ngin - norfolk genetic information network ngin's bi-monthly news sheet       Issue 4

Genetic Network News


campaign of civil disobedience spreading across India - see p.3


While the Government has so far failed to deliver on anything more than a 12-month delay on the full-scale commercial introduction of GM crops into the UK, the Tories began 1999 by calling for a 3-year moratorium.  The Lib-dems have already called for a 5-year crop ban.

Graham Wynne, RSPB chief executive, has said, "Any reasonable assessment of the enviromental safety of these crops will require a minimum of three years, but the government seems determined to permit the release of the crops after only one year.  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." 


The claim made by the Chair of the Government’s wildlife advisors, English Nature, that GM crop trials were neither being properly regulated or monitored is looking like an understatement. A report by the UK's Health and Safety Executive in mid-December showed that 1 in 5 GM crop trials that the HSE had managed to monitor were breaking the regulations on environmental protection. These regulations, established by ACRE - a committee with a majority of members with links to the biotech industry - are widely regarded as grossly inadequate, and the HSE has only 2 inspectors to try and enforce them across hundreds of UK crop trials. The report seems to have finally forced the Government to prosecute Monsanto on this issue - see p. 3.

GM rape approved for UK: get ready for genetic pollution!   p.3
90% of medical experts 
worried about GM maize.

A poll in the Newsletter of the International Society of Chemotherapy shows that a clear majority of medical experts in that field consider the presence of the antibiotic resistance gene within Novartis’ genetically modified (GM) maize an unacceptable risk. Fifty-seven per cent of 198 experts from 25 different countries said that the risk was unacceptable, while a further 34 per cent wanted more risk assessment to be done before the maize is cleared for full-scale use.  A mere two per cent of experts questioned judged the maize to be safe!  Yet this type of maize has already been approved for use in the European Union and is to be found in foods on sale now in UK shops. Two EU countries, Austria and Luxembourg, are refusing to import GM maize despite the EU ruling. 

Lord Sainsbury’s financial links to JIC 

When ngin challenged the independence of the John Innes Centre (see GNN3) and drew attention to the big corporate investment from Zeneca and DuPont and the JIC's other corporate sponsors (Monsanto etc), the JIC replied that it guarded its independence from industry jealously and it pointed to the extent of its public and charitable funding. That funding is coming into question. 

The JIC’s “charitable funding” is, in fact, critical to the work of its Sainsbury Laboratory. The Sainsbury Laboratory’s main grant comes from a Sainsbury family trust, known as the Gatsby Foundation. A key contributor to this trust is one Lord Sainsbury, the current Science Minister, the former boss of the supermarket giant and a major Sainsbury’s shareholder.

The Gatsby Foundation has laid great stress on encouraging the genetic engineering of plants and crops,  mainly through grants to the JIC (over 2 million pounds last year alone) as well as through grants which link in overseas countries to JIC-based plant biotechnology projects.  As Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury appears to have been encouraging exactly the same kind of collaborative links.

Now the shadow Trade and Industry spokesman, John Redwood, has dawn attention to Lord Sainsbury's financial connections with the Gatsby Foundation and its big investments in genetic engineering. He and others, like Friends of the Earth, also note Lord Sainsbury's history of business investments in biotech companies and are asking:  is this really  the man to make decisions on behalf of the British people about the genetic engineering of food?  More on this p. 2

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LORDS' REPORT: industry shall speak unto industry!

A House of Lords sub-committee has issued a report which strongly endorses GM foods. According to the EDP, NFU leader Ben Gill told an NFU conference on GM at the John Innes Centre that he welcomed the Lords' report which he said "covered the key points that we wanted to make ourselves". That it did so is perhaps not surprising  given that 9 of the 12 peers on the committee have farming interests and 3 are even members of the NFU! One, Lord Joplin, is also a shareholder in Zeneca, one of the big biotech companies.

Consumer and environmental groups have united to condemn the report as muddled ,  inaccurate and above all biased. They have pointed out that the peers  took evidence overwhelmingly from people who had financial interests in the development of the technology. This included leading GE companies, lobby groups and institutes with industry research contracts, as well as the US Department of Agriculture, the US Soya Bean Association, companies like Unilever and Nestle, and in the words of the Guardian "academics who fiercely push the technology or sit on government advisory boards known to favour the technology." The committee also made a special visit to the John Innes Centre in Norwich. The Guardian goes on, "Among more than 50 witnesses the peers called on, there were only two consumer groups, three environment groups and one company known to be doubtful about the technology." 

Among other recommendations, the Lords endorsed the infamous Terminator Technology and said GE would bring great benefits to the poorest countries. Not one witness, however, was called from the developing world. The committee also astounded organic farmers by arguing that GE was "compatible with the principles of organic farming".

More feedback on the Lords' report:

Consumers' Association: "We are concerned about whether this was a genuinely independent inquiry into the use of genetic technology in agriculture. The industry and its friends are entitled to give evidence, but... the list [of those giving evidence] reflects overwhelmingly the interests of the food industry and of their associates."

