14 July 99

Table of Contents

GM farms 'use more pesticides'
A New Inheritance Pattern For Bt Resistance
Chaotic gene silencing in GM plants
Famine Solution Claims by GM Firms Exposed
Modified crops 'do not yield more'
Genetic `Life Control' Means Something Dies Down On The Farm
The Bad Seeds: How the biotech industry packages nature for profit
You say potato, they say pesticide
Labelling Rules Prohibit Foodmakers from Telling What isn't in their Products
Tinkering with the DNA on your dinner plate
Health risks of genetically modified foods
Food fight lacks facts
Most Powerful Evidence yet that GM Crops Are Failing

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Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 07:08:15 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-9

next article posted by MichaelP

GM farms 'use more pesticides'

By Adam Sherwin London TIMES July 8 1999 UNITED STATES

A KEY justification for genetically modified crops has been thrown into doubt by new American Government research.

Many farmers who have converted to GM production are using just as much pesticide as their counterparts who have stuck with conventional crops.

Some farmers are apparently using more than they did before, according to figures published in New Scientist.

The US Department of Agriculture research also revealed that yields of GM crops were in most cases no better than traditional ones. The figures challenge biotechnology companies' insistence that GM crops assist farming efficiency and reduce the need for pesticides.

The department split America into regions and studied the performance of cotton, maize and soya beans which had been engineered to be resistant to insect pests or to the herbicide glyphosate.

It discovered that in seven of the 12 categories farmers using GM crops had to add the same quantities of pesticides to their fields as those growing non-modified crops.

The research, which used figures for 1997 and 1998, also found that after dividing the US into 18 regions, yields were no better in 12 of them.

Department officials admit that, at face value, the figures do not provide much support for those who argue genetic engineering will bring about a revolution in agriculture and Friends of the Earth claimed the research undermined the arguments of the biotechnology industry.

But Ralph Heimlich, an economic analyst, said that the study could be misleading, since farmers who have embraced GM crops might have had worse problems with pests to begin with.

There were also some success stories: insect-resistant GM maize in America's midwest produced a 30 per cent greater yield than ordinary crops.

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Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 07:08:15 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-9

John T. Lohr, Assistant Director, Education & Outreach Utah State University

A New Inheritance Pattern For Bt Resistance

Source: Huang F, Buschman LL, Higgns RA, and McGaughey WH. 1999.
"Inheritance of resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Dipel ES) in the European corn borer."
Science 284: 965-967.

The European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) is a major corn pest in the US. Estimated corn crop losses in North America caused by this pest exceed $1 billion annually. The European corn borer (ECB) is susceptible to Bt toxin, a natural insecticide produced by the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, and corn genetically engineered to express the Bt toxin is resistant to ECB devastation. However, there is much concern that due to selective pressure, the ECB might develop resistance to the insecticide expressed by Bt corn.

Currently, it is suggested that farmers grow transgenic Bt crops adjacent to refuge areas containing a non-Bt variety of the same crop. The refuge area is intended to supply a source of susceptible mates for any resistant insects that survive exposure to high doses of the Bt toxin. This approach, called the high-dose/refuge strategy, is designed to limit the development of insect resistance to Bt and is based on the assumption that insect resistance is a recessive trait.

However, research by Randall Higgins and collaborators (1) shows that resistance of ECB to Bt toxin is not recessive as previously thought, but appears to display the inheritance pattern of an incompletely dominant autosomal gene. Consequently, the high-dose/refuge strategy may be insufficient to limit the development of resistance to Bt by the corn borer.

Higgins grew two laboratory colonies of ECB under controlled conditions--a control colony of Bt susceptible insects and a second strain that displayed resistance to Dipel ES, a commercial formulation of Bt. The resistant strain is 70 times more resistant to Dipel ES than the susceptible colony. The eighth and ninth generations from each colony were tested for the study.

Four types of crosses were used to test the transmission of the resistance gene:

  1. reciprocal parental crosses between resistant and susceptible colonies;
  2. F1 X F1 crosses;
  3. back crosses of F1 with susceptible borers; and
  4. successive back crosses between heterozygous susceptible borers.

The data indicated that resistance to Dipel ES in ECB is limited to a single gene, which agrees with similar studies in other insects. However, in this study, resistance appeared to be inherited as an incompletely dominant autosomal gene, whereas other studies report that the resistance trait is recessive.

When comparing the various studies of insect resistance patterns to Bt toxin, it is helpful to note the species tested, the form of Bt used, and method of Bt delivery. All of these factors can affect the results. Often, resistance to one form of Bt does not imply resistance to other forms. Hence, switching from one type of Bt-corn to another may be an effective way to limit resistance development in the European corn borer. Counter to this argument is the possibility that some insects may develop resistance to multiple forms of Bt, a pattern seen in bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

These studies suggest that existing refugia strategies designed to limit the development of insect resistance to Bt may not be effective. If insects from the field are shown to develop similar dominant gene resistance, alternative strategies for the use of Bt-crops would need to be developed.

