ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

16 October 2002


1. Seed companies block critical research on GM pollen spread
4. Corn Growers Say U.S. Isolating Itself On GMO Issue


1. Seed companies block critical research on GM pollen spread

Nature 419, 655 (2002);doi:10.1038/419655a
Superweed study falters as seed firms deny access to transgene

Two major seed companies this week stand accused of hindering attempts to assess whether genetically modified sunflowers can turn their wild counterparts into 'superweeds'. Cold shoulder: Allison Snow has been left unable to follow up her experiments to test whether transgenes can cause wild sunflowers to proliferate as weeds. A team led by Allison Snow, a plant ecologist at Ohio State University in Columbus, has uncovered preliminary evidence that a transgene that confers insect resistance can increase the number of seeds produced by wild sunflowers. This could allow the wild plants to proliferate as weeds.

But Pioneer Hi-Bred International of Des Moines, Iowa, and Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences have now blocked a follow-up study by refusing to allow the team access to either the transgene or the seeds from the earlier study.

Snow revealed the problem on 13 October during a lecture on transgene research at the Seventh International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms in Beijing. "It is very frustrating,"she said in an interview before the lecture. "We want to do good science. But this is keeping us from answering questions we want to ask."

The transgenic sunflowers contain a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which allows them to produce a natural insecticide. Determining the impact of such transgenes in gene flow to wild plants is the subject of an intense scientific and political debate as nations consider what transgenic crops can be safely planted.

The results of Snow's initial study were revealed this August at the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting in Tucson, Arizona, and have been accepted for publication in Ecological Applications. They suggest that if the Bt transgene were to migrate into wild sunflowers, the plants' resistance to insects would increase the number of seeds produced. At a site in Nebraska, seed production in wild sunflowers with the transgene rose by 55%, although the results for plants at a site in Colorado were not statistically significant.

The refusal by Pioneer and Dow to provide transgenes for academic research is unusual, researchers in the field say. But Nature has identified at least one other recent case in which a plant geneticist at a leading US research university, who wanted to carry out an evolutionary study of Mexican maize, was denied access to transgenic material by two companies. That researcher does not want to be named.

Together with the US Department of Agriculture, Pioneer and Dow had funded Snow's study. But the seed firms say that they no longer want to continue the research because they do not plan to seek permission from the US government to sell transgenic sunflower seeds. Snow, however, wants to do further work, with purely academic funding, in an effort to confirm her initial findings.

Both seed companies confirm that they have refused to make the necessary materials available to Snow. "We would have to use time and talent to oversee the research," explains Doyle Karr, a spokesman for Pioneer. "We can't take the responsibility of putting the genes out if we aren't going to develop a product."

But critics of the company reject this. It would be universities, not the suppliers of materials, that would be first in line for liability if any experiment went awry, they say. Mark Tepfer, a plant virologist at the French national agricultural agency's laboratory in Versailles, France, says that Snow's work is "one of the first really good experiments" to examine transgene flow to the wild. He called the companies' position "scandalous and indefensible".

Norman Ellstrand, a plant population geneticist at the University of California, Riverside, who often uses corporate transgenes for academic research without restrictions, says that the block imposed on Snow's team may be counterproductive for the biotechnology industry. It "only looks bad", he says, and could complicate future efforts to prove the biological safety of transgenic crops.

"There has to be a mechanism to conduct this type of research," says Gregory Jaffe, a biotechnology critic at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. "If the companies will not participate, then the government needs to step in and make sure researchers like Snow get the materials they need."



October 15, 2002
Financial Express, India [via Agnet]

Five farmer's organisations were cited as urging the genetic engineering approval committee to practice transparency in its procedure for granting approval to commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) seeds. They have demanded that the committee should make public the results of field trials and food safety tests for inviting public debate before final approval.

Independent team of experts be allowed to visits test sites.

They said, "any variety that is offered to the farmers must be thoroughly tested for performance and safety. GM technologies are still untested ones and need very careful appraisal before they are released into farmers' fields." The letter alleged that the committee's recent approval of Bt cotton was 'shrouded in utmost secrecy, lacked transparency and the decision taken in haste to serve political motives'.

Now as ProAgro's genetically modified mustard seed is coming up for approval, the committee should make its process more transparent. They alleged that there are reports that Aventis-ProAgro's GM mustard variety does not perform well. It would be a 'scientific fraud' if their information that "the safety tests were conducted by ProAgro itself, without the involvement of government scientists and that ProAgro supplied both the test samples and the standards for comparison" is correct.