RSPB: "A cautious approach is needed. We need harder scientific answers before these crops are released. Farmers would be very unwise to rush into this. They do not want another BSE or E.coli horror."

Dr Mae Wen Ho, a bio-physicist and geneticist at the Open University, told the Today programme: "If you look at the scientific evidence, there are already signs that some of the products marketed may be harmful for human beings as well as for beneficial species." and "The monitoring that goes on is derisory at the moment."

Monsanto welcomed the report.

Lord Sainsbury considering GM supermarket propaganda blitz

On page 4 you will find details of ngin's latest supermarket information campaign. It comes just as the Government is considering blitzing shoppers with pro-GM propaganda.

The Lords' committee which drew up the recent controversial report (see opposite) had as their main adviser one Dr Julian Kinderlerer. Dr Kinderlerer was also a lead researcher in a Government commissioned study on selling food biotechnology to the public, which recommends a Government video and leafleting campaign extolling the virtues of  GM foods to shoppers.

Lord Sainsbury together with other ministers is now considering the report.  According to one national newspaper, "The ministry's move, backed by the Department of Trade and Industry, to prepare a publicity campaign has reopened the row over an alleged "conflict of interest" between Lord Sainsbury's job and his previous business investments in promoting GM food."

Charles Secrett of Friends of the Earth, said: "This planned propaganda campaign is promoting potentially dangerous novel foods. The fact that Lord Sainsbury, with all his previous business interests, is also being allowed to continue in his job in charge of this is appalling."

Lord Sainsbury, who has invested heavily in GE - see page 1, said he rejected "the implication that I should relinquish all decision-making over biotechnology policy." 

for truly crass reassurance

We received a number of complaints that we let the first 2 recipients of these awards off far too lightly, so we're making a further Gummer Award to each of the 'Colney 2' to reflect this feedback.

Professor Jonathan Jones of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the JIC told the foodfuture debate, he'd rather feed his children genetically contaminated than chemically contaminated food. It has been pointed out that not only did Prof. Jones not explain why their food had to be contaminated in the first place, but his statement was particularly misleading as GM foods, like soya and maize, are contaminated both genetically and chemically!!!

Dr Mike Gasson of the Institute of Food Research  at Colney  told the Evening News: "If it has received official government approval, it is quite safe for children."  We suggested Dr Gasson's surprisingly high opinion of government regulation might not be unconnected with the fact that he himself serves on one of their regulatory committees.  However, what we failed to point out was that the Institute of Food Research at Colney, like the neighbouring JIC, is sponsored by the pro-industry Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (more on the BBSRC in the next Genetic Network News).

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Opposition to GM foods ‘SKY-ROCKETING’ in UK

A leaked Monsanto survey has revealed opposition to genetic engineering is 'skyrocketing' in the UK. According to the leaked report: "The latest survey shows an on-going collapse of public support for biotechnology and GM foods. At each point in this project, we keep thinking that we have reached the low point and that public thinking will stabilize, but we apparently have not reached that point. The latest survey shows a steady decline over the year, which may have accelerated in the most recent period." 

The report goes on to say: "Overall, feeling toward foods with GM ingredients has grown dramatically more negative, which is probably the best measure of our declining fortunes in Britain." 

The report did, however, say that Monsanto had made progress with Britain's political elite - MPs and senior civil servants etc.  This ties in with the recent pro-GM House of Lords’ report - see page 2.  However, among the public the report notes that confidence in UK regulatory agencies is in serious decline: "In the most recent research confidence in all regulatory agencies has slipped... stating that seed had been approved by British food safety agencies reduced support for our products. " 

The report goes on to state that even the "media elites are strongly hostile to biotechnology and Monsanto. They think the Government is being too lax and believe they must expose the dangers." The report says that the situation in Germany is even worse.

Survey shows more schools shunning genetic food

Increasing numbers of education authorities in England, though Norfolk is not among them, are attempting to ban genetically modified foods from  the school dinner menu, a survey published January 19th 1999 suggests. It found that two-thirds of the London boroughs and at least 14 county councils have either adopted official policies banning them or are actively  seeking to avoid them. 

The survey, published by the Food Commission, also  found that a further 20 county councils are looking to adopt such a stance.  Dr Tim Lobstein, a director of the commission, said: "If schools cannot ban  GM foods, then their menus should declare the presence of genetically modified foods when these have been used." 

Monsanto prosecuted

The UK Government has finally announced that a criminal prosecution of  Monsanto will be mounted over a GM crop trial in Lincolnshire where possible contamination of surrounding crops occurred.  The case will be heard on February 17th 1999.  A recent report has shown such problems are widespread - see page 1

Ban refusal on GM rape

The Advisory Committeee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) is about to tell the Government that there are no grounds for banning GM oilseed rape. But the only environmentalist on ACRE, a majority of whose members have links to the biotech industry, disagrees "because of uncertainties over how far the genes would spread into wild species, and what would be the long-term consequences of that spread".  Rape the 4th most widely grown UK crop:

can easily crossbreed with other relatives in the brassica family (eg turnip and radish) is a favoured crop of bees and research suggests GM rape could cause early death in bees

Junior environment minister Angela Eagle is 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." 