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Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 07:08:15 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-9

Thanks to: "NLP Wessex" for distributing the following technical paper, and the explanatory text at the beginning:

Chaotic gene silencing in GM plants

Although this is a technical paper, it is clear that biotechnologists are having considerable difficulty getting GM plants to bend to their will when it comes to using them as bioreactors for antibodies:


  1. "All plant lines showed silencing of the transgene and subsequent instability of antibody production. However, each line expressed a different and specific instability profile. Because expression level and methylation were highly variable, the authors concluded that both transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene silencing mechanisms were operating in a chaotic manner in these plant lines. "

  2. "The results of this research indicated that transgene silencing could continue to hinder the economic exploitation of plants as bioreactors for antibodies and other heterologous proteins. Further studies designed to sort out the mechanisms that trigger gene silencing are needed in order to design constructs and vectors capable of generating transgenic lines that are not susceptible to silencing."

Gene Silencing Hinders Bioreactor Potential

Since the establishment of plant genetic transformation methods, scientists have been evaluating plant systems as possible bioreactors for antibodies. However, the development of heterologous protein expression systems, especially for the production of complex proteins such as antibodies, has been difficult. Refinements in genetic transformation technique have permitted scientists to target protein expression and accumulation to specific storage organs (e.g. seeds, tubers), but in order to use plants effectively as bioreactors to produce antibodies, it is crucial that stability of protein expression is as carefully controlled as the yield and location.

Transgene silencing, which affects stability of protein expression, is a common phenomenon and a major factor hindering the potential for plants to be used as bioreactors. Though high accumulation levels of heterologous protein are observed in young transgenic plants, older transformants often accumulate levels up to 100-fold lower. In addition, primary transformants have higher accumulation levels when compared to secondary transformants. This reduction in protein accumulation is thought to be due to either reversible or progressive inactivation of transcriptional genes, or both.

Recently, a team of Belgian researchers evaluated the ability of Arabidopsis thaliana plants to produce IgG1 antibody (AB) and its derived Fab fragments in subsequent generations of primary transformants. Previous work had revealed successful expression and accumulation of Immunoglobulin G and the antibody-binding fragments, Fab in plants. The stability of AB and Fab expression was evaluated using five different homozygous Arabidopsis lines (kd 4, kd 13, kd 12, kd 27, and kg 49). Transgenic lines were obtained by co-cultivating Arabidopsis with two strains of Agrobacterium carrying light and heavy chains of T-DNA. The stability of Fab(AB) expression was assessed at the protein level in different 6 week-old plants of the same line, and in different leaves of the same plant at progressive stages of plant development. These profiles were compared with the expression levels of Fab(AB) at the RNA level in 8-week-old plants.

Samples from each of the five different lines were examined using Northern analysis and methylation analyses. All plant lines showed silencing of the transgene and subsequent instability of antibody production. However, each line expressed a different and specific instability profile. Because expression level and methylation were highly variable, the authors concluded that both transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene silencing mechanisms were operating in a chaotic manner in these plant lines.

Three of the five lines contained either a large (kd 4 and kd 13) or a small (kg 49) proportion of plants showing transcriptional silencing of the transgenes. Methylation was observed only in the promoter regions of kd 4. However, in seed stocks of kd 13/1 and kd 13/4, antibody accumulation corresponded to methylation in both promoter and coding sequences. In these lines, the strong correlation between level of transgene expression and degree of promoter methylation suggested that an interaction between chromatin environment, which may be epigenetically modified before or during gametogenesis, and genotype may determine the final accumulation levels of transgene encoded proteins exhibiting transcriptional gene silencing.

In contrast, lines kd 12 and kd 27 had expression characteristics suggesting that a post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) mechanism was occurring that could not be attributed to environmental factors. Differences in expression profiles between these two lines indicated a position effect on the initiation of gene silencing and further showed that factors other than genetic constitution were determining methylation patterns. Consequently, the authors proposed that epigenetic effects were responsible for the different transgene expression profiles in all five Arabidopsis lines.

The results of this research indicated that transgene silencing could continue to hinder the economic exploitation of plants as bioreactors for antibodies and other heterologous proteins. Further studies designed to sort out the mechanisms that trigger gene silencing are needed in order to design constructs and vectors capable of generating transgenic lines that are not susceptible to silencing.


De Neve M, De Buck S, De Wilde C, Van Houdt H, Strobbe I, Jacobs A, Van Montagu M, and Depicker A. 1999. Gene silencing results in instability of antibody production in transgenic plants. Molecular and General Genetics 260:582 - 592.

P. Janaki Krishna Biotechnology Unit, Institute of Public Enterprise Hyderabad,India

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Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 07:08:15 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-9

Famine Solution Claims by GM Firms Exposed

by Sean Poulter, Consumer affairs Correspondent
Daily Mail, 8th July 1999

CLAIMS that genetically modified plants will produce more abundant crops and cut the need for pestkilling chemicals have been shown to be a sham.

Findings by the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrate that such crops do not produce a higher yield and fail to reduce the use of pesticides.

American experts studied GM soya beans, maize and cotton being grown across huge tracts of the U.S. farming belt.

In a devastating blow to the giant biotech companies, such as Monsanto and Astra Zeneca, they found no increase in yields from crops in 12 of 18 areas.

The findings shoot down arguments that Frankenstein foods could help stop hunger in the Third World. They also disprove claims that the plants, engineered to include their own pesticide, would need to be sprayed less often with chemicals.

