Genetic Network News
Issue 1:  ngin launch
August 98
Campaign grows and grows

The vast majority of the British public (77%) believe there should be a ban on growing genetically modified (GM) crops and food in Britain, according to a recent MORI poll. Iceland, the high street food chain, has banned GM ingredients from its own brand products. Kent Council's Education Committee has banned GM foods from its school dinners. Even the House of Commons has banned GM foods from its own catering outlets. 

Leading scientists concerned 

Many leading British scientists, as a recent survey published by The Independent newspaper has shown , are also worried, and are warning that adequate testing and regulation is not occurring. 

According to Gordon McVie, head of the Cancer Research Campaign, we simply don't know what genetic abnormalities might be incorporated into the  individual's own DNA as a result of GM foods. 

Many such scientists are calling, like Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, for “proper safety testing” along the lines of drug trials, and particularly for long term researchto be carried out. 

Scientists like Dr Mae-Wan Ho, head of the Bio-Electrodynamics laboratory at the Open University, are openly warning that gene technology, driven by bad science and big business, may not only endanger public health and ruin our food supply but have catastrophic effects on the environment. 

The Independent’s survey shows that many leading British scientists share this concern about environmental impact, as do English Nature and the million-member RSPB. 

Continuing Government inaction 

Two other European governments have banned GM crops yet still, in the face of unprecedented opposition, GM crops are being grown at around 300 sites all over the UK, many of them in Norfolk, in hazardous experiments which English Nature’s scientists, the Government’s own advisers on nature conservancy, have warned are not being properly regulated or monitored. And still the Government is allowing GM ingredients, largely unlabelled, to go into around 60% of processed foods on sale in the shops, despite the fact that no long term testing on their effects on health has ever been done! 

Information network launched 

In this context Norfolk Genetic Information Network (NGIN) has been founded to spread  clear information on the grave dangers from this hazardous technology as widely as possible and to encourage people throughout the county to actively campaign for change. NGIN shares the aims of its sister organisation Norfolk Genetic Concern but its focus is 
specifically on information networking. 

NGIN is particularly concerned to help counter the biased information now being put out by the biotech industry and its lobbyists and its big corparate supporters in the food industry, as perhaps most obviously represented by The Food and Drug Federation (FDF) who are organising a large public debate in Norwich in September. 

In support of its aims NGIN will be distributing regular news sheets, and plans to establish a website, containing locally relevant information on this global issue. One of NGIN’s founder mebers has just established a website providing up-to-date information on GM foods in the UK: 

Norwich debate - just how great? 

While a MORI poll in June showed that 77% of the British public believe there should be a ban on growing genetically modified (GM) crops and food in Britain,  the Foodfuture debate at County Hall on September 9th, however, with its “Question-time” style format, looks set to give most talking time to panel members who are likely to be very much more sympathetic to the use of biotech in agriculture. 

In fact, of the five panel members named to date, two are directly involved with biotechnology  -  one is a leading biotech scientist and the other is an employee of a leading biotech company.  Another panel member, Prof John Durant of the Science Museum, has expressed the view that “biotechnology could be a key factor in improving both the quality and quantity of the world's food supplies”. 

The panel chairman, Michael Pollitt, the EDP’s agricultural editor, appears cautiously sympathetic to the idea of benefits from what he terms the “green sciences”.  Of the other two panel members named to date, one is from the NFU, which leaves just  the remaining member, from the

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Genetics Forum, which has called for a ban on growing GM crops, as the only member of the current panel in tune with the majority view of people in Britain. 

It has been promised that all points of view will be represented  at the County Hall event but the big question remains to just what extent? 

Where are the critical scientists? 

Leading scientists have been among the staunchest critics of the genetic engineering of crops and food.   So why isn’t the voice of Britain’s many concerned scientists properly represented among the panel members so far named for September 9th? 