U.S. bullying exposed over food labelling

Cabinet documents from New Zealand show that the U.S. threatened to pull out of a potential free-trade agreement with New Zealand over its plans for labelling and testing GM food.  In an interview,  New Zealand's former associate health minister has confirmed the intimidation. He says he was twice visited by U.S. Ambassador, Josiah Beeman: 

"I was struck dumb by the aggression showed by Beeman to my stance, and the bullying tactics he used," said Mr Kirton who was subsequently sacked and replaced by a minister who was willing to go along with the U.S. "no labelling" position. Polls in New Zealand and Australia show that over 90% of consumers support compulsory labelling and in mid-December the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council (ANZFSC) voted for comprehensive labelling.  However, the labelling decision is expected to be watered down because of the American bullying and threats of trade retaliation.

Indian GE campaign spreading like wild fire!

In late November Karnataka State Farmers' Association, which represents up to 10 million small farmers, having identified secret Monsanto GE trial locations in their area, started reducing them to ashes - see picture page 1 Further 'cremations' have occurred in Andhra Pradesh where the Farmers' Association also stormed Monsanto's office in the state capital, Hyderabad. As a result of  rising concern, the state government has asked Monsanto to stop all of its field trials there. According to the Indian newspaper The Statesman: "What makes Monsanto's field trials suspect is the secrecy surrounding [the company] and the contradictory statements made by its spokesmen. Even the Indian Council of Agriculture has no information about the experiments."

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Shoppers want all GM foods banned from stores 

An NOP survey has revealed that the majority (58%) of customers from all the leading UK supermarkets are opposed to the stocking of food containing GM ingredients.  Objections to foods containing GM ingredients for customers ofeach chain were as follows: 

Marks Spencers: 65 % Somerfield: 63 %  Safeway: 61% Sainsbury's: 60%  Tesco: 60 %  Asda: 56%  Co-op: 56 %  Morrison's:  54 %  Kwiksave : 53 %

Letter writing campaign
a letter a day keeps disaster away!

School meals:
Norfolk County Council have still made no progress on banning GM foods - in great contrast with what is occurring elsewhere across the country - see p.3

Please write to Mr J. A. Holmes, Chairman of Norfolk Eduction Committee (County Hall, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR1 2DW) and ask for the same protection for Norfolk children!

If you are a parent with children at school why not also bring this matter to the attention of the Chair of Governors or the PTA? We can even provide you with a petition.

MPs and MEPs:
Write to any MP or Minister (best done via your MP) c/o the House of Commons, Westminster, SW1A 0AA
T: 0171 219 3000, if you're not sure who your MP is.

To contact Norfolk's MEP write to Clive Needle, 59 Bethel Street, Norwich, NR2 1NL   Fax: 01603 618376

Please write and ask them to go completely GM-free as the majority of their customers wish (see above). Why not get your friends to sign your letters or to write themselves? Here are a few addresses:

J. Sainsbury's
Stamford House
Stamford Street
London W1A 1DN 
T: 0800 632262
Tesco House
Delamare Rd
Herts, EN8 9SL
Michael House
Baker St.

Contact ngin for many more supermarket and food industry addresses.


Granose have gone GM-free and Green City Central, 42-46 Bethel Street (T:631007) are another shop guaranteeing to sell only GM-free foods.  Please keep us informed of any other Norfolk establishments that guarantee no GMOs on the premises!

We need your help

Could you help with handing out leaflets on GM foods to customers of Marks and  Spencer's? These explain in very simple terms the reasons for concern about GM  foods and about M&S's refusal to offer their customers GM-free  foods? As a result of the very positive response to doing this just before Xmas, ngin is now establishing a rota so that we  can keep up the flow of customer information. If you could help at any time even for just half an hour or so, please contact Jonathan on Norwich 624021 daytimes or 625188 evenings. Thanks!

ngin website:

ngin's website is fast becoming one of the best resources on GE on the web with:  a great articles section /international news /GM food guide /scientists on GM foods /farming news /poetry page /all issues of genetic network news online / news from norfolk /the john innes e-mail campaign /Norfolk trial site information /great GE links and publications page / and much much more

Join ngin's free e-mail service and receive  regular nginews bulletins - just e-mail putting subscribe in the subject box.

"Congratulations on your site and your excellent campaign." - Dr David King, molecular biologist and editor of GenEthics News

Help the Network 
- spread the word!

Norfolk Genetic Information Network (ngin) needs 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 624021 (ask for Jonathan)
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.

Don't forget to let us know what you like, or don't, about Network News. What would you like to see more of?


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