ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
6 November 2002


1.'Farm' launched
2.'GM Mustard Will Play Havoc With Indian Food Chain'
3.Berman & Co.seeks flack for new front group
4.Oregon GE food label bid fails


1. 'Farm' launched

'farm' is a new campaigning voice in the UK, fighting for a viable future for independent and family farms. 'farm' is run by working farmers for working farmers.

By 2005, the Government expects up to a quarter of the UK's farms to close or merge. 50,000 farmers could be forced to leave the land. The closure of each ordinary family farm is a nail in the coffin of the British countryside.

find out more:


2. GM Mustard Will Play Havoc With Indian Food Chain

Press Statement : New Delhi, Nov 6

Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security
New Delhi-110 063, India.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the apex body responsible for according commercial approval to genetically modified crops and products, is at it once again. Seven months after it gave a nod for sale of genetically modified seed of Bt cotton and that too under dubious circumstances and without adequate tests, it is now ready to grant commercial approval to a genetically modified mustard ˆ the first genetically engineered food crop with five alien genes to be released in India.

The GEAC, which meets on Nov 7, is now actively considering commercialization of a genetically modified mustard developed by the Pro-Agro Seeds India Private Limited, the Indian arm of the multinational Aventis with PGS, a Belgian company. This GM mustard is claimed to be resistant to Glufosinate, a broad-spectrum herbicide, and the company claims that the gene modification will help increase mustard productivity by 20-25 per cent.

Initially, the seed manufacturers had dovetailed pesticides and fertilisers with the sale of improved seeds. Now, the companies are incorporating the genetic character for herbicide-tolerance that in reality helps increase the sale of its own brand of chemicals. Numerous studies have shown that the usage of the chemical actually increases in herbicide-tolerant plants thereby negating the industry‚s claim that it is producing crops that require less pesticides and therefore do less harm to the environment.

Pro-Agro has developed this genetically modified mustard that resists Glufosinate, its own brand of herbicide. So, in reality Pro-Agro will kill two birds with one stone -- sell the GM seed as well as the herbicide. For the simple reason that if you don't use glufosinate you will not be able to control the weeds. Farmers buying GM seeds will now be left with a Hobson‚s choice to also purchase Pro-Agro‚s herbicide. Thanks to GEAC, GM mustard will ensure Œprofit security‚ for the company. Pro-Agro denies this, saying that it has no intention of using the herbicide-tolerant trait. But if not, why than genetically incorporate the character?

The five alien genes that are being introduced in mustard are: Bar (for glufosinate tolerance), Barnase (male sterility), Barstar  (fertility restoration), PssuAra (promoter gene) and PTA29 (another promoter gene). These genes have been taken from the following five external sources, including bacteria: Streptomyces hygroscopicus, Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, B. amyloliquefaciens, Arabidopsis thaliana and from the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum.  Notwithstanding the excitement that the GEAC has over the development of a genetically modified mustard, the fact remains that these alien genes in mustard, which is an important food crop in India, provides NO advantages to the consumers. On the other hand, it comes laced with all kinds of potential dangers for the people that the GEAC wants to gloss over.

GM mustard is being developed to increase productivity of mustard to meet the ever-growing demand of edible oils in the country. This runs contrary to government‚s own policy of opening up the edible oil sector to import of cheaper edible oil. Strange that government‚s policies are first aimed at destroying the gains of the Technology Mission on Oilseeds launched by the Late Rajiv Gandhi. The doubling of oilseeds production during 1985-1993 had enabled the country to avoid the humiliating dependence on import of oil costing the exchequer annually Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 million.

>From 11 million tones in 1986-87, oilseeds production had zoomed to 22 million tones by 1994-95, India had moved from being a net importer of oilseeds to a net exporter, with only negligible imports. But then began the dramatic turnaround, which destroyed the strong foundations of oilseeds self-sufficiency. India now imports on an average five million tones of edible oils, roughly 50 per cent of its domestic requirement.

The government‚s policy therefore is very clear: help sustain farmers outside the country. Cheaper imports help private companies in edible oil exporting countries and the introduction of genetically engineered crops too helps private seed companies. Safeguard for farmers by way of procurement and assured prices are being slowly dismantled to enable the corporate sector to move in and push the farming communities out of agriculture.

In the past four years, with the Eurpopean Union‚s moratorium on new GM crops and its reluctance to buy GM food, the grindingly slow, impossibly twisting European road to legal acceptance of the crops gets ever more bogged down. The companies claim they have lost US $12 billion of sales in the past four years, and the commission is now coming under mounting pressure from impatient US trade officials. Everyone in the commission wants the US off its back and an end to the whole vexed affair (The Guardian, London, Oct 18,2002). With EU still holding on to the moratorium, the focus has been on countries like India to open up to GM foods and crops.

GM mustard crop is a classic "superweed." In Canada, scientists have found that engineered canola (rapeseed) has become a nearly uncontrollable weed. There are at least three Œsuperweeds‚ that have already come up in canola and considering the small farm size and the diversity available in India, the probability of such  Œsuperweeds‚ developing is much greater. Scientific studies also show that GE crops can cause insecticides to build up in soils, cause food chain effects, transfer genes to wild relatives, and contaminate natural crops. Says Martin Entz, professor of Agronomy at the University of Manitoba (Canada): „GM canola has, in fact, spread much more rapidly than we thought it would.  It's absolutely impossible to control... It's been a great wake-up call about the side effects of these GM technologies."

