Genetically
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South African News -- 13 May 99

Table of Contents

Transcript of a Radio Interview With Prof. John Fagan
Letter in reply to Star Article 7 May 99
FYI: Latest South African GE media coverage
FREE Info evening at Sagewood School 7pm Monday 7th June.
Australia: Alliance to Push Benefits Of Biotechnology
Beware of Suspect GE-free Claims

Top NextFront Page

Date: 26. April 1999
From: Franz Beck fb@intekom.co.za

A good introduction into the background of Genetic Engineering (GE). Any typing mistakes are mine!

Franz

Transcript of a Radio Interview With Prof. John Fagan

Radio 702 (national to South Africa)
Presenter: Katie Chance phoning Prof. John Fagan
Date 24. April 1999 18h00-21h00 (This transcript from 19h00 - 19h20)

Presenter:
I am very please to have on the line from London Professor John Fagan, but he is actually from the United States, who is author of the book "Genetic engineering - the Dangers" and he is professor of Molecular Biology at the Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Professor Fagan..

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes, its a pleasure to be with you, Katie.

Presenter:
Thank you, it is quite something to speak to you because I spent the whole afternoon reading 25 pages of your paper which I downloaded from the Internet which is titled: "A Science-based Precautionary Approach to the Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food" And I must say I read the whole thing. It is highly recommended reading for everybody because its not written in scientific gobble-di-goop - Even I could understand it. It was excellent. I know that your are considered something like a guru in your field. And what I really like is that you are a man of science, you obviously know what you are talking about, your approach is "Lets just be careful here - we don't know enough jet"

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes, that's exactly it. That's a science-based approach. Its one based on the fact that we have only been exploring the genes of plants and animals for a few years and there is more uncharted territory than known territory. So, if we go in and mack around with those genes we will almost certainly create surprises for ourselves. If we don't carefully examine things we are going to get surprises by the stack, you might say.

Presenter:
Yes, there may be shocks rather than surprises.

Prof. John Fagan:
Absolutely.

Presenter:
Could you explain to us - I think we have to get a little scientific here and I know you are capable of explaining things in an easy understood way the difference between the genetic - the information encoded in a gene, the structural information versus the regulatory information and why are they so different.

Prof. John Fagan:
The structural information is like a blue print for a machine. Ok. A gene with that structural information is a blue print for a specific, you might say, a little molecular machine that sits within your cells of an organism to do things.

The regulatory information is the information that controls how and when that structural information is to be expressed - in other words, its just the information that tells the physiology of the organism when to produce that little machine to do the job that it needs to do. Is that clear?

Presenter:
Yes, it is. And that regulatory information is what tells genes in a very specific and very products and species specific, sometimes even cell specific way how to do things. Is that why when we cross genes into a new host gene we actually don't know what the results could be.

Prof. John Fagan:
Absolutely. The structural gene may cross species boundaries effectively, but the regulatory information is not likely to function in one organism as in another and therefor you have all sorts of surprises.

Presenter:
It is like cut and paste something from one document to another. The new information is whether you like it or not part of the new document. That would be read in a different way, that takes up a different amount of space, that may have a virus in it, that would affect other.. I am just thinking of an analogy that people understand now.

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes

Presenter:
And what you said in you paper that was horrifying to me was that the genetic coding does not only change the regulatory information from one species to another, but sometimes within different cell types within a single organism the regulatory information changes.

Prof. John Fagan:
Absolutely

Presenter:
So, what could that give us if we start playing around with genetic transfer.

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes. What it means is that for instance with foods - if you engineer food you could just by altering this regulatory information in one way or another you could cause that food to contain new allergens or new toxins. Or you could cause its nutritional value to decrease. Anyone of these or all could happen. There are infact examples of genetically engineered foods that are allergenic, they are toxic, and they are reduced in nutritional value. So it isn't hypothetical, these things have already happened.

Presenter:
Please explain to us - I have to drop some new terms today - recombinant DNA technology, briefly what that is because that seems to be the most common process in use at the moment. And explain to us the recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and what that did to milk in the United States.

Prof. John Fagan:
Good. Lets contrast recombinant DNA technology which is the core of what's called genetic engineering or gene modification - with traditional breeding or natural reproduction. Often promoters of biotechnology would say: "Oh - genetic engineering is not so different, its just the next natural step in this kind of breeding humans have been doing for thousands of years". But this is one of those soft stories that is a soft serving, but is inaccurate.

