Genetically
 Manipulated 


 

 
 
 Food


 News

26 November 99

Table of Contents

Latin American campesinos face GMO ice age
Genetic patenting row looms over WTO talks
Coming a cropper: the undoing of Monsanto'sGM dream GM food
Scientist calls for further study of transgenic crops
Australia has non-GM export opportunity
Greenpeace Targets Kellogg for Genetically Modified Crop Use
Conflict of Interest in Biotechnology Regulations is Core Problem
Most Canadians Want Their Food Labelled
Austria snubs GM crops as ``forbidden fruit''
South Korea to begin labelling GM food before April 2000
Biotech Crops Spur Warning
Gene Therapy Study Proceeded Despite Safety, Ethics Concerns
Calls Grow for More Oversight of Gene Therapy
Disinvest in GM Shares, -- Says Christian Ecology Link
CFFO calls for mandatory labelling GM Food
Report-Biotech co's human rights record
GE News on World Environment News (URLs)
False reports and the smears of men

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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

Latin American campesinos face GMO ice age

by Michael Christie, Reuters News Service, Mexico: November 17, 1999

MEXICO CITY - Mesoamerican Indian peasants gave corn to the world, developing the plant over thousands of years by mixing various strains of wild maize.

Now the heirs of those campesinos say they are being robbed of their legacy by giant multinational firms. Species that once belonged to no one and which fed millions of poor families across Latin America have suddenly been copyrighted.

Using genetic engineering, Monsanto Co., Novartis AG, Astra Zeneca Plc. and other companies are adding a new gene to original plants and patenting the result, known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).


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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

Genetic patenting row looms over WTO talks

by John Vidal, The Guardian, Monday November 22, 1999

Developing world accuses US, Europe of 'bio-piracy'

A major row is threatening to break out at the opening of the World Trade Organisation's talks in Seattle next week over the patenting of the genetic make-up of plants and animals to develop new drugs.

The US and Europe insist that corporations should be allowed to patent all plants and animals despite existing international laws and understandings which provide for protection of natural resources.

India, Malaysia, Zimbabwe and other African and Latin American countries have accused the US and Europe of "bio-piracy". The Indians are particularly worried because US and European corporations have started to patent their traditional herbal medecines.

In heated backroom talks in Geneva designed to iron out differences before the inter-governmental meeting, Mike Moore, the head of the organisation responsible for setting the world's trading laws, is reported to have dismissed developing countries' objections by saying that the WTO overrides all other international treaties.

The US/EU proposals would force all countries to broaden their patenting laws, but the developing countries are resisting strongly. They say that patents on all life forms should be excluded from the negotiations of the Trade Related Intellectual Property (Trips) agreement which is scheduled for renegotiation in the talks.

If that is not possible, they argue that patents should be excluded for products and processes based on traditional knowledge. The gap between the two blocs is now extreme with the US and Europe responding that wider patents will improve health care and stimulate wealth.

More than 500 non-governmental groups from more than 50 countries have written to President Clinton urging the US to temper its patenting demands. They are not likely to succeed because the powerful US biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have long wanted global patenting laws based on the US model.

The problem which the US must overcome is that the patenting proposals clash with other international laws. Another sticking point is agriculture, with the rich countries trying to force a further opening up of markets to their goods. The developing world, say India and others, must be allowed to protect and support their farmers up to the point of self-sufficiency.


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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

Thanks to Jim McNulty for posting this:

Coming a cropper: the undoing of Monsanto'sGM dream GM food

by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian Monday November 22, 1999

Prospects for the Seattle talks setting an agreed agenda are not considered high. "I have never seen such confusion in 21 years of international talks," says trade analyst Chakrabathi Raghavan in Geneva.


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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

Scientist calls for further study of transgenic crops

BusinessWorld, November 18, 1999, Pg. 6

A Norway-based scientist is suggesting that the Philippines impose a moratorium on all local field experiments involving genetically modified organisms ( GMOs) . Visiting geneticist Terje Traavik the other day said the Philippines must first do extensive studies on reported risks that come with the conduct of field experiments on GMOs. He said such studies are needed to fully ascertain the extent of risks to help authorities formulate necessary safeguards. "I would advise them (Philippine government) to call off the whole operation because there are already so many examples of things gone wrong," Mr. Traavik said in an interview. Mr. Traavik is the scientific director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology in Tromso, Norway.


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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

Australia has non-GM export opportunity

Melbourne (Reuters), November 17, 1999

Australia has the potential to export US$1 billion of non-genetically modified foods to the European Union and Japan a year if it moves judiciously on the issue, U.S.-based food analysis group GeneticID said. Japan and the European Union both intend to implement labelling for genetically modified food.

