Genetically
 Manipulated 


 

 
 
 Food


 News

20 May 99

Table of Contents

Britain Caught out by Leaked Genetic Food Report
MPs say Blair 'gung-ho' on GM food
Monsanto Falls Flat Trying to Sell Europe on Bioengineered Food
Seed of discontent planted
GM concerns cut British soya use
Call by UK Doctors Group Adds to Trade Tensions With US
British doctors call for freeze on genetically modified crops
Interview: Do Genetically Altered Foods Threaten An Unwary Consumer?
Scientists doubt GM food research
Dr Pusztai responds to the Royal Society criticism
Nature article - Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae
Pollen From Genetically Altered Corn Threatens Monarch Butterfly, Study Finds
Gene-Altered Corn May Kill Monarchs
Study: Genetic corn kills butterflies

Top NextFront Page

Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 18:09:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-15

Britain Caught out by Leaked Genetic Food Report

May 13, 1999

LONDON, Reuters [WS] via NewsEdge Corporation : 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.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 18:09:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-15

MPs say Blair 'gung-ho' on GM food

By Paul Brown, Environment Correspondent
Friday May 14, 1999, The Guardian (UK) 14th May 99.

Government has 'lost control' and must reassure public that safety comes before the interests of multinationals

The government has lost control of genetic engineering and needs to restore public confidence that health and environmental concerns are being put before the commercial interests of multinational companies, MPs said yesterday.

It could take 10 years of concerted effort for the government to rebuild public confidence in it's ability to monitor the development of genetically modified food, an influential all-party Commons committee has concluded.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 18:09:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-15

Excerpts from the Wall Street Journal article about Monsanto & GE foods

Monsanto Falls Flat Trying to Sell Europe on Bioengineered Food

By Scott Kilman and Helene Cooper, Staff Reporter
Wall Street Journal, May 11, 1999]

Sections:
Designer Beans
The B List
Soy Bomb

Its Soybeans Are Safe, Say Trade Officials, but Public Doesn't Want to Hear it

Monsanto Co. has done something quite remarkable for a U.S. company in Europe. It has gone from obscurity to infamy in just a few years.

In March [1999], during a debate about the World Trade Organization in the House of Commons, MP Norman Baker called the U.S. crop-biotech- nology company "Public Enemy No. 1." Prince Charles recently vowed that Monsanto's biotech food would never pass his royal lips. Former Beatle Paul McCartney publicly spurned the company after it was reported that his late wife Linda's line of vegetarian sausages contained soybeans grown from Monsanto's seeds.

Activists have torn up Monsanto test plots in the United Kingdom. British newspapers call Monsanto the "Frankenstein food giant" and the "biotech bully boy" so routinely that some Monsanto employees jokingly refer to their employer as "MonSatan."

"Many people here really hate Monsanto," says Isabelle Gineste, a member of the Townwomen's Guilds, a civic group. "The rest of us are just scared."

Designer Beans

Monsanto's sin? It genetically modifies agricultural seeds, includ- ing those that produce many of the protein-rich soybeans Britain imports from America to make a host of food products. American farmers love Mon- santo's seeds; the seeds make soybean, corn and cotton crops easier to grow. And American consumers have barely noticed.

But a public-relations campaign by Monsanto to win over Europeans has back-fired - stoking environmental opposition, riling media commentat- ors and leading many U.K. food retailers, in response, to bar genetically modified food. The British units of Unilever NV and Nestle SA have pledged not to use any genetically modified foods in their products in the future. Politicians from Dublin to Dusseldorf are talking about a mor- atorium on such crops, a bleak prospect for American farmers who already face depressed prices.

Indeed, the fallout is beginning to be felt in the U.S. The European Union already requires labels on food containing those genetically modi- fied crops whose import it has approved. And it is so reluctant to approve the import of more that U.S. farmers have begun avoiding several new seeds .

The U.S. grain industry has nearly stopped shipping corn to Europe for fear that European laboratory test might detect kernels from genetically crops not yet cleared by the EU. What was a $200 million annual market for U.S. corn farmers is now all but closed.

