22 May 99

Table of Contents

A Comment on the Royal Society Peer Report on GM Potato
Effects of Animal Antibiotics showing Up in Human Illness
More on "The Emperor 's Transgenic New Clothes"
BIO Responds to 'Nature' Report on Bt Threat to Monarch Butterflies
Council of Europe: Ethical issues
UK Chief scientist denies rift
BSE fears over US blood imports
Brilliant UK Scientist with a Penchant for Candour
The GM genie that will never go back in the bottle
Dr. Pusztai about the UK Royal Society
NPR's Science Friday asks for your opinion!
A Warning From the Butterflies
Croatia set to act against GE foods
UK: GM food declared 'safe'
UK Cabinet "Enforcer" Jack Cunningham is leaking the GM offensive
Food Safety: New Arguments about U.S. Health and Foreign Trade

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Date: 19 May 1999 16:58:14 -0500
From: joe cummins

A Comment on the Royal Society Peer Report on GM Potato

Prof. Joe Cummins, e-mail:, May 19, 1999

On May 18 the Royal Society published a peer review on the work of Arpad Pusztai at the Rowett Institute Scotland concerning genetically modified (GM) potatoes. The potatoes were modified with a gene for a plant toxin called a lectin to protect it from pests.

The Royal Society peer review concluded We found no convincing evidence of adverse effects from GM potatoes. However their report acknowledged the following :

Second, the GM potatoes used contained almost 20% less protein than unmodified potatoes. Therefore, in the long-term feeding study, rats being given GM potatoes were also given additional protein to meet Home Office requirements intended to avoid starvation: observed effects could have been caused by this supplementary diet being inadequate or incomplete. Third, when a rat is underfed many organs are likely to be affected, so that separate measurements on the same specimen will turn out to be interrelated.

My comment is that governments and companies based approval of GM crops on the basis that they are substantially equivalent to crops that are not GM. Clearly Putsztai's main conclusion that the GM potatoes were not substantially equivalent was upheld by the Royal Society peer review! What all agree is that animals fed GM crops may starve! Academics are shameless! Clearly the principle of substantial equivalence should be eliminated from government reviews of GM crops. The Royal Society peer review should be considered an assault on truth and the science prime directive that results should be reported fully and truthfully.

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Date: 20 May 1999 05:48:40 -0500
From: Colleen Robison-Spencer

Effects of Animal Antibiotics showing Up in Human Illness

Drug Resistance In Food Chain

By David Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 1999; Page A2

The use of antibiotic drugs in chickens and cattle appears to be a major engine driving the emergence of two kinds of drug-resistant diarrhea in human beings, according to reports published this week.

A study from Minnesota found that resistant strains of the microbe campylobacter began appearing in people soon after chicken farmers were permitted to use a new family of antibiotics in their flocks in 1995. Studies from the states of Washington and California link outbreaks of multidrug-resistant salmonella infection to unpasteurized milk and, indirectly, to antibiotic use in dairy cattle.

The problem is not limited to the United States. The Minnesota study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, showed that many people who acquired drug-resistant campylobacter in recent years picked up the germ overseas, where antibiotic use in animals is often more widespread than in this country.

"It's obviously a worldwide problem," said Kirk E. Smith, an epidemiologist and veterinarian at the Minnesota Department of Health. "We need a well-coordinated, international effort to tackle this."

Antibiotics are used to treat infections and to stimulate growth in poultry and livestock. In some cases, animals are fed low doses over periods of months.

The intestinal infections caused in people by drug-resistant campylobacter or salmonella are rarely fatal, and usually clear up without medical treatment. Drug resistance doesn't make the microbes more virulent or dangerous. Healthy people are no more likely to become ill from drug-resistant bacteria than they are from drug-susceptible bacteria.

Nevertheless, public health officials view the emergence of antibiotic resistance in these germs as an ominous development. Drug-resistant infections are harder to cure in the few people who absolutely need treatment, such as AIDS patients with damaged immune systems. In some cases, resistance also can be passed from one species of bacteria to another, creating a wholly new problem.

In Minnesota, Smith and his colleagues studied 6,674 cases of campylobacter infection reported to state health authorities between 1992 and 1998.

In 1992, 1.3 percent of the bacteria samples were resistant to a family of antibiotics called quinolones, whose best-known member is the drug Cipro. In 1998, slightly more than 10 percent were resistant. For infections acquired in the United States, increasing drug resistance wasn't apparent until after two quinolone drugs were licensed for use in poultry, one in 1995 and the other in 1996.

Public health physicians have known for a long time that chicken is the biggest source of campylobacter infection in this country. The bacteria is in the birds' excrement and can contaminate the carcass. People can become infected by handling raw chicken or eating undercooked meat. More than 80 percent of people diagnosed with campylobacter diarrhea in the Minnesota study reported eating or handling chicken in the week before they got sick.

Smith and his collaborators tested nearly a hundred chicken products (from processing plants in five states) and found campylobacter on 88 percent of them. In about one-fifth, the microbe was quinolone-resistant. The researchers then performed genetic analysis of the resistant microbes and found seven distinct DNA "fingerprints."

