistance spreading out of control. "The industry argues that inserting a herbicide-resistant gene will mean more sustainable agriculture, but it could be the opposite. If you put in a herbicide-tolerant plant, and then increase the use of that herbicide, how long will it take for resistant strains of weeds to appear?

"You see it more urgently in the case of pest resistance. Here you could end up with every cell of every plant producing a toxin. Because it is only a single gene, the 'magic bullet' runs out very quickly. It is faster and easier for an insect to build up resistance and, the more widely these plants are used, the greater the problem is likely to be."

Even if no overt damage occurs, Rifkin argues that gene flow into neighbouring crops is likely to become a source of conflict. "Foreign genes are a 'smoking gun'. They are going to flow all over the place, and they will always be identifiable.

"Claims for damages could come from gardeners or organic farmers who find they are unable to sell their crops. All that has to happen is for a gene to turn up that you did not want. The overall claims for damages could make the recent litigation associated with smoking pale in comparison."

One option for the industry, he suggests, is to turn to the government for financial protection. "But I don't know anyone in the world who will allow it to happen for biotechnology. There is a potential vulnerability here that is so dramatic and so unaddressed that it cries out for attention."

Hence the need for a predictive ecology -- to provide financial security, if nothing else. "At present, the insurance industry is not likely to want to touch this type of thing; you have to have predictability."

The same issue applies to potential health impacts. "We just do not know, if you take a gene from an unrelated species that codes for a protein that has never been part of our diet, what the allergenic impact is likely to be.

"It does not take much imagination to suggest that not all the genes that code for proteins are going to be safe. And, given the scale on which these foreign genes are being introduced into foods, I predict that there could be quite a bit of illness -- another issue that is going to force the liability question."

Scare tactics, perhaps. But, given the extent to which the regulatory agenda is set by the reaction of politicians to public sentiment, Rifkin insists that these issues need to be taken seriously. He stresses the need for "serious research" into long-term, low-level consequences: "This is essential if the industry is going to survive".

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1999 Registered No. 785998 England.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:39:26 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-13

Canada urged to follow U.K. lead on genetic ingredients

By Laura Eggertson, The Toronto Star, Canada, May 3, 1999

A consumer backlash against genetically modified food that prompted two British food companies to drop ingredients is invigorating a similar Canadian campaign. Nestle U.K. and Unilever U.K., the British divisions of the two multinational food giants, have announced they will no longer use genetically modified ingredients. The companies were responding to negative publicity and massive media coverage by the British media about what it dubbed "Frankenfoods".

"Nestle U.K. recognizes that there is consumer concern in this country about different aspects of the application of gene technology in food," the company said in a news release last week. "Consumer confidence in the technology appears to be low and some wish to avoid foods containing ingredients derived >from GM crops altogether. Nestle U.K. is therefore providing as far as possible non-GM products in the U.K." The company has already removed ingredients that may have contained genetically modified material from the majority of its products, it said. Nestle U.K. will also try to buy ingredients from non-modified sources or find substitutes. Any ingredients that can't be avoided will be declared on food labels - as British legislation requires.

The Council of Canadians, which wants genetically modified food labelled, wants the Canadian food industry to follow the U.K. lead. "There is no way the industry can ignore public concerns in Canada. We expect these companies to give Canadians the same guarantees, not to treat us like second-class customers," says Peter Bleyer, the council's executive director. "Canadians also have a right to know if they're eating GE (genetically engineered) foods."A spokesperson for Unilever Canada said the company has no plans to adopt the policies of its British counterpart. Unilever U.K. has made the decision "based on their reading of the consumers in the U.K. who are not accepting of these genetically modified ingredients and products," Sean McPhee said in an interview from Unilever's Toronto head office. The company believes there is no difference between genetically modified products and traditional food, he said.