The B List

"This year, we've got the three B's with Europe," says U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. "Bananas, beef and biotechnology." Already this year, her office has levied or threatened sanctions on the Europeans over bananas and beef. But those markets are small compared with agricultural biotechnology. The European markets for genetically modified crops and seed is potentially worth several billion dollars a year. Says one official at the WTO in Geneva, where a trade war over the issue would be fought if one broke out: "Biotech will make bananas look like peanuts."

U.S. farm groups are itching for a fight, but it's one the Clinton administration dreads, despite having the rules on its side. The European Union doesn't have any scientific basis for singling out food containing genetically modified crops; regulators on both sides of the Atlantic say such crops are safe to eat. But European public attitudes are a different issue. "It's not going to matter whether we win" at the WTO, says a Clinton administration official. "Those people aren't going to touch any- thing that says Monsanto anyway."

One reason Monsanto feels so much heat is simply that it is the furthest along in a science that inevitably raises questions about man's control over nature. "We are the bow of a technology that is making a lot of waves," says Phillip Angell, director of corporate communications.

Soy Bomb

But another reason is Monsanto's brash and open approach. It has ignored the go-slow advice of European companies that work in agricultural biotechnology, such as Britain's Zeneca Group PLC and Switzerland's Novar- tis AG. "Monsanto has just made things a lot worse," gripes Michael P. Pragnell, head of the agrochemicals division at Zeneca.

Skepticism about genetically modified food is common not just in Europe, but also in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, all of which are considering requiring that labels identify such food. In India, farm activists, upset about work on a gene that would stop them from keeping some of their harvest for seed, have destroyed Monsanto cotton fields.

Foes argue that whatever regulators say, such food hasn't been proved safe.

.................................................................

The EU cleared such soybeans [gene-modified]-indistinguishable except by laboratory test from other soybeans-for import in March 1996. The first bushel hit the docks at Liverpool a few months after.

The timing was terrible. Britain was in full panic mode over 'mad-cow disease' after scientists said beef from affected cattle was the likely source of a fatal brain-wasting disease in some Britons. The announcement crushed public confidence in regulatory and scientific communities that had long given assurance that the disease ravaging British dairy herds wasn't a human threat.

And, because mad-cow was thought to be spread by the practice of using dead livestock as a protein source for cattle, the whole issue caused many to wonder about the sanity of modern agricultural methods."


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 18:09:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-15

Seed of discontent planted

National Post (Canada), Wednesday, May 12, 1999, National News A4

SASKATOON - The National Farmers Union is concerned wind-blown pollen and seed from genetically engineered crops will contaminate non-engineered crops. Stewart Wells, a union spokesman,said it could cost organic producers and other farmers millions of dollars.

Mr. Wells said it may soon become impossible to certify canola because no one will be able to guarantee it does not contain genetically engineered seeds.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 18:09:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-15

GM concerns cut British soya use

By Chris Lyddon LONDON, May 12

(Reuters) - Consumer fears over genetically modified products have triggered a sharp fall in the proportion of products in British supermarkets containing soya, according to one leading practical expert.

With suppliers telling them they could not get non-GM soya, British food manufacturers had in many cases responded to concerns by taking out all soya, said Bill Wadsworth, technical manager of Iceland Plc, a frozen food specialist which was the first major retailer to go non-GM. We were told we couldn't get non-GM soya, so we told suppliers to get out of soya," Wadsworth told Reuters in an interview at the company's headquarters on Deeside in North Wales.

Later food producers did find non-GM supplies, but by then it was too late. They had already reformulated many products.

Canada has already lost canola markets because it can't guarantee its crop is free of genetic pollution.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 19:09:40 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-19

Thanks to MichaelP papadop@PEAK.ORG for posting the following article:

Call by UK Doctors Group Adds to Trade Tensions With US

, Brings Strong Reaction on Hill

By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer, Tuesday, May 18, 1999; Page A02

Britain's premier medical association yesterday joined the European fracas over genetically engineered foods by saying that foods harboring new genes should be labeled as such so consumers can choose to avoid them until they're proven safe.

In a strongly worded report that immediately increased trade tensions with the United States, the British Medical Association also called for gene-altered crops to be processed separately from conventional crops, rather than mixed together as is done today in the United States, so that any health effects that may eventually turn up will be traceable to the products that caused them.