Significantly, six of those fingerprints also appeared in the human samples. That strongly suggests the antibiotic-resistant campylobacter strains appeared first in the chickens and were then passed on to people.

In some countries, the emergence of quinolone-resistant bacteria has been even more dramatic. In Spain, for example, less than 3 percent of campylobacter strains were resistant in 1990, when the drugs were introduced to poultry and livestock. By the end of 1991, 30 percent of the human samples were resistant, and today about 80 percent are.

In two reports published earlier this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, scientists linked several outbreaks of intestinal infection to soft "Mexican-style" cheese made, illegally, from raw milk.

One study described two outbreaks of diarrhea, caused by salmonella bacteria, that occurred in Northern California in 1997. In one, 28 people became ill, in the other, 79. About 10 percent of the people -- most of them children -- were hospitalized. In both outbreaks, the microbes were resistant to five antibiotics.

In the second study, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and at the Washington State Department of Health, reported 54 cases of multidrug-resistant salmonella infection, also linked to soft cheese, in Yakima County in 1997. Milk samples from several dairies yielded the same microbe as that found in the patients.

Paul S. Mead, a CDC epidemiologist, said it is impossible to say whether antibiotic use in Washington dairy herds led to the Yakima salmonella cases. What is clear, he said, is that "use of antibiotics in livestock has encouraged the development of multidrug resistance in this organism sometime in the past, and that these organisms have spread to the animal populations in several areas of the country, including Washington."

The Food and Drug Administration is writing regulations that will require drug companies to evaluate how the introduction of an antibiotic into agricultural use might alter the prevalence and drug resistance of bacteria that cause human disease. Drugs that alter the microbial landscape greatly may not be permitted, or will be allowed only limited use.

"There presumably will be antibiotics reserved exclusively for human use," said Bert Mitchell, acting deputy director of the agency.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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Date: 20 May 1999 06:50:58 -0500
From: Jon


More on "The Emperor 's Transgenic New Clothes"

The threat to farmers from the take over of seed houses
Low yielding GM beet and rape found in UK trials
Any benefits from GM crops will be strictly limited for farmers
Low yielding beet vs biodiversity

Previousy ngin posted an important paper - Mark Griffiths' The Emperor's Transgenic New Clothes - on the agronomic failure of GM crops in the U.S. and how this information is hidden from farmers. Below are four much shorter items from the Farming News page of our website which gives some more detail on the Emperor's tailoring and includes GM trial information from the UK which complements the US findings reported in yesterday's article. Details of how to obtain further information at the end of this posting.

The threat to farmers from the take over of seed houses

Why are biotechnology companies so keen to get their hands on existing seed houses?

  1. Biotechnology companies prefer to issue GM seeds because they are subject to patent, enabling them to apply additional contractual obligations on farmers (such as insisting on the purchase of only their chemicals for use on the crop).

  2. Farmers are not allowed to save their own seed from GM crops, and so have to go back to the seed house for on-going supplies whether they want to or not. This gives the biotechnology companies much greater control over seed prices.

  3. Independent trials in both the US and the UK show that genetically engineered crops are in fact often producing lower yields than conventional varieties (more information on this available on this page). Biotechnology companies, therefore, do not like having these crops compared with superior performing traditional varieties. Control of existing seed houses enables such comparisons to be hidden by halting or slowing development of non-engineered varieties.

Biotechnology giant Novartis has already threatened to withdraw the supply of non-GM sugar beet seed to the Republic of Ireland in the face of resistance to the development of GM varieties, waring that: "Given the importance of Novartis on the Irish market, this would have serious implications for the Irish sugar beet industry." For more on this see

Low yielding GM beet and rape found in UK trials

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

Any benefits from GM crops will be strictly limited for farmers

Strict contracts will dictate production methods and severely limit the farmer's share of any added value the new crops offer to food processors and retailers, according to Friedrich Vogel, head of BASF's crop protection business (Farmers Weekly 6 November 1998): "Farmers will be given just enough to keep them interested in growing the crops, but no more. And GM companies and food processors, will say very clearly how they want the growers to grow the crops."

European consumers have already clearly stated that they do not want GM food products, and now the biotech industry (via BASF) is effectively on record as saying farmers will be no better off either, even if they can find a market. The American NFU has also predicted that the growing consolidation in the industry accompanying biotechnology will result in a raw deal for both farmers and consumers.

Low yielding beet vs biodiversity

During summer '98 Monsanto invited UK journalists to view its GM sugar beet trials in the UK claiming that they showed how the farming of GM crops could be particularly environmentally friendly. Weeds had been allowed to grow happily amongst its Roundup-Ready herbicide resistant sugar beet to an advanced stage, before both were sprayed with glyphosate. As intended the glyphosate killed everything except the beet but the remaining hefty plant population rotted down to produce a deep mulch, which Monsanto pointed out was supporting a lot of insect life which would in turn support other wildlife.

