17 October 2002
DEBATE RAGES OVER MASSIVE FOOD EXPERIMENT
from item 1:
Dr Vivian Howard, a toxicologist at Liverpool University, told the BBC's World Business Review programme that there was a need to check if the new foods were toxic for infants and what other biological effects there might be.
Dr Howard used the example of the thalidomide drug that was widely used in the 1960s before it was discovered to be dangerous.
"Thalidomide caused a very rare and very obvious deformity, and the medical profession picked up on it," he said. "If, for example, thalidomide had caused cleft palate, we still probably wouldn't know, because that's a rather common condition."
Dr Howard argues that, with respect to GM food technology, no baseline studies have been done.
"You don't know where you've started from, and, if this was, for instance, making a difference to the levels of allergy in the population, there's no way of actually finding that."
more statement by scientists on Gm food safety:
1. GM food debate rages on
2. massive food experiment already underway
3. China Grains-GMO headache back after short respite
1. GM food debate rages on
[Photo caption: Police advance on protesters PA]
Worries over GM food have sparked protests in Europe
by Martin Webber BBC World Service business news editor
BBC Online, Business, Wednesday, 16 October, 2002
EU environment ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss the regulations on the labelling of genetically modified food. The BBC's Martin Webber takes a closer look at the debate surrounding genetifically modified food on both sides of the Atlantic.
The United States appears to have backed away from a fight with Europe over genetically modified crops - for the time being at least. The new less aggressive approach from Washington comes in spite of the fact US biotech giants are unlikely to be allowed to sell new GM seeds to farmers in Europe any time soon. Back in February, the US Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, threatened to take Europe to the World Trade Organisation if it didn't start approving new varieties of GM crops. Mr Zoellick said Europe's delaying tactics were "totally unacceptable."
Eight months later, however, American anger seems to have eased. Suspicious mindset? The new American tactics seem to arise from the realisation that the vast majority of consumers in Europe remain highly suspicious of GM technology. Farmers are worried about GM genes blowing into their crops. European leaders still won't approve any new GM products, insisting on a new system for tracing and labelling genetically altered foods. Those new rules will be discussed at a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday. But progress isn't expected to be fast, and French officials have said it could take another year for arrangements to be sorted out.
The problem is that shoppers simply aren't convinced by scientists who claim not to have found any health risks of GM food. In the wake of the BSE crisis, consumers wonder how hard the experts have been looking. Such concerns are also supported by some scientists. Dr Vivian Howard, a toxicologist at Liverpool University, describes as "totally inadequate" the technique of "substantial equivalence", which allowed GM crops in America to bypass normal testing procedures. The "substantial equivalence" principle meant that companies like Monsanto simply had to show that GM foods were chemically pretty much the same as non-GM varieties.
More study needed
Dr Howard told the BBC's World Business Review programme that there was a need to check if the new foods were toxic for infants and what other biological effects there might be.
Dr Howard used the example of the thalidomide drug that was widely used in the 1960s before it was discovered to be dangerous. "Thalidomide caused a very rare and very obvious deformity, and the medical profession picked up on it," he said. "If, for example, thalidomide had caused cleft palate, we still probably wouldn't know, because that's a rather common condition."
Dr Howard argues that, with respect to GM food technology, no baseline studies have been done. "You don't know where you've started from, and, if this was, for instance, making a difference to the levels of allergy in the population, there's no way of actually finding that."
It's not just in Europe that Monsanto has been encountering opposition to its technology. While GM crops are approved in Argentina, the expected winner of Brazil's presidential election, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has said he will uphold his country's GM-free status. Many Brazilian farmers get premium prices on world markets for their non-GM crops. Monsanto's case hasn't been helped by the recent resurgence of interest among consumers in buying organic foods grown using more traditional farming methods. The threat posed by pollen from GM varieties blowing into organic fields is now seen in Europe as a potentially significant cost. Seed pollution The so-called "pollution" from the GM crops has also led to a fierce debate in Canada after Monsanto successfully prosecuted a 70 year old Canadian farmer for growing its crops without paying the usual fees to the company. The farmer, Percy Schmesier accepted that Monsanto's patented gene was present in his crop of oil-seed rape, which is known in America as canola. But Mr Schmeiser claimed that Monsanto's gene had got there by accident after being blown in from neighbouring fields.
