ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

7 March 2003


From Claire Robinson, GMWATCH editor
Dear all,

Sir John Krebs of the Food Standards Agency is at it again. He is accused of hi-jacking the government’s public debate on GM foods by starting a breakaway debate with no independent oversight - and using taxpayers‚ money to produce pro-GM propaganda materials. For the full story, see our IMPROPAGANDA section.

Instead of his usual activities of blindly promoting GM foods and attacking organics, Sir John would do well to investigate the shameful absence of GM food safety data. This month sees the second part of our overview of such studies, or lack of them (for part 1, see GMWATCH number 4).

One of our subscribers has voiced what is, I’m sure, a wider concern that we have a duty not only to inform you about GM issues but also to let you know what you can do to help. This month, in our IMPROPAGANDA section, we include details of two campaigns: how you can help bring the FSA to heel as the public servant it is paid to be; and how you can help bring balance to the science strand of the public debate.

Regarding the latter campaign, please don’t feel you can’t contribute unless you’re a scientist. Anyone with a modicum of common sense and some acquaintance with the NGIN/GMWATCH list is well equipped to state a view or ask a searching question on such issues as food safety, environmental risks and the actions of government regulators.

Please continue to let us have your views and tell us about any GM campaigns you may be involved in.

Claire Robinson <>


GMWATCH no 4 featured a review of GM food safety studies, which the biotech industry would have us believe are legion in number, rigorous in design and reassuring in result.

Our previous review focussed on food safety concerns and in particular, Bt crops. This time, we shift the spotlight to herbicide resistant GM crops, developed to allow farmers to douse the crop with herbicide without killing the crop.

Before we get down to the individual studies, here’s geneticist Dr Michael Antoniou explaining why ALL genetic engineering of food is potentially dangerous:

"Professor Richard Dawkins's assertion that genes are a ‘software sub-routine’, which can therefore be moved with precision by genetic engineering between totally unrelated organisms (T2, January 28), reflects the naivete of individuals who theorise about genetics rather than those working with it first-hand.

"Genetic engineering, either in an animal or plant context, always has unpredictable outcomes and they are frequently greater than the intended change. This is because it is wrong to consider genes as independent units of information, which can be accurately slotted into the genetic code of any organism. Genes have evolved within a given organism to work in combinations in the context of an immensely complex genetic, biochemical and ecological environment.

"The ‘Luddism’ of the Prince of Wales and Peter Melchett in objecting to GM food on this occasion is supported by empirical scientific observation." - Michael Antoniou (Lecturer in molecular genetics), King's College London

[At the Chardon LL GM maize public hearing] Dr Steve Kestin and Dr Toby Knowles from the University of Bristol presented evidence that nutrition tests on broiler chickens, fed GM [Bt] and non-GM maize, submitted by Aventis to support their application, was woefully ‘inadequate’. They asserted that the research ‘is not of a standard that would be acceptable for publication in a scientific journal’ … Concerns were also raised about ‘suspicious’ higher death rates among chickens that ate GM maize - twice as many chickens died, compared with those fed on conventional maize. Whilst the results were not statistically significant [because Aventis used too few animals], the trend for higher mortality in GM-fed chicken should have alerted to either flaws in the study or a real direct effect of the GM diet. The 8% mortality rate recorded was double the usual rate amongst the UK broiler industry. - Lim Li Ching, Third World Network

GM food crops are not safety tested because the US government has decreed that they are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GM counterparts. The following studies show this to be a lie.

1. GM maize: Two lines of Chardon LL herbicide-resistant GM maize expressing the gene of the PAT-PROTEIN (conferring herbicide tolerance) showed significant differences in fat and carbohydrate contents compared with non-GM maize and were therefore substantially different. Toxicity tests were only performed with the PAT-PROTEIN even though with this the unpredictable effects of the gene transfer or the vector or gene insertion could not be demonstrated or excluded. The design of these experiments was also flawed because:
* The starting weight of the rats varied by more than 20% and individual feed intakes were not monitored.
* Feed conversion efficiency [the amount of weight the animal puts on per pound of feed eaten] on PAT-PROTEIN was significantly reduced. Feed conversion efficiency is the main criterion on which the quality of animal feed is judged. Why, if Chardon LL GM maize has a lower feed conversion efficiency, is it even being allowed onto the market?
* Urine output increased and several clinical parameters were also different.
* The weight and histology [study of tissue] of the digestive tract and pancreas was not measured. Such tests show up organ damage such as was observed in Pusztai’s study on rats fed GM potatoes.

Thus, GM maize expressing PAT-PROTEIN may present unacceptable health risks.