Future panel members to be announced must surely include some of the more notable scientific critics of GM crops and food:  scientists like Dr Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology at Guy’s Hospital, with 17 years experience of biotechnology in medicine; Dr Mae-Wan Ho of the Open University’s Biology Dept, and a prize-winning author on biotechnology; or Professor Richard Lacey, the food scientist who predicted the BSE crisis, and who has written: “It is virtually impossible to even conceive of a testing procedure to assess the health effects of genetically engineered foods when introduced into the food chain.'' 

Debate organiser’s real agenda 

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) are organising 12 major public debates in the UK this autumn, of which Norwich will be the first.  The FDF, of course, represents the major food and drink manufacturers who, not surprisingly, wish to reassure the public that their products are safe to purchase. 

The FDF’s publication “Foodfuture:  Informing Consumers about Modern Biotechnology” is certainly not a balanced document.   It is full of positive and unproven statements like “this technology benefits the environment”, as well as containing an account of the process of genetic modification which is so simplistic as to be dangerously misleading (see over). 

The most extraordinary aspect of their sixteen page booklet, however, is that any significant mention of specific concerns about the safety of this technology is confined to just two pages.  One of those pages entitled “The Concerns”  outlines those concerns in just four lines, while the rest of the page - some twenty two lines of text -  is given over in its entirety to reassurances. 

We do not know if at the meeting in September, as part of 
their mission of “informing consumers”, The FDF intend to distribute this oversimplistic and clearly biased publication but if so it will hardly assist a balanced debate. 

See over for an example of how the FDF biases its material  in favour of reassuring the consumer that biotechnology is totallyly safe and well-regulated.

Dangerously misleading  

The real agenda of the Norwich debate organisers, the Food and Drink Federation, is clearly revealed by their account of genetic modification in their publication “Foodfuture:  Informing Consumers about Modern Biotechnology”:  

“Scientists can now precisely identify the specific gene that governs a desired trait in a plant, extract it, copy it and insert the copy into a different type of plant. The genetically modified plant will then have that desired trait and pass it on through inheritance.  This avoids the trial and error approach of traditional plant breeding.”  [p.4]  

Now compare this to the description of genetic modification by a scientist not linked to the biotech industry, Professor Weatherall, Regis Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, talking on Radio 4:  

"It’s never been easy to safely introduce genes into cells. It has involved attaching genes to viruses with possible harmful side effects. Getting the gene - once it’s in the cell - into the right place, then finally getting it to behave itself ... and then making absolutely sure that the gene, because it’s not in its usual place, doesn’t interfere with any other genes that are near to it - we haven’t really made much progress in any of these phases yet."  

In fact the FDF’s description of genetic modification is almost word for word the statement that Dr Mae-Wan Ho of the OU’s Biology Department singled out for criticism in her 1996 article “Perils Amid Promises Of Genetically Modified Foods ” as dangerously misleading.  It is, Dr Ho writes, “based on simplistic assumptions of genetics that both classical geneticists and plant breeders have rejected for many years, and [which] have been thoroughly invalidated by all the research findings since genetic engineering - currently referred to as "genetic modification" - began 20 years ago.”[4]  

Yet althought this exposes the FDF document for what it is, crassly oversimplistic and biased - indeed, really just a very carefully crafted marketing exercise for biotechnology - Prof. Durant, one of the Norwich debate panel members, has praised the FDF’s  literature as  “a most welcome and informative contribution to the continuing public debate on this major subject”.  

It will be interesting to see if the FDF’s debates turn out to be as “informative” and well-balanced as its publications.  

If you can make the debate on the 9th then please urgently contact Michael Pollitt, EDP, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 IRE, drop a note or e-mail: Farm&, or fax 01603 612930. 

You can also use this contact to express concern about the constitution of the panel and to call for a properly balanced debate. 

Be warned: by the time you read this tickets may have run out. 

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THE BSE BLUES... or here we go again!  