Alarmed farmers Mr Schmeiser told the BBC that he'd lost his case because the judge ruled it was the responsibility of farmers to keep Monsanto's gene off its fields. Mr Schmeiser said the verdict had alarmed farmers all over the world. "It means the complete control of the farmers," he said, explaining that farmers would not sow their own seed for fear of Monsanto's seed blowing onto land and cross-pollinating crops. A spokeswoman from Monsanto's Canadian division said that Mr Schmeiser knew - or ought to have known - he was growing the company's patented canola.
She agreed that GM canola could blow around fields accidentally, but told the BBC that it was up to farmers to contact Monsanto so the company could remove any unwanted GM plants. Mr Schmeiser has already appealed against the verdict, but lost his case last month. He's now hoping to raise enough money for an appeal to Canada's supreme court. But the farmer has already spent his life savings fighting the case.
2. Playing with our food: a massive food experiment already underway; genetically engineered foods
Earth Island Institute, Earth Island Journal December 22,
Most Americans know little if anything about a massive food experiment already underway in our nation's fields and grocery stores. Already thousands of products, including many of the best-known brand name foods found in millions of households, contain ingredients from genetically engineered (GE) crops. Yet since none of these products are labeled as "genetically engineered," consumers don't even know about--and can not avoid--these genetic experiments in their shopping cart. Greenpeace is working to stop this massive food experiment, which poses unknown risks to human health and the global environment. We oppose any release of genetically engineered organisms, since these human-made life-forms can not be controlled or contained once they are let loose into nature. The companies producing genetically engineered crops today are among the worst polluters of the 20th century. Their chemical experiments have left a legacy of contamination that threatens nature and human health on a planetary scale. Now, with genetic engineering, these companies are introducing a new form of pollution: biological pollution, pollution that is a qualitatively different than any previous human intrusion on nature. With this technology, we face the specter of pollution that is alive, that reproduces and moves through the environment.
Doctors warn that genetically engineered foods could pose immediate and long-term risks to our health, while the biotech industry goes about contaminating the entire food supply with its genetic experiments. Your Right to Know Many GE crops have been approved for commercial sale in the US, and consumers are often confused about what foods in their stores might be gene- altered. Though many crops are in development, just four crops--soy, corn, canola and cotton-make up nearly all the genetically engineered crop acreage in the US. There are virtually no fresh foods sold in supermarkets grown from gene- altered seed (with the possible exception of papaya from Hawaii, where about half the crop is GE). Yet estimates routinely note that 60-70 percent of the foods in supermarkets are made with gene-altered ingredients. This reflects the massive amount of processed foods that include ingredients from soy and corn. A look at processed food labels shows how ubiquitous ingredients like soy oil, lecithin, soy protein and corn syrup, cornstarch and other corn and soy ingredients have become. Canola and cottonseed oil are also widely used in processed foods. Avoiding just these four foods requires eliminating virtually all processed foods from our diets.
It is also important to know that just two gene-altered traits account for almost all of the US acreage of GE crops. GE crops are being grown either for insect resistance (including corn and cotton) or herbicide tolerance (including soy, corn, cotton and canola). While industry repeatedly touts biotech foods that will be more nutritious, better tasting, or healthier, neither of these varieties has any such benefits. Herbicide tolerant crops make up about 70 percent of the acreage of GE crops in the US. These crops are engineered so toxic plant-killing pesticides can be sprayed directly on the crop. Previously, farmers using such herbicides had to carefully avoid the crop, which would also be killed by the chemical. Now, GE herbicide tolerant varieties can be sprayed once, twice, even three times a season, without harming the crop. While industry promotes genetic engineering as reducing pesticide spraying, independent researchers have shown that farmers who grow Monsanto's "Roundup Ready"(RR) soy actually use two to five times more chemicals than farmers who grow natural soy. In fact, when its RR soy was in development, Monsanto successfully petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to raise the amount of its flagship chemical Roundup allowed on soybeans. Overnight the agency raised the tolerance of Roundup on this food from 6 ppm to 20 ppm.
