ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network


More toxic chemical use resulting from GM volunteers

Late last year a report was issued in the Canadian press of a GM herbicide resistant oilseed rape variety turning up on land in Alberta due to cross pollination from neighbouring crops. This resulted in the farmer concerned being unable to kill rape volunteers after harvest despite using TWO applications of glyphosphate, as the volunteers were resistant to it.

The UK's Farmers Weekly has now run a full story on this (p52, 15 January 1999).  In the article Phil Thomas, Alberta Agriculture's provincial oilseed specialist says, "Just because you're not growing herbicide-resistant canola (oilseed rape), it does not mean you can't get herbicide-resistant volunteers." According to affected farmer Tony Huether, "Monsanto never made farmers aware of the possibility of this happening when we signed the TUA (Technical Use Agreement)."

According to the Farmers Weekly article Mr Heuther and Mr Thomas say the addition of any broadleaf herbicides, such as 2,4-D can control unexpected GM herbicide tolerant volunteers, but Mr Huether worries about the effects of 2,4-D residues on broad leaved crops and loathes handling the more toxic chemical.  Farmers are not getting all the facts they need on GM crops, he fears.

This suggests that among many other problems the introduction of GM herbicide resistant crops is going to force farmers into using a broader range of chemicals on their farms, and those chemicals may be more toxic than the ones they are using at the moment.

Canada rejects genetically engineered cattle hormone

In a report issued in mid-January 1999 Health Canada's veterinary experts rejected Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (known as rBGH or rBST) as unsafe, although it has been approved for use in the U.S. since late 1993, citing an increased risk of mastitis, infertility and lameness, and a reduction in life span,  in cows  treated with the genetically engineered drug.  Critics of the hormone had also argued that the increased mastitis associated with its use could lead to increased use of antibiotics, which could end up in the milk supply.

``The findings of the animal safety committee, when combined with our own assessment, made it quite clear that Health Canada had to reject the request for approval to use (the growth hormone) rBST in Canada, as it presents a sufficient and unacceptable threat to the safety of dairy cows,'' Joel Weiner, a director general of the department's Health Protection Branch, said in a statement.   More on  the rBST controversy.

CWS pulls out of GM trials

The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), which farms 80,000 acres across the UK making it Britain's biggest farming organisation,  announced on 29th March 1999 that it has pulled out of GM trials because it  didn't wish to take part in "flawed" field-scale trials, in which whole fields are given over to GM crops.  It has criticised the design of such trials arguing that they could give rise to the very concerns about environmental damage that they are designed to research and that there is a lack of consensus about how to proceed. CWS spokesman Bill Shannon said: "Our discussions with various parties led us to conclude that the design of this year's trials would do little to allay current environmental and consumer concerns."

National Trust bans GM crops from 700 farms

The National Trust, which is one of the largest owners of agricultural land in the UK with 240,000 hectares (about 575,000 acres) under its management, mainly let to tenant farmers,  on 31st March 1999 joined the calls for a moratorium on the commercial production of genetically modified crops. The Trust's Head of Nature Conservation said, "The difficulty with GM crops is that we simply do not know the risks." The trust said it was taking action to stop hundreds of its tenant farmers growing GMOs .  The move affects more than 700 producers on National Trust land in England and Wales.


With the Government seeking 75 sites to host large farmscale trials of GM crops for the year 2000, a recent report (December 99) to Norfolk County Council on  GM trials highlights the fact that the Crown Estate, which is intimately tied in to the Governement, is anxious to not be seen to encourage such trials. The reason given is the need to demonstrate an "environmentally cautious approach to GM crops" in order to avoid legal liability. Councils elsewhere have already brought in similar bans. Government-sponsored trials on land owned by the Church of England have also been vetoed by a powerful ethics committee.

National Pollen Research Unit calls for halt to GM trials

 A scientific expert warned on March 2nd that pollen from GM crops could cause irreversible damage to the countryside. Dr Emberlin, Director of the National Pollen Research Unit, believes the danger of contamination has been seriously underestimated by the government's regulatory body, ACRE. Dr Emberlin said the government should stop the controversial large-scale cultivation of GM crops, which is planned to start in a matter of weeks. The basis for Dr Emberlin's warning is a study which says that pollen from maize can be dispersed over much greater distances than the 200m "exclusion zone" currently required around test sites.

"The lack of acknowledgement of potential pollen spread concerns me," Dr Emberlin said. "Once the pollen is out there it is very difficult to redress the situation.  I don't think it would be wise to go ahead with large-scale planting of GM crops without knowing more about the possible repercussions."

As regards concern about the  impact of cross-pollination on organic growers, Mike Marshall-Hollingsworth, East Anglian spokesman for the NFU commented (Eastern Daily Press, Wednesday, 3rd March 1999):

"The organic growers are right. They have an absolute right to have their livelihoods protected."