Bill Witherspoon, chief executive of the U.S. genetic analysis group, said he believed Australia could capture US$1 billion of the market, but consumers' desire for food without genetically modified organisms could also work against the nation.

"There is the question that not only is the opportunity there but also the possibility of significant losses," Witherspoon told reporters during a sales-oriented visit to Australia on Wednesday. One has to realise that they will go toward whatever source there is to get those non-GM materials," he said. Agricultural exports make up almost 30 percent of Australia's total exports.


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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

Greenpeace Targets Kellogg for Genetically Modified Crop Use

By LISA SINGHANIA, The Associated Press. November 16, 1999,

Fresh off successfully asking Gerber to stop using genetically modified crops in its baby food, the environmental group Greenpeace has set its sights on another high-profile food manufacturer: Kellogg Co. About a half dozen activists protested Tuesday near the Battle Creek, Mich., company's headquarters, to demand the company stop using genetically modified crops.

Protesters hung a banner urging Kellogg to stop its "monstrous experiment" and "FrankenTony," a Frankenstein-like version of the cartoon cat Kellogg uses to sell cereal, greeted passersby. "FrankenTony is the genetically modified Tony the Tiger, the embodiment of what the consequences of genetically modified crops might be," said Greenpeace spokesman Charles Margulis. "There is no long-term testing of the safety of these crops."


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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

News Release,

November 17, 1999

Conflict of Interest in Biotechnology Regulations is Core Problem

Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy http://www.web.apc.org/cielap/rep/29.htm

A report – The Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnology in Canada – was released today, by The Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP). The document is a comprehensive inventory of the gaps within the Canadian biotechnology regulatory framework.

Mark Winfield, co-author and CIELAP's Director of Research summarizes the Reports finding, by stating " the current state of the Canadian Biotech regulatory framework is both confused and inadequate." He went on to say "a fundamental difficulty of the Canadian Biotech regulatory approach is that it is built on a foundation riddled with conflict of interest. This is exhibited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) having the contradictory roles of both promoter and regulator."

CIELAP's Executive Director Anne Mitchell said, "this report is a milestone in the Canadian biotech debate. It surveys the currently contentious state of biotech science, but focuses on enumerating the serious regulatory loopholes. CIELAP can only conclude there is inadequate protection of human health and the environment. Unless quickly addressed, these shortcomings could result in serious negative consequences for Canadian consumers."


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Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:24:39 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-21

Most Canadians Want Their Food Labelled

By Laura Eggertson, The Toronto Star, November 17, 1999

OTTAWA BUREAU OTTAWA - Most Canadians want their food labelled to identify any genetically modified ingredients, an approach the federal government should endorse, a coalition of 21 health, environment and consumer groups Lucy Each food product and ingredient that is genetically engineered must be clearly

The coalition is boycotting talks, starting today, by the Committee on Voluntary Labeling of Foods Obtained through Biotechnology. The government-supported committee brings together grocery distributors and a standards group to discuss wording for labels the food industry may adopt.

Ottawa believes mandatory labelling might confuse consumers. Health Canada says there are so many products affected by genetically modified soy and canola virtually everything would be affected. But a consumer backlash against gene-modified foods, already under way in Europe, is finding an Why are we being force-fed genetically engineered food . . .? If GE foods are so safe, why isn't the industry proud to label it and asked Cindy Wiggins of the Canadian Health Coalition. The coalition accused the new committee of stalling on behalf of the We see the construction of this voluntary process as an said Michael Khoo of Greenpeace. The groups cited various public opinion polls they say indicate 81 per cent of Canadians back mandatory labels.

Canada should study mandatory labelling regimes used in Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, Japan and Korea, said Jennifer Story of the We define genetic engineering as those products that are derived from some things where foreign genetic material is spliced said Story. The coalition has written the health, agriculture and industry ministers, seeking mandatory labelling so long-term health effects We stringently regulate drugs, which are taken sparsely. But GE food, which is ingested in large the letter says.

** 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: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:21:24 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-26

Austria snubs GM crops as ``forbidden fruit''

INNSBRUCK, Austria, Reuters [WS] via NewsEdge Corporation

Mistrust of genetically modified crops is spreading throughout Europe and is particularly rampant in Austria – the European Union's champion organic farmer.

The government, farmers and consumers are sceptical about the new technology's proponents who say altering the genetic makeup of a crop to increase resistance to pests and disease does not pose a threat to human health nor the environment. Nobody has come up with a reason that wholly justifies the use of said Ludwig Gruber from the Tyrolean branch of Harvest for a Better Life, an association of organic farmers in Austria. In theory, they say they make these GM crops to combat illness and pests, he said.