The Times and Farmers Weekly reported this apparently remarkable advance in environmentally-friendly farming but not everyone was happy with this conclusion. There are plenty of ways of encouraging insect life on farms without having to grow genetically modified crops, which come complete with a range of unknown environmental and health risks.

A recent article in New Scientist (29thOctober 1998), in fact, reports that research on the Monsanto GM sugar beet, now harvested, showed that leaving the weeds to grow to an advanced stage had a depressing effect on yields compared to similar crops which were sprayed with glyphosate soon after weed emergence. The New Scientist article goes on to point out that for those farmers who are interested in maximising yields (Which farmers growing GMOs won't be?) the advice must be that early applications of Roundup are required to prevent yield-sapping weed competition with the crop. Indeed, more than one application may be necessary as Roundup has no residual action.

Goodbye weeds, goodbye mulch, goodbye insects, goodbye biodiversity. Goodbye Monsanto's version of sustainability! Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has commented on this type of farming: 'The ability to clear fields of all weeds using powerful herbicides which can be sprayed onto GE herbicide-resistant crops will result in farmlands devoid of wildlife and will spell disaster for millions of already declining birds and plants.'

The New Scientist concluded, "The biotech industry is developing two very different sales pitches for its products - one for farmers and one for the rest of us."

Further information:

Information from the ngin website:

The Emperor's Transgenic New Clothes article is available at

For detailed information and great links on the poor agronomic performance of GM crops visit:

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Date: 20 May 1999 10:26:25 -0500
From: Vegetarian Resource Center

BIO Responds to 'Nature' Report on Bt Threat to Monarch Butterflies

By BIO Vice President of Food & Agriculture L. Val Giddings, Ph.D 05/19/99 21:19 EDT

WASHINGTON, May 19 /PRNewswire/ -- BIO Vice President of Food & Agriculture L. Val Giddings, Ph.D. released the following statement in response to scientific correspondence published in the journal "Nature" (20 May 1999). The letter to "Nature" asserts that pollen from Bt corn can negatively affect growth and survival of the larvae of the Monarch butterfly. BIO offers the following statement:

"With this letter by John Losey to 'Nature,' old issues have been resurrected to raise questions about the potential impact on Monarch butterflies by corn pollen containing crop-protection proteins derived from the soil bacterium Bt. Industry is fully committed to exploring the significance of this report.

"Declining Monarch butterfly populations have been a concern for decades. It is known that many factors play a role in these declines. Even if the reported results are validated, there are strong reasons to believe they are not relevant to Monarch caterpillars in the wild.

"Monarch migration and egg laying patterns ensure that the primary period of larval feeding and growth throughout nearly all the Monarch range takes place well before any nearby corn produces pollen. Ongoing monitoring of Bt corn fields by companies since their introduction further shows that very little pollen lands on adjacent milkweed leaves. It is thus highly likely that in the natural setting, outside the laboratory, most Monarch larvae would never encounter significant amounts of corn pollen. This means the real potential for any negative impact is negligible.

"Ongoing monitoring by companies of Bt corn fields since their introduction also shows that insect biodiversity and population densities in Bt corn fields is significantly higher than in fields treated with chemical pesticide sprays. Bt corn thus helps enhance beneficial insect populations that would otherwise be threatened by the use of pesticidal sprays. This further leads to significant improvements to water quality and environmental conservation for insect eating birds, small mammals and other life.

"Reports of the potential for effects from these Bt corn hybrids on Monarch butterflies or other lepidoptera, are not new. They have been reported in the scientific literature and regulatory review documents since at least 1986. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been provided data on the potential for impacts on non target species from Bt pollen for years. Their analyses indicated that, when compared with the numerous other relevant factors, the impacts from such pollen were likely to be negligible.

"The key issue is how large an impact is likely, and how significant would such an impact be when compared with the numerous other significant factors known to have impacts on Monarch ranges and numbers.

"BIO members have long been working with groups concerned with Monarch butterfly conservation to address the threats they face. It is widely recognized that the principal threat facing the Monarch butterfly relates to loss of vital winter habitat in southern California and the highlands of central Mexico."

The Biotechnology Industry Organization represents more than 850 biotechnology companies, academic institutions and state biotechnology centers in 47 states and 26 nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of health care, agricultural and environmental biotechnology products.

SOURCE Biotechnology Industry Organization
CO: Biotechnology Industry Organization
ST: District of Columbia

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Date: 20 May 1999 17:03:36 -0500
From: wytze

Council of Europe: Ethical issues

Dear all,

I just came back from the Council of Europe international conference on ethical issues arising from the application of biotechnology. A full report will come soon but this one I like to put out now:

One session was on GE oilseeds that should replace mineral oils. When challenged that this would cost valuable agricultural gounds Prof. Drobnik from Prague remarked: "Our farmers are faced with overproduction, these GE oilseeds could be a solution to their problems". and on patents: "it takes 20 million dollars to go through the control procedures of a new (GE) salad crop, that's why patents are needed, to earn back these investments".