If growers in the United States or other countries continue to refuse to segregate gene-modified products, the association concluded, then Britain should consider banning imports of those foods.

The recommendations prompted a quick negative reaction on Capitol Hill, where congressional leaders have been growing increasingly irritated with Europe's resistance to agricultural biotechnology, a lucrative field dominated by the United States. ...

The 119,000-member British Medical Association represents more than 80 percent of Britain's doctors. It has weighed in before on the issue of genetically engineered crops and foods, but yesterday's report--based on an analysis of current scientific knowledge--contains the strongest warnings yet as to what remains unknown about their environmental and health effects.

The crops contain genes from bacteria and other organisms to make them resistant to weed-killing chemicals and insects. They are being grown on millions of acres in the United States, where regulatory agencies have deemed them safe, but they remain heavily restricted in Europe, where public acceptance has been low.

Concerns about genetically engineered corn have already halted virtually all corn exports from the United States to Europe, costing U.S. farmers about $200 million a year. Exports of American engineered soy worth additional hundreds of millions of dollars are so far being accepted by Europe.

The British report does not assert that engineered foods are dangerous. But it counsels that without proof of safety, the wise course is to proceed more slowly. For example, the new report says, no one knows yet whether the antibiotic resistance genes used to create engineered crops might get passed to bacteria in people's internal organs, leading to the growth of drug-resistant pathogens. Just in case, the group calls upon companies to abandon use of those genes.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 19:09:40 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-19

British doctors call for freeze on genetically modified crops

Agence France Presse-English, Mon 17 May 1999, International News

LONDON, May 17 (AFP) - The British Medical Association (BMA) on Monday called for a freeze on raising genetically modified crops for commercial use, and said evidence on potential side-effects was "insufficient."

In a report, the BMA called for a "cautious approach" towards genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and "further research into the health and environmental effects."

It also said that "any conclusion upon the safety of introducing GMOs into the United Kingdom is premature as there is insufficient evidence to inform the decision-making process at present."

The report's authors further said that "evidence of environmental safety from the US may not necessarily be relevant to the British or European farming scenes."

"The effect of GMOs on wildlife and the eco-system are not yet known," the report stressed.

Britain in April said it would conduct three large-scale experiments in genetically modified crops over a four-year period under the control of independent researchers before deciding on their commercialization.

The country's four largest supermarket chains have already responded to public concern by stopping the sale of products which contain GMOs.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 19:09:40 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-19

Interview: Do Genetically Altered Foods Threaten An Unwary Consumer?

Program Canada AM, Network CTV, Monday, May 10, 1999
Broadcast time 8:43:40 ET til 8:48:55 ET
Host: Dan Matheson    Guest: Ingeborg Boyens, Author, "Unnatural Harvest"

Matheson:
I'm sure you'll remember the story from last week: the cloned goats in Montreal. Just one of many examples of genetic engineering. While proponents argue genetically engineered products like fruits and vegetables will help save humanity from starvation, others have their doubts. And you can read some of them in the book "Unnatural Harvest". Ingeborg Boyens outlines her concerns. And she joins us now.

Good morning.

BOYENS:
Good morning.

Matheson:
You're really concerned, huh? And you're concerned -- why? I think for many people this is one more step down that --. You know, we've been selectively breeding for millennia. How is this different?

Boyens:
Well, the argument has been that we're selectively breeding but this is radically different. This is quite clearly an unnatural step. What we've found the ability to do is to cross genes, pieces of DNA that define who we are, from one species to another. So, in essence, science is now able to cross a dog and a cat. And we all know that that has never been allowed by nature and now is something that science can do.

Matheson:
And they can do that and then they can put that product in the grocery store.

Boyens:
Well, exactly. What we've seen is corporations essentially hijack the science so the ability of science has been translated --

Matheson:
Which corporations?

Boyens:
Huge multinational corporations have basically used this science to create products that you and I eat without knowing about it, all with the intention of making profits ultimately.

Matheson:
Which products? What are the kinds of things that we could routinely buy that would have been genetically --

Boyens:
Well, this has been on the supermarket shelves. We've seen products since 1996 and that includes things that seem quite benign.