Farmers in seven of 12 areas studied used the same amount of pesticide as those growing traditional crops. The findings support critics who argue that GM crops offer no benefits.

A report in today's New Scientist magazine says U.S. officials 'admit that at face value the figures don't provide much support for those who argue that genetic engineering will bring about a revolution in agriculture'.

GM critic Mark Griffiths, a chartered surveyor and British rural land agent, said the latest figures confirmed other independent research.

'Where there are controlled trials, particularly in relation to soya, oilseed rape and sugar beet, they show that GM crops produce a consistently poorer yield compared to the unmodified varieties,' he said.

'Details of the problems are only becoming public now because previously the biotech companies have bypassed independent assessment of their crops. Only now are researchers at universities in the U.S. being able to run their own trials, and only now is the truth beginning to come out.'

Mr Griffiths, who is based in Winchester, added that the research showed 'in many cases the farmers would be better off in crop performance terms growing non-GM varieties'.

He said there was also evidence that pests were developing resistance to GM-altered crops.

Jonathan Matthews, of the Genetic Information Network which is opposed to GM technology, said: 'If yields are poorer and chemical use is largely no different there can be no reason to pursue this tainted technology.'

The American findings were published the day after the European Commission began legal action against France for dragging its feet over approval of GM seeds. The European Court of Justice could fine France for the offences which include failing to hand documents to the Commission and not notify manufacturers of the approval once granted.

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Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 07:08:15 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-9

Modified crops 'do not yield more'

By Charles Arthur Technology Editor, Independent 8th July 1999

UNITED STATES government research has torpedoed a central claim for genetically modified (GM) crops by showing that they do not automatically produce better yields or significantly lower use of pesticides.

The new study, published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDoA), analysed commercial crop results from 1997 and 1998 in regions where traditional and GM varieties of cotton, maize and soya were being grown.

Yet despite covering million of acres, the study generally does not find yields improved, while pesticide use was barely changed. "I would have a lot of trouble attributing any sort of yield bump to biotechnology," said Bill McBride, an economist at the USDoA who contributed to the study. "There is a lot o variation. depending on all sorts of factors including the weather."

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

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Date: Sun, 11 Jul 1999 10:14:43 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-10

Genetic `Life Control' Means Something Dies Down On The Farm

The Ottawa Citizen A13 July 5, 1999

Brewster Kneen, the author of several books on the agricultural industry, including From Land to Mouth, The Rape of Canola, and Invisible Giant, writes in this essay excerpted from his latest book, Farmageddon: Food and is the motto of the most aggressive genetic engineering company on earth, Monsanto. The slogan appears to offer salvation, well-being, perhaps eternal life. It promises, writes Kneen, the triumph of science over death.

Kneen says that the major transnational corporations involved in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, seeds and agrotoxins, Novartis, Monsanto, Hoechst/AgrEvo, Zeneca, du Pont and Dow, are engaged in a massive propaganda campaign to convince us that we should pay them to design, patent and administer life.

Kneen talks about his family farming background, and artifical insemination, stating that only recently has it occurred to him that the at the time – and the consequent disappearance of small, diversified family farms. Artificial insemination became necessary for us, says Kneen, because there were no farming neighbours and no herd sires to which we could take our cow. of frozen semen stored in a flask of liquid nitrogen in the back of the artificial insemination technician's car than to load our cow on a truck and seek out a bull many miles away. It seems obvious to me now that this was the first as if a cow, a bull, a dog – or you and me – are simply genetic composites, much like a robot fashioned out of little Lego pieces of various colours and sizes.

Kneen says that the purveyors and spin doctors of biotechnology – many with white lab coats on over their corporate blue suits – are inordinately fond of saying that there is nothing new about biotechnology; farmers have, after all, been selecting and crossing plants and animals for millennia. He permanent pastures through rotational grazing and livestock management, mixed cropping patterns, cultivating and careful timing of seeding, the plants and the soil organisms were certainly undergoing changes, but were doing so on their own terms, within their own limits. lose their power and in some cases even become companions, contributing to a healthy ecology. Kneen goes on to talk about canola, which was not a product of genetic engineering as the term is used now. What is now labelled canola is actually a rapeseed with certain, legally defined, oil and meal characteristics. It was achieved through traditional selective breeding, growing out generation after generation of crosses, analysing the properties and agronomic characteristics of each generation and adjusting the breeding program in the hopes of moving in a specific direction, toward particular desired traits and characteristics. of canola, was a key player in this transformation of rapeseed, and despite the description above, Kneen says he may actually have crossed the line into biotechnology when he used an eye surgeon's scalpel to slice a rape seed in half. With what surely seemed like a small step at the time, he discovered that each half of a single seed contained the complete genetic code of the whole seed.

This meant that he could set one half aside, then analyse the oil and meal characteristics of other half. If it was moving in the direction of the characteristics he was after, he could then grow out the half he had set aside to produce parent stock for the next generation. This ability added a dimension of precision to the traditional plant breeding process, but it was not genetic engineering.