And how about Dr. Sasson from UNESCO talking to Dr. Vandana Shiva from (Ayurvedic) India while promoting GE oilseeds for nutrition: " Did you know that olive oil has health beneficial qualities?".

Dr. Sasson was incredible. I was not under the strong impression that the organisation had not gotten the name of his organisation right. I still think it was not UNESCO but UNILEVER that he was representing.

Anyway, more tomorrow.


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Date: 20 May 1999 17:57:03 -0500
From: Colleen Robison-Spencer

UK Chief scientist denies rift

BBC NEWS, Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK Sci/Tech

The government has authorised farm-scale trials

The UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser has said he is completely in tune with ministers on the subject of genetically-modified (GM) crops. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had claimed Sir Robert May was at odds with the government after receiving a letter from him about the conduct of three GM plant experiments.

In the letter, published in the Independent, Sir Robert said: "I guess we really are in complete agreement, because I share your view that I 'do not see how ministers could contemplate giving permission for commercial release of the GM crops covered by this research until January 2003'."

The RSPB claimed this contradicted the stated position of the government.

"Ministers have said they will review whether to allow commercial release of these crops every year," Dr Mark Avery, director of conservation at the RSPB, told the BBC.

"That does seem daft. The government has set up these trials and we believe ministers should say now that they will wait for the results and then make decisions."

But Sir Robert denied he was in any disagreement with a policy he helped to form.

"We are not going to give permission for commercial release until we are thoroughly satisfied and until all the appropriate field tests have been done. Where we differ from the RSPB and English Nature is that the science must set the time scale; there should not be some arbitrary moratorium.

"If these test are going to take six months, they take six months; if they take six years, they will take six years."

The row surfaced as scientific correspondence was published in the journal Nature showing pollen from GM corn could kill the larvae of the monarch butterfly.

Dr Avery said such research reinforced the need for tests to be as extensive as possible. "This just adds to the alarm as it shows a new type of worry on these crops," he said.

"As time goes on - and this is why we need more research - we are actually getting more worried about the environmental effects of GM crops, not less."

Sir Robert reiterated that the government would take a precautionary approach to the introduction of the new GM technology.

"One needs to be guided by the evidence, properly peer reviewed, and properly evaluated," he said. Sir Robert criticised lobby groups who, he said, were pushing "anecdotes and wild stories" based on research such as that produced by Dr Arpad Pusztai which turned out to be "garbage".

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Date: 20 May 1999 17:57:03 -0500
From: Colleen Robison-Spencer

BSE fears over US blood imports

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby May 20, 1999

No sign of mad cows in the USA - but some scientists say the signs are there

There have been no cases of BSE - bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow disease" - in North America.

But a BBC programme says some experts fear a new kind of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD), the human equivalent of BSE, is killing young Americans.

The programme, "BSE - The Untold Story", was broadcast on Radio 4.

CJD is normally a disease of elderly people, but the type linked to eating the meat of BSE cattle - new variant CJD - attacks young patients.

CJD is not a notifiable disease in the USA, so there are no accurate figures on the number of cases or the ages of patients.

A Washington lawyer, Andrew Kimbrell, told the programme: " We've seen explosions of cases. We're facing what the UK faced a few years ago".

"Is it a time bomb? Is it just something that a few people seem susceptible to?"

US Supplies Thought Safe

Mr Kimbrell wants an investigation into the possibility that the country's blood supply may be infected with CJD.

Britain started importing blood plasma from the US last week, because of "the theoretical risk" that CJD could be spread by infected British blood supplies.

The programme says there is a serious body of scientific opinion which believes that BSE infected people, in its CJD form, not through the stomach but through the bloodstream.

A zoologist, June Goodfield, says that if eating meat caused infection by CJD, there would have been many more cases by now.

The programme cites earlier studies of the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea, who suffered from a similar brain disease called kuru.

These studies suggested the disease was spread when people handled the flesh of kuru victims, rather than when they ate it.

They suggested the infectious agent could enter the bloodstream through cuts and bites, or through mucous membranes.

Professor Sir John Pattison, who chairs the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, told the programme he had no evidence of a new CJD strain in the USA.

The programme also says it has seen estimates of the likely number of British CJD victims, which were prepared for the Royal Society.

These say there could be as few as a dozen more deaths, or as many as thirteen million.

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Date: 21 May 1999 01:24:45 -0500
From: MichaelP

Below are several pieces and an editorial.


Brilliant UK Scientist with a Penchant for Candour

By Paul Waugh Political Correspondent, INDEPENDENT (London) May 22

HE may carry the lofty title of Chief Scientific Adviser to Her Majesty's Government, but Sir Robert May FRS is far from most people's image of a genteel, dispassionate civil servant.

A no-nonsense Australian, Sir Bob, as he prefers to be called, is unafraid of telling both ministers and the media exactly what he thinks.