2. Herbicide resistant soybeans were claimed to be substantially equivalent to conventional soybeans. However, several significant differences between the GM and control lines were recorded and the statistical method used was flawed because:
* The authors compared samples from different locations and harvest times.
* There were differences in the content of natural isoflavones in the GM lines, with potential importance for health.
* The trypsin inhibitor (a major allergen) content was significantly increased (by up to 25%) in the GM soybeans.
Because of these differences, the GM and control lines could not be regarded as substantially equivalent.

3. Herbicide-resistant soybeans: Studies were conducted on the feeding value and toxicity for rats, broiler chickens, catfish and dairy cows of two GM lines of glyphosate-tolerant soybean (GTS). The growth, feed conversion efficiency, catfish fillet composition, broiler breast muscle and fat pad weights and milk production, rumen fermentation and digestibility in cows were claimed to be similar for GTS and non-GTS. However:
* These experiments were poorly designed since the high dietary protein concentration and the low level of GTS fed to animals could have masked any GM effect.
* No individual feed intakes, body or organ weights were given and no histology [tissue examination] was performed, except some examination of the pancreas. In toxicological studies, the first and most obvious organs to examine for damage are those of the intestinal tract.
* The feeding value of the two GTS lines was not substantially equivalent because the rats grew significantly better on one of the GTS lines than on the other.
* The catfish experiment showed that the feeding value of one of the GTS lines was superior to the other.
* Milk production and performance of lactating cows also showed significant differences between cows fed GM and non-GM feeds.
* Moreover, testing of the safety of protein which renders soybeans glyphosate-resistant was irrelevant because the protein as expressed in an E. coli bacterium and not the protein as expressed in the soybeans was used. Their effects could be different as inserted genes can express differently in different host organisms.

Thus, the claim that the feeding value of GTS and non-GTS lines was substantially equivalent is at best premature.

4. GM soybeans: Rats had meagre weight gain when fed GM soybeans.
In a separate study it was claimed that rats and mice which were fed 30% toasted GTS or non-GTS in their diet had no significant differences in nutritional performance, organ weights, histopathology and production of IgE and IgG antibodies. However, under the unphysiological -- basically, starvation -- conditions of these experiments when, instead of the normal daily growth of 5-8 g per day, the rats grew less than 0.3 g and mice not at all, no valid conclusions could be drawn.

5. GM tomatoes: The first and only safety evaluation of a GM crop, the FLAVR SAVR tomato, was commissioned by Calgene, as required by the FDA. The test has not been peer-reviewed or published but is on the internet. The results claim there were no significant alterations in total protein, vitamins and mineral contents and in toxic glycoalkaloids. Therefore, the GM and parent tomatoes were deemed to be "substantially equivalent."  However, some rats died within a few weeks after eating GM tomatoes.

In toxicity studies with male/female rats fed these GM tomatoes, toxic effects were claimed to be absent. In addition, it was concluded that mean body and organ weights, weight gains, food consumption and clinical chemistry or blood parameters were not significantly different between GM-fed and control groups. However:
* The unacceptably wide range of rat starting weights invalidated these findings.
* No histology on the intestines was done even though stomach sections showed mild/moderate damage in up to seven out of twenty female rats but none in the controls. These were considered to be of no importance, though in humans they could lead to life-endangering hemorrhage, particularly in the elderly who use aspirin to prevent thrombosis.
* Seven out of forty rats on GM tomatoes died within two weeks for unstated reasons.
* These studies were poorly designed and therefore the conclusion that FLAVR SAVR tomatoes were safe does not rest on good science, questioning the validity of the FDA's decision that no toxicological testing of other GM foods will in future be required.


Concerns about the bias of the government’s "public debate" on GM foods and particularly the science strand continue.  Below are excerpts from comments from attendees at the GM science review public meetings:

"The term 'scientific' was used systematically to suppress or ignore inconvenient issues. This bias operated at many levels... Fragmentation of issues... Selective citation or even misrepresentation of scientific findings... Omission of research... Biased chairing: Censorship of comments..." - Dr Les Levidow

"I came away thinking it was little better than a propaganda exercise for GM technology... It was, quite frankly, a disgrace to call this a discussion about GMOs. The speaker line-up and format combined to make it a very one-sided event which has not significantly advanced the debate." - Dr Doug Parr

"A more intelligent and evidence-based approach to public engagement is possible - but it needs one thing that is often lacking in the scientific community and that is humility" - Dr Gary Kass

"This was not the only public meeting on the science issues that has been lacking in an appropriate platform for other views... the public meeting on GM food safety as part of the science review on 23rd Jan... largely consisted of scientists enmeshed in the approvals process talking to each other" - Dr Doug Parr

The Royal Society stands accused of trying to rig the GM public debate. The RS is coordinating a massive media campaign with a pro-GM agenda, involving many of the top scientists in the country. For details of their crude propaganda techniques and how you can help counter their one-sided contribution to the science strand of the public debate, see
The article tells how you can visit
to send email contributions on any of the following "science" topics: GM Food safety; Gene flow, detection and impact; Environmental impact of GM crops; Future developments; Regulatory process; Other.