Kneen says that looking back, he now thinks that the violent intervention he introduced – was, in fact, symbolically and practically the beginning of commercial genetic engineering; the deliberate reconstruction of living organisms to create novel life forms for purely human (and commercial) purposes.

And again, I ask myself, what was the problem to which the new genetic is supposedly the answer? In retrospect, Kneen says that such approaches to industrial farming have become essential due to the widespread adoption of monoculture production. Large-scale mechanized (i.e. food) requires uniformity and standardization of all the inputs, including the genetic uniformity of seeds to be planted on a massive scale.

The genetic uniformity of the field can also be enhanced by agrotoxins that eliminate all life other than the cultivated plant. This is now being realized through the use of plant species that are genetically altered so that they are able to withstand lethal doses of particular herbicides aimed at anything else green that grows in their midst. So the life of the do their killing job on everything else.

Of course, writes Kneen, this also means the elimination of biodiversity, not only in the crop, but perhaps even more importantly, in the soil in which it is grown.

Animal selection, artificial insemination, plant breeding by any means, and as the term is now used by major transnational corporations that only a few years ago were chemical companies, drug companies and start-up biotech companies. But these activities, says Kneen, all have macabre undertones of death.

The food, health and environmental care that they promise seem always to be at the price of death, or at least at the price of violent interventions into life organisms and processes, whether the simple eye surgeon's scalpel or the tank of nitrogen containing the frozen semen.

Death is, of course, the ultimate control. Kneen concludes we should beware of those who promise life while administering death, whether by pesticides or genetic selection.

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Date: Sun, 11 Jul 1999 10:14:43 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-10

The Bad Seeds: How the biotech industry packages nature for profit

by Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club
May/June 1999 issue of the Sierra Magazine p 18-19

The farmer in the fable had a goose that laid golden eggs. Organic farmers have just such a miraculous creature in the form of the humble, soil-dwelling bacteria called Bacillus thuringensis, or Bt, which makes it way in the world by emitting a toxin that kills insects. This makes Bt a boon to organic farmers, who spray their crops with it at times of peak caterpillar or insect infestation.

In the fable, the greedy farmer kills the goose. Monsanto Corporation is threatening to do the same to Bt.

Monsanto has managed to insert Bt's toxic gene into potatoes, corn, cotton, and other crops, making them deadly to munching bugs. Everyone knows that sooner or later a mutant Colorado potato beetle will eat a Monsanto Bt potato and survive to reproduce; a new race of Bt-resistant insects will emerge, and the utility of the bacteria to humankind will end. (Use of Bt by organic farmers doesn't carry this threat because of the sporadic nature of the application.) Monsanto concedes that even if every farmer were to follow its suggestion to plant a "refuge" of regular potatoes next to the bioengineered patch to slow the evolution of resisttant bugs, in 30 years Bt will be finished as an organic pesticide.

As for consumers, no one knows whether foods whose cells carry the gene for a bacterial toxin are safe for staples for a human diet. According to The New York Times Magazine, the question is likely to remain unanswered because the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food, thinks the bioengineered potato is actually a pesticide, and the EPA, which regulates pesticides, considers it a food. This suits Monsanto just fine. "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food," spokesman Phil Angell told the Times. "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."

Monsanto has even more far-reaching plans for the future of farming. One of its new acquisitions is a company whose main asset is a bioengineering technology called the "Terminator," which may be able to prevent seeds from reproducing.By building the Terminator gene into its rice and soybeans, Monsanto could derail the age-old agricultural practice of saving seed for the next season, leaving farmers completely dependent on its product.

The Terminator would also relieve Monsanto of the need to hire a corps of Pinkerton investigators to apprehend farmers who reuse its seeds. (Monsanto has set up a toll-free number to encourage farmers to inform on their neighbors, and has already filed suit against more than 500 farmers for replanting seeds.) Monsanto's unlikely partner in this scheme to enrich itself at the expense of farmers? The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helped to develop Terminator technology in the first place.

The Terminator and Bt potato are sadly characteristic of agricultural biotechnology in general. Some companies are engineering plant varieties to be resistant to the herbicides they sell, encouraging the use of even greater quantities of chemical poisons. Others are bold enough to claim ownership of natural genetic qualities of plants that have been in use for centuries. W. R. Graceóthe corporation whose defense of polluting practices inspired the book and movie A Civil Actionómade a serious attempt to patent commercial applications of the neem tree, an Indian species that has been used for thousands of years by peasant families for medicinal and antibacterial purposes.

Of course, the common heritage of European peasants was appropriated long ago when the common pastures, fields, and woods around many communities in 16th century England were fenced and privatized. The Times compares the effect of the Terminator to enclosure: "It will allow companies like Monsanto to privatize one of the last great commons in natureóthe genetics of the crop plants tht civilization has developed over the past 10,000 years." Agricultural biotechnology atkes the naturally evolved, common genetic inheritance of the biosphere, chops it up, and sells selected patented bits in new bottlesósometimes with very nasty side effects.

The problem is not necessarily agricultural biotechnology itseolf, although like any pioneering technology, the consequences of its applications may not be known to science for many years. (After all, DDT was initially hailed as a miracle of progress.) The problem is that it is being deployed by profit-making companies using patent laws to privatize the world's gene pool. Making a contribution to agriculture is only a secondary goal of Monsanto's new technology; first and foremost is the enrichment of the shareholders, no matter what the effect on the rest of the world.