Traditional breeding makes use of natural reproduction mechanisms. Pollen hits the Pistil, fertilizes the cells, fertilizes some ova, you get seeds and these are planted etc.

In Genetic Engineering something very different happens. You actually use laboratory techniques to cut and splice genes. This is really like genetic surgery. And it allows one to slice a gene or cut a gene out of any organism of the planet and plant it in any other organism. And using these techniques, scientists have already taken genes from bacteria and viruses from insects, from other organisms, even from human beings and put those genes into a plant that produces our food.

And again, because they are from such diverse sources, we can't predict how they are going to affect the quality of our food. You think a surgery is very precise, but in fact genetic surgery is not precise, it is very imprecise. The process of inserting a gene into a new cell is a random event. It can insert itself into any point in the DNA of that cell and in so doing, disrupt the natural sequence of genetic information in that cell and therefore cause that natural sequence to function in an inappropriate or imbalanced way, giving rise to allergens, toxins and reduced nutritional value. - Sorry that was a long answer.

Presenter:
No, it's great. What I found in your article is so fascinating is - the milk - what they tried to do and what they actually ended up creating - something I am glad I don't have to drink.

Prof. John Fagan:
Ja, you are very fortunate. In the US, milk from cows that have been treated with this recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is actually mixed in with the milk from other cows and fed to us, you know, without any labeling, without any marking. We are trying to change that, but that's the situation right now.

What they actually did was they took the gene for this hormone, the Bovine growth hormone, and they put that gene into a bacteria, and they used these bacteria as little factories to produce huge amounts of this hormone which they then actually use like a drug to inject it into cows to cause them to produce more milk.

Presenter:
Right.

Prof. John Fagan:
It does increase milk production, ten to fifteen percent, maybe 20 % in some cases, but the problem is that its very rough on the cows. It causes them to get infections in their udders, it alters their reproductive capacities so that they are having trouble bearing little calves. It also causes the cows to secret into the milk high levels of a meta-hormone called insulin-like growth factor. And this hormone actually has been linked to cancer. If an organism is subjected to high levels of this hormone it will stimulate the growth of cancer cells and increase the likelihood of getting cancer.

Presenter:
We are talking of the drinkers of the milk?

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes. That means that people who drink the milk are exposed to a hormone that may increase the likelihood of getting cancer. So, it hurts the cows, it increases susceptibility of cancer in people who drink the milk. In the US, this type of milk does not have to be labeled. And that's why I have, you might say, a workout about these things.

Presenter:
That's almost unimaginable, that they don't have to label that. Its just horrifying. As a result of that - this reverse labeling tactic of other suppliers - what is that all about?

Prof. John Fagan:
That is - and we have been helping this quite a lot - because consumers are concerned about this and they want to know the manufacturers who are very conscientious about fulfilling the needs of the consumers - are now carefully sourcing milk products that are free of this hormone. Also products that have been made from natural Soya beans and corn - to assure, you call it maize in South Africa?

Presenter:
Yes

Prof. John Fagan:
Ok, maize. So natural maize and soya instead of genetically engineered things. And actually labeling their products has been made without genetic engineering or genetic modification. And that way at least the consumers have a choice. And this is beginning, it is actually quite strongly in Europe now, particular in the UK, and its also beginning in Japan and in the US at least with the rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) there are now a number of companies that are labeling their milk products are produced from cows that are not treated with rBGH. So there are some steps in the right direction happening.

Presenter:
Yes. The big multinational companies have a lot of money, a huge amount of money riding on genetic engineering and genetically engineered food stuff. Are they not trying to intervene and prevent this reverse labeling. And they are giving all sorts of reason why mandatory labeling is not necessary, what I read in your article today, not only are these reasons self-serving, as you said earlier on, but they sound scientifically suspicious to me.

Prof. John Fagan:
Ja, absolutely suspicious. Yes, we should make a distinction between the multinational agro-chemical companies and the multinational food industry. The first of those is the source of the biotechnology industry, the agro-chemical industry, have included companies like DuPont, Dow, Monsanto, Novartis, Agrevo, which is part of Hoechst, and these companies have been very resistant to the idea of labeling the products, as they are afraid that consumers wouldn't buy genetically engineered products if they were labeled as such. So, they have resisted labeling and also resisted reverse labeling. When companies started to label their products as free from rBGH in the US, the multinationals pushed the government to prosecute the people who labeled their products as rBGH-free.