Major Norfolk estate pulls out of GMO trials because of public disquiet

It emerged in late January 1999 that Crown Point Farms in Norfolk, part of the Colman family estate,  is ending its relationship with bio-technology seed giants Novartis and Monsanto.  The estate's land agent said the decision to end the GM test plantings, which began in 1994, was made by "mutual agreement" with the biotech firms. The estate had run more GM trials than any other private farm or estate in the UK, bar one. Mounting public concern about GM crops and food had played a part in the trial pull out: "There is a huge public debate over GM crops and a lot of public disquiet. Crown Point Farms does not wish to be in the middle of all this.," the agent told Farmers Weekly (5th February 1999).  Richard Powell for Novartis Seeds told Farmers Weekly that it was becoming increasingly difficult to rent land for GM crops because of the controversy. Concern has been growing over the adequacy of the regulation and monitoring of such trials and there is growing evidence of violations of trial regulations - see below. Environmental concerns led to a 3-week long "crop-squat" at Crown Point Farms in May 1998 which only ended after the estate went to court to obtain a possession order.

ACRE rejects ban on  GM oilseed rape

ACRE - the Advisory Committeee on Releases to the Environment - in late January 1999 told the UK's Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, that there were no grounds for banning GM oilseed rape in Britain. But the only environmentalist on ACRE at the time, a majority of whose members have links to the biotech industry, disagreed. Julie Hill said this is "because of uncertainties over how far the genes would spread into wild species, and what would be the long-term consequences of that spread". And she said the latest evidence reviewed by ACRE "increases rather than decreases these uncertainties". Hill called for the application of the precautionary principle - making sure beforehand that there will be no damage but within its terms of reference, ACRE cannot give consideration to the cumulative and long-term implications of GM crops.

Rape is the 4th most widely grown UK crop and:

The UK's Junior environment minister Angela Eagle at the time was on record as saying that GM rape "may pose unique  risks to human health and the environment, which could  include toxicity and allergenicity to humans, gene transfer to other oilseed rape crops, and effects on other species."

Biotech company avoiding GM-food

An indication of the economic damage that the introduction of GM crops is doing to the US agriculture and food industry is contained in a report (12 January 1999) that Protein Technologies International Inc. - a subsidiary of the biotech giant DuPont Corp. - has had to  develop an "Identity Preservation System" that tracks U.S. soybeans through every step from farm to silo to transportation.

"Developing this system was very expensive," says Kathy Harris, the St. Louis-based company's general counsel. "But it now allows us to assure our European customers that the soy protein we sell them is not derived from genetically modified material" Protein Technologies sells its soy products to a wide range of European food-making companies, which the company says accounts for a significant portion of its $466 million in annual sales.

Monsanto not alone in breaking crop trial regulations

A criminal prosecution of  Monsanto has been set for February 17th 1999 over a trial crop of GM oilseed rape in Lincolnshire, UK.  The company is accused of breaching biosafety regulations in relation to the trial but according to the Health and Safety Executive, responsible for monitoring GM crop trials, Monsanto is far from alone.

The HSE revealed (11th December 1998)  that in the six months between April and October that year more than one in five of the 49 sites inspected had been breaking the regulations governing trials.  Prior to April, according to the Guardian newspaper for 25th March 1998, Monsanto and three other companies were forced to destroy test sites because of serious breaches of regulations.

In relation to trials that the Chair of English Nature, the Government's own statutory wildlife advisors, has decribed as not in any case being properly regulated or monitored, there is a recognised rate of biosafety violations of more than 20%.

Low yielding GM-beet and rape in UK

Farmers Weekly (UK) for the 4th December 1998 reveals that the latest crop trials from the UK's National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) show yields from GM winter oilseed rape and sugar beet were up to 7% and 8% less than high yielding conventional varieties when the crops were managed using conventional weed control techniques.  Even with the use of a total herbcide on the GM-beet, to which it was modified to be resistant, only a 2% improvement in yield was achieved in 1997 and 1998, leaving it still significantly outperformed by the conventional varieties. Interestingly, this appears to be the first report in the popular farming press of GM trial crop performance results for varieties grown in the UK.  The usual source of performance information is the biotechnology companies themselves.

RSPB on Monsanto

Graham Wynne, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds chief executive, has said, "The fact that Monsanto has now resorted to blaming cats for the decline in farmland birds simply adds to the impression that it is only the enviromental groups who are putting forward arguments based on Science."