It doesn't have to be this way. This is not how Luther Burbank did his work, not how the publicly accountable universities and international research centers developed the strains that led to the green revolution, which helped increase crop yields around the world. (True, the green revolution's reliance on chemicals had devastating environmental effects, but at least its intention was to feed more people. The sole focus of the biotech revolution is higher profits.) Agricultural science used to be pursued for public benefit, and the idea of a Terminator gene would have struck its practioners as monstrous.

Biotechnology can offer powerful solutions to deep problems in medicine. But its agricultural applicationsóespecially in the lands of profit-driven, unaccountable, patent-protected corporationsópromise ecological catastrophe. Instead of launching the new millenium by destroying the common heritage of the past, we should guard that legacy as a treasure.

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

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Date: Sun, 11 Jul 1999 14:29:52 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-11

Here is a recent article posted by Dr. Ron Epstein of San Francisco State University (Dr. Epstein's excellent website, with more info on this topic, is

You say potato, they say pesticide

By Jane Kay, Examiner Environmental Writer
Sunday, Jul 11, 1999, San Francisco Examiner

You're probably already eating in the brave new world of biotech foods
The resistance may be spreading.
Genetic engineering has come into practice over the last 20 years.
A need for labeling?
Potato listed as a pesticide
Are there environmental effects?

You're probably already eating in the brave new world of biotech foods

The popcorn at your movie house could be made from plants designed to fight off a voracious pest called the corn borer.

Your baby's formula could come from soybean plants biologically transformed to withstand the herbicide Roundup.

The bags of potato chips on your grocer's shelves could be sliced from spuds containing a gene that poisons Colorado potato beetles.

A dramatic increase in reliance on genetic engineering may be helping produce bumper crops, but it also is raising concern that labeling laws are weak and that too little is known about potential effects on humans and the environment.

As of last year, growers in the United States, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Spain, France and South Africa dedicated 69.5 million acres to genetically modified crops, a 16-fold increase over just two years, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an industry institute to promote new technology.

In the United States, which represents three-fourths of the world's agricultural acreage, altered corn accounted for 40 percent of the total crop planted this year, up from 26.5 percent the year before. This year, for the first time, canola farmers planted 300,000 acres of engineered plants. Acreage devoted to a wide range of engineered crops from papaya to radicchio to squash is expanding.

In opposition, consumer groups are citing a startling Cornell University lab experiment last May in which pollen from a corn plant altered to eradicate corn borers killed Monarch butterfly larvae.

If the butterfly might succumb, they reason, what might happen to humans who consume a lifelong diet of such crops? And what might happen to beneficial insects and wildlife in the environment?

The questions are pitting consumers against the agricultural industry and the U.S. government, which insist that food from genetically modified crops -- primarily corn, soy beans, cotton and potatoes – is no different and requires no special tests or labels.


Opposition is swelling in Europe, where the term "Frankenfood" has entered the lexicon; some major supermarket and fast-food chains have promised to rid themselves of the products; and Italy, Greece, France, Luxembourg and Denmark are blocking authorization of new genetic crops in fields and markets of European Union nations.

The resistance may be spreading.

"U.S. consumers, too, are demanding mandatory labeling and mandatory testing for environmental and human health effects," said biologist Michael Hansen, research associate at Consumers Union's Consumer Policy Institute.

The biotechnology industry, led by Monsanto, Novartis, Dow, DuPont, AgrEvo and Zeneca, calls rising criticism in Europe "hysteria and hype" from the food scare over "mad cow" disease in England and dioxin in feed, poultry, beef and butter in Belgium.

The corporations and some universities say the U.S. government is watching over our food supply, the safest in the world. There's no reason to do special tests on food or label genetically engineered ingredients because the crops are virtually unchanged from conventionally bred crops, they argue.

"A tomato is a tomato is a tomato," said Brian Sansoni, senior manager of public policy communications for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, some of whose largest corporate members are biotech companies. "A tomato that is produced conventionally or a tomato that is developed through biotechnology, the product is the same. Both products are safe."

Genetic engineering has come into practice over the last 20 years.

Most commonly, bacteria, viruses, and genes from tobacco or petunia plants are inserted into soy, corn, cotton and canola so that plants can survive field applications of weed killers. Or a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a bacteria found in soil, is inserted into corn, cotton and potatoes to produce a protein toxic to pests that feed on them.

A need for labeling?

Numerous polls over the past four years have revealed consumer demand for labeling of genetically modified foods, a step the industry is fighting.

The last survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conducted on 604 New Jersey residents in 1995, found that 84 percent of those polled wanted mandatory labeling of engineered fruits and vegetables.

In interviews, major food companies Frito-Lay, General Mills, Gerber, Heinz, Kraft, Nabisco, Pillsbury, Procter & Gamble, Quaker and Ross Products Division of Abbott Laboratories said they accepted genetically engineered ingredients for their food products. But consumers can't go into stores or call industry trade groups to secure a list of engineered brands, complains GeneWatch, a bulletin of the Council for Responsible Genetics, a Cambridge, Mass., nonprofit organization.