Initially, this succeeded, but subsequently suits were brought against the government, even against the federal government that forced the government to take a new position allowing this reverse labeling - or positive labeling. We are very happy about that, and on that basis there are programmes unfolding both in Europe and Japan and in the US, and maybe in South Africa, where a large number of products will be labeled as certified NOT genetically modified.

Presenter:
Right.

Prof. John Fagan:
We have developed a testing program that allows us to distinguish genetically engineered food from natural food, and a little company called Genetic ID, which provides this testing in the US, Europe and Japan..

Presenter:
Great! Maybe it will come here?

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes. On that basis you can make this distinction basically.

Presenter:
You stated in your article that existing labeling policies in the US contradicts basic labeling law.

Prof. John Fagan:
Absolutely.

Presenter:
Some of these companies - by the way we couldn't get anybody to speak at all - they getting away with a lot; they say that you don't have to label things. They say that they are doing it for years, its just breeding the best and they are completely ignoring the fact that deliberately introducing completely new genetic information that would not naturally ever find its way into these products.

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes. What they have done is that they have been very effective in lobbying the government and government regulators in the US and Canada, a little less effective in Europe and pretty effective also in Japan to not take on labeling programmes based on this idea that it is really not something new.

That is in a way quite funny, because if you turn around and see what they say to their investors or potential investors, namely that Genetic Engineering is a revolutionary technology, it will transform the world and you are going to make money from it.

Presenter:
Yes, absolutely. Now, you are a scientist, you are independent and work from the basis of an academic world. You are not pressured by a boss who makes millions out of genetically engineered Soya beans to play the party line. Do you think that's the problem? Because I was - before I did tonight's show - not pro, but ok about genetic engineering, I thought we can play god forever. Every time a new pesticide was held as a break through and everybody said thank you, thank you and then DDT was found to be a killer.

In human's will this is just part of the human progression - we insist in researching ourselves and the environment right down to genetic level. And after I read today you paper I am now very very cautious.

But you as a scientist, are you trashing the technology saying you are anti it or are you saying lets just wait and see, lets do more testing and wait until we see the results more clearly?

Prof. John Fagan:
Its a very science based perspective that I have. My feeling is that the way that this technology has been commercialized is not guided by science - it is guided by profit motives and political issues. The science is not guiding it.

I feel that we need to go forward very dynamically to understand the life processes more deeply for plants, for animals, for every living thing. So, science should not be stooped. But everything we discover in the laboratories should not be put in the market place. We should look at it deeply, should understand the connections between that and everything else more deeply and only when we are certain that its going to be beneficial do we go forward.

Presenter:
Absolutely. Its wonderful to hear that rational approach from somebody who understands these processes so completely, because unfortunately some movements like Greenpeace go absolutely do-laley, foaming the mouth and talking about effects on children before you know it, which does the cause no good. That's as far as I am concerned

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes

Presenter:
So it's great to hear that from your point of view. What kind of pressure do you think the scientists, the R and D guys down in the basement of Monsanto, what kind of pressure they are under to make sure the results fit in with their marketing plan?

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes, very heavy pressure, because they have investors to keep happy. There has been 15 billion Dollars invested in agricultural biotechnology ..

Presenter:
Good grief!

Prof. John Fagan:
the pressure to convert that into profits is tremendous. And that's why this thing is going forward come hell or high water.

Presenter:
How much opposition is there? I agree with you that the technology is fascinating and I think it will continue to be fascinating, but as you make clear in you paper is "Don't commercialize it yet". Is that what you essentially saying?

Prof. John Fagan:
Essentially that we commercialize only when we know that there will be greater benefit than harm. And that we always look at the goal and not just simply look at the tool. So, we want to produce more food and better food. What's the best way to achieve that? Is it biotechnology? Is is natural, organic agriculture? Or is it, you know, new chemicals or something. Lets look at all possible technologies and then go forward. And that's not what's been happening now.

Presenter:
What about the ethical and religious aspects - you do touch on it in your paper. Obviously, to vegetarians and lots of religions are the genetic transfers from animals to plants a big problem?

Prof. John Fagan:
Yes. And also for Islamic people and also even Jewish people the simple fact of taking a gene from any organism and putting it into any other organism is unacceptable. In both cases there are these prohibitions to mixing in certain ways. "thou shalt not mix your wheat with your oats" and things like that. So, people who are very devout have fundamental concerns about the whole idea of this kind of mix-master approach to genetics.