The remaining biotech crop acreage in the US is in insect resistant crops. Also called Bt crops, these plants pose a tremendous threat to organic farming. Bt is a natural pest control, used in emergency situations by about half of America's organic farmers to control certain insects. The Bt sprays they use are derived from natural soil bacteria, and farmers (both conventional and organic) have used the sprays safely for over 30 years. Now the biotech industry has engineered plants so that the plant produces an altered form of Bt. Unlike natural Bt sprays, which naturally degrade in the environment in a matter of a few days, genetically engineered Bt plants produce an altered toxin throughout the entire growing season, at a very high dose. This scenario will surely lead to insect resistance to Bt, probably in just a few years. When such resistance develops, farmers who use pesticides and GE crops will simply move on to the next toxin, but organic farmers will have no options. This threat to organic farming led Greenpeace to bring together over 70 organic farmers and farming organizations in a lawsuit challenging EPA's registration of Bt crops. Biotech industry proponents say that there is no evidence that GE foods cause any harm. In fact, there is already evidence of environmental problems from GE crops, and doctors around the world warn that these foods could harm human health. Lab evidence that Bt corn could harm monarchs and other endangered butterflies has been verified in the field. Despite a massive industry attempt to debunk this research, the scientific debate is still raging. In Canada, scientists have found that engineered canola has become a nearly uncontrollable weed.
One scientist there said the crop is a classic "superweed." Other scientific studies show that GE crops can cause insecticides to build up in soils, cause food chain effects, transfer genes to wild relatives, and contaminate natural crops. For consumers, the prospects are even more worrisome. The New England Journal of Medicine warned in 1996 that the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) policy on GE food left consumers at risk from potential new food allergies, yet the agency still has made no change (the policy has actually never been finalized, leading a federal judge to rule that FDA has no rules regarding GE foods). This is even more stunning after the StarLink incident, in which a gene-altered corn that was never approved for human consumption contaminated over 300 products sold in supermarkets and restaurants across the country. Scientists repeatedly told the government that the corn could trigger dangerous food allergies, and hundreds of consumers reported allergic reactions. Even more recently, Britain's leading scientific body, the Royal Society, suggested that consumers should be tracked for potential allergic responses to GE foods, noting that infants and children could be especially at risk. Of course, since there is no labeling of GE foods in the US, such tracking here would be virtually impossible. The True Food Network: Action for Change While the problems are daunting, we have seen amazing successes. When Greenpeace tested Gerber baby food and found contamination from gene-altered soy and corn, we were able to pressure the company to announce it would eliminate all GE ingredients from its products. Gerber's announcement forced Heinz, its main competitor, to follow suit. Consumer pressure also lead McDonalds, Frito Lay and McCain Foods (one of the world's largest potato processors) to reject Bt potatoes.
Monsanto has since been forced to shut its Bt potato development facility, and the crop is off the US market.
The FDA has approved genetically engineered rice and sugar beet, but the biotech industry has been forced to shelve the crops, since farmers know consumers don't want these GE foods. As more and more Americans learn about GE foods, it becomes even harder for industry to bring these genetic experiments into the market. Yet the industry continues to fight labeling of GE food, so Greenpeace took action, compiling the True Food Shopping List to support your right to know what is in your food. Since the first launch of the List in October 2000, thou sands of consumers have joined our free True Food Network to take action against GE food.
The Network connects consumers across the country in a grassroots effort to force food companies to stop using GE food. Last year, the Network won a major victory when a year-long campaign against the supermarket chain Trader Joe's resulted in that company declaring it would eliminate GE foods from its line of store brand products. Now the campaign is focusing on other supermarkets, including the New England-based Shaw's stores and the national chain Safeway. In Europe, this kind of consumer action forced nearly the entire food industry away from GE food.
Together, we can do the same here.
To join the free True Food Network, go to www.truefoodnow.org,
or call Greenpeace at 1-800-326-0959.