They said the pollen flow studies conducted are not reliable and that distances between GM and non-GM crops have been reported less than they were actually found on the field. Hence there may have been contamination of other field crops by way of cross pollination. No studies have yet been done on the impact of this contamination. Hence, the panel should be cautious in approving this GM mustard variety, they said.


3. Oregon GE Labeling Measure 27

Date:         Tue, 15 Oct 2002
From:         Laurel Hopwood <>

We are working with several groups to get Oregon Measure 27, a labeling bill, passed November. This is from one of our organizational allies:

For wide distribution. Most U.S. national media have been sent this release and most media in Oregon. But please send it to your media contacts in foreign countries because it may get more attention  there first. Also student newspapers in the U.S. should get this.


* Agency's Internal Files Reveal that Political Appointees Covered Up the Extensive Warnings of their Scientific Staff About the Unique Health Risks of GE Foods and the Need for Rigorous Safety Testing

* Falsely Claimed There Is an Overwhelming Consensus Among Experts that GE Foods Are Safe And Don't Need to Be Tested

* Agency Bureaucrats Now Attempting to Defeat Measure 27 Through Misinformation

* FDA Deputy Commissioner Makes Major Misrepresentations of Fact in Letter to Oregon Governor Kitzhaber

The FDA's own files reveal it has been deceiving the nation about the health  risks of genetically engineered foods for over a decade and is now attempting to  defeat Oregon Measure 27 by issuing false assertions in a widely publicized  letter sent to Governor Kitzhaber.

The FDA's Decade of Deceit

In May 1992 the FDA initiated what has become a continuous program of deceiving the public about the health hazards of GE foods. In that month, it  issued a policy statement that covered up the warnings of its own scientists  about the health hazards of GE foods and blatantly misrepresented the facts.  This fraud only came to light when a coalition of public interest groups and  scientists filed a lawsuit against the FDA that forced it to divulge its  internal files.

FDA records reveal that during the year prior to the issuance of the policy statement, the agency‚s scientific experts extensively examined the issue of GE  foods and concluded that they pose unique health risks, especially the potential  for unintended harmful side effects that are unpredictable and difficult to  detect. Accordingly, these experts cautioned that no GE food can be presumed  safe unless it has undergone rigorous toxicological feeding studies employing  the whole food in order to screen for such side effects. The pervasiveness of  the concerns within the scientific staff is attested by a memo from an FDA  official stating: "The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding  are different, and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead  to different risks."

Nevertheless, FDA political appointees ˆ who admit they have been operating under a White House directive "to foster" the biotech industry ˆ covered up these warnings, professed themselves "not aware of any information" showing that  GE foods differ from others in any meaningful way, and allowed all GE foods to be marketed without any testing by claiming there is an overwhelming  consensus among experts they are safe. They did so despite their knowledge that  no such expert consensus exists outside the FDA either ˆ as evidenced by an  October 23, 1991 letter from FDA‚s biotechnology coordinator to a Canadian  health official. (FDA Document #8 at )

"To this day, FDA‚s false claim about scientific consensus remains the sole purported legal basis for the marketing of GE foods," says Steven M. Druker, a  public interest attorney who founded the Alliance for Bio-Integrity and  coordinated the lawsuit against the FDA. Druker notes: "The FDA does not make  formal, evidence-based determinations that particular GE foods are safe, nor has any GE food passed all the safety tests that the FDA‚s experts said are necessary. Yet the agency‚s bureaucrats persistently pretend that their policy is science-based and give the illusion that they are rigorously scrutinizing GE  foods when in reality a manufacturer does not even have to give the FDA notice  before putting a GE food on American supermarket shelves. Further, any review  the agency does conduct is at the option of the manufacturer, remains essentially under its control, and is at best superficial."

Attempting to Defeat Measure 27 Through Continued Deception

FDA bureaucrats are now directing their deceptions toward Oregon in an attempt to defeat Measure 27, the ballot initiative that would require labeling  of GE foods. In order to disparage the initiative, the agency‚s deputy  commissioner, Lester Crawford, sent a letter to Governor Kitzhaber that contains  several major misrepresentations. For instance, Dr. Crawford asserts: "FDA is  not aware of any information or data that would suggest that any genetically  engineered foods that have been allowed for human use are not as safe as  conventional foods." This assertion is made despite the fact that the FDA‚s  files contain numerous memos from its own scientific experts informing it about  the unique health risks posed by GE foods. For example, Dr. Louis Pribyl of the  FDA Microbiology Group wrote, "There is a profound difference between the types  of unexpected effects from traditional breeding and genetic engineering ..." He  added that some aspects of gene splicing "...may be more hazardous." (4)  (Numbers refer to the document number in the list at ) Dr. E.J. Matthews of the FDA's Toxicology Group warned that GE plants could contain unexpected  toxins that could " uniquely different chemicals that are usually expressed  in unrelated plants." (2) Citing the potential for such unintended dangers, the  Director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) called for GE products to  be demonstrated safe prior to marketing. He stated: "... CVM believes that  animal feeds derived from genetically modified plants present unique animal and  food safety concerns." (10) He explained that residues of unexpected substances  could make meat and milk products harmful to humans. Since Dr. Crawford is  himself a doctor of veterinary medicine, it is odd he is so willing to ignore  the official position taken by the Center for Veterinary Medicine when it was functioning in an objective scientific capacity.