Matheson:
Give examples.

Boyens:
For example, canola. We use canola oil to cook. Fifty percent of the canola grown in Western Canada is now genetically engineered. One out of three acres of corn that farmers are going to be planting this year is genetically engineered. Same thing with soy beans.

Matheson:
Okay, so what's wrong with that corn? And what's wrong with that oil?

Boyens:
Well, I can't tell you that it's going to kill you but I can't also tell you that it won't. And either can the government and industry.

Matheson:
Well, surely someone must be able to tell us. Because you couldn't sell food that might be dangerous.

Boyens:
Well, you know, we know that it's not going to cause problems right now. Witness the fact that you and I are here and we've probably been eating our fair supply of genetically engineered food.

Matheson:
I have some canola oil at home.

Boyens:
Yeah.

Matheson:
But I didn't know it was genetically engineered.

Boyens:
Well, that's just it. The Canadian government has approved 39 different foods and food ingredients since '96 without any kind of labelling and, I would say, without consumers really even knowing this is happening.

And, ultimately, just getting back to the question of why is it bad: I guess we simply don't know what's going to happen in the future, we don't know what kind of health effects this is going to have. Back in the forties and fifties they told us that DDT was good for us and I think we've now learned that DDT is not anywhere close to good for us.

Matheson:
So when you go to the store -- because this is where I pick up the story -- when I want to buy potatoes shouldn't I know that those potatoes have been genetically engineered or not?

Boyens:
Well, I would certainly say you should.

Matheson:
Shouldn't I have that right? Because when you go, and you don't want to buy genetically engineered products, you should know which products to avoid.

Boyens:
I've had the benefit of a couple of years of research on this book so I sort of know what's out there. And it requires reading the fine print on boxes just to see if it says "contains soybean" or "contains canola" or "contains corn oil". And that's not something that most people have the time or the inclination to do.

So I think that we will soon see increasing pressures for the need to label as they do in Europe. It's only in North America -- in Canada and the US -- that there isn't really a movement to try to label and to inform people of what's going on.

Matheson:
I was going to ask: is there any political impetus for this because these sound like voices in the wilderness especially if --. Are you not buying corn? You won't buy corn?

Boyens:
If I know where it's come from I'll buy it, yeah, sure.

Matheson:
Because most corn is now genetically engineered? Is that what you're saying? Or a small portion of it or --?

Boyens:
Well, 33 percent of it is.

Matheson:
And I would wager most Canadians would think that the corn that we now buy is way better than the corn we had ten years ago.

Boyens:
Well, what we're also seeing is that corn is included in a lot of the processed foods that we're buying. So that's one of the difficulties. Sixty percent of processed foods, and that means cake mixes, oh, I don't know, taco mixes, tortilla chips, baby food, ice cream -- it all contains genetically engineered foods.

Matheson:
Part of the unnatural harvest. Ingeborg Boyens, nice to see you.

Boyens:
And nice to see you.

Matheson:
Thanks very much.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 19:12:50 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-19-2

posted by MichaelP papadop@peak.org

Scientists doubt GM food research

By Tim Radford, Science Editor
GUARDIAN (London)Wednesday May 19, 1999

The row over genetically modified crops took a twist last night as Britain's leading scientists dismissed the findings which sparked the latest furore.

A specially convened Royal Society group maintained that the experiments of Arpad Pusztai who said last August that genetically-modified potatoes stunted the growth of his laboratory rats were 'flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis.'

But, they said, that did not prove that GM foods were safe. And as a Commons select committee called for a code of practice to ensure that scientific news reporting should be 'factually accurate', environmental campaigners accused them of making recommendations 'brewed up in the basement of a corporate lobbying firm.' Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party called for an end to testing of GM crops north of the border.

Dr Pusztai, the Hungarian-born expert on plant toxins called lectins, said last night he had been treated unfairly. Its six anonymous investigators had given him too little time to consider their findings, and had not taken up his offer to discuss results, which were still confidential.

'Obviously I don't agree with them. Why should we trust these six unnamed referees?' he asked. 'Who the hell are they? As far as I am concerned they could be anything.'