NFU objects to Government capitulation on GE seed trials (November '98)

The NFU has joined with the Country Landowners Association, the Lincolnshire Seed Growers' Association and the Soil Association in objecting to new regulations rushed through Parliament to halve the number of trials needed to test new plant and seed varieties - drastically cutting the amount of information collected before new crops can go on sale to the public. The regulations follow the threat of legal action from the biotech industry. Earlier in 1998 the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government was acting illegally by not requiring companies to replicate trials when submitting applications for new varieties for National Seed Listing Trials. The Government has reacted to the criticism by simply abandoning the requirement for replicated trials.†

In their submission, the NFU wrote:

"The NFU is reluctant to support the proposal to pass a statutory instrument to remove the requirement for breeders to submit the results of the replicated tests.†The objective of the National List is to improve the overall standard of varieties available in the UK. It is vital, therefore, that varieties applying for inclusion on the list have been thoroughly tested in a UK situation".

The Lincolnshire Seed Growers Association urged the Government to keep the requirement for replicated trials for all types of seed, to protect the interests of farmers.† They also commented on how the decision would effect genetically engineered seeds:† "To effectively shorten the required testing period at a time when there is public anxiety about genetically modified organisms does not seem to be a desirable circumstance".

Agricultural research network rejects Terminator

Following in the wake of mounting worldwide criticism of Monsanto's "Terminator Technology," the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world's largest international agricultural research organisation with an annual budget in 1998 of about US$325 million, announced that it would ban all Terminator Technology seeds from the crop breeding programmes of its global network of 16 international agricultural research centres. This is the first time that the CGIAR has taken such a controversial policy position and directly challenged the CGIAR's biggest long-term donor - the US Government.

The CGIAR's policy statement, as approved by the Genetic Resources Policy Committee, reads: "The CGIAR will not incorporate into its breeding materials any genetic systems designed to prevent seed germination.  This is in recognition of (a) concerns over potential risks of its inadvertent or unintended spread through pollen; (b) the possibilities of sale or exchange of inviable seed for planting; (c) the importance of farm-saved seed, particularly to resource-poor farmers; (d) potential negative impacts on genetic diversity and (e) the importance of farmer selection and breeding for sustainable agriculture."

See nginís articles section  for more on "Terminator Technology"

Data suppressed on GE Bovine Growth Hormone

In Canada the controversy surrounding Monsanto's tactics to get government regulators to approve their controversial genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) has reached new heights. Recent revelations that Monsanto apparently concealed troubling rBGH safety tests on rats (rats fed high levels of rBGH showed damage to thyroid and prostate tissues--potential danger signals for cancer) from government regulators in the US and Canada have led to renewed calls by farmer and consumer organizations in North America to have rBGH pulled from the market. In the Rutland Herald newspaper (6th October '98) in Vermont spokesmen for the US Food and Drug Administration and Monsanto flatly contradicted one another  - with Monsanto claiming they gave the controversial rat studies to the FDA prior to rBGH approval in 1993, while the FDA stated "We do not have the data from that study."

Other concerns about rBGH include:

Zeneca acknowledge herbicide resistance is a significant problem for farmers

The biotechnology company Zeneca has been marketing a herbicide in Canada, where a range of genetically engineered crops such as GM soya and oil seed rape (Canola) are being grown by farmers, as an effective means of controlling GM crop volunteers (ie plants cross pollinated by GM plants) which have been genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup and are therefore no longer controllable using glyphospate.  They are quoted as saying, "This product is also effective on volunteer Roundup Ready (TM) canola, unlike glyphosateproducts."

It is significant that this represents a formal acknowledgement by a biotechnology company that GM herbicide resistance has now become a serious agronomic problem for farmers. See Farmers air Roundup Ready concerns for more on volunteer GM canola (oilseed rape) problems and farmers experiences of this in Canada.

Zeneca's marketing also adds up to a defacto admission that the introduction of GM herbicide resistant crops will necessitate the use of a wider range of chemical types in agriculture.

Zeneca are not alone in having to acknowledge the problem:

The need to use additional chemical types in order to control volunteers from harvested crops of its own glufosinate -ammonium tolerant "Liberty Link" varieties has also previously been acknowledged by Pierre-Louis Dupont, AgrEvo's European head of marketing -:  "However, in the case of Liberty Link products, farmers will be using a chemical which is not currently used for volunteer control." (Farmers Weekly 13th March 1998) "

The issue of the sustainable use of chemicals in agriculture is not simply one of quantities used, but also one of the range utilised. The wider the range used, the wider the range of species potentially adversely affected. From this perspective, it is difficult to see how biotechnology companies can justify their claim that the use of herbicide resistant GM crops provides a useful contribution towards sustainability.

DeKalb and Novartis Bt corn rejected by Maine Board of Pesticides Control

The Maine Board of Pesticides Control is the first regulatory body in the United States to turn down a request for registration of genetically modified insect resistant Bt maize (engineered with a Bacillus thuringiensis gene). Among the  concerns which turned a December Ď97 Board vote against Novartis and DeKalb, the companies seeking the registration, was the possible development of resistance to Bt and its impact on the state's organic growers who would normally use it as a natural pesticide of last resort.

For more in depth coverage of GM crop issues, and excellent links:  NLP WESSEX