ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

2 May 2002


some items shortened:
1. UK: Co-Op Bank spurns genetic modification business
2. Brazil: Poor Performance of Modified Crops
3. China: GM food a growing issue on mainland
4. NZ: MAF seizes non-GM free shipments
5. ETC group responds to Purdue University on Terminator


1. UK Co-Op Bank spurns genetic modification business

LONDON, May 1 (Reuters) - Britain's ethically-minded Co-Operative Bank said on Wednesday it would not do business with biotech companies involved in genetic modification (GM) or cloning. The bank, which reported record annual profits last month as it reaps the rewards of ethical investment, said the decision reflected a change in its stance following consultation with its customers. "Our stance in genetic modification, which received widespread support amongst those polled, reflects our customers' genuine concerns," said Simon Williams, director of corporate affairs.


2. Modified Crops Go Underground

By Paulo Rebêlo
Wired, US, 2:00 a.m. May 1, 2002

RECIFE, Brazil -- An illegal but well-known underground market for genetically modified crops is growing fast in Brazil. But oftentimes, farmers who bought the seeds with promises of better yields at lower costs have reaped financial disasters and plantation damages instead. The problem seems to stem not from defective genetically modified organism (GMO) crops, but from a lack of understanding by farmers who purchase the crops, which are supposedly imported from Argentina or from other regions of Brazil. The upshot is that crops that may work well in their native soils don't react well when transported. "(It is) pure lack of information from most farmers," said Ywao Miyamoto, president of the Brazilian Association of Soy Producers (Aprosoja). "Crops have very specific properties of adaptability that vary from place to place, weather to weather, altitude to altitude, and a range of factors. If you plant an Argentine crop in a Brazilian soil, obviously you'll get a very weak production."

James H. Orf, a professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, says it's often a case of carelessness or wishful thinking. "That's well known by most farmers, but sometimes in their anxiety to acquire 'new' materials, they forget the fact that it's difficult to take a variety from one place to another and expect it to perform well," Orf said.

Only three companies -- Monsanto, Embrapa (linked to the Brazilian government) and Condetec -- have been authorized by Brazil's Federal Court to grow genetically modified crops, and that is for testing purposes only. Commercial use and sale of GMO crops within Brazil is prohibited. And while most observers believe the ban will be lifted -- maybe even within less than a year -- the underground market has been operating for at least six years, Miyamoto said. But the problems appear to be a new phenomenon.

Walter R. Fehr, a professor of agriculture and director of the biotechnology office at Iowa State University, confirms Miyamoto's thesis. According to Fehr, the GMO soybeans grown in Brazil have the same basic genes as soybeans grown in the United States on millions of acres since 1996.

Recently, farmers from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state, planted genetically modified crops bought from clandestine sellers in the region, who said the soybeans were imported from Argentina. The farmers planted the GMO seeds near plantations of natural crops and wound up with poorer results. At the behest of the farmers, genetic researchers Rubens Onofre Nodari, professor of genetics at Santa Catarina Federal University, and Deonisio Destro, professor of genetics at Londrina State University, were called to investigate. They wrote a report (in Portuguese) that says the four varieties of soy crops they found had not adapted to general conditions in Rio Grande do Sul. "It's impossible to define the origins of those modified crops; we only know they weren't adapted to Brazil," Onofre said. "Also, farmers can't officially protest because they know it's illegal to buy and plant GMO crops."

Nodari also found a higher infestation of invasive herbs in areas where the modified crops were grown.

"Roundup-Ready" (RR) GMO soy crops are designed to have more resistance against herbicides such as Roundup, a powerful herbicide made by Monsanto. But the poor production suggested that these RR crops didn't show as much resistance to Roundup as the natural crops. The report's conclusion states: "There is need for rigorous studies of GMO crops before the modified soy gets legalized. Detailed researches on the effects of RR soy must be made, including environmental and social-economic impacts of its successive planting."

Although the report never explicitly states that the GMO crops were inferior, its conclusion seems to imply that they were. Hence, after researchers e-mailed the report to some newspapers in Brazil, the newspapers reported that GMO crops were the cause of weak production and productivity loss in the country -- and even led to the bankruptcies of small farmers who chose to plant them. "The report they've made does not fit reality; they're saying the GMOs are the cause of financial and health damages to farmers, which is not true," Miyamoto said. "Those specific farmers got misled by clandestine sellers and by their lack of information; it is an isolated case. It has nothing to do with being genetically modified or not; they don't know what they're saying."

The media reports heightened debate on the subject, with opponents of GMO crops arguing that more research is needed, and proponents arguing that research, conducted over years in other parts of the world, has shown no adverse affects. The National Technical Commission of Bio-Safety in Brazil has been a supporter of GMO soybeans since 1998, saying that the Roundup-Ready crops are not harmful to people's health. "Biotechnology is not based on suppositions, it's much more complex than that," Miyamoto wrote (in Portuguese). "In addition, everybody knows that farmers have been planting GMO for years now, even being illegal here. It is not harmful to our health."

Iowa State's Fehr echoed those sentiments. "There's no evidence of any detrimental health effects," Fehr said. But groups such as Greenpeace and similar local groups argue that it's just too early to tell. "We cannot predict when we will see effects on people's health," said Doreen Stabinsky, professor of Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. "As more and more GMOs get into people's diets, the sooner we will see effects; but as for now, no one has enough proof that GMOs won't affect our health in the future."