Presenter:
Absolutely. You say in your article the people who are pro this have a vested interest in financially, saying that the DNA information is identical in plants and animals. Would you say that for example a plant enzyme may have an equivalent say in a rabbit, but it does not have the same function, its no good of giving it the same name. And they are saying, well, we don't have to label this because we haven't put animal material into this plant, we have just put in something on the DNA level which is the same in plants anyway. You may put it that it is not rabbit material but it is still rabbit information and it will function differently in a rabbit.

So again their argument is self-serving, as you said before.

Prof. John Fagan:
It is, its very superficial. This thing, oh, the tiny molecule from a rabbit is the same as in a zucchini plant. True, it has the same chemical composition, but the information is what the DNA is all about. And that information is totally unique to the rabbit, and totally unique to the zucchini plant. So, when you put rabbit information into a zucchini plant, its still rabbit information. One makes something unique to that animal, there will be an animal protein produced in a plant in that point.

And this is where, you know, assuming ignorance in the consumer, when they make those arguments. This is, as I see it, not only non-scientific, its insulting to the intelligence of the population.

Presenter:
Absolutely. I knew next to nothing about genetic engineering, and I went on the Internet, put genetic engineering into a search engine and found your article, which I read from end to end. And everybody out there who has access to the Internet can do the same. I give the address later. And education is what's all about.

The first step is making sure that the tests get done properly and enough time elapses to see the long-term effects. And labeling - which is a baby of yours and you are interested in.

Prof. John Fagan:
It sounds that you have done your homework quite well.

Presenter:
Well, its fascinating. Where are we in America in the moment? Are there stuff on the shelves which is genetically engineered and which people don't know about it or is there a moratorium on it?

Prof. John Fagan:
It's in fact the first case. About 70 % of the packaged, processed food on the shelves in the United States, also in Europe, are genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients. There is no marking, there is no indication of it.

And the consumers in the US don't even know it - in Europe, the consumers are much more informed. In the US you can ask any person: "What do you think eating this genetically modified food?" "I don't eat genetically engineered foods!" They have no idea.

In Europe its very different. In London I tried this three or four times; you say: "What about this genetic engineering stuff?" Everyone has an opinion, because its in the news here. But in the US, nobody has an opinion.

Presenter:
Well its suddenly on the news here. We had one of our best viewed cable station last week showing a programme on genetic engineered food, and this week in one of our top financial publications has a long article and now we have this programme. So, I think it sounds like South Africans are like mushrooms kept in the dark, expected to thrive. I hope many more people will ask questions about it.

Dr. Fagan thank you very much for your time, it has been a pleasure talking to you..

Prof. John Fagan:
My pleasure. Thank you very much. Thank you for doing this show!

Presenter:
Perhaps if you come out here you could give some lectures on it

Prof. John Fagan:
Thank you, I would be happy to do so.


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Date: 12. May 1999
From: Franz Beck fb@intekom.co.za

Safe Food Coalition
Box 5155, Halfway House 1685 South Africa
Tel (011) 318 1399    Fax (011) 318 1872    email durran@mweb.co.za

Letter in reply to Star Article 7 May 99

The Star article:

Biosafety worries are 6000 years too late

By Justine Nofa, The Star 7 May 1999, 'Inside agriculture'

Anyone who avoids foods that have been genetically altered by human beings is going to have a hard time finding anything to eat. Their diet will be limited to ocean fish, insects, small game and some wild plants. The reality of agricultural production for an exploding world population means that nearly all food consumed today has been genetically altered.

Meat, vegetables and fruit have all changed in look, texture and taste. Bread tastes differenet because wheat cultivars have changed. It is impossible to count the different types of roses. Wool feels different. The taste of tobacco has changed, many say for the worse.

Genetic alteration of plants and animals has occurred ever since primitive man put down his bow and arrow and settled. It was obvious even to these folk that some plants produced better leaves, tubers or fruits, and were more disease-resistant, than others. They weeded out the bad ones. These naturally cross-bred and better strains resulted. They applied the same prinicple to their livestock, and obtained domestic animal breeds.

Jump forward to the twentieth century, when the principle of crossbreeding to produce better cultivars at a lower cost became a multibillion Rand commercial industry. The effect of this industry on food production has been tremendous.