Nestle Canada would not comment directly on the British decision. But in a statement, the company's Toronto head office said the firm "supports the responsible use of genetic technology and its benefits for farmers, industry and consumers." The British announcement came as government and industry representatives to a United Nations agency were meeting in Ottawa to debate the labelling issue. Going into the meeting, Canada and the U.S. had said there is no scientific evidence to indicate any harmful effects from genetically modified food. Neither country supported mandatory labelling. But on Wednesday, after the Nestle and Unilever announcements, Canada announced its support for a committee to study the issue further. Genetically modified ingredients are prevalent in many products because they include such things as soya beans and canola. A spokesperson for Greenpeace said the Nestle and Unilever decisions would be critical in influencing their competitors.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:39:26 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-13

Canadians Want More Info on Biotech Foods

CBC News Online, Canada, May 3, 1999

Concerns about the genetically engineered foods are growing in Canada. Surveys show that more Canadians feel they aren't getting enough reliable information from the federal government or biotech industry. Companies say they're determined to give people the information they need. But biotech companies may have a hard time convincing enough consumers to listen to that information with an open mind. It's going to get hotter and hotter the more people start speaking out against it the more government and industry will have to respond," says Rod McRae. McRae speaks for a Toronto-based advocacy group concerned about food safety. That hot debate he's talking about involves potatoes, corn, soy and tomatoes that are genetically altered to make them more resistant to pests and more nutritious.

Consumer reaction of the kind in Europe is going to drive things in Canada. Canadian canola growers lost $30 million in export sales last year to Europe. People are concerned about GE-free canola." Europeans have reacted negatively to the so-called biotech revolution. Demonstrators have taken to the streets to tell companies such as Monsanto that they don't want their products. Protesters in Europe call genetically engineered corn, canola and soy, 'frankenfoods' because scientists use genes to, in essence, give the crops powers to fight enemies such as pests and pesticides.

Murray McLaughlin heads up a company that helps new biotech firms get started. He says all this talk about 'frankenfoods' is bad for business. "Because then we have to turn around and try to educate people about why this is not a 'frankenfood' and why it is a food that is being developed for their benefit and future development of future health." McLaughlin and his colleagues may have a tough time convincing Canadians and some health care professionals to listen to that message. A new study conducted for Canadian dieticians shows they don't trust biotech companies to provide unbiased information. Consumers express the same scepticism in the federal government's own surveys.

This comes as little surprise to Denny Warner. She was chairperson of a citizen's panel on biotechnology. "It's the government's role to set up some public discussion about this. Because the people that we have talked to as the citizens panel, people are very concerned about this and they want to have a say."

The tricky part is figuring out ways to give people a say. Federal departments such as Agriculture, Health Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Industry Canada say they provide lots information on their websites. Denny Warner says providing information on websites is not a very good way to consult Canadians. "To post a document on the web and think that average citizens are going to make comments on this just isn't realistic. So the consultation that they say has happened to date isn't consultation," she said.

For now departments such as Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can't suggest any concrete ways to talk to Canadians about biotechnology th! is despite the fact that polls show Canadians want more information.

For the time being biotech companies are trying to fill the information void with an understated campaign to sell the benefits of their products. Joyce Groote speaks for an Ottawa-based lobby group for biotech companies. "There are also important benefits which have been improving people's quality of life for some time now ," she said. Critics such as Denny Warner aren't necessarily denying these claims. They just want some assurances that they're getting unbiased information. The federal government is pinning many of its hopes for job creation and research and development on the biotech industry. This is why departments such as Industry and Agriculture have become big biotech boosters. But this close relationship creates a doubt in Warner's mind. She wonders how a government can promote an industry it's supposed to be regulating. And until the government tackles that question its unclear whether consumers will be convinced that they're getting unbiased information.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:39:26 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-13

Canada: Genetically altered food should be labeled.

By Douglas Hurst, Montreal Gazette Thursday, May 6, 1999, Final Editorial / Op-Ed B2 *

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the government agencies that I believed were exclusively instituted to protect me now have acquired UN body debates labeling of ). Why else would the Canadian Food Inspection Agency care whether the labeling or segregation requirements for genetically altered food would cause administrative inconvenience to the farmers or wholesalers or whoever else.

It is equally obvious that the introduction of these Frankenfoods is mostly to make them This clearly implies greater use of these noxious chemicals, which repeatedly have been linked to birth defects and cancer, not less as I trustingly believed.

Finally, just whose scientific research is used to decide in the United that label? More important, who then decides that the admittedly risky food product is released for public consumption?

Do I really need to know these things? Yes, I do.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:39:26 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-13

Spain's Largest Retailer Blocks Biotech Foods

MADRID, Spain, May 11, 1999 (ENS) - Spain's largest supermarket chain, Pryca, announced Monday that it is phasing out the use of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in own-brand food products sold in its 58 stores.