While not going so far as to suggest that the major GMO companies are promoting the underground market in Brazil, Stabinsky, who is also a science advisor for Greenpeace-USA, said that the companies' strategy is to plant first, ask questions later. "(They) are trying their best to taint as much of the world as possible so that it seems that GMOs are inevitable," Stabinsky said. In Brazil, Monsanto released an official statement about the case in Rio Grande do Sul and the report that Roundup-Ready crops caused financial damages: "The company prefers to avoid comments since Monsanto doesn't sell the Roundup Ready soy in Brazil yet. The report refers to the illegal planting of them, a situation that Monsanto does not support."

Luiz Barreto de Castro, head director of Genetic Resources for Embrapa, believes that when the GMO market gets legalized in Brazil, the underground selling of modified crops will already be so strong that investments made by biotech companies could be useless. "By the time the Brazilian Federal Court decides to finally legalize the GMO, farms around Brazil will already be filled with every kind of clandestine genetically modified crops," he said.

 Copyright (c) 1994-2002 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.


3. GM food a growing issue on mainland

South China Morning Post May 1, 2002

WANG LILI, a plump lady in a yellow uniform, stands next to the freezer holding the soya bean juice and cakes her company sells in a supermarket in central Beijing. "Do not worry, there is no genetically modified (GM) material in our products. Look at the label certifying it," she said. "Last month, with all the stories in the media about GM food, we had a drop in sales because people were worried about it. Since we put the labels on from the end of March, sales have picked up again."

The label is the result of a regulation by the Ministry of Agriculture which took effect on March 20, ordering food that contained GM ingredients to be labelled to let consumers know the contents. Mrs Wang's company, Dou Dou Chu (the Soya Bean Kitchen), labels its products not because they contain GM beans but because China has since 1996 imported millions of tonnes of GM soya beans ­ which makes consumers think its juice might be made from them.

The debate over the safety and nutritional value of GM products has started in earnest on the mainland, later than in the US, Europe, Japan and Hong Kong. The scientific community is strongly in favour, eager to raise the output of food in a country that had shortages and rationing as recently as 20 years ago. The general public remains sceptical. On the outcome of this debate hangs a market potential of hundreds of millions of dollars for domestic and foreign producers. "GM products are bad for you," Mrs Wang said. "They are like mad cow disease and damage your health." The label on Mrs Wang's juice reads: "This product is made of carefully chosen black soya bean that is not genetically modified. You can drink it with your heart at ease."

Some customers in the shop agreed with Mrs Wang. "I do not buy GM food because I do not know its impact on my health and that of my family," said Liu Xiuhao, a middle-aged housewife. "But it is hard to know. An upmarket place like this has labels but street markets outside do not . . .

Many people shop there, especially the poor." According to the Beijing press, most manufacturers, shops and markets ignored the ministry's March 20 regulation and did not start using labels, either out of ignorance or because they did not want to give consumers a reason for not buying their products. China is full of GM products, with more than 20 million tonnes in the food chain and nearly all imported, according to official media estimates. A professor at the Foreign Trade University, Xia Youfu, said China had grown only a small amount of GM items such as grain, oilseeds and pest-resistant cotton, but they had not entered the food chain. He said China started importing GM food in 1996, with 80,000 tonnes of GM soya beans, rising to 7.5 million in 2000 and more than 10 million last year. "These are conservative figures. Recent tests by quarantine stations show that the vast majority of imported soya bean, rapeseed and corn were GM," he said. "This means that, on the dining table of consumers, the three main GM items are corn, rapeseed and soya bean oil, beancurd and soya milk."

According to one industry estimate, about half the vegetable oil on sale in China is GM. The high level of imports is due to China not growing enough, while the imports are of good quality. A survey of 7,000 people in Guangzhou published earlier this year found that the vast majority had no clear idea about GM food, while nearly 30 per cent believed that it could have side-effects. More than 70 per cent said China should pass laws on such food.


4. MAF seizes non-GM free shipments

by Glenys Christian
FarmIndex - Regional News

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials have turned back cotton imports potentially contaminated with genetically modified material.

Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton said contrary to assertions by Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, the Government did have in place mechanisms to prevent GM contamination of New Zealand while the two-year moratorium on release of GM material was in place.


5. ETC group responds to Purdue University

ETC group responds to Purdue University's recent efforts to promote genetic seed sterilization - or Terminator -- as an environmental protection technology. The full response is available on the ETC group website: http//

An article by Purdue Agriculture Communications (distributed by Ascribe Newswire on April 19) quotes Purdue University professors and one University of Oklahoma law professor who unabashedly promote Terminator technology - claiming that it was developed as an environmental protection tool.

It is revisionist history, and a cynical strategy, to suggest that Terminator was developed as a biosafety tool.

Civil society organizations and farmers worldwide are alarmed and insulted by the campaign to promote Terminator as a biosafety mechanism. It is unacceptable and dangerous to suggest that agriculture is dependent on genetic seed sterilization as a method for minimizing genetic pollution from genetically modified plants.

The promotion of Terminator seeds as a "green" solution to GM pollution is the Trojan Horse of biotechnology. If Terminator technology wins market acceptance under the guise of biosafety, it will be used as a monopoly tool to prevent farmers from saving and re-using seed.

Most of the over 800 million malnourished people on this planet live in rural areas and depend upon farm-saved seed for their survival. Member nations of the Food and Agriculture Organization should follow the leadership provided by FAO’s Ethics Panel and its Director-General and pass a resolution condemning Terminator technology.

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