GE NEWS ARCHIVE
Mothers for Natural Law
International News on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture
Biweekly News 99/08/16
Thanks to Dennis Dey and Richard Wolfson for these items.
The first two articles are lengthy because the details contribute to a balanced assessment of their significance. Other articles have been aggressively shortened.
Nature Biotechnology, Volume 17 / July 1999 Page 629
Swiss Soiled Seed Prompts Tolerance Question
by Ingeborg Furst
On July 1, the Swiss government's tolerance standard for genetic purity of food comes into effect. Switzerland is the first country in Europe to set a limit for genetic contamination, but current controversy over genetically contaminated corn seeds highlights the urgent EU-wide need for such a standard for crops.
In May, it was discovered by the Swiss Department of Agriculture (Budesamt fur Landwirtschaft; Bern) and the district president of Baden-Wurtlemberg (Tubingen, Germany) that Pioneer Hi-Bred's (Des Moines, IA) nongenetically modified corn seed varieties, Ulla and Benicia, actually contained novel genes from a variety of corn genetically modified to be resistant to the corn borer, Bacillus thuringiensis.
Contamination of the seeds, which were harvested in the United States, was "probably caused by stray pollen during the growing season," says Ulrich Schmidt, managing director of Pioneer in Buxtehude, Germany, which represents the grain manufacturer in Switzerland. It is likely that incorporation of pollen from GM varieties into Ulla and Benicia occurred this way because "Pioneer does not offer a commercial GM variety of Ulla or Benicia."
Before the contamination was discovered, Pioneer had sold enough Ulla and Benicia seeds to sow 400 hectares (roughly 0.5% of total corn cultivation in Switzerland), about 200 hectares of which had already been planted.
Estimates of the amount of genetic contamination of non-GM DNA by GM DNA vary between 0.1 and 0.5% -- respectively below the limit set in both countries for contamination resulting from physical mixing of varieties. Under German and Swiss seed market laws, this "technical" contamination with seed from weed and other varieties can be as high as 3% and 5%, respectively.
But because there are no tolerance standards set for genetic purity, the contaminated Pioneer seeds are not approved for release into the environment, and planting therefore infringes the Swiss environment conservation law (Umweltschutzgesetz), as well as violating the German gene technology law (Gentechnikgesetz). As a result, the Swiss Department of Agriculture (Bundesamt fur Landwirtschaft, Bern) has prohibited the import and trade of contaminated Ulla and Benicia and has ordered the destruction of any already sown.
However, Pioneer and the entire grain industry are not able to guarantee the genetic purity of their conventional non-GM varieties, says Schmidt. "Genetic inserts are in the nature of things," agrees Rainer Linneweber, spokesperson for Novartis Seed (Bad Salzuflen, Germany). "Despite our high-level quality management and our ISO certification, even a 100% [technical] purity for conventional seed is utopian," he adds. But although the Swiss government has now set a 1% tolerance standard for genetic contamination of food, such a standard for crops remains absent.
Sunday Telegraph Sunday 1 August 1999
GM Soya Milk Gives Children Herpes, Senior Surgeon Tells the Government
By Rajeev Syal
A LEADING British surgeon is to give evidence to the Government that genetically modified soya milk triggered a herpes-related virus in her daughter.
The surgeon, from south-west London, will explain that cold sores repeatedly erupted on her two-year-old's face when she regularly drank the GM product and immediately cleared when she stopped.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said last week that it would investigate her claims. The revelations coincide with worries expressed by the Prince of Wales earlier this year and a number of leading geneticists who believe that some GM products can trigger viruses in humans.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect her daughter, said she wants to make sure that a similar situation is not repeated with other children. She said: "I want the Government to look into this because I saw the change in my daughter - as soon as she was taken off the GM milk, her health dramatically improved. I, and my GP, have not found any other reasons why she became ill. My family previously ate GM products without worrying - but now we do not."
Tests have showed that the child is not allergic to soya milk, which her mother began feeding her in February 1998, when she was just a year old because she had developed an allergy to dairy products. The girl immediately began developing large cold sores which did not respond to treatment. She was drinking about four pints of the milk every day - and the sores were getting worse.
Her mother, a 38-year-old plastic surgeon in a London hospital, said: "I became aware that she was not getting better. There seemed to be three large, weeping sores on her face at any one time." So she spoke to a friend - who is also a hospital-based geneticist - who warned her that critics of GM products are worried that they could provoke viral infections.
She cut the amount of soya milk her daughter was drinking to half a pint a day and the sores cleared up overnight. She said: "The circumstantial evidence was there for all to see." Critics of GM foods believe that "virus promoters" - pieces of DNA in plants that can control activity in its genes - could be responsible for triggering the herpes virus. But other experts disagreed.
Prof Jim Dunwell, a plant biotechnologist from the University of Reading, who has been involved in producing GM plants, said it is highly unlikely that plant viruses could provoke reactions in human beings. He said: "It sounds highly unlikely that this child has had her herpes provoked by soya milk. It is more likely to be an allergic reaction."
Japan to Start Random Checks on GM Crop Imports
August 5, 1999
TOKYO, Reuters [WN] via NewsEdge Corporation : Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare said on Wednesday it plans to carry out random safety inspections of genetically modified soybeans, corn and rapeseed being imported into the country...
Japan's Nihon Keizai business daily reported in its Wednesday evening edition that if the inspections find any GM grains whose safety has not been confirmed by the ministry, it will consider taking countermeasures, including barring them from entering Japan...
Grain importers at the five ports are to submit samples to the ministry for safety tests, the report said.