Another argument from the industry is that GM technology can produce bigger harvests irrespective of the season for less money and could solve food shortages in developing countries. This is utter nonsense. We're already overproducing and the Third World Gruber said. And when they talk about engineering crops that are indigenous in the southern hemisphere to grow in the north, then that's proof they're only after financial gain because you'd be taking away the livelihood of a Third


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:21:24 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-26

South Korea to begin labelling GM food before April 2000

SEOUL, Reuters [WN] via NewsEdge Corporation : Agriculture minister Kim Sung-hoon said South Korea would start to label genetically modified organisms (GMO) before April, 2001.

The country will first label GMOs on corn, soybeans and bean sprouts, Kim told a news conference.

"South Korea will enforce GMO labelling before April, 2001 and the labelling will be first applied to three agricultural products such as corn, soybean and bean sprouts," Kim said, indicating the country would start labelling ahead of Japan.


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Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:21:24 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-26

Biotech Crops Spur Warning

By William Claiborne, Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 1999 ; A1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38824-1999Nov23.html

CHICAGO, Nov. 23 - More than 30 farm groups across the country today warned

their members about the dangers of planting genetically engineered crops, saying the practice had become so unpopular with consumers that farmers were risking their livelihoods if they cultivated them again this year.

The farm groups, which included the National Family Farm Coalition and the American Corn Growers Association, also warned that inadequate testing of gene-altered seeds could make farmers vulnerable to "massive liability" from damage caused by genetic drift - the spreading of biologically modified pollens - and other environmental effects.

The farmers called on chemical companies engaged in bioengineering to promote the sale of traditional seed varieties for the coming crop year until an independent assessment of the environmental, health, and economic impacts of gene-altered seeds is available.


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Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:21:24 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-26

Gene Therapy Study Proceeded Despite Safety, Ethics Concerns

By Deborah Nelson and Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 21, 1999; Page A01

Hasty Decisions in the Race to a Cure?

Four days after scientists infused trillions of genetically engineered viruses into Jesse Gelsinger's liver as part of a novel gene therapy experiment, the 18-year-old lay dying in a hospital bed at the University of Pennsylvania. His liver had failed, and the teenager's blood was thickening like jelly and clogging key vessels while his kidneys, brain and other organs shut down. It was a rare and irreversible blood reaction, but it wasn't the first time the researchers had seen it.

Unbeknown to Gelsinger, who had signed up for the experimental treatment for a rare and often fatal liver disorder, monkeys that the Penn team had similarly treated had succumbed in very much the same way. The team had moved forward with the human experiment despite the monkey deaths, and despite criticism from other researchers who thought it was too dangerous, because they believed that a new version of genetically altered virus they had developed was safer than the one that had killed the monkeys. ...

Many experts wonder, for example, whether an impatient Penn team overlooked the study's pitfalls out of eagerness to win a nine-year-old race to produce the world's first gene-based cure. As scientists work to cure diseases by giving people new, healthy genes, some are asking whether federal regulators' enthusiasm for the hot new field--and their enchantment with Wilson's stellar reputation--may have led them to give Wilson the benefit of the doubt at too many key decision points along the way.

Also anxious for success were the corporate investors who have funneled tens of millions of dollars into a gene therapy company Wilson founded and into his lab at Penn on the bet that he'd push the field forward.


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Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:21:24 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-26

Calls Grow for More Oversight of Gene Therapy

By Rick Weiss and Deborah Nelson, Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 24, 1999; Page A02

Some scientists, bioethicists and patient advocates are calling for stronger federal oversight of human gene therapy, a fledgling field of promising but unproven medicine that seeks to cure diseases by giving people new genes. The call for closer scrutiny comes in the wake of recent revelations that biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies have been withholding information about patient deaths in gene therapy experiments, and amid concerns that an 18-year-old's death in a recent Pennsylvania gene therapy study might have been avoided with closer oversight.

"The field is being driven by companies that care about the stock market," said Abbey S. Meyers, president of the National Organization for Rare Disorders in New Fairfield, Conn., who is among those in favor of a larger federal oversight role. "But it doesn't work yet, and the companies aren't being honest about the side effects. Families with genetic disease are not being told the truth."


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:21:24 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-26

25 Nov., 1999 - News Release - for immediate release

Disinvest in GM Shares, – Says Christian Ecology Link

http://www.christian-ecology.org.uk
e-mail: info@christian-ecology.org.uk

Christian Ecology Link, Britain's main church-based environmental organisation, today urged the Church Commissioners to sell its shares in companies involved in developing genetically modified organisms.


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:21:24 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson GEN11-26

CFFO calls for mandatory labelling GM Food

NEWS RELEASE from the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO), Canada

Guelph, November 1999. The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario is calling on the government of Canada to support the mandatory labelling of foods obtained through genetic modification.