"People have a right to know what they're buying in a transaction," said Philip Bereano, a professor of technical communication at the University of Washington who writes for GeneWatch.

"They have a right to spend their dollars in accordance with their preferences, even if their preferences were irrational," Bereano said.

The companies have lobbied successfully against labels before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food additives, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides.

Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said, "We've worked for a long time to come up with a labeling policy that we know will convey useful information about nutrition and health.

"For the government to require labeling (of genetically engineered products) would be to suggest a safety or health difference where there isn't one. There's no good reason to do it."

Gathering and providing a list of altered foods would be impractical, said Sansoni of the Grocery Manufacturers.

"The list would be too long," Sansoni said. "About 25 percent of corn, 38 percent of soybeans, 35 percent of canola and 45 percent of cotton crops are derived from biotechnology."

"In the U.S., companies aren't really set up for segregation," Sansoni said. "It would be enormously expensive. The products are mixed in with products that contain ingredients that are not genetically enhanced."

In May 1992, then-Vice President Dan Quayle announced a long-awaited U.S. policy: Genetically engineered crops, judged by government scientists to be no different from plants bred traditionally, would need no extra government scrutiny. The processed food made from the crops wouldn't require labeling or special testing before going to market.

The FDA doesn't test bio-engineered foods before they go to the public, deeming them not "materially" different from other foods. If the foods later pose a risk to public health, the FDA has the authority to remove them from the marketplace. FDA representatives say they would require labeling only if genes from plants that could cause allergies were engineered into a crop.

"The only way to be assured of not consuming genetically engineered food is to only buy food that is certified with an organic labeling," Bereano said.

Potato listed as a pesticide

Some foods, such as Monsanto's New Leaf potato, are actually registered with the EPA as a pesticide – every part of it can kill a Colorado potato beetle. As a result, it comes under the regulatory jurisdiction of the EPA, not the Food and Drug Administration.

Kathleen Knox, deputy director of EPA's Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division, said the agency "regulates biopesticides as we regulate other pesticides. We do the equivalent that we do for any other pesticides."

In the case of the bacterium Bt, she said, "We believe it's safe in the food supply. We certainly have looked at many factors, and we make sure things are adequately tested, particularly the things we've registered so far. We've collected data, done risk assessments. We continue to monitor what's going on in the field."

Hansen, of the Consumer Policy Institute, said neither the EPA, the FDA nor the USDA required adequate testing.

"If you look at the FDA requirements carefully, you'll see that the industry is on the honor system," Hansen said. "There is no mandatory safety testing of food before it's put on the market. Bt crops aren't even regulated by the FDA. Legally, those crops aren't considered food but pesticides, which are regulated by the EPA."

But the EPA doesn't test the safety of the engineered plant itself – the potato with Bt in it, Hansen said. The EPA tests Bt in isolation. Further, the studies are flawed because they don't use Bt toxin produced by the plant but use the Bt toxin produced by engineered bacteria, which is different, he said.

While proponents of genetic crop engineering say the selection of genes is precise, critics say inserting a gene into a living cell is highly imprecise, with no control over where in the DNA the new gene is implanted. This can disrupt the natural genetic information encoded in the DNA of a new plant, leading to unexpected and unwanted effects, including potentially increasing toxin levels, changing nutritional values or introducing allergy-causing properties.

"When you insert a gene into a DNA by using genetic modification, you have no idea where the gene goes – it's absolutely a shot in the dark," said molecular biologist John Fagan, founder of Genetic ID Inc., a Fairfield, Iowa, laboratory.

The lab tests foods for the presence of genetically engineered materials. His clients include many large food retailers in Europe that have promised to start weeding out modified foods.

"These random mutagenic events can cause plants or crops to produce new toxins, new allergens or they can reduce the nutritional value of the food," Fagan said.

Because the toxins or other properties may be new, he said, there's no way to predict their effects.

"The only way to detect them will be actual feeding studies with paid human volunteers," he said. "They do this for drugs and new food additives, and yet these tests are not required of the agricultural biotechnology industry. The FDA's own scientists have expressed serious concerns about this."

New studies are raising questions, said Fagan, who for nearly 20 years, including seven years at the National Institutes of Health, has used genetic engineering techniques in basic research.

A preliminary study by the Center for Ethics and Toxics in the North Coast town of Gualala, published July 1 in the Journal of Medicinal Food, found that soybeans altered to withstand Roundup might be nutritionally inferior to conventional soybeans. The altered soybeans contain reduced levels of phytoestrogens, substances in plants that are credited with guarding against heart disease and cancer, among other health benefits.

In a 1998 preliminary study at Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, rats fed genetically modified potatoes suffered damaged organs and stunted growth compared with rats eating normal potatoes.

A review panel formed by the Royal Society, a scientific body, challenged the research. Researcher Arpad Pusztai has said the panel hadn't looked at his recent data.

Are there environmental effects?

Critics complain there is little study on the environmental effects of genetically altered plants. The Cornell University experiment was an exception.

"That tiny little Monarch butterfly experiment, one that any high school student could have done? Well, those studies weren't being done," said Ignacio Chapela, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC-Berkeley.