U.S. Corn Group Fears Japan Gene-Labeling Plan
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - A Japanese government plan to require labels on food made from genetically-modified crops threatens to harm U.S. agricultural exports, a top U.S. grain industry official said on Friday. Under the proposal approved this week by a government panel, food made from genetically-modified crops, such as certain corn and soybean varieties, would have to carry a mandatory label in Japan by April 2001. Standards for the labels are to be set by April 2000, giving foreign suppliers and domestic food manufacturers one year to prepare. Japan is a major U.S. customer for corn and soybeans, as well as consumer-ready food items. "I fear that there could be disruption in the normal flow of agricultural exports to Japan," Kenneth Hobbie, president of the U.S. Grains Council, said in a statement. "This announcement is very disappointing."
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.
THE VEGETARIAN SOCIETY: The GM Free Label Vegetarians Have Been Waiting For
August 2, 1999
M2 PRESSWIRE via NewsEdge Corporation : Consumers wanting to avoid genetically modified foods will be able to shop with renewed confidence from August 1st, following the introduction of The Vegetarian Society's GM free food approval policy. Shoppers will be aided by the Society's V symbol, a trusted symbol of vegetarian suitability, which from August 1st will guarantee that products are also free from GM crops and ingredients. The GM free policy, first proposed in August 1998, will be active from August 1st 1999.
CONTACT: The Vegetarian Society press office Tel: +44 (0)161 925 2000
[Copyright 1999, M2 Communications]
U.S. Study Raises New Questions about GM Crops
08:47 a.m. Aug 04, 1999 Eastern
LONDON, Aug 4 (Reuters) - U.S. scientists on Wednesday threw a new question into the simmering cauldron of confusion about the effects of genetically modified (GM) crops. Research by Yong-Biao Liu of the University of Arizona cast doubt on the common strategy of planting refuges of non-GM cotton close to a GM variety to slow the spread of insects that might develop resistance to a pest-killing toxin in GM cotton. Liu studied Bt cotton, a variety engineered to contain the insect-killing bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. His research was published in the science journal Nature on Wednesday and was reviewed by Michael Crawley of Imperial College in Ascot, Britain.
Liu and his colleagues found that a laboratory-bred, Bt-resistant pink bollworm took longer to develop into a mature adult moth than larvae feeding on non-Bt cotton. ``The main implication of the study is that it calls into question the 'refuge strategy' of reducing or delaying the evolution of resistance to Bt toxin,'' Crawley wrote. ``If the insects develop to sexual maturity at different speeds, interbreeding is less likely or impossible and so may well speed the development of resistance and reduce the benefits of the GM crop.'' This is because both types of moth mate within three days of hatching and males only live for about a week. If the new findings match what actually happens in the field, it would mean that Bt-resistant bollworms would mate with each other.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.
Sci/Tech, Thursday, August 5, 1999
Pest May Beat GM Insecticide
The pink bollworm is a major pest of cotton
Scientists have shown that a key way of preventing pests becoming resistant to the defences of genetically-modified (GM) crops may not be effective.
If confirmed by larger-scale experiments, it would mean that GM crops developed at great expense would quickly become useless. It would also be a boost to those opposed to GM crops, who argue that the technology cannot solve problems of heavy pesticide use.
The research at the University of Arizona looked at the breeding cycle of the pink bollworm moth, a common pest of cotton. Their results suggest that the bollworm could, in theory, rapidly become resistant to the insecticide produced within a GM cotton plant called "Bt cotton".
This cotton was developed by Monsanto. Their spokesman points out the preliminary nature of the research but adds: "No matter what type of insect protection mechanism you use, short of squashing them under your foot, insects will become resistant to it."
He admitted that: "If the Bt cotton was only viable for three or four years that would not be a financially viable option for us."...
Monsanto claim resistance should not arise for 50 years but a 1997 report by entomologist Fred Gould of North Carolina State University suggested that resistance in the cotton-eating moth, Heliothis virescens, would emerge in 10 years. Other pests could become resistant to BT cotton in three to four years, Gould said.
Whether this scenario will occur under field conditions can only be resolved by full-scale ecological studies.
Monsanto GM Food Ads Found to Mislead
by Linus Gregoriadis
Wednesday August 11, 1999
Monsanto, the US based food company, has been criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading the public about its genetically modified food and crops.
In a report published today, the authority has upheld four complaints made by environmental groups about Monsanto's 1998 UK advertising campaign.
One complaint was over wrongly suggesting that GM potatoes had been approved by government regulatory agencies in 20 countries including the UK. Another complaint upheld concerned a newspaper advert which could have given the impression that the benefits of GM tomatoes were proved.
The company was also ordered not to say it had carried out tests measuring the impact of GM techniques on human and environmental safety for the past 20 years, and not to claim as fact that cross-species gene transference to plants was an extension of traditional cross-breeding.
Nature Biotechnology Vol. 17, August 1999
Canadian Farmers Seek Compensation for "Genetic Pollution"
by Brian Hoyle
Brian Hoyle, a science writer based in Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, writes that five years after genetically modified (GM) crops became available for use in Canada, the Canadian National Farmers Union (NFU; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) is lobbying the Canadian federal government to legislate industry compensation for unintended genetic alteration of crops. NFU members, which include both organic farmers and those who grow GM crops, decry the "genetic pollution that has infringed on the livelihoods of farmers or the general public."
The move follows the NFU's annual meeting last December, in which a resolution was passed opposing the use of GM organisms. NFU spokesperson Stewart Wells was quoted as saying, agricultural biotechnology is a "gigantic experiment." To Wells, an organic farmer from the province of Saskatchewan, it is the airborne contamination of his canola with GM varieties of canola that is a problem.
Ann Clark, an agronomist at the University of Guelph in the province of Ontario, was quoted as saying, "Canola pollen can move up to 8 kilometers; [pollen from] corn and potatoes, about 1 kilometer," citing New Scientist (vol. 160, issue 2158, 1998)
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