The CFFO has deliberated the potential and drawbacks of genetically modified foods since 1995 and recently focused that scrutiny on a call for mandatory labelling of all GM foods. At its recent gathering of farmers from 22 districts across the province, the CFFO's Provincial Board accelerated its push for mandatory labelling by adopting the text of an open letter to the government of Canada on the need to ensure consumer confidence through labelling.

** 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: 18 Nov 1999 00:33:27 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)
From: "Biotech Activists" biotech_activists@iatp.org
Subject: important message from Gary Cohen

Report-Biotech co's human rights record

Dear Biotech activists,

I am writing to invite you to co-release a report that has been produced by a number of organizations that evaluates the human rights record of the chemical/biotech industry over the last century. Entitled "Beyond the Chemical Century: Restoring Human Rights and Preserving the Fabric of Life", the report chronicles the worst abuses of the major corporate giants of the chemical industry and discusses these abuses in the context of human rights. The companies profiled include Union Carbide (Bhopal disaster), Dow Chemical (dioxin, DBCP), DuPont (CFCs and the Ozone Hole), Monsanto (Genetic Engineering, PCBs), Chisso (Minamata mercury poisoning) and IG. Farben (for slave labor and chemical experimentation at Auschwitz during WWII).

The report is being released on December 2, 1999 to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster, which has killed over 16,000 people and permanently injured 120,000 others. The report is also timed to coincide with the filing of a lawsuit against Union Carbide in New York by the Bhopal survivors for crimes against humanity.

We are inviting you to release this report with us since the report has an extensive chapter on Monsanto as a leading company ushering in the new biotechnology experiment. We believe that it is important for the public to understand the human rights record of Monsanto and these other chemical companies to understand the corporate culture and methodologies by which they are introducing genetic organisms into the environment.

The report has been produced by the Environmental Health Fund, with the collaboration of Earth Rights International, Pesticide Action Network, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, INFACT, Strategic Council on Corporate Accountability and others. At present, the report is being co-released by organizations in the following countries:

Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand U.K., U.S. and maybe Japan.

If you are interested in co-releasing this report, we can get you a copy of the text immediately and a formatted copy with photos and graphs on November 22nd. Full printed copies would be available on November 17th, along with model press materials.

We are very open to organizations releasing this report using their own local situation as the case study that highlights human rights violations by the chemical and biotech industry.

Please let me know if you would like to participate.

Gary Cohen
Environmental Health Fund
gcohen@igc.org     (617)524-6018

Mark Ritchie, President
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 First Ave. South Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404 USA
612-870-3400 (phone)    612-870-4846 (fax)    mritchie@iatp.org    http://www.iatp.org

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Date: 18 Nov 1999 01:36:45 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

GE News on World Environment News (URLs)

World Environment News - November 18, 1999 from Planet Ark

Here are today's Reuters 'World Environment News' headlines.

Click on the link below the headline to check out the full story, or go to the Planet Ark news page at http://www.planetark.org/news

- -- Skeptical Europe still not sold on GM crops – EC official – USA
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4727

U.S. green group to launch biotech food protests – USA
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4737

INTERVIEW - Food tracking system aims to ease UK worries – UK
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4742

Extra hot weather may damage gene soya – magazine – UK
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4741

GM foods needed to feed world, UK scientist says – UK
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4738

Japan may delay next approval of new GM varieties – JAPAN
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4744

Genetically modified food – Japan to take initiative in calming consumer fears – JAPAN
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4733

Asia swept by global storm over genetically modified food – AUSTRALIA
http://WWW.PLANETARK.ORG/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=4743

Check out the latest Reuters Environment News Photographs: http://www.planetark.org/envpicshome.cfm

Remember to click on the small pics to see the bigger ones!

Listen to the latest 'Pulse of the Planet' radio broadcast. This needs RealPlayer G2 available via Planet Ark - listen to the show in mono 28kbps or stereo 56kbps formats:
http://www.planetark.org/pulse.cfm

This service is brought to you thanks to sponsorship from U.S. says environment will be priority in WTO talksReuters and The Body Shop – check them out via: www.reuters.com and www.bodyshop.com

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'World Environment News' is copyright © Planet Ark 1999
All headlines are copyright © Reuters 1999
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Date: 17 Nov 1999 05:12:09 -0600
From: Jonathan mail@icsenglish.com

The following article has just been published in the current issue of GM FREE, Vol. 1, No. 4 (details of how to obtain a copy at end).

False reports and the smears of men

current issue of GM FREE, Vol. 1, No. 4

It concludes, "At the very least, the examples we have looked at raise questions about the extent to which the public and the government can rely on scientific experts to be suitably cautious, properly dispassionate and even fully honest in informing them about the GM issue."