What you can do Check out these organizations:
Organic Consumers Association (OCA) (www.OrganicConsumers.org)
Activist or Media Inquiries: Phone:
(218) 226-4164 Fax: (218) 226-4157 The OCA promotes food safety, organic farming and sustainable agricultural practices in the US and internationally, providing consumers with factual information they can use to make informed food choices. The Campaign to Label Genetically Modified Foods (www.thecampaign.org) Phone: (425) 771-4049 Fax: (603) 825-5841 This organization sells the fabulous "Take Action Packet", which includes form letters that can be sent to elected officials to request labeling. Move your investments out of stocks, mutual funds, retirement funds, etc. that involve producers of genetically-manipulated crops and foods (Monsanto, Dupont, Novartis and Agrevo [Hoechst and Schering]). Visit www.ethicalinvesting.com for more information. Contact grocery stores to request they carry more organic foods. Contact food product manufacturers and ask them to replace any non-organic soy, corn, potato, dairy or canola ingredients they have with organic, non-genetically- manipulated ingredients. Remove GE food ingredients from your diet. Shop at stores that sell foods with non-GMO ingredients. Use the shopping list that follows on page 6. This is a partial list, printed with permission of True Food Now. (Visit www.truefoodnow.org for the entire list.) Greenpeace compiled the guide primarily from direct communication with food producers. In some cases, Greenpeace received company policy statements from consumers who passed them along. In addition to written statements, Greenpeace spoke to many company representatives to clarify or assess their position. Charles Margulis is a genetic engineering specialist with Greenpeace. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and a long-time professional baker.
3. China Grains-GMO headache back after short respite
CHINA: October 16, 2002 HONG KONG -
Reuters via PlanetArk.org
Headaches over China's rules on genetically modified (GM) crops have returned after a respite, with Beijing saying it may take 60 working days or more to get documents necessary for soy imports, traders said yesterday. On Friday, China said it would extend an interim measure on GM food imports for nine months until September 20 next year, allaying market worries that Beijing might disrupt soy imports in December for the second time this year. The announcement comes ahead of the Sino-U.S. summit next week and follows Washington's repeated requests to Beijing to smooth the way for the US$1 billion soy trade between the two countries.
But after studying the announcement, traders were no longer
certain whether Beijing would really allow soy imports beyond December
20. The documentation process, laid out in Friday's announcement,
looked to be more difficult than the current regime, they said. Confirming
such worries, an official at the Agriculture Ministry told
Reuters the whole procedure of acquiring temporary safety certificates
and labelling approvals for imports of GM soy could take 60 working
days. Some traders said it might take another 30 working days for
quarantine authorities to issue the required papers. In addition,
the announcement stipulates the temporary permits can be used only
once, not repeatedly as is the case at present. "If each shipment
needs to have a certificate, it is going to be a nightmare," said
a trader at a major international house.
"Obviously they are going to keep the control. There's no question about that.... The question is whether they really intended to open it up from December to next September," the trader added. The traders said the only way to find out the real intention of Beijing was to apply for the temporary certificate and see how it would react. Although the Agriculture Ministry said foreign exporters could now apply for the permits, so far no foreign suppliers have managed to secure one, due in part to the lack of clarity in the procedure, traders said.
AMPLE SOY FOR NEXT FEW MONTHS
Despite such uncertainties, the traders were not panicking, with ample soy cargoes arriving at present and the ongoing domestic harvest of a record crop of 16 to 17 million tonnes. "We are not in hurry. We have time to get better understanding of this," said an analyst in Shanghai. "Currently the prices of U.S. new crop prices are not so attractive. Maybe not much buying or trade will happen.... We are quite optimistic on this issue."
Other traders agreed, saying hardly anybody in China was currently interested in booking more U.S. beans as domestic soybeans were priced by some 200 yuan ($24) per tonne cheaper than U.S. oilseed seen at around $240 per tonne, C&F. Some noted there was persistent talk of cancellation or deferals of a few U.S. soy cargoes by Chinese buyers, though no traders could confirm such moves. "I'm quite sure there were a few that were either deferred or cancelled. But frankly I haven't got any confirmation of those," the first trader said. Looking further into 2003, the traders said, however, China has booked already 35 to 40 South American cargoes for shipment after April, though premiums have climbed to about 50 U.S. cents per bushel from around 45 last month.
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