Doomsayers in the 1970s predicted the world's food supply would run out by 1980. Instead food production per hectare has multiplied over and over. The world is awash with food, though not everyone can afford to buy it.

The pressure remains on agriculture everywhere to produce more delicious, healthier, more marketable food at cheaper prices. Biotechnologist have responded by speeding up the crossbreeding process. Instead of human beings waiting for plants and animals to crossbreeed themselves, they are transplanting the DNA from organism to organism.

South Africans are at the forefront of biotechnology, mainly through the parastatal Agricultural Research Council institutes. There are extensive skills and facilities available, with special emphasis on food production for Africa.

Seeds for genetically altered cultivars developed overseas, among them wheat, cotton, maize and soya beans, are available here. South Africa, too could produce seed for genetically altered cultivars for US and European companies.

North America is the leader in the technology. In 1997 Canada and the US planted 1,4 million hectares of genetically manipulated cultivars; in 1998 this became 8,8 million hectares. The 12 million hectares planted worldwide last year will expand to about 30 million hectares this year. Other countries involved are Australia, Argentina and China.

Protests in some countries against genetically altered food have led to an industry proposal for a biosafety protocol. There is not much hope the protocol will ever be implemented. It has come about 6000 years too late.


The Editor
The Star

Dear Sir,

I would like to respond to Justine Nofal's article of the Star Company News (May 7) 'Inside agriculture' captioned 'Biosafety worries are 6000 years too late'.

Firstly, she says 'genetic alteration of plants and animals has occurred every since primitive man put down his bow and arrow and settled'. She goes on to say 'Biotechnologists have responded by speeding up the process by transplanting the DNA from one organism to another'.

Cross breeding that has been carried out up until the time of genetic engineering (GE) has been a hybridisation process, e.g. crossing two types of similar organisms from which we get a modified fruit, vegetable or animal, for example nectarines and mules.

However, in an effort to speed things up the biochemical multinationals are taking the genes from an organism and artificially inserting them into another usually totally unrelated organism, e.g. from a fish to a tomato, something that nature would not normally permit. Come, come Justine when did you last see a fish mate with a tomato? What are the ethical implications of this 'Frankenstein' food for vegetarians, Jews and Muslims? Not to mention the dangers of allergens which have in some cases already resulted.

Secondly, judging from the reaction in Europe, particularly England, endorsed by and article in The Star dated March 25, 1999, the caption says it all: 'Genetically modified food of the future looks like a lemon'. The article concludes by stating: "No doubt the drug and chemical companies that pionieered the GE food poured millions of dollars int research. No doubt these companies will survive, but the rejection of GE food carried a broader message, and that big companies at the cutting edge of new technology would be wise to heed, science is only going to be commercially valuable if it carries the public along with it."

I would also like to quote the following; the head of Britain's Food standard Agency, Prof. James, who said about GE food: "The perception that everything is totally straightforward and safe is utterly naive. I do not think we fully understand the dimensions of what we are getting into."

Malcolm Walker, Chairman of Iceland Food (fourth largest retail food chain in the UK) who has now banned GE products from his own brands, said: "The use of GE ingredients is probably the most significant and potentially dangerous development in food production this century."

The two biggest multinational food companies Nestle UK and Unilever UK join the exit from GE foods by removing them from their product line and all mayor chain stores have banned GE foods from their own brands. In South Africa Pick'n Pay are following suit.

No longterm testing of GE food has been done. Why should we as consumers be used as guinea pigs and why are the farmers pushed into planting 40 000 hectares of GE maize right now here in SA, which is making its way into food products without labelling.

I would urge Justine to warn the farmers that there may be a flip side to the GE coin. What if the SA consumer follows the lead of the English counterpart? They will be sitting with an awful lot of GE seed that they will struggle to get rid of and indeed could bankrupt them.

Whatever your view on the subject may be, we are living in a democatic country and we have the right to choose whether or not we want to eat these foods, however commercialisation of these crops and labelling have not been coordinated which means as consumers we are being denied the fundamental right of choice.

Yours faithfully

Angus Durran

Safe Food Coalition
Box 5155, Halfway House 1685 South Africa
Tel (011) 318 1399    Fax (011) 318 1872    email durran@mweb.co.za


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Date: Sun, 30 May 1999 20:06:35 +0200
From: "Glenda Lindsay" glenda@global.co.za

FYI: Latest South African GE media coverage

Hi All

Also please could we all keep and share copies of any GE media clippings for inclusion in GE public education/information sessions coming up. I'm having one @ our home 7pm tonight - Mon 31/5 - for people to peruse my collection of literature/media clippings and see local & o/s video footage of GE-investigative TV progs....if you want to come/send anyone along, call me on 083 305 8122 for map ref - we're in Morningside.