Dr. Crawford also asserts: "FDA's scientific evaluation of bioengineered foods continues to show that these foods, as currently marketed in the United  States, are as safe as their conventional counterparts." In response, Steven  Druker points to the agency‚s statement reported in The Lancet, May 29,  1999: "FDA has not found it necessary to conduct comprehensive scientific  reviews of foods derived from bioengineered plants * consistent with its 1992  policy." He says, "Since the FDA requires no testing of GE foods, acknowledges  it does not conduct comprehensive reviews of them, and does not make formal  empirical findings that particular GE foods are safe, it‚s amazing the agency  would now claim its evaluation process shows they are as safe as other foods.  There is no scientific basis for such a claim. To the extent the FDA did a  meaningful evaluation, its scientists concluded that GE foods entail unique  risks. Dr. Crawford‚s assertion is a flat-out falsehood, and I challenge him to provide evidence that supports it." Druker continues, "And he needs to provide  something more than data about the foreign proteins that are intentionally added  to the engineered organisms. Even if these proteins may appear to be safe, they  were not the main concern of the FDA scientists. Their primary concern was about  the potential of the bioengineering process to generate unintended harmful  substances that are difficult to predict and detect. Dr. Crawford‚s letter makes  it clear that the FDA is disregarding this hazard and failing to monitor for  unintended side effects. This is one more reason his assertion about having demonstrated safety is bogus."


4. Corn Growers Say U.S. Isolating Itself On GMO Issue

Japan, As Well As Europe Tightening Regulations On Unapproved Biotech Crops In Feed
American Corn Growers Association
For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON - Oct. 16, 2002 --  "As U.S. government and trade reports reveal that cumulative U.S. corn export inspections as of Oct. 10, 2002 are running 33 percent behind levels of a year ago, the Financial Times reported on Oct. 15, that the U.S. 'remains angry at the loss of potential corn exports to Europe worth around $300 million every year,'" says Dan McGuire, Director of the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) Farmer Choice - Customer First program.  "Even now, some U.S. agricultural officials still do not grasp the seriousness of the issue and suggest that they are 'isolating' the Europeans on this GMO food issue, when indeed it is the U.S. that is isolating itself.

The U.S groups that operate as cheerleaders for the biotech companies are still trying to paint Europe into a corner on the GMO issue when Japan and various other countries around the world are just as concerned about GMOs."

Since 1997 the ACGA has been alerting U.S. farmers, government officials and the public regarding the loss of corn export sales that would result if the U.S. did not take the views of consumers around the world seriously on the issue of GMOs.  The Oct. 28, 2002 edition of The Nation, using ACGA data which estimates that U.S. corn farmers have lost more than $814 million in foreign sales over the past five years as a result of restrictions on genetically modified food imports imposed by Europe, Japan and other world buyers, goes on to say, "That enormous figure does not even account for the depressed prices farmers now receive for their corn as a result of an oversupply (of unexported corn) on the domestic market---with a deleterious effect on farmers' livelihood that the recent farm bill attempts to address with up to $20 billion in subsidies.  For every American taxpayer, that amounts to a personal subsidy to the agricultural biotech industry." And McGuire added, "The Financial Times estimate of a potential loss of $300 million yearly in U.S. corn export sales to Europe, while somewhat higher than the ACGA estimate, confirms just how costly the U.S. position on GMOs is to the U.S. economy."

Larry Mitchell, CEO of the ACGA pointed out that the ACGA recently called on Congress to request a new study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to determine the extent of economic damage done to the U.S. farm sector from the loss of exports because of GMOs.  "These lost sales set in storage and accumulate as year-over-year corn inventories and that holds down farm-level corn prices, especially under current farm policy which lacks any true price support, orderly marketing or inventory management tools," said Mitchell.  "Just because corn prices have temporarily bounced up because of the 2002 drought-driven short crop doesn't mean that problems with GMOs are going away.  One normal growing season will take us right back to excess inventories and low corn prices."

The American Corn Growers Association represents 14,000 members in 35 states.

     Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330
     Dan McGuire (402)

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