Dr Pusztai, at the age of 68, was bundled out of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen last year, a few days after he had described in a World In Action TV programme his attempts to devise new ways of testing the safety of GM foods and the disturbing turn of his research.

He said rats fed potatoes modified with a insecticide gene from snowdrops suffered damage to their organs and their immune systems.

An internal audit at the Rowett found his conclusions unjustified. But in February an international group of scientists rallied to his support, and reopened the row, to even wider public alarm.

The Royal Society, founded in 1660 as an independent scientific academy, began its own investigation, and its conclusions had to be faxed to Dr Pusztai late last week in Norway 'which is where I have to go now if I want to do experimental work,' he said.

He added: 'The affair cost me my health. I thought it had gone away and was quietly doing some work in some other part of the European continent.'

The Royal Society is a science elite: some of its members helped to found the new world of genetic research. It has already declared GM research as important for farming, health and nutrition. But its latest report called for more safety research. 'Each GM food must be assessed individually,' it declared.

Environmentalists were not impressed. Doug Parr, of Greenpeace, said: 'People should still be worried. This changes nothing and the questions that Dr Pusztai's research raised, remain unanswered.'

Save British Science, a lobby of professional scientists, welcomed yesterday's Commons select committee report on the scientific advisory system, and the problems of GM food. The report suggested that scientists should respond competently to media pressure, that the media should be obliged to report scientific matters accurately, that the benefits of GM technology would be lost to Britain unless there was rational debate, and that scientists serving the biotechnology industry should not be barred from the government's scientific advisory system.

The committee also heard evidence from Dr Pusztai, and said yesterday: 'The press continues to give credibility to Dr Pusztai's claim despite it being contradicted by his own evidence.'

Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, said: 'The report smells as if it was brewed up in the basement of some corporate lobbying firm. It has no credibility whatever.'


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 19:12:50 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-19-2

Dr Pusztai responds to the Royal Society criticism

BBC Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK

Sections:
Pusztai attacks his critics
Food under the microscope
Insufficient time
Further consideration

Pusztai attacks his critics

Dr Pusztai: The RS (Royal Society) didn't look at the most recent data

Dr Arpad Pusztai, the scientist at the centre of the row over the safety of genetically-modified (GM) foods, says he has been unfairly treated by a Royal Society (RS) review of his research.

Dr Pusztai sparked public alarm when he claimed on television last summer that rats in his laboratory fed on GM potatoes had suffered damage to their internal organs and their immune systems.

Food under the microscope

In a report published on Tuesday, the society dismissed his research as irrelevant and inconclusive. A panel of six un-named toxicologists said his experiments were flawed in many "aspects of design, execution and analysis".

But Dr Pusztai said in a statement to the BBC that the panel had failed to look at his most recent data and had not taken up an offer to discuss his work.

Insufficient time

"Unfortunately the RS felt that speed was of the essence and did not accept my offer of co-operation," he said. The panel did not have sufficient time to consider all of the issues involved, he claimed.

"I feel considerable sadness that we have all missed a great opportunity to find ways to move forward on this important issue. It is my belief that most people find tampering with the genetic make-up of our basic foodstuffs a cause for concern, given the perceived lack of proper and exhaustive biological testing.

"It is essential that GM foods are made as safe as can be and I reiterate my concerns about the lack of stringency in their testing at present."

Dr Pusztai received support from Professor Ian Pryme, from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Bergen in Norway.

Further consideration

He was one of 20 scientists in February who made public their unhappiness with the way Dr Pusztai has been treated. Dr Pusztai was removed from his post at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen shortly after he went public with his claims.

Professor Pryme said he was "very surprised and disappointed" at the Royal Society report. He pointed out that Dr Pusztai had always said his results were preliminary, adding that they raised questions about genetically-modified foods which needed further consideration.

Professor Pryme said Dr Pusztai was willing to discuss these issues but no one had accepted the challenge of doing so.

"Why this great reluctance to sit down and have a good scientific discussion?" asked Professor Pryme. "I think it's just a big cover up - it's been a big cover up since the start of the whole proceedings."