The article together with its accompanting 'juicy rumours' cartoon can also be viewed at: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/false.htm

Other articles on the spin doctoring of pro-GM scientists can be found on the NGIN website at: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pb.htm


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False Reports and the Smears of Men

Sections:
Branded "irrational"
The rules of the game
"False reports" - selling GM
Smears of men - discrediting critical research
The case of the disappearing evidence
Blind faith and winning ways
People in glass houses
Notes and References

Branded "irrational"

The pro-GM establishment has branded the overwhelming public hostility to GM foods as "irrational" and "not based in science". Tony Blair has admonished us to "keep an open mind" and "proceed according to genuine scientific evidence." Jonathan Matthews decided to take Blair up on his challenge and do just that. His discoveries prompt him to ask whether, in trumpeting the value of "sound science", the biotech brigade have merely made a rope to hang themselves. ...

Shakespeare's Henry IV Part Two is opened by a character called Rumour who stuffs "the ears of men with false reports." This, according to the authors of a recent pro-GM article in Nature Biotechnology, "False reports and the ears of men," is exactly what's driving forward the current GM debate with dire consequences for "the real world of science and public policy." What's required of scientists and public alike, according to the authors, is "selfless integrity" and a stronger critical response to misleading information.(1)

The authors' preoccupation is predictably with reports that may damage the standing of GM. But what if there is as much or more reason to be concerned about the contrary? What if a flood of misinformation has not so much hindered this technology as helped to propel it forward?

Couldn't the ears of farmers, the political elite and, more recently, the general public have been stuffed with false reports favouring, rather than challenging, GM?

And if this has occurred, has the role of Rumour in all of this really been filled solely by the likes of Monsanto? Or could scientists have actually played a key role in giving credence to the GM propaganda campaignoa campaign from which scientific caution, selfless integrity and a strong critical response have indeed been absent.

The rules of the game

To answer these questions, let's begin by establishing the rules of the "integrity" game.

The authors of the article in Nature Biotechnology focus their attack on the way in which small lab-based research studies have allegedly been hyped by the media to an uncritical public with the collusion of the scientists concerned. Theirs, however, is but one of many recent calls for strict scientific rectitude in response to reports that are perceived as raising concerns about GM.

The most glaring example of a breach of the required code is supposedly that of Dr Pusztai's brief comments on television concerning the food safety implications of his research on GM potatoes. Condemnation has focused especially on the fact that his comments were made about unpublished research that hadn't been subject to peer review.

The true scientist, it is implied, would only argue his case with great care on the basis of sound peer reviewed data open to critical scrutiny.

Such caution seems admirable but the joke, as we shall see, is that these standards are only being required of perceived critics of GM. They are simply ignored in relation to scientists making statements supportive of GM. In the latter case, it seems, while such scientists claim the moral and intellectual high ground, in reality, anything goes!

Statements that are quite unproven, comments on research that is still unpublished, even accounts of research that may be seriously misleading or entirely false, are likely to pass without censureolet alone the vilification that has been heaped on Dr Pusztai.

Many such statements made in public or private meetings will have gone unrecorded but here weill look at some recent examples where scientists, knowingly or otherwise, have gone on the record.

"False reports" - selling GM

An agricultural journalist reporting on a recent public meeting, about an AgrEvo farmscale GM trial in Norfolk, writes of how an eminent scientist on the panel "so obviously could not comprehend why people will not accept proven scientific fact"(2). The perplexed scientist was Professor David Baulcombe, head of the Plant Molecular Virology Department at the prestigious Sainsbury Laboratory based at the John Innes Centre (JIC). The JIC, often described as Europe's leading plant biotechnology institute, represents itself as a wholly independent, charitable and mainly publicly funded institution.

In his opening statement to the meeting, Professor Baulcombe focused particularly on what he regarded as the environmental benefits of GM. He spoke of "enormous environmental benefits, benefits of biodiversity" where GM crops were being grown in North America. In support of these claims he referred to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which was "to be released shortly."

According to Professor Baulcombe, this report showed that "as a result of growing genetically modified corn and cotton, insect-resistant plants, it's been no longer necessary to apply broad [spectrum] insecticide on a large basis and as a result there has been an increase in the diversity of insect life; there has been a corresponding increase in the diversity of small mammal life and a corresponding increase in the diversity of birds of prey in those areas of the United States."(3)

This account of the EPA report obviously provides critical support for Baulcombe's next statement: "This is an environmental[ly] benign technology, it can bring us enormous potential benefits."(3)

However, changes in biodiversity are notoriously difficult to pin down in causal terms so it is, to say the least, unfortunate that Prof Baulcombe drew his support from an unpublished source.