Researchers report that two beneficial insects that attack pests -- ladybugs and green lacewings – also might be victims of the crops designed to kill the corn borer and the Colorado potato beetle.

The Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture found in 1998 that green lacewings suffered a two-thirds increase in death rate when they fed on army worms eating corn engineered to contain a bacteria toxic to crop pests.

The Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee concluded the same year that female ladybugs that ate aphids that had fed on genetically modified potatoes laid fewer eggs and lived only half as long as the average ladybugs.

In May, the British Medical Association warned that it was far too early to know whether genetically modified foods were safe. It opposed rapid introduction of the crops into Great Britain and advised a ban on imported foods if they weren't clearly labeled.

"We should follow the old public health tradition now being used in Europe, called the precautionary principle, which embodies the age-old wisdom of 'look before you leap,' " said Bereano, of GeneWatch. "If there's a lot of uncertainty, the prudent course of action is to assess the product before sending it out for mass consumption.

"The burden of proof should rest on the proponent of the new technology."

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

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Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 15:10:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-13

Labelling Rules Prohibit Foodmakers from Telling What isn't in their Products

By Scott Allen, Boston Globe, 07/12/99
(For the full story, see the website: )

All Ben & Jerry's wanted to do was tell customers what was not in their ice cream.

The all-natural food company had helped lead an unsuccessful fight against a synthetic hormone injected into cows to boost their milk output in 1993.

Not only had it won approval, but the US Food and Drug Administration ruled that companies didn't have to tell customers if their cows received bovine growth hormone.

So, Ben & Jerry's wanted their labels to declare that their ice cream, at least, was growth hormone-free.

But it was against the law. Several states interpreted FDA approval of the new drug as banning even implied criticisms of bovine growth hormone. If Ben & Jerry's said they didn't use it, these states reasoned, the company was suggesting there was something wrong with companies that do.

Ben & Jerry's finally sued Illinois to win the right to label their ice cream, but the Vermont company's battle underscores how difficult it has been to tell consumers about the rapid changes in their food.

Virtually none of the many genetically altered foods now on store shelves are labelled. That's because the FDA has concluded that bovine growth hormone and genetically altered seeds are additives that don't affect either the safety or nutritiousness of the food. Only if the additive poses some identifiable threat, such as allergic reactions, does the FDA require a label.

But now, federal policy is increasingly under assault from critics who say the FDA ignores the uncertainty created by genetic changes, and robs consumers of the right to know what's in their food.

Activists have submitted 500,000 signatures to the agency demanding labelling of food biotechnology products, and a group called the Alliance for Bio-Ethics has sued to require it.

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Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 15:10:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-13

Tinkering with the DNA on your dinner plate

By Scott Allen, Boston Globe, 07/11/99
(For the full story, see the website )

ISLAND FALLS, Maine - They look like all the other potatoes that blanket the farms in northern Maine: knee-high green plants with white flowers, stretching out in neat rows across the rust-colored soil.

But Arthur Shur's potatoes are in the vanguard of one of the fastest and most controversial transformations of American agriculture since the rise of pesticides after World War II.

Depending on whom you believe, they offer either the best hope ever to feed the world or the danger of a new era of biological pollution, threatening the health of anyone who ingests them.

They may well spark a trade war with Europe, too.

Unlike ordinary potatoes, Shur's crops contain something extra, extra genes borrowed from bacteria and viruses in an effort to build a better potato, one more resistant to bugs, disease, even droughts. Created in a specially constructed laboratory behind Shur's storehouse, these potatoes even secrete a substance to kill beetles that munch on their leaves. I said, `This is said Shur, 60, I

Just five years after US approval of the first genetically modified food - a tomato - that future is rushing to supermarket shelves, though not all consumers realize it. Fifty-six genetically modified farm products are on the market, most developed by a few corporations such as Monsanto and DuPont, and hundreds more are under development.

Already, some ice cream and cookies contain soybeans injected with a gene from petunias to help make them resistant to herbicides. Certain brands of vegetable oils and baking powder contain corn treated with a bacteria gene to resist pests. Potato chips and French fries contain Monsanto's beetle-resistant potatoes.

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Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 15:10:37 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-13

Thanks to Dr. Stokes Dickins for posting this article from The Lancet (a major medical journal published in the UK)

Health risks of genetically modified foods

The Lancet, May 29, 1999

Crops genetically modified to have reduced susceptibility to pests are promoted as a solution to low food yields in developing countries. The motive of these promoters is profit, not altruism. Monsanto, one of the largest developers of genetically modified crops, has developed a grain that gives an improved crop and is sterile, so instead of keeping back some seeds for the next year's sowing, farmers must return to the supplier for more.

In view of this unbridled commercial approach to genetic modification, it is perhaps not surprising that companies have paid little evident attention to the potential hazards to health of genetically modified foods. But it is astounding that the US Food and Drug Administration has not changed their stance on genetically modified food adopted in 1992 ).

They announced in January this year, "FDA has not found it necessary to conduct comprehensive scientific reviews of foods derived from bioengineered plants . . . consistent with its 1992 policy". The policy is that genetically modified crops will receive the same consideration for potential health risks as any other new crop plant. This stance is taken despite good reasons to believe that specific risks may exist.