The threat posed by pollen from GM varieties blowing into organic fields is now seen in Europe as a potentially significant cost. Seed pollution, the so-called "pollution" from the GM crops has also led to a fierce debate in Canada after Monsanto successfully prosecuted a 70 year old Canadian farmer for growing its crops without paying the usual fees to the company. The farmer, Percy Schmesier accepted that Monsanto's patented gene was present in his crop of oil-seed rape, which is known in America as canola. But Mr Schmeiser claimed that Monsanto's gene had got there by accident after being blown in from neighbouring fields.

"Gene stacking" in GM crops is a major concern, more so for mustard/rapeseed. Stacking describes what happens when more than one GM trait is found in the same plant, because of cross-pollination in the field. The agronomic and ecological impacts of cumulative transgene stacking are poorly understood and  this may lead to farmers using more herbicides... potentially resulting in increased damage to biodiversity. It can also lead to "the gradual development of weediness in native species". If a neighbouring farm also unknowingly used GM-contaminated seed, this would be an obvious way for stacking to occur.

Health concerns include: allergenicity; gene transfer, especially of antibiotic-resistant genes, from GM foods to cells or bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; and "outcrossing", or the movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops, posing indirect threats to food safety and security (The Lancet, Oct 26, 2002). If even food additives like artificial sweetners can be required to be subject to both long term animal and human volunteer trials prior to approval then why aren't GM foods? Food additives, so it would appear from the British Food Standard's Agency's comments, have to undergo testing to establish possible damaging effects from long term exposure and the trials can take years. This is despite the fact that, unlike GM material, food additives do not have the same ability to spread themselves throughout the environment and food chain once created. Now we are learning that even these food additive tests aren't up to the job with health problems only becoming scientifically identified years after approval (see

GM mustard can affect honey bees directly and indirectly through affecting flowering and pollen production. Protease inhibitors have proved to be detrimental to the longevity and behavior of bees. GM crops with protease inhibitors released for commercial production include potato, canola (rapeseed) and creeping bentgrass. The sound and logical approach would be to totally ban commercial production of GM crops modified with protease inhibitor genes to protect bees and to prevent long term damage to the entire environment.

Also, honey bees carry the pollen long distances. The alien gene gets deposited in the honey produced and through it passes to the human gut. Its DNA remains alive in the human gut for sometime, long enough to create reactions and actions that have not been adequately studied. In any case, the bigger question is as to what is the benefit to an average consumer from such genetic modifications?

The Royal Society has already asked for more tests to know the impact of GM food on infants and children. Dr Vivian Howard, a toxicologist at Liverpool University, recently told the BBC's World Business Review programme that there was a need to check if the new foods were toxic for infants and what other biological effects there might be. Dr Howard used the example of the thalidomide drug that was widely used in the 1960s before it was discovered to be dangerous. No such studies have been done globally, what to talk of India.

To the question, what is the problem when millions of American having been eating GM food for past several years? First, the Food and Drug Administration of the US conducts NO safety tests whatsoever of these foods. Indeed, their 1992 regulations specify that the agency will not exercise any active oversight of the industry or its products.

With the US government reporting 70 million cases of "food poisoning" per year, how can one say with certainty that GE foods are definitely not a possible cause?  How about the rise in autism, childhood attention deficit disorders, and the like -- something in the environment is likely contributing to these alarming statistics. How are we to know whether GE foods are implicated or not? There is "no evidence" because neither the government nor the industry is looking for any -- don't look , don't find. No evidence of harm is not the same as evidence of no harm.

Devinder Sharma



3. Berman & Co. seeks flack for new front group via PR Watch's Spin of the Day
Tarnishing the Halo

Berman & Co., a flack for the tobacco, restaurant and booze industries that specializes in attacking groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Greenpeace, is apparently preparing to launch a new front group called "Tarnish the Halo." They've posted a job advertisement seeking a researcher. "The food police want us arrested," the ad states. "The animal-rights movement wants us thrown to the lions. Green scaremongers want to slap us with mandatory warning labels. We just want to tell the truth." For examples of the lies these guys tell when they "tell the truth," read our profile of Berman & Co. in the Impropaganda Review.


4. Oregon genetically engineered food label bid fails

Reuters, 06 Nov 2002 05:59

PORTLAND, Ore., Nov 5 (Reuters) - Oregon voters on Tuesday roundly rejected a ballot initiative that would have required labels on food containing genetically engineered material, handing a victory to big food producers and biotechnology researchers.

Early returns showed more than 73 percent of voters rejecting Measure 27 compared with 27 percent in favor, prompting local media outlets to declare that the initiative, which would have produced the first such labeling law in the country, had been defeated.

Campaign finance reports showed the food industry and other opponents raised more than $5 million to combat the initiative. Much of the money went to advertisements warning of the higher costs it would bring to restaurants, grocery stores and school cafeterias.

"Oregonians have resoundingly rejected the efforts of the proponents of Measure 27 to scare people about the foods they eat," said Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law. "I think it affirms their confidence in (Food and Drug Administration) regulation of foods in this country."

Genetic modification, in which DNA is transferred from one organism to another, can boost farm yields, protect against diseases and provide other benefits. It is used in some 70 percent of processed food in the United States as well as animal feeds.

Advocates argue GM foods reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, while opponents question the safety of what some have derisively called "frankenfoods."

Initiative supporters vowed to press the labeling issue, despite the setback.

"I don't consider it a loss. We may lose this election but this is just the beginning of a movement here in Oregon and across the nation," the measure's chief petitioner, Donna Harris, told Reuters.

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