Genetically modified foodstuffs include some varieties of soy beans, canola oil, corn, cottonseed oil, potatoes, squash and tomatoes.

Describing the decision as "a response to public fears," a Pryca spokesperson said that the company had instructed suppliers to stop using GM ingredients in products which carry the company trademark by the end of this year. Carrefour, the supermarket giant which owns the largest shareholding in Pryca, has already introduced a similar measure in its French stores.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:43:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-14

posted by: Jennifer Story jstory@canadians.org

Did Health Canada ask the right questions?

By ANNE McILROY, Parliamentary Bureau
Globe & Mail, Wednesday, May 12, 1999

Ottawa-The Prime Minister's Office stepped in with serious concerns about Health Canada's safety review of a hormone that boosts milk production in cows, according to a departmental memo obtained under the federal access-to-information legislation.

The memo, written in February, 1998, by Health Canada senior official Joel Weiner, informs fellow bureaucrats that officials in Prime Minister Jean Chretien's office were not sure if Health Canada had asked the right questions about the safety of the controversial hormone known as recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST.

"Has Health Canada conducted tests to assess the impact of rBST on infants, pregnant women and young children who consume milk in large quantities?" Mr. Weiner said the PMO wanted to know.

"If the answer is no, the consensus view holds that the supplementary question is: Why not-what has Health Canada actually been doing over the past nine years?" And the answer to the question was no, according to the Senate committee that investigated the controversy around bovine growth hormone.

But Lynn LeSage, a Health Canada spokeswoman, said yesterday that an outside expert advisory panel that was set up within months of the memo's being written looked at scientific literature from other countries about the impact the hormone might have on pregnant women and children. When Health Canada decided not to approve the drug in January, it was on the advice of a second expert panel, made up of veterinarians. That panel looked into the impact the drug would have on cows. The human-health panel concluded that milk produced by cows injected with the drug would not cause problems for people who drink it.

Monsanto Canada Inc., the company that makes the drug, is still pushing for its approval.

The memo, obtained for The Globe and Mail by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, is a sign of a political judgment within the government that important research on the hormone was lacking. It also indicates a lack of confidence within the Prime Minister's Office in a beleaguered branch of government that was at the heart of more than one controversy, including the tainted-blood tragedy of the 1980s.

Monsanto argues that it has done all the research necessary to prove milk made with the help of rBST is safe. But the Senate agriculture committee disagreed. In a report released in March, the committee echoed the concerns raised in the departmental memo. The report quotes the testimony of Health Canada scientists who said the manufacturer had not been asked to provide long-term toxicology studies to determine human safety "or investigate the potential that the drug might cause sterility, infertility, birth defects, cancer and immunological derangements."

It urges Health Canada not to reverse its decision on the hormone until the long-term health studies are carried out. The hormone was approved in 1993 in the United States, where on average it increases milk production by about 15 per cent.

It has been criticized by public-interest groups and some scientists who warn that it could result in more udder infections in cows and so lead to the increased use of antibiotics that could end up in milk.

Mr. Weiner was travelling yesterday and was not available to comment, a Health Canada spokesperson said. In its report, the Senate committee said the federal government should review Health Canada's drug-approval process to ensure that it fully safeguards human and animal health.

"The committee heard testimony about management problems in the department and suggestions of pressure, coercion, document theft and gag orders. Feeling the best decisions are made in an atmosphere of trust, the committee recommends Health Canada officials appear before the committee to provide information about steps they havetaken to resolve the problems."

Senior officials from the department, including deputy minister David Dodge, are to appear before the committee tomorrow.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:43:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-14

NFU fights 'genetic pollution';

BY Paulson, Joanne The Saskatoon StarPhoenix Wednesday May 12, 1999 Page D5

National farm group wants Ottawa to make ag-biotech firms liable

The National Farmers Union (NFU) wants the federal government to make agricultural biotechnology companies financially responsible for what it calls the "genetic pollution" of organic and traditional crops.

Stewart Wells, the NFU's Saskatchewan co-ordinator and an organic farmer near Swift Current, said he could lose his organic certification for canola because it will be impossible to guarantee it does not contain genetically engineered properties.

"If this continues, once wheat, barley, lentils and other crops are genetically engineered, I won't have anything left to grow," said Wells.