There is also the intriguing question of exactly how Prof Baulcombe managed to gain pre-publication access to the results of the report of a U.S. regulatory authority. Explanation is particularly required because the study he describes is hard to tally with the strict remit of the EPA which is to monitor for environmental harm rather than to seek evidence of benefits.

Commenting, in a personal capacity, on the agency's task of ensuring a "reasonable certainty of no harm," an EPA scientist writes, "We would not typically look at "positive effects". That would be gravy. We have our hands full trying to make sure that negative effects are non-existent or limited!"(4) The same scientist also said that while he could not conclusively rule out the existence of the study as described by Professor Baulcombe, being just one scientist in a large agency, he had no knowledge of it.

Professor Baulcombe has been directly asked to provide further details on the study in question. To date none have been forthcoming. The EPA report was the only research evidence Professor Baulcombe cited in his statement about the "enormous environmental benefits" being delivered by the use of GM in agriculture.

Smears of men - discrediting critical research

After Professor Baulcombe's opening statement, almost the very first question that came up was about the American Monarch butterfly research. Prof Baulcombe proved more than ready to meet this particular "false report" with a strong critical response. He told the meeting: "Actually, that research was discredited by a letter published by the former chairman of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment the following week."(3)

Later the Monarch question was brought up again and this time Prof Baulcombe spelt out exactly why the research did not deserve to be treated seriously: "It's rather unfortunate that we get back to this report of the butterfly. The most significant finding from that report was not that the genetically modified maize damaged the butterfly, it was actually that non-genetically modified maize pollen had damaged the butterfly and that was the most staggering finding in that paper if you look at the information that's in there. There were no real differences between the damage caused to the Monarch butterflies by the genetically modified maize pollen, [it was] not that different to the damage caused to the butterflies by the non-genetically modified maize pollen."(3)

In fact, nothing that Prof Baulcombe told the meeting about the Monarch research is remotely true. The letter Baulcombe referred to was from Prof John Beringer. This letter, while raising questions and emphasising the need for caution in interpreting a preliminary study, states that the research has alerted the regulatory authorities to "a potential problem that will require very serious thought." Beringer has also stated elsewhere that the research amounts to "a real story" and that he would expect regulators to ban the GM crop in question if the study is borne out by further research(5).

Earlier, in a BBC interview, Beringer had stated that the study had not been peer reviewed and "might be flawed."(6) But in his letter to Nature(7) he admits he was mistaken about the issue of peer review and apologises for the comment. He goes on, "My suggestion that the work might be flawed was not intended as a slight" but was a warning against overinterpretation.

In no sense, then, did Beringer in his letter to Nature or elsewhere "discredit" the Monarch research. Indeed Beringer in the letter, if anything, retreats somewhat from his apparently stronger initial comments.

More startlingly, Dr John Losey, the principal author of the Monarch paper, has dismissed Prof Baulcombe's other claim that the butterfly was damaged equally by non-GM pollen as not only wrong and "completely without merit" but as having come from someone who would appear to have sought to rubbish the research without even bothering to read the published paper.

Dr Losey said, "Let me start by stating that in general the authors certainly do not agree that the study has been discredited... The specific point that caterpillars could be killed as readily by non-transgenic pollen allegedly raised by Dr. Baulcombe is completely without merit. Caterpillars fed on milkweed leaves with untransformed [non-GM] corn pollen suffered NO mortality while 44% of those that fed on leaves dusted with Bt-corn pollen died within 4 days. I assume the person who actually made this quote did not read the paper."

Dr Losey goes on: "It is interesting to note that the caterpillars feeding on untransformed corn pollen actually grew larger than those that fed on leaves with no pollen. Clearly there is no negative effect due to corn pollen alone."(8)

An interesting aspect of Baulcombe's attack on Dr Losey's research is that it exactly replicates the tactics used against Dr Pusztai, namely:

  1. claiming the research had been discredited by a notable scientific authorityoth's claim has been repeated ad nauseam in the case of Dr Pusztai, largely on the basis of the Royal Society's wholly inadequate and partial peer review of a document internal to the Rowett Institute which was never intended for publication;

  2. claiming that the research throws up nothing of any note as far as GM is concerned, i.e. that the toxicity is explicable for reasons entirely unconnected with GM.

An example of the latter line of attack in relation to Dr Pusztai can be found in the comments of Dr Phil Dale, a close colleague of Prof Baulcombe's at the JIC. Dr Dale is on record as having told a Government minister that there was nothing surprising about Pusztai's results because the gene inserted was a lectin and lectins are well known toxins.(9)

This is very misleading because not all lectins are considered dangerous, even when eaten in raw foods - we consume them, for example, every time we bite into an uncooked tomato. Indeed, the lectin used in Dr Pusztai's research (the GNA lectin) was specifically chosen because it was not considered significantly toxic to mammals (e.g. rats, as in Pusztai's research, or humans).