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 12:29:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-20

Nature article - Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae

By John E. Losey, Linda S. Rayor & Maureen E. Carter
Nature 399, 214 (1999) Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 20 May 1999

Although plants transformed with genetic material from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are generally thought to have negligible impact on non-target organisms, Bt corn plants might represent a risk because most hybrids express the Bt toxin in pollen, and corn pollen is dispersed over at least 60 metres by wind. Corn pollen is deposited on other plants near corn fields and can be ingested by the non-target organisms that consume these plants. In a laboratory assay we found that larvae of the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, reared on milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from Bt corn, ate less, grew more slowly and suffered higher mortality than larvae reared on leaves dusted with untransformed corn pollen or on leaves without pollen.

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1999 Registered No. 785998 England.


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Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 12:29:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-20

Pollen From Genetically Altered Corn Threatens Monarch Butterfly, Study Finds

By CAROL KAESUK YOON, Cornell University News Release, May 20, 1999
STN2 story: Killer Corn   http://www.stn2.net/pagesl1/killercorn/index.html

All around the country, farmers are about to finish sowing millions of acres of a genetically altered form of corn that protects itself from pests by producing a toxin in its tissues. But researchers report on Thursday that this increasingly popular transgenic plant, thought to be harmless to nonpest insects, produces a wind-borne pollen that can kill monarch butterflies -- a species that claims the corn belt as the heart of its breeding range.

Researchers said that the laboratory study, conducted by a team from Cornell University, provides the first evidence that pollen from a transgenic plant can be harmful to non-pest species. As such, the study is likely to become part of the growing debate about whether genetically engineered crops may have unforeseen effects on the environment.


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Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 12:29:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-20

Gene-Altered Corn May Kill Monarchs

By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, May 20, 1999; Page A3

A popular new variety of corn plant that has been genetically modified to resist insect pests may also be taking a toll on the monarch butterfly, one of the most beloved insects in the United States, new research suggests.

The gene-altered corn, which exudes a poison fatal to corn-boring caterpillars, was introduced in 1996 and now accounts for more than one-quarter of the nation's corn crop --much of it in the path of the monarch's annual migration.

Pollen from the plants can blow onto nearby milkweed plants, the exclusive food upon which monarch larvae feed, and get eaten by the tiger-striped caterpillars. In laboratory studies at Cornell University, the engineered pollen killed nearly half of those young before they transformed into the brilliant orange, black and white butterflies so well known throughout North America.

Several scientists expressed concern yesterday that if the new study's results are correct, then monarchs -- which already face ecological pressures but have so far managed to hold their own -- may soon find themselves on the endangered species list. Other butterflies also may be at risk.


Top PreviousFront Page

Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 12:29:56 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN5-20

Thanks to: Douglas Walker dwalker@lisco.com for posting this:

Study: Genetic corn kills butterflies

GE article on MSNBC -- May 19, 1999

Sections:
More tests coming, but potential impact enormous
Debate Ahead
Those Concerned
Technical Background
What Earlier Studies Missed
Summer Tests

More tests coming, but potential impact enormous

May 19 - A study released Wednesday suggests the seeds for serious ecological damage across the United States might have been planted with the introduction four years ago of a genetically engineered corn plant. Corn growers disputed the broad implications of the study, which found that in lab tests nearly half of the Monarch caterpillars exposed to pollen from the plants died within four days.

'We don't know how broad this effect will be on butterflies and how large a dose of pollen they need to get to be affected ... we'll be looking at how different doses of pollen affect mortality.'

- LINDA RAYOR Cornell entomologist

WHEN THE U.S. government approved the plant four years ago, the promise was extraordinary: The new corn produced a natural toxin that killed the European corn borer, responsible for $1.2 billion in crop damage each year. Farmers hoped the breakthrough would increase yields and make pesticides obsolete.

Years of field tests showed the corn to be safe for humans, honey bees and other "friendly" insects. No harmful side effects were reported.

But a study by Cornell University scientists found that pollen released from the plants, known as "Bt-corn," can kill larvae from the monarch butterfly, a species known for its beauty and long migration between Mexico and the United States.