Some scientists warned of BSE human health risks eight years before the new-variant CJD link was established. Many of the same eminent scientists who spoke out then  (for example, Professor Colin Blakemore and Professor Richard Lacey) are among those now worried about GM.  

Jim Hope, a scientist at the Neuropathogenics Unit, Edinburgh, has said of the BSE crisis: "We were the experts. We didn't have many of the answers. Rather than explain that to the general public it was thought better to give the impression that we had everything under control, which we didn't and which we never have."  

A MAFF inspector told BBC’s ‘Panorama’ regarding BSE: “There was a culture of complacency within the Ministry”. In a post-BSE era one might have thought there would be much more caution about violating well-established species barriers, as GM does on a grand scale, but that same culture of complacency appears to be alive and well.  

Virus in Blue Genes  

Our farmers are very funny  
This is how they earned their money  
With sheep’s brains inside cow’s tummy  

Our abattoirs are also jolly  
Finding ways to up their lolly  
But it’s proved an offal folly  

Could BSE and CJD  
- not a bunch of laughs you see -  
Give but a glimpse of what’s to be?  

Biotech has much invested  
In a planet that’s infested  
With the crops that they’ve molested  

Governments just won’t protect us  
From the toxins that affect us  
Isn’t that a trifle reckless?  

The bureaucrats, it seems, don’t care  
Their attitude’s  “Buyer beware!  
Our corporate pals must have their share”  

Supermarkets too are jolly  
Glad to maximise their lolly:  
With goods unlabelled in our trolley  

Pesticidal foods, you’ll see,  
Will mean we eat our genes for tea*  
Can it all end happily?  

Our farmers are very funny  
This is how they’ll earn their money:  
Misplaced genes inside our tummy  
Seems to me that’s rather rummy  

Chorus line:  Umpah! Umpah! Stuff the poor consumar...  

*  Human Genes into Plants:  A mammalian 2-5A system functions as an antiviral pathway in transgenic plants.  
Mitra A. et al (1996) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93: 6780-6785. 


OPPOSITION TO GENETIC FOODS IS GROWING but we must keep raising our voices on this issue if the full-scale introduction of GM-foods is to be averted. A SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE WAY FOR US TO OPPOSE GENETIC FOODS  IS TO WRITE TO THE BIG FOOD RETAILERS.  

Please encourage anyone concerned about GM foods to send them as many letters, faxes, and e-mails as possible. If you are a long-term customer or a shareholder of a company, then please mention this when writing to them.  


Iceland has banned it, and has already benefited from a 15% rise in sales, and Waitrose and Sainsburys are both reportedly well on their way to eliminating it from their own-brand products, with Tesco lagging somewhat behind, so keep the letters flowing to these retailers to encourage them to achieve Iceland’s guarantee of being completely GM free. Marks and Spencers, however, seem to have turned their face resolutely against making any efforts to provide their customers with GM free foods, claiming it is impossible to obtain GM free soya or maize!  

Genetic Network News is, therefore, nominating M&S for this month’s corporate indifference award.  Please write!  

__________ EXAMPLE ONLY  __________  

Sir Richard Greenbury  
Marks & Spencer plc  
47 - 67 Baker Street  
W1A 1DN  

Dear Sir Richard Greenbury  

Like many consumers we support Iceland's decision to ban GM foods, and we’d like M&S to follow their excellent example. We understand that other retailers like Sainsburys, Waitrose and Tescos are now insisting on future segregation of shipments and on their suppliers providing GM-free crops. Could you please inform me,  as supplies are clearly available,  why M&S is not planning to offer us the choice of St. Michael foods without GM ingredients?  

Yours sincerely,      ............  

PLEASE ALSO WRITE TO: Jeff Rooker MP, Food Safety Minister, MAFF (West Block), Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2HH.  