The UK government plans to press ahead with licensing commercial use of genetically modified crops, before the results of trials are known and a public debate on the issue has been held, angering both the Scottish executive and the Welsh assembly.

Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, has decided that 18 applications to the EU for growing and importing crops such as GM maize, oil seed rape, sugar beet and cotton are unstoppable and the British government has no alternative but to process them. In the past few weeks Bayer has applied directly to Mrs Beckett to plant and market GM oil seed rape, and Monsanto has applied to import GM maize.

The public debate on the issue is due to begin in May and conclude in September. A spokesman for Defra confirmed that licensing would take place without considering the outcome of the public debate: "It is a debate not a referendum."

Beckett claims European law forces the UK government to go ahead with the approvals immediately, a point disputed by GM campaign groups. The excuse that "we have no choice under European law" is widely relied upon by the UK government when it wants to force through unpopular policies. It’s been used to justify the building of polluting waste incinerators and the mishandling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, among other debacles. Independent legal advice has frequently challenged such claims.

The Womens' Institutes, Food Commission, UNISON, Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, GM Free Cymru, Genetic Food Alert and the National Association of Health Stores have launched a forceful attack on the FSA and its Chair, Sir John Krebs, accusing them of pro-GM bias and of organising a  'breakaway' GM Debate in competition with the independent one initiated by the Government.

Last March an unnamed Government Minister warned that the GM Debate would be "nothing but a carefully orchestrated 'PR offensive'" and said "don't be in any doubt - the decision [to commercialise gm crops] is already taken."

This powerful alliance of organisations has accused the FSA of taking a line on GM foods that is virtually indistinguishable from that of the pro-GM lobby. It is also being accused of failing in its duty to represent public health and consumer interests.

Five Year Freeze has written to Sir John Krebs protesting FSA’s action in holding its own breakaway debate consisting of issuing pro-GM propaganda with taxpayer money without public consultation or independent oversight. See their letter at

The current concerns over the Food Standards Agency's attempts to hijack the GM public debate can only be understood against the record of the FSA under Sir John Krebs. Consider the following:

1. Sir John was known to be unsympathetic to concerns about GM foods before he was even appointed, dismissing them as "shrill, often ill-informed and dogma-driven".

2. The FSA under Krebs has failed to examine the safety of GM foods, despite the high level of consumer concern. Business as usual was guaranteed by the FSA taking its advice from the same old committee (ACNFP) as MAFF.

3. Instead, Krebs‚ FSA conducted a safety enquiry into organic food, which has a high level of consumer confidence. Dr Patrick Wall, the chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has described Krebs' views on organic food as "extreme".

4. The FSA spun the results of its own research on GM foods to claim it proved the safety of eating such food when the opposite conclusion could easily have been drawn. The study involved feeding one meal containing GM soy to human volunteers and seeing if the GM DNA survived passage through the digestive tract. In spite of the worrying finding that GM DNA did survive passage through the stomach and small intestine and transferred to bacteria in the gut, the FSA announced that GM food was safe since the GM DNA did not survive passage through the large intestine. No attention was paid in FSA press releases to possible repercussions of the transference of GM DNA to gut bacteria or the possible effects of ingesting GM DNA in people with intestinal damage, such as leaky gut syndrome, ulcers etc.

5. Krebs is far from alone at the FSA in terms of links to the biotech lobby. The director of the Scottish arm of the FSA is Dr George Paterson -- the former director general of Health Canada's Food Directorate. Paterson has been linked to major food safety scandals in Canada involving both fast track approval for a Monsanto GM crop and the overriding of government scientists' health warnings on a GM product.

6. Krebs' acted as OECD's GM conference chair in Edinburgh -- an occasion described by Dr Arpad Pusztai, the only critical food scientist invited, as not so much a conference as "a propaganda forum for airing the views and promoting the interests of the biotech industry."

7. Krebs collaborated with Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), a pro-GM food-industry-funded body, in instructing journalists on how they should report issues like the GM debate.