"We need to look at the big picture here," said John Losey, a Cornell entomologist and the primary investigator in the study. "Pollen from Bt-corn could represent a serious risk to populations of monarchs and other butterflies, but we can't predict how serious the risk is until we have a lot more data. And we can't forget that Bt-corn and other transgenic crops have a huge potential for reducing pesticide use and increasing yields. This study is just the first step. We need to do more research and then objectively weigh the risks vs. the benefits of this new technology."

Debate Ahead

Further tests are necessary, among them replicating the lab test in the field, but the Cornell entomologists say the problem could be widespread: Other species of butterflies and moths may be harmed by the hybrid corn pollen, and that could in turn affect entire ecosystems.

The study, published in the journal Nature, will likely set off a firestorm of debate about Bt-corn, which was planted on 7 million acres last year and which is considered among the first major successes of agricultural biotechnology.

Cornell entomologist Linda Rayor, a study co-author, called the monarch butterfly discovery a "warning bell" from a flagship species for conservation. Wall Street Journal Thursday, May 20, 1999

Those Concerned

Among those alarmed by the study is the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent nonprofit alliance of scientists based in Cambridge, Mass., who want more intensive testing of genetically engineered crops.

"To put it simply, we're not surprised," said Jane Rissler, a UCS plant pathologist. "We're dismayed. This should help people understand that genetically engineered crops bring with them risks that have not been properly raised or studied."

Rissler said the Cornell discovery is likely the first case of a genetically altered plant proving fatal to a non-targeted or "friendly" insect.

But it is not the first time scientists found possible unintended consequences of genetic engineering: A Swiss study last year found insects called lacewings died more quickly if they fed on corn borers reared on Bt corn.

A University of Chicago study published in September found that a weed altered by scientists to resist an herbicide developed a far greater ability to pollinate other plants and pass on its traits. The findings raised fears that genetic engineering could lead to the rise of "superweeds" impervious to weedkillers.

In Scotland, a toxicologist who added insect-resistant genes and proteins to potatoes and fed them to rats reported that the animals suffered damaged immune systems, growth problems and shrunken brains. But his findings were sharply disputed by other scientists.

Technical Background

The hybrid corn produces a natural bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, and thus is commonly known as Bt-corn.

The Bt-corn toxin thwarts the European corn borer, a moth species that came over to the United States in the early 1900s. The pest's larvae typically bore into stalks and eat their way through the plant, destroying about 40 million tons of corn each year. Pesticides are not very effective because the larvae live deep in the stalks.

At least 18 Bt-engineered crops have been approved for field testing in the United States. And the Department of Agriculture, which allows transformed corn, potatoes and cotton to be produced commercially, said it was convinced the crops had no negative effects on friendly insects such as bees and ladybugs.

What Earlier Studies Missed

But until the Cornell study nobody had looked for any risk posed by the spread of the corn's pollen to other plants or the effect it would have on insects feeding on those plants, said Rayor, the Cornell insect behavioral ecologist.

"People weren't really thinking about the toxin flying around and how it affects insects feeding on their own host plants," Rayor said.

Scientists previously conducted tests to make sure the Bt-corn would not harm "beneficial predators" that eat pests such as the European corn borer. But those studies didn't examine the non-targeted insects that feed on plants near cornfields, Rayor said.

Inside the laboratory, monarch larvae were fed milkweed leaves dusted with the transformed pollen from Bt-corn, leaves dusted with pollen from nontransformed corn, and leaves without corn pollen. Milkweed, which Monarch larvae feed on exclusively, is commonly found alongside cornfields.

The result: The monarch larvae that ate the transformed pollen ate less, grew at a slower rate and died faster. Nearly half of the larvae fed the Bt-corn pollen died in the study. All of the other monarch caterpillars survived the study.

Summer Tests

Rayor and colleagues plan to conduct more research on the Bt-corn pollen this summer using colonies of painted-ladies and buckeye butterflies.

"We're willing to believe it affects other species of butterflies," Rayor said. "No doubt there are dozens of other innocent victims feeding on weedy species that happen to be near corn."

Until more tests are done, however, the scientists say they don't know if the fatal consequences occur outside the laboratory.

"We don't know how broad this effect will be on butterflies and how large a dose of pollen they need to get to be affected," Rayor said. "This summer we'll be looking at how different doses of pollen affect mortality."

Newhouse News Service's Mark Weiner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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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