The Michael Mount Waldorf and Sagewood schools have agreed to be venues for another couple in the coming weeks.....AND Dianne Terblanche/Consumer Institute of South Africa is planning national GE consumer information workshops. Watch this space.

Keep up the great work and stay in touch.

Cheers
Glenda


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Date: Tue, 1 Jun 1999 15:18:28 +0200
From: "Glenda Lindsay" glenda@global.co.za

FREE Info evening at Sagewood School 7pm Monday 7th June.

Hi All

This is really a grassroots start to consumer awareness - and one I DON'T wish to be disrupted/overtaken by the sort of biotech/vested interests you are now aware of. For this reason you are welcome to attend and/or send anyone who considers health and respect for the environment, socio-economic justice and consumer rights more important than the commercial interests of multinational agri/pharmaceutical monopolies. (Just in case you weren't clear where I'm coming from!!)

Love
Glenda

Genetic Engineering is a novel technology with unpredictable consequences that involves taking genes (the 'blueprints of life') from one species and inserting them into another. For example genes from an arctic fish which has 'anti-freeze' properties can be spliced into a tomato to prevent frost damage....something that would never occur in nature.

"Once released into the environment, unlike a BSE epidemic or chemical spill, genetic mistakes cannot be contained, recalled or cleaned up, but will be passed on to all future generations indefinitely" - Dr Michael Antoniou, Clinical Geneticist and Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology, London.

Foods that include GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are already on retail shelves in South Africa, unlabelled and without adequate/appropriate longterm safety testing or consultation with consumers, environmentalists, ethicists, or indeed the imminent conscientious scientists who are alarmed at the premature commercial release of this novel technology.

An information evening of video footage from investigative television programs both here and overseas will be held free of charge at Sagewood School, Sagewood Ave, Midrand this coming Monday June 7 at 7pm, with opportunity for discussion afterwards. There will also be press clippings and informational literature on display, as well as contact details of concerned organisations, sources of further information, and suggested courses of action.

"We don't inherit the earth from our parents - we borrow it from our children"

..Cheif Seattle


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Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 10:49:18 +0200
From: "Glenda Lindsay" glenda@global.co.za

Australia: Alliance to Push Benefits Of Biotechnology

By Cathy Bolt, Australian Financial Review, May 17, 1999

Agrifood Alliance Australia Formed.... Attention South Africa - we need to anticipate this sort of thing here too

Farmers, researchers and agribusiness interests have teamed up to try to regain critical lost ground in the bitter debate over the merits of genetically engineered foods. Agrifood Alliance Australia, launched on Friday, is a joint venture between the National Farmers' Federation, Avcare, which represents crop and veterinary chemical companies, the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the Seed Industry Association, the Australian Biotechnology Association, Co-operative Research Centres Association and fertiliser company Pivot Ltd.

The Alliance said its aim was to achieve public understanding of the benefits of biotechnology. It would develop a program to emphasise the benefits of the technology, "with the belief that through education comes understanding". Concern about gene technology has intensified amid controversy over the introduction of new laws which came into effect last week making it illegal to sell food which contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs) unless they have been given final or preliminary approval by the Australian New Zealand Food Authority.

A rush of late applications by major biotechnology companies brought to 20 the number of genetically engineered crops which are covered, including soy beans, corn, canola, potatoes and cotton. New laws also came into effect last week in Australia requiring any genetically modified foods which are "substantially different" to their conventional counterparts to be labelled.

But ANZFA is still developing a system to implement labelling of "substantially equivalent" products ~ such as soy beverages derived from herbicide-resistant soy bean crops ~ which it was ordered to do last year by State and federal health ministers. In the meantime, several food companies, including Sanitarium and George Weston Food, have reacted to consumer concern by removing genetically engineered ingredients from a number of key products.