At the NFU's conference last December, the group decided to lobby government to make companies liable for "genetic pollution that has infringed on the livelihoods of farmers or the general public."

"Provincial and federal taxpayers' money is being used to help these companies do their research . . . but the profits are always privatized," said Wells.

Agriculture seed and input companies are transferring genes from some plants into others to create new varieties that are drought, herbicide or pesticide resistant. They are frequently referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Ag-biotech issues have been heating up in recent months. In Saskatchewan, a court battle is proceeding between Monsanto and Bruno-area farmer Percy Schmeiser over Roundup Ready canola, which does not die when sprayed with Roundup herbicide. Schmeiser maintains the Monsanto canola found in his field was volunteer, but Monsanto alleges he did not pay the required fee when he planted the crop.

A growing number of North American farmers are pursuing court action against ag-biotech companies, claiming new crop varieties or agricultural inputs are causing weed and insect resistance and are failing in the field.

Ag-biotech is a "gigantic experiment" foisted on farmers and the public, based on the fallacy that there is nothing to worry about because farmers make their own planting decisions, said Wells.

"It's not my choice . . . because they can't control this once it's released into the wild."

Bill Anderson, a scientist and manager of regulatory affairs for the Saskatchewan Agbiotech Regulatory Affairs Service, said cross- pollination between GMOs and traditional varieties is possible, but non-GMO crops can also transfer their genes.

Herbicide tolerance is the most manageable modification and the most benign, he added. For non-organic farmers, "it's just something you would take care of with another herbicide."

Anderson agreed there is a problem for organic farmers at present, but said a threshold level for GMO content should be established for organic crops to help farmers maintain their certification, he said.

Ann Clark, an agronomist with the University of Guelph in Ontario, said canola crops must be at least eight kilometres apart to prevent cross-pollination. Corn and potato crops, by comparison, need only be one kilometre apart.

"This is a huge problem, and it's not simply a problem for organic farmers," she said.

Selling agricultural commodities into the European Union is already becoming more difficult, as the EU develops more sensitive testing to keep out most genetically modified crops.

"Exports are being vastly hurt right now," she said.

Clark said Canadian federal and provincial governments are spending $ 700 million annually to further ag-biotech research, but none is going to risk assessment as far as she can determine. People are

often told genetically altered crops are safe because of the government's stringent regulations, but the government is not an independent third party, she said.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:43:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-14

Biotech products would get special treatment under environment law

By Dennis Bueckert CP Wire, Tue 11 May 1999, National general news

OTTAWA (CP) - Cabinet, not the environment minister alone, would have authority to regulate products of biotechnology under a proposed new version of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act released today.

The effect of the amendment would be to make it more difficult to regulate biotech products - such as potatoes genetically altered to resist insects - than toxic chemicals.

The ministers of industry and agriculture, who tend to be concerned with promoting Canada's biotech sector, would have a say in the regulating biotechnology.

The new legislation would also remove biotech products that are covered under other laws from the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:43:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-14

Expert calls for moratorium on cattle hormones

http://newsworld.cbc.ca/cgi-bin/go.pl?1999/05/09/cattle990509

An internationally recognized authority on the effects of hormones to promote cattle growth is calling for an immediate moratorium on such use.

Dr. Samuel Epstein says, "There's very good experimental evidence relating estrogen and other hormones to reproductive cancers."

Epstein is a professor from the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois. He spoke in Ottawa to a public forum on the safety of the Canadian food industry.

Added to feed or injected into cattle, natural sex hormones, including estradiol, progesterone and testosterone, help cattle grow larger.

Epstein said that he and other scientists have enough evidence to believe that eating meat with high hormone residues "constitutes a major risk for reproductive cancers, for breast cancer, prostate cancer and testicular cancer."


Top PreviousFront Page

Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 13:43:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-14

Britain caught out by leaked genetic food report

LONDON, May 12 (Reuters) - The British government scrambled on Wednesday to deal with a leaked report which said commercial growing of genetically modified crops would contaminate other foodstuffs over large distances.

A Ministry of Agriculture official said the report had not yet gone to ministers while the John Innes research centre, whose experts compiled the study, said it had been leaked.

Neither would comment on it before publication, due late this month or early in June after the government has digested its contents. But organic farmers were outraged.


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

Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html 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.