His letter to the RSPB, in which he suggested that some GM crops may not be released commercially before 2003, is just the latest example of his candour on a range of issues.Earlier this year he declared that there was "not much of a case" for continuing the beef-on-the bone ban, although the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, was committed to keeping it. He also told the Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee that he had little doubt that terrorists in Iran and Iraq were plotting to release genetically engineered viruses on to the West.

On GM crops, the 63-year-old academic has repeatedly stressed that the Government should be aware of their potential dangers to the environment.

As an keen naturalist and an expert in biodiversity, Sir Robert has said that he shares the concerns of English Nature and green groups about the impact of the technology on birds and wild animals as well as plants.

Even so, he has robust views on the issue and memorably told Radio 4's Today programme: "If you mix cyanide with vermouth in a cocktail and find that it is not good for you, I don't draw sweeping conclusions that you should ban all mixed drinks."

Such frankness has characterised a brilliant academic career that spans a PhD in theoretical physics at Sydney University, a professorship in biology at Princeton University and a current fellowship at Merton College, Oxford.

A rigorous mathematician, he has predicted population changes among animals, insects and viruses and, notwithstanding criticism at the time, accurately forecast the effects of HIV in Africa.

Appointed Chief Scientific Adviser in 1995, he has also had the honour of attempting to explain Fermat's Last Theorem to the Queen. "Don't worry, there won't be a quiz," he told the baffled monarch.

He admits his knighthood is an "extremely useful thing to whack in front of your name", but is fiercely proud of his achievements, including the prestigious Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Scientists in 1996.

Known for his inability to suffer fools gladly, he is keen to educate ministers as much as the public about science. "I see no harm in people having a sense of who I am . Actually, it would be quite helpful if some members of Government found out who I was," he said earlier this year.

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Date: 21 May 1999 01:24:45 -0500
From: MichaelP

The GM genie that will never go back in the bottle

By Steve Connor, Science Editor, INDEPENDENT (London) May 22

It all began in a strawberry patch in California. An American bio-technology company, Advanced Genetic Sciences, applied for permission to spray the strawberries with genetically modified bacteria in an experiment to protect the plants from frost damage. For four years, environmentalists fought in the courts against the company's proposals but, on 24 April 1987, they lost the battle and so began the war against GM crops.

A decade ago, deliberately releasing GM lifeforms into the open environment caused the sort of furore in America to match the current outcry in Britain. Another 1987 GM experiment in the US - this time in a potato patch - was vandalised within a month of it going ahead. Things suddenly turned ugly between the GM activists in the green movement and the scientific and commercial establishment.

The row resurfaced on Wednesday in Britain with the leaking of a letter from the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, in which he said he cannot contemplate the commercial growing of GM crops until at least 2003 - effectively arguing for a moratorium. Yet ministers have refused to agree to a moratorium, saying that commercial production may even begin after the first year of farm-scale field trials.

There are less than 200 small experimental plots in Britain - most no bigger than a suburban lawn - where GM plants are grown. Most of them are on the land of research institutes or universities and are strictly for research purposes. Three licences have also been issued for larger, farm-scale trials where the aim is to assess the full impact of growing GM crops for commercial purposes. Further licences are expected to be issued over the next year.

In the US the war against GM crops and food has largely been lost. The US, China, Canada and Argentina are now the main countries in the world where GM crops are grown commercially. Between 1996 and 1997, the area of land in the world planted with commercial GM crops quadrupled from 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres) to 12.8m hectares (31 million acres) - equivalent to an area the size of England. The battleground has quite literally shifted to Britain and Europe where environmental activists have been prepared to go to jail for digging up GM crops and vandalising experiments.

The environmentalists are opposed to the release of any GM organism into the environment on the grounds that the risks are too great and can never be eliminated. Dr Douglas Parr, scientific campaigner for Greenpeace, said that it is effectively impossible for scientists to make genetic engineering safe because the technology is inherently unpredictable. "Genetic engineering crosses a fundamental threshold in the human manipulation of the planet, changing the nature of life itself," Dr Parr said.

Dr Parr's fears were in fact mirrored 10 years ago by the Government's previous chief scientist, Sir William Stewart, who was a key figure in Britain's first and, so far, more authorative inquiry into the release of GM organisms, published in 1989 as a report by Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Sir William, a no-nonsense Scot, said there are genuine concerns about deliberately releasing into the environment new lifeforms whose genes are tweaked by the hand of man.

"Unlike chemicals, biological agents can multiply in the environment. There is therefore a risk that once released it will be impossible to control them," he said at the time of the Royal Commission's report. Yet where Sir William and Sir Robert differ from environmental activists such as Dr Parr, is that they oppose an indefinite moratorium. Indeed a moratorium was considered and rejected 10 years ago by the Royal Commission's experts, who thought it would prevent the exploitation of the "enormous potential" GM crops offer in improving the environment and health.

Over the past 10 years, the debate has become a political football. The Prime Minister is keen to be seen promoting the potential benefits of the new science, encouraged by more scientifically literate MPs and his scientific advisers. Meanwhile, the Tories have taken every opportunity to question the safety and usefulness of new foods and crops, detecting that the Government is vulnerable to public opposition on GM.