Ask Mr Rooker for a guarantee of no repetition of the BSE fiasco with GM foods. Ask him why no long term testing has taken place.  
Tell him safe, sustainable and natural methods of agriculture, with crop diversity, make the risks associated with GM foods not worth taking.  

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GM FOOD: did you know?  

“The biotech industry is vulnerable to the charge that it tried to force-feed the market by flooding Europe with so much modified soya as to make regulating it impossible.”  Editorial in The Economist, 6-12/6/98  

Since 1996 genetically modified (GM) soya has been brought into the UK, in mixed shipments with traditional soya, and incorporated into foods without labelling.  

Over 60% of processed foods, including bread and baby foods, use soya or its derivatives.  

"With genetic engineering familiar foods could become metabolically dangerous or even toxic.” Statement by 21 scientists including the following, Professor Brian Goodwin, Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Professor Peter  Saunders and Professor Richard Lacey  

GM soya, modified for herbicide tolerance, has been found to contain chemical residues up to 200% higher. There is also evidence indicating higher levels of the hormone oestrogen in GM soya.  

A GM maize recently approved for use in Europe contains an antibiotic resistant gene. The UK’s regulatory Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes has warned against the use of such elements in GM crops. Some governments, but not ours, have already banned itsuse.  

A poll published in The Guardian newspaper showed that 96% of consumers wanted all GM foods clearly labelled.  

GM CROPS: did you know?  

“What if a new gene moves from a modified plant to an unmodified bystander? If something goes wrong, how can it be put right? The truth is, nobody knows.”  
Editorial in The Economist, 6-12/6/98  

Oilseed rape genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance has cross-bred with wild radishes in field trials, passing on the herbicide resistance.  

“Super crops and super weeds know no boundaries.”  
The botanist, David Bellamy  

"[The release of GM rape plants] 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." UK junior environment minister Angela Eagle  

Once released, genetic mistakes cannot be contained, “cleaned up” or recalled. They will be living pollutants that will be passed on and on indefinitely.  

English Nature has called for a moratorium on the  
commercial growing of GM crops. The Soil Association and all environmental groups are calling for a total ban.

Is it being carefully regulated?  

English Nature’s scientists have warned that some of this country’s most treasured birds and wildlife could be wiped out by the commercial release of GM crops. They have highlighted birds living on farmland, such as the skylark, the linnet and the corn bunting, as being in particular peril. English Nature has also criticised the character of the Government’s regulatory advice on the release of GMOs, with Lady Young, the Chair of English Nature, going so far as to say:  “It is not being carefully regulated or monitored. There is a hole in the regulatory system.”  

In fact, the majority of the current members of the Government’s scientific Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) have direct links with the very industry that they are supposedly overseeing, and indeed specifically with companies and institutions that are running around 40% of the trials that ACRE has approved! One of ACRE’s own members has said that there is a need for the committee to “look at the wider ecological aspects of genetic  engineering and bring in new members with different backgrounds.” [Quoted in the Financial Times, 9/7/98]  

Perhaps most alarming, in terms of the absence of any regulatory rigour, is the fact that to date ACRE has not recommended refusal of a single application for an experimental release of a GMO, despite considerable controversy in the scientific community about the general precision and safety of genetic engineering, as well as about the impact of the specific genes that are being inserted into crops.  

Help the Network - spread the word!  

We need your help to spread the word. If you’d like to give some of your time, your expertise or make a financial contribution to the campaign, you can contact us by:  

tel :  01603 470999  
fax:    01603 766552  
mail: 26 Pottergate, Norwich, NR2 1DX  

Genetic  Network News  
We are particularly interested in establishing as wide a distribution network as possible for Genetic  Network News. Can you help? Any ideas? Let us know.  


Norfolk Genetics Concern (NGC) 

If you are interested in a wider range of activities than those encompassed by the Network, then why not contact:  
NGC c/o Box EF, The Greenhouse, 42-46 Bethel Street,  Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 1NR  
tel : 01603 624021 

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