For instance, antibiotic-resistance genes are used in some genetically modified plants as a marker of genetic transformation. Despite repeated assurances that the resistance genes cannot spread from the plant, many commentators believe this could happen. Of greater concern is the effect of the genetic modification itself on the food.

Potatoes have been engineered with a gene from the snowdrop to produce an agglutinin which may reduce susceptibility to insects. In April last year, a scientist, Arpad Pusztai, from the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, UK, unwisely announced on television that experiments had shown intestinal changes in rats caused by eating genetically engineered potatoes. He said he would not eat such modified foods himself and that it was "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guineapigs".

A storm of publicity overtook Pusztai. He was removed from his job, a sacrifice that did not quell public alarm in the UK or in Europe. Last week (May 22, p1769 ) we reported that the Royal Society had reviewed what it could of Pusztai and colleagues' evidence and found it flawed, a gesture of breathtaking impertinence to the Rowett Institute scientists who should be judged only on the full and final publication of their work. The British Medical Association called for a moratorium on planting genetically modified crops. The UK Government, in accordance with national tradition, vacillated. Finally, on May 21 the Government came out with proposals for research into possible health risks of genetically modified foods.

Shoppers across Europe had already voted with their feet. By the end of the first week in May, seven European supermarket chains had announced they would not sell genetically modified foods. Three large food multinationals, Unilever, Nestlé, and Cadburys-Schweppes followed suit. The Supreme Court in India has upheld a ban on testing genetically modified crops. Activists in India have set fire to fields of crops suspected of being used for testing. The population of the USA, where up to 60% of processed foods have genetically modified ingredients, seem, as yet, unconcerned.

The issue of genetically modified foods has been badly mishandled by everyone involved. Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health. The companies should have paid greater attention to the possible risks to health and of the public's perception of this risk; they are now paying the price of this neglect. And scientists involved in research into the risks of genetically modified foods should have published the results in the scientific press, not through the popular media; their colleagues, meanwhile, should also have avoided passing judgments on the issue without the full facts before them.

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

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Date: Thu, 15 Jul 1999 10:53:38 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-14

Food fight lacks facts

The Gazette (Montreal) July 12, 1999, page B2

The claims that genetically modified seeds would produce gargantuan crops as well as become capable of fending off pests and drought may have been exaggerated, it turns out.

Earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture released figures for 1997 and 1998 on the performance of genetically modified crops in the U.S., where about 70 million acres of them are grown. According to the data, genetically engineered seeds were not producing any better yields than traditional varieties were.

There was also no improvement when it came to pesticides. Farmers on both sides of the genetic divide were using similar quantities of pesticides, a fact that seemed to suggest that genetically modified seeds were not as resistant to pests as their developers claimed.

These findings will fuel an increasingly vociferous movement against genetic modification, especially in Great Britain and the European Union, to food production.

In Great Britain, mad-cow disease exposed fundamental flaws in food-safety regulation, reminding people that science should never be thought of as infallible.

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Date: Thu, 15 Jul 1999 10:53:38 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN7-14

Most Powerful Evidence yet that GM Crops Are Failing

Very important paper released 13th July 1999:


Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998 By U.S. agronomisrt Dr. Charles Benbrook. It is accessible on the Ag BioTech InfoNet website at

This states among much else:


Under most conditions extensive evidence shows that RR [Roundup Ready - genetically engineered] soybeans produce lower yields than possible if farmers planted comparable but non-engineered varieties.

This report reviews the results of over 8,200 university-based soybean varietal trials in 1998 and reaches the following conclusions regarding the magnitude of the RR soybean yield drag:

  1. The yield drag between top RR varieties compared to top conventional varieties averages 4.6 bushels per acre, or 6.7 percent.

  2. In some areas of the Midwest, the best conventional variety sold by seed companies produces yields on average 10 percent or more higher than comparable Roundup Ready varieties sold by the same seed companies.


On whether RR soybean systems reduce pesticide use and increase grower profits, our analysis shows that RR soybean systems are largely dependent on herbicides and hence are not likely to reduce herbicide use or reliance. Claims otherwise are based on incomplete information or analytically flawed comparisons that do not tell the whole story.

  1. Farmers growing RR soybeans used 2 to 5 times more herbicide measured in pounds applied per acre, compared to the other popular weed management systems used on most soybean fields not planted to RR varieties in 1998. RR herbicide use exceeds the level on many farms using multitactic Integrated Weed Management systems by a factor of 10 or more.

  2. There is clear evidence that Roundup use by farmers planting RR soybeans has risen markedly in 1999 because of the emergence of a degree of tolerance to Roundup in several key weed species, shifts in weeds toward those less sensitive to Roundup, price cuts and aggressive marketing.

  3. Roundup use on soybeans may well double from 1998 levels within the next few years...

  4. The RR soybean yield drag and technology fee impose a sizable indirect tax on the income of soybean producers, ranging from a few percent where RR varieties work best to over 12 percent of gross income per acre.

Elsewhere Benbrook has written that GE soybeans are proving the most expensive soybean seed+weed management system in modern history"

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:

Our website, contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items. Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 (USD for those outside Canada) for 12 months, payable to "BanGEF" and mailed to the above address. Or see website for details.