Scientists argue GM food offers new ways of alleviating hunger and disease. A type of rice engineered with genes for iron enrichment could alleviate the suffering of thousands of children in South-east Asia;cheap vaccines for the developing countries could result from work on bananas engineered with the vaccinia virus; and crops resistant to pests might provide a way of boosting food production worldwide.

Supporters of GM technology argue that virtually every food we eat is the product of human manipulation of genes by selective breeding.

The Government's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes said GM technology could be less risky than conventional breeding because scientists can define exactly which genes they are manipulating and the end products have to go through extensive tests.

The monarch butterfly research, however, was the hardest evidence yet to suggest that the influence of a GM crop may go beyond the actual field in which it grows. It struck at the heart of the debate over GM crops because it showed that pollen is capable transmitting toxic effects to endangered wildlife.

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Date: 21 May 1999 06:11:15 -0500
From: wytze

The way of behaviour of an ANONYMOUS commitee of The Royal Society as described below, is completely unacceptable. Besides their conclusions are highly doubtful, to say the least. This ridiculous way of delaing with the matter does not give us any confidence in the safety of GE foods whatsoever. It certainly does not show Dr. Pusztai's findings wrong. It DOES show the total unwillingness to honestly look into the challenges made by Dr. Pusztai.

This process does further decrease our trust in the objectivity of Scientific institutions.

Therefore the urge for a moratorium on the introduction of GE foods and crops only becomes stronger and definitely not smaller.

Wytze de Lange

Dr. Pusztai about the UK Royal Society

Press Release by Dr. Arpad Pusztai 18 May 1999

The Royal Society (RS) have updated their report on GM-food of September 1998. They have peer-reviewed the nutritional and immunology data on GM-potato work carried out at the Rowett Research Institute (Rowett) between 1995 & 1998. The data reviewed were the Rowett Audit Report and my reply to it (Alternative Report; an internal document not meant for publication) which were put on the Internet by the Rowett, the latter without my consent jeopardising the publication of the data in a peer-reviewed journal.

None of the data in the RS enquiry has been forwarded by me. These data have already been peer-reviewed by a Rowett Audit Committee and thereafter by 20 senior scientists who found them to be of a standard acceptable for scientific publication and signed and released a Memorandum to that effect early in 1999. Accordingly, the results of this new enquiry by the RRS without new scientific input are likely to be of limited value.

I had offered the RS in a letter of 19th March my fullest cooperation. I indicated I would be happy to interact with the RS Working Group both verbally and in writing, provide them in confidence a copy of my updated final report incorporating the results of the independent statistical analysis of our data which was deposited with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on 2nd March 1999 and discuss with them our interpretation of the data and our conclusions.

Unfortunately, the RS felt that speed was of the essence and did not accept my offer of cooperation. It was their view that my role should be limited to making comments on the reports of the six unnamed referees appointed by them. Thus, although the RS was fully aware that a more up to date report could shortly be made available, they still proceeded with a third peer-reviewing of the data in the two reports.

Having asked for my comments by noon on 13th May, the RS forwarded to me 3 reports on the 8th May, 2 on the 10th May and the final one on 11th May, with a rewritten version on 13th May allowing me 35 minutes to reply to this last one. As in my opinion the standard of most of the refereeing was not up to that expected from referees of international journals probably because of the undue haste and the referees' unfamiliarity with the type of nutritional work carried out by us, commenting on them would have taken much longer than the allowed time. I felt therefore that under the circumstances it would be inappropriate and unwise to attempt to make any valued judgements.

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.

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Date: 21 May 1999 08:44:21 -0500
From: Colleen Robison-Spencer

NPR's Science Friday asks for your opinion!

You tell us: do potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology outweigh the risks?

Go to website:


Email the Science Friday producer at: Subject should be listed as AgBiotech

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Date: 21 May 1999 09:50:34 -0500
From: Greg Todd

A Warning From the Butterflies

New York Times Editorial May 21, 1999

"Bt" is short for Bacillus thuringiensis, the name of a naturally occurring soil bacterium that produces a toxin capable of killing some insects while leaving others unharmed. For farmers who closely monitor their crops and are willing to man-age its application with care, Bt has been a resounding success since the early 1960's. But for those same reasons, Bt has never been widely adopted by conventional farmers, who prefer longer-lasting pesticides and whose fields are so large that effectively timing the use of Bt is impractical.

Bt is now available to conventional farmers in the very crops they grow, in genetically modified s versions of potatoes, cotton and corn that are de- r signed to express the Bt toxin. In the United States p this year, nearly 20 million acres of Bt corn will be planted. That sounds, on the surface, like a good p thing. But researchers at Cornell University have g discovered in a laboratory study that the pollen c from Bt corn, when eaten by larvae of monarch butterflies, killed nearly half and stunted the rest. The Corn Belt happens to be critical ground for monarchs, which live on milkweed, a plant found all

But there is another potential problem. One of the things that makes Bt safe and effective when applied as a spray is that it breaks down quickly, lessening the opportunity for insects to develop resistance to it. But in a transgenic crop, like Bt corn, it is prevented from breaking down. Some - -studies have shown that continuous exposure to Bt quickly creates resistant insects, thus destroying the effectiveness of the pesticide.