The Agrifood Alliance said its activities would complement the Federal Government's national biotechnology strategy announced in last week's Budget, which included a new, statutory gene technology regulatory body and a new promotional body called Biotechnology Australia. In other developments, the biotechnology revolution in agriculture has spawned another joint venture. The latest alliance is Grain Biotechnology Australia Pty Ltd, a partnership between a Perth-based biotechnology group, Biowest Australia, and AgDirect Australia, a company owned by two West Australian farmers, Mr Rob Hyde and Mr Graham Shields. Biowest's managing director, Mr Stewart Washer, said it was confident other investors would join the company. They are understood to be the Grain Pool of Western Australia, Co-operative Bulk Handling of WA and a research organisation.

Mr Washer said the company's strength would be in its ability to use its biotechnology and skills with breeding to convert superior genes into new varieties of wheat, Australia's biggest crop. Mr Washer said the company's income would be derived from end-point levies collected on delivery of crops and through premiums flowing from "closed loop" marketing chains, where growers are contracted to grow specific varieties for particular customers. He said the company expected to develop for release within four to five years new wheat varieties with modified starch content, herbicide resistance and pesticide resistance.

Mr Washer said he was confident consumer concerns over genetically modified foods and food ingredients would abate. "Over time, the power of this technology and the safety of this technology is such that it will come to be accepted," he said. The new venture is the latest in a spate of new businesses, acquisitions and alliances that have emerged ahead of the revolution in crop production and marketing systems expected to result from the introduction of privately owned genetics.


Bob Phelps, Director
Australian GeneEthics Network
c/- ACF 340 Gore Street, Fitzroy. 3065 Australia
Tel: (03) 9416.2222   Fax: (03) 9416.0767 {Int Code (613)}
email: acfgenet@peg.apc.org    WWW: http://www.zero.com.au/agen

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."

George Orwell

"Non-cooperation with injustice is a sacred duty."

Mahatma Gandhi

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good people do nothing."

Edmund Burke

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."

Dom Helder Camera

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead

Knowing is not enough, you must also act


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Date: Thu, 3 Jun 1999 09:44:47 +0200
From: "Glenda Lindsay" glenda@global.co.za

BEWARE OF SUSPECT GE-FREE CLAIMS (Australian info but watch for this starting to happen here)

Beware of Suspect GE-free Claims

By Martin Oliver, Gene-Ethics Network Northern Rivers

Sections:
Arnotts Takes up the GE Banner
Tell Arnotts What You Think!
A GE-free Database for the Food Industry
Details of Bulk Canola Suppliers are Particularly Needed

In the recent Australian Consumers' Association magazine 'Consuming Interest', both Arnotts and George Weston Foods (Tip-Top bread, Westons biscuits, Kitchen Collection bread mixes etc) replied to an ACA survey as not using any GE ingredients.

Unfortunately Arnotts are likely to be using lecithin and hydrolyzed vegetable protein from a GE origin, while Westons biscuits contain lecithin from a likely GE source.

A spurious argument being used by some food companies including Arnotts is that an oil-derived ingredient such as lecithin is GE-free because it doesn't contain any DNA. Information from genetic testing laboratories indicates that genetic testing of lecithin can usually be carried out - implying that in lecithin samples there is usually a vestige of DNA.

Many consumers are interested in a food's origin as well as the end product, as this is the only way of addressing the environmental and social aspects of the GE issue.

It's a good idea to respond to suspect GE-free claims by requesting up-to-date substantiation.

Arnotts Takes up the GE Banner

At a time when many food companies are busy removing GE ingredients and disowning GE altogether, Arnotts has recently put out an information sheet on GE food which surpasses in comedy value all previous efforts by the food industry.

Noting that 'this technology is truly environmentally friendly and can be simply viewed as a modern effective form of old-fashioned plant and animal breeding', it also informs the public that 'gene technology is a more precise, safe and rapid way of developing crops with improved nutrition and reduced chemical residues'.

Tell Arnotts What You Think!

A GE-free Database for the Food Industry

Our website has details of GE-free suppliers to the food industry at www.nor.com.au/environment/genethic/gfreebulk.html New information is being added on a regular basis.

If you are able to provide further information about Australian suppliers of GE-free soya, cottonseed, corn or canola ingredients, any information would be greatly appreciated.

Details of Bulk Canola Suppliers are Particularly Needed

- other than Campania, Florafoods, Meadow Lea, Peerless and Seedex. We are also maintaining a list of companies using Australian canola. If you know of any small or regional food company using this, please let us know.

Martin Oliver
Gene-Ethics Network Northern Rivers c/- BSEC, 123 Keen St, Lismore, NSW 2480
Email: genethics@start.com.au    Website: http://www.nor.com.au/environment/genethic