Another close colleague of Prof Baulcombe's, Prof Jonathan Jones, told the Sunday Times that Pusztai's results could well be due to naturally occurring toxins in the potatoes, and Baulcombe himself has used this line of attack to dismiss Pusztai's research, telling the New Scientist: "This study is more informative about working with potatoes than it is about GM technology."(10)

To what extent, one may wonder, did these JIC scientists bother to inform themselves about the detail of Pusztai's reseach before publicly dismissing it as saying nothing about GM? Certainly, it appears that Baulcombe simply applied to Dr Losey the same tactics that have beenemployed so persistently against Dr Pusztai.

The case of the disappearing evidence

Some, of course, will claim that Professor Baulcombe's tactics in the GM debate are idiosyncratic. Statements to press and public by other scientific experts in this area, it might be assumed, are marked by far greater care and accuracy.

Another senior UK academic who has worked at the JIC is Prof T Michael Wilson, until recently the deputy head of the Scottish Crop Research Institute and now Chief Executive of Horticulture Research International. According to Prof Wilson, opposition to GM by supporters of organic agriculture has been based on a lack of knowledge of the true facts. What is necessary, Wilson says, is for scientists to come out of the laboratory and explain exactly what is going on.(11)

Prof Wilson showed his readiness to do just that in a recent press article in which he called on the supporters of organic agriculture and genetic engineering to "bury the hatchet", by which he appears to mean that the former should accept the positive benefits of GM crops in the light of the evidence.

Prof Wilson indicated the compelling nature of that evidence by citing "an independent U.S. survey, carried out by Cornell University" which "showed that the use of GM crops in Northern America cut farmersi bills for pest and disease control chemicals by $465 million. It also reduced tillage and other energy costs and encouraged more wildlife."(11)

When we asked for further details of this apparently powerful independent evidence from Cornell in support of the farming and environmental benefits of GM crops, Prof Wilson identified the report he had been referring to as "Brief of Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 1998."(12)

This report was not, in fact, carried out at Cornell. Its author is one Clive James who is not, nor has ever been, a Cornell researcher. James is, however, the Chairman of an organisation, the ISAAA, committed to helping developing countries take up GM technology. The ISAAA appears to be supported to a great extent by cash from the GM industry. Donors include AgrEvo, Monsanto, Novartis, and Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Monsanto are even on its board. In no sense, then, can the ISAAA report be adequately described as coming from an "independent" source.

Indeed, in many respects the report reads rather like a sales pitch for GM crops with an especial emphasis on what might be termed the "South Sea Bubble" line of argument: because GM has been enthusiastically taken up in some parts of the world therefore it must be good!

If Prof Wilson's characterisation of the report is seriously open to question, so is his account of what the report tells us about GM crops.

While Prof Wilson claims the report provides evidence that the use of GM crops "encouraged more wildlife," it in fact contains no references at all to biodiversity. It does, as Prof Wilson indicated, refer to economic benefits and chemical usage reductions, but these "findings" turn out to be based solely on producer estimates.(12)

How much these estimates may be worth can be readily gauged by contrasting producer estimates in the report on GM soy yield improvements (12%) with a recent review of the results of over 8,200 university-based controlled varietal trials in 1998. These showed an almost 7% average yield reduction in the case of the GM soya crop. There is also evidence of increased chemical usage on GM soya, which is the main GM crop in production, and increased costs for the grower. In other words, the study's findings are diametrically opposite to the estimates in the report.(13)

In short then, the evidence Prof Wilson cites as showing why GM is a beneficial technology turns out:

In addition, as far as any other reported "benefits" go, they turn out to be based solely on producer estimates for which there is extensive contrary evidence.

If we assume that Prof Wilson is setting the model for those scientists he's encouraging to tell us "what is really going on", perhaps there might be a public preference for their continued containment within their laboratories!

Blind faith and winning ways

Another UK scientist who has encouraged his peers to take a full part in the GM debate is Dr Nigel Halford of the Institute of Arable Crop Research (IACR). In a piece written for a largely in-house publication for fellow bio-scientists, he tells them, "we have to put our side of the argument at every opportunity through the media and in public debates." Dr Halford concludes his article, "Eventually, we will win the debate here but it will not be easy."(14)

According to Dr Halford, it should not be too difficult to win the GM debate because "GM crops will be cheaper, tastier, look better, require less intensive farming methods (i.e. less pesticide use), be more nutritious and have longer shelf lives..."(14)

This statement exemplifies just how tricky the line between faith and science is for GM proponents, for although Dr Halford does use the future tense in his statement, he feels no need to use a cautious "may" for the delivery of these wondrous benefits, even though that delivery without serious cost remains entirely speculative. While Tony Blair may instruct the public to "just keep an open mind" and wait for the evidence, for Dr Halford and his colleagues it appears the future is entirely predictable.