The only way to avoid the development of resistance is to interplant Bt corn and non-Bt corn in a checkerboard pattern, creating a refuge for in-sects that can interbreed with resistant insects, rendering them less resistant. Something like this pattern has been required for the use of Bt corn in Canada. But for large commodity farmers, this planting scheme, of course, negates many of the gains that transgenic Bt crops were supposed to create.

It will be a tragedy if the use of transgenic corn, potatoes and cotton by conventional farmers ends up destroying the effectiveness of a safe, natural across the Midwest.

Nobody yet knows if the pollen is killing a substantial number of butterflies in the real world, but this is deeply disturbing news. It reminds us just how little we know about the impact of genetically modified crops in nature and how little the regulatory process can tell us, so far, about their effect.

Greg Todd for Park Slope Food Coop Environmental Committee
782 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215, tel. 718-858-8803    fax 718-852-5997    email

"Good food at good prices"

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Date: 21 May 1999 13:43:24 -0500
From: (Judy Kew)

Croatia set to act against GE foods

Sent to me 5-16-99 from my husband, via Paul Davis, news from a Croatian newspaper:

The Croatian government looks set to ban the growing of genetically modified crops and insist on strict labelling of any GM foods that may be imported into the country. They are adding new members to a committee which is looking into all aspects of gentic engineering. The committee is expected to be strongly against the introduction of GM crops and foods.

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Date: 21 May 1999 15:35:18 -0500
From: MichaelP

UK: GM food declared 'safe'

BBC Friday, May 21, 1999 Published at 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK

GM soya: already used in many processed foods sold in the UK

Genetically-modified (GM) food on sale in the UK is safe to eat, the government said on Friday, but they have been advised to set up a nationwide health monitoring programme.

He said GM technology could lead to many real benefits but the risks had to be "rigorously assessed", because the government's "overriding duty is to protect the public".

Two new commissions to be set up this year will advise ministers on practical and ethical aspects of biotechnology, working alongside the new Food Standards Agency.

He added that: "Unrestricted commercial cultivation of GM crops will not proceed until we are satisfied that they cause no harm to the environment."


However, the opposition agriculture spokesman, Tim Yeo, attacked the government, saying it had "destroyed public confidence". He echoed calls from environmentalists for an "absolute moratorium" on herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops until field trials had been completed.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) criticised the voluntary codes agreed with biotechnology companies as "meaningless". The Consumers' Association said there was "huge hole" in the government's report because it said nothing about food labelling.

Dr Cunningham announced the publication of several reports including one from the government's top medical and scientific advisors. This recommended a national surveillance unit to monitor any risk to health from GM food but added that the genetic technology used to modify food is not "inherently harmful".

Dr Jack Cunningham's statement to the House of Commons in full. Dr Cunningham said the current approach of case-by-case assessment is effective but that new guidelines to make the regulation process easier to understand would create a "rigorous and open safeguard."

Defending the biotechnology companies voluntary code of practice, Dr Cunningham said that legislation cannot be rushed through. He said the code is backed up by legally-binding contracts and "might well" form the basis of future legislation.

But Pete Riley, from FoE, said the government's announcement had done little to address the concerns of environmentalists. He said ministers were still engaged in the "commercialisation by stealth" of GM crops.

He said the two new commissions would only be effective if they relied on independent scientific advice rather than the data supplied by industry.

And Mr Riley insisted there was now an urgent need for new laws.

"Ministers say no crops will be grown until farm-scale trials are completed - that's going to be four years away - that is ample time for legislation," he said.


The purpose of the proposed national surveillance unit was also criticised as simply monitoring the public as they ate GM food. But Geoff Rooker, the Food Safety Minister said: "The public will not be used as guinea pigs."

On the labelling of GM food, Sheila McKechnie from the Consumer's Association recognised that it was difficult to get agreement for Europe-wide rules on labelling.

But she said there was nothing to stop the government introducing its own voluntary measures: "Consumer organisations want it, the companies want it, food manufacturers want it.

"We put in proposals as part of this report and they have been ignored. That means the government is not actually listening to consumers' concerns."

The government's proposals were welcomed by the UK Food and Drink Federation: "We shall now have a clear regulatory framework based on the best scientific advice and against a background of intensive public consultation.

"The lethal mixture of sloppy science and overblown reporting has led to a crazy situation where a useful technology has almost been rejected by many consumers."

The government's reports on GM food and biotechnology follow a five-month consultation with 140 interested parties, a consultation with the public on biosciences and a report on public health aspects of GM food by the government's Chief Scientific Advisor and Chief Medical Officer.

