ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  9 December 2000


Industry’s search for ‘a poster child for biotech’ goes on.  Notice the involvement of a research institute in India—a nice touch from the folk who tried to give us Terminator!  That was before they changed their ways, of course.

Aventis is another company that knows how to conduct itself (see items 2&3)
1.    GM Mustard Oil Plans from Monsanto
2.     “Aventis gets short shrift”—Nature
3.     “Reject Gene Altered Corn”—Editorial USA Today
4.    Oz GM laws not tough enough - article url
5.    Gene therapy with a tiny caveat - url
6.    Court says destroying GM crops okay - AgWeb comment
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1.    GM Mustard Oil Plans from Monsanto - Washington Post, 8 December 2000

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Monsanto said it would work with a research institute in India to develop “golden mustard,” a genetically engineered crop that would yield cooking oil high in vitamin-A precursors.  The company, attacked by activists for its role in developing genetically modified
crops, said such a mustard would help alleviate nutrient deficiencies in some poor countries.
*  *  *
2.    “Aventis gets short shrift over release of modified corn” by Jessa Netting
Nature 408, 395, 23 November 2000

[WASHINGTON] The US government looks unlikely to bow to demands from Aventis that it temporarily approve the company’s genetically modified StarLink corn for human consumption, following the inadvertent and embarrassing release of the strain into the food chain.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears unimpressed by data submitted in support of the request by Aventis, the North Carolina-based manufacturer of the corn.  The EPA’s preliminary evaluation questioned the company’s interpretation of studies on the potential for allergic reactions to the corn.

The EPA made its assessment in preparation for a public meeting near Washington on 28 November at which it will solicit comment from the public and from a panel of scientists. The regulatory agency will receive the panel’s final recommendations on 1 December.

A coalition of US environmental groups concerned about genetically engineered foods initiated the furore in mid-September when their tests found traces of StarLink DNA in taco shells. The discovery led to a massive recall of more than 300 food brands.

The StarLink fiasco could hit US corn exports.

The submission of new data is part of a petition by Aventis to allow StarLink corn to be present temporarily in processed foods, to avoid more recalls of products already on the market, says a company representative.

Debate over this strain of corn has been heated. The strain, approved in 1998 for use in animal feeds, is engineered to produce an insecticidal protein related to others already in widespread use. But the protein, Cry9C, does not break down at certain temperatures and conditions, which has caused alarm about its potential to trigger human allergies.

Despite these concerns, an Aventis spokesman says the company is convinced that StarLink will not cause allergic reactions. Another Aventis representative, Rhonda Barnat, adds:  “This is a technical regulatory issue, not a product safety issue.”

The EPA has criticized the company’s analysis of the new data. EPA official Stephen Johnson says: “We don’t think they have provided us with sufficient information [on the allergy issue].” The EPA also finds fault with the way Aventis determines allergic potential and uses peanut protein, a potent allergen, as a measure of safety.

“It is clear that the company violated its licence and that is an outrage to us,” says Johnson, adding that the agency needs to review the new information further before making any final decisions.
Taiwan also reports finding StarLink in corn grits, says Tim Galvin, an official at the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. And Japan has found the variety, which it had not approved, in 10 of 15 samples of a baking product.
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3.    “Reject Gene Altered Corn”
Editorial, USA Today - 7 December 2000

One of the easiest decisions any federal regulator will ever get to make is hanging fire at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where officials are being asked to approve for human consumption a type of corn that has been genetically jiggered to produce its own pesticide.
Two scientific reviews have failed to produce conclusive evidence that eating the corn, called StarLink, won’t produce allergic reactions in infants and young children. On that basis alone, the EPA should deny the request.

But the nature of the problem — particularly, the threat to public confidence in genetically modified foods —invites rejection for other reasons as well.

Because the EPA questioned StarLink corn’s safety in human foods, it was approved in 1998 only for animal feed and industrial uses, such as making ethanol. A scientific panel affirmed the EPA’s caution last winter, concluding there was insufficient data to judge the corn safe or not.
Since then, however, the corn has found its way into the food supply.  At least 300 products including taco shells and chips have been recalled since September. StarLink’s maker, Aventis CropScience, surrendered the corn’s market permits and pulled the corn off the market. But the company is still on the hook for retrieving outstanding corn, an effort that will cost more than $100 million.

After the corn was found in food products, Aventis, which originally wanted permanent approval of the corn for human consumption, asked the EPA for temporary approval. Under the requested four-year reprieve, the pesticidal kernels would be allowed to travel through the food supply.  At a hastily arranged meeting of an EPA science panel last month, Aventis and others argued the risk to human health was slight.

Indeed, the panel this week concluded the risk of reactions is low, given the small amounts in the food supply.

But it also said there was a “medium likelihood” the corn’s suspect protein was an allergen, that the scientific data was still inconclusive and that further study was needed.

Given the uncertainties, the EPA can hardly grant even temporary approval. The health questions are no better resolved today than two years ago. And giving Aventis a no-harm, no-foul pass will look like a bailout to skeptical consumers and critics.

About 70% of the foods in grocery stores today are genetically modified in some way, and consumers accept these products because regulators impose rigorous standards. Allowing Aventis to walk away from its own food-safety commitments would compromise the integrity of federal oversight and erode consumer confidence.

Aventis agreed to keep its “Frankencorn” out of the food supply. For whatever reason, it failed. Now it seeks after-the-fact permission for that violation. To this, the answer is easy. Both as a matter of science and regulatory integrity, the correct response is — no.
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4.     Oz GM laws not tough enough - article url,4057,1498673^2,00.html
*  *  *
5.    Gene therapy with a tiny caveat

[The beeb do manage a small reservation right at the end of this one but look at the headline:]

Diabetes gene therapy draws closer’
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6.     [Here’s a modest fine for destroying GM crops, but thanks for good intentions]

Selected by Pro Farmer Editors - comment:

Five British activists were given a modest fine for destroying genetically modified canola (oilseed rape, in England) while the judge in effect praised them for having positive motives. The judge didn’t invoke a provision which another judge used in an earlier case: That damaging property to achieve a greater good is permissible under the law. This is another court action which essentially is saying to the British public that destroying genetically modified crops is okay... and it reflects a deep-seated anxiety toward the science.

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