What Dr Halford certainly cannot be faulted on is his willingness to take his own advice on participating vigorously in the GM debate. He has tirelessly spoken from public platforms around the country.

At the Royal Agricultural Show this summer, Dr Halford had the opportunity to address an audience of farmers and here he was able to point to the kind of evidence of GM's benefits that would certainly gladden the heart of the hard-pressed farming community.

According to Farmers Weekly, Halford told his audience that as a result of the increasing acreage of GM crops in North America, "U.S. pesticide sales fell in 1998 by $200m and are predicted to fall by a further $600m over the next two years. That's an excellent indicator of the success of these crops in reducing the dependence of agriculture on chemical inputs."(15)

What Dr Halford doesn't appear to have told his farming audience, however, is that with the advent of herbicide tolerant GM varieties in U.S. agriculture a vicious price war has broken out amongst competing chemical suppliers. Each is trying to lure farmers back onto their products and away from the few brand-named herbicides that the GM crops are bred to tolerate. As the majority of the U.S. cropped area is still in non-GM varieties, chemical price discounts for these account for a significant fall in total chemical expenditure. Such competition, in addition to the general agricultural recession, has also been influencing all U.S. pesticide prices downwards, including those that can be used with GM crops.

In other words, a reduced pesticide bill, far from being an "excellent indicator" of dependence or otherwise on chemical inputs, tells us little about actual levels of chemical usage.

Indeed, there is good evidence that the most widely grown GM crop, soya, is being treated with significantly increased levels of chemicals13othe very opposite of what Dr Halford would have farmers believe.

People in glass houses

Pro-GM scientists lament the lack of acceptance with which many of their pronouncements are met. But perhaps they should not be surprised that, like Prof Baulcombe's audience, an increasingly discerning public shows a reluctance to accept as "proven scientific fact" statements that sound suspiciously like industry spin or common room gossip. In their desperation to accentuate the positive, and in the absence of genuine supporting evidence, it seems scientific rectitude may have gone out of the window for many supposedly independent scientists, despite the fact that they simultaneously invoke exactly that canon to try and see off their critics.

At the very least, the examples we have looked at raise questions about the extent to which the public and the government can rely on scientific experts to be suitably cautious, properly dispassionate and even fully honest in informing them about the GM issue.

What makes this particularly alarming is that the scientists whose questionable "evidence" we have looked at are associated with the very institutes that are key to "independent" research and government advice on this issue in the U.K. Scientists from the John Innes Centre, the IACR, and the Scottish Crop Research Institute sit as U.K. regulators and have been at the forefront of scientific input into a whole series of important reports. Worse, two of these institutes, the IACR and the SCRI, are involved in the running of the highly contentious farmscale GM crop trials that are currently taking place in the UK.

In the next article we will look at the pressures that are driving independent scientists to act like hired guns for the biotech industry.

Notes and References

  1. Nature Biotechnology, Commentary, September 1999, Vol 17, No. 9, p 832

  2. Sally Smith, "Public grapple with unanswered questions", Crops, August 1999, Vol 17, No. 14

  3. All Prof Baulcombe's comments are taken from an unedited tape of the meeting. A full transcript is available on the NGIN website: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pb.htm

  4. Personal communication, attribution withheld

  5. Charles Clover, "Expert urges U.S. to act over toxic GM pollen alert," Daily Telegraph

  6. Today programme, BBC Radio 4, May 2, 1999

  7. Beringer, J. E., Nature, 399, 405 (1999)

  8. Personal communication, 30 July 1999, posted to the Cornell list: BIOTECH-L@cornell.edu

  9. Angela Ryan, "Meacher meets scientists," record of meeting in Environment Minister's office, available on the NGIN website: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pb.htm

  10. See http://www.jic.bbsrc.ac.uk/sainsbury-lab/jonathan-jones/GMO-pieces/SJJGMO3.HTM and New Scientist, October 16 1999, p 6

  11. "Scientists call on organic farmers to bury the hatchet", The Scotsman, August 16, 1999

  12. Available at http://agbio.cabweb.org/isaaa

  13. Dr Charles Benbrook, "Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998, AgBioTech InfoNet Technical Paper no. 1, July 13, 1999. Available at: http://www.biotech-info.net/herbicide-tolerance.html#soy>

  14. "Dr Frankenstein, I presume?", BBSRC Business, January 1999

  15. Farmers Weekly, July 2, 1999

Norfolk Genetic Information Network (NGIN) website is at http://members.tripod.com/~ngin

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