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Date: 21 May 1999 15:35:18 -0500
From: MichaelP

Warning: Scientists risk official modification

UK Cabinet "Enforcer" Jack Cunningham is leaking the GM offensive

BBC Friday, May 21, 1999

An oral statement by the Cabinet "enforcer" to Parliament on Friday was intended to get the government back on the front foot on genetically-modified foods.

That was the phrase used in a leaked letter from the Cabinet Secretariat detailing the new GM strategy. It would "present the government's stance as a single package", it said.

The leak further revealed the existence of a Biotechnology Presentation Committee, composed of senior ministers and meeting regularly in Whitehall.

This group had rewritten the report of Chief Scientist Sir Robert May - also released on Friday to assure consumers existing GM foods on sale in Britain are safe to eat - "to make sure it was intelligible to the lay reader".

The letter proved a gift to both those who challenge the government's position on GM foods and those who in general perceive it to be obsessed with spin to the detriment of substance.

As the Cabinet Office minister toured the broadcast studios in defence of his stance, his critics could snipe that he had plotted to plant an "independent" scientist on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, while departments were told to line up "third parties" to author supportive articles for newspapers.

Conservative health spokesman Alan Duncan said the government's focus on presentation would deny consumers an informed choice about what they eat.

"When it comes to GM food we've now got a propaganda unit in Number 10 (the PrimeMinister's official address), which is essentially Tony Blair's version of what he believes, which is to hell with the voter you eat what I tell you.

"Here we've got a classic examples where freedom of choice does matter. You've got William Hague standing up in Parliament and Tony Blair trying to give him the brush off and now the consumer is confused about what they're going to eat."

For the Liberal Democrats, Norman Baker suggested the government's response to all criticism was to "try to spin it all away".

The leaked letter was made public by the environment campaign group Friends of the Earth. Its executive director Charles Secrett accused ministers of not being interested in a genuine debate.

"It wants to spin GM food down our throats whether we like it or not," he said.

"To persuade us to love what the biotech companies want us to eat, 'independent' scientists will be lined up who can be relied on to say what the government wants to hear.

"Ministers will rewrite advice from their most senior medical and scientific advisers so that the public gets the message that Jack Cunningham prefers.

"The government is wasting the time of officials all over Whitehall, not to ensure that decisions about GM food are made in the public interest, but to try to avoid looking stupid in the newspapers. This attempt is doomed to failure."

Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Cunningham denied the accusations against him and his government.

He said: "This is the important thing for the public to understand: no-one has produced any evidence there is any risk from the genetically-modified food currently on sale in Britain.

"The people who are concerned - and government ministers understand the concerns very well - are not helped by the alarmist claims put out by Friends of the Earth."

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

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Date: 21 May 1999 16:16:49 -0500
From: ""

This is from another list I'm on....thought you'd find it interesting....

Food Safety: New Arguments about U.S. Health and Foreign Trade

Institute for Public Accuracy
915 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045
(202) 347-0020 * *
Friday, May 21, 1999


As tensions mount between Europe and the United States on trade disputes over food and other issues, some researchers contend that Europeans are raising issues vital to American consumers. Among the analysts available for comment are:

MARK RITCHIE, President of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Ritchie said: "The United States is known for dumping risky foods in other countries. When certain chemicals were banned in the U.S., for example, we shipped soda pop containing those chemicals to Vietnam... The reason the U.S. is being so aggressive on hormone beef is that, when asked, American consumers overwhelmingly also reject it. If the Europeans are allowed to reject it, that will give more impetus to an anti-hormone-beef consumer stance in this country as well."

DEBORAH TOLER "Money and politics are ruining our food supply and our environment and in so doing are threatening the health of all of us," said Toler, a policy analyst with the Institute for Public Accuracy. "The whole impetus behind genetically modified crops and the growing use of antibodies in chickens and cattle is to increase agribusiness profits. Agribusiness pumps millions of dollars into election campaigns to make sure congressional representatives see to it that agencies intended to protect the environment and consumers -- like the EPA and the FDA -- are thwarted in their efforts to assess, much less control, the damage that untested but highly profitable technologies cause."

JOHN STAUBER Co-author of "Mad Cow U.S.A." and editor of PR Watch, Stauber said: "European opposition to beef hormones and genetically engineered food is beneficial to Americans, too. Americans deserve to know and decide in the marketplace whether to buy and consume meat and dairy products from animals pumped up with hormones and antibiotics. By refusing to label foods to identify if they were produced with antibiotics, hormones and genetic engineering, the U.S. government is placing the interests of industry over consumer safety and the right to know."

CHARLES MARGULIS The genetic engineering issue expert at Greenpeace, which is leading a global effort to get an international ban on the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment, Margulis said: "The EPA and the FDA are allowing an untested bacterium that kills insect larvae into our food stream. Unlike new drugs which have to undergo extensive animal and human testing before they are allowed on the market, there have not been long- term animal -- much less human -- studies of the effects of [the bacterium] Bt on human health."

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy: Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167