8. The FSA opposes enhanced GM food labelling. The EU would like to enhance GM food labelling so that derivatives such as oils and starches are labelled for the consumer. The Food Standards Agency has spoken out against this on the grounds that such derivatives are indistinguishable from their non-GM counterparts, since they contain no remaining GM DNA. However, there is evidence that this is not true. One GM testing company told us that around 50% of oils and samples of the soy derivative lecithin contain enough DNA to test for GM presence.

9. The FSA played a key role in producing weak international guidelines on GM food allergenicity testing.

Krebs has not only emasculated the agency but turned it into a public platform for his extreme support for GM and his antipathy to organic food.

Krebs puts the "con" into consumer protection!

This leads us to …


Fed up with the FSA spouting pro-GM propaganda, spending millions on promoting biotechnology and rigging the Public Debate? Sick of the blatant bias of Sir John Krebs and his refusal to listen to the voice of consumers?

Then send your own polite, clear and fact-based letters direct to the FSA Board Members (a few of them are on our side!):

Robert Rees, Country Elephant Ltd, Norfolk House, Bisley, Stroud GL6 7AA

Ann Hemingway  - send by email to her secretary at the Welsh FSA -
c/o Welsh FSA, First Floor, Southgate House, Wood Street, Cardiff CF10 1EW
Fax (029) 20 678918/9

Michael Gibson, Macbeth's, 11 Tolbooth Street, Forres, Moray, Scotland IV36 1PH

Michael Walker

Karol Bailey, Holly Tree Farm, Chester Road, Tabley, Knutsford, Cheshire WA16 OEU

Baroness Howarth of Breckland, House of Lords, London SW1A OPW

Ms Sandra Walbran, Food and Safety Manager, South Lakeland District Council, South Lakeland House, Lowther Street, Kendal Cumbria LA9 4UD

Richard Ayre, 69 Drayton Gardens Ealing, London W13 OLG
The Old Dairy, Burgh Hall Farm, Burgh Parva, Melton Constable, Norfolk NR24 2PU

Dr Jeya Henry, School Of Biological And Molecular Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane, Oxford OX3 0BP

Vernon Sankey, Non-Executive Director, Pearson plc, Shell Mex House, 80 Strand, London NC2R 0RL

Sir John Krebs, Chair, Food Standards Agency, Aviation House, 125 Kingsway, London WC2B 6NH

Full details of Board Members are at -


The US government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ignored the advice of the majority of its scientific review board when it approved a Monsanto strain of insect-resistant GM Bt maize, said one of the scientists involved. Fred Gould, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and ten other members of the board that looked at Monsanto's application, urged the EPA to require a refuge size of at least 50% of the total area planted with corn. A refuge is an area planted with non-insect resistant maize, aimed at preventing insect resistance developing through overexposure to Bt toxin. In its ruling, however, the EPA sided with three dissenting review-board members, and sanctioned the 20% refuge size that Monsanto had requested.


The Party of Wales (Plaid Cymru) Euro MP Jill Evans has reacted angrily to draft proposals by EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler that would place the responsibility of avoiding GM contamination firmly on farmers, organic producers and seed suppliers instead of GM companies.

Reacting to the proposals, Ms Evans said: "The Communication argues that the responsibility for co-existence measures such as buffer zones or pollen barriers "should fall on the economic operators (farmers, seed suppliers, etc.) who intend to gain a benefit from the specific cultivation model they have chosen". This approach would turn the "polluter pays" principle upside down. Instead of those who produce and use GMOs being responsible for what they do, the conventional and organic farmers would be expected to prevent GMO contamination. It's crazy that we should expect the polluted instead of the polluter to have to pay."

Below are some great quotes from the final script for "Slice of Life", a new 20 minute video from Greenpeace video on GM wheat. To find out more, please contact Martin Atkin at GP <>

"It is critical [that] customers perceive the bakery's bread as being GM-free." Warburton's (UK)

"Personally, I don't think Roundup Ready offers a lot to consumers." Alex Waugh, National Association of British & Irish Millers.

"GMO wheat will for sure be a market destructor" Andre & Cie (Belgium)

"If you do grow genetically modified wheat, we will not be able to buy any of your wheat - neither the GM nor the conventional."  Rank Hovis McDougall (UK)

"Flour millers strongly doubt that... GM wheat or even conventional wheat that may contain GM wheat will be acceptable to the Japanese market." Japan Flour Millers Associaton

"The European milling industry will simply not buy one more kilo of US wheat at all if Roundup Ready wheat is commercialised." Grandi Molini (Italy)

"We will not do anything to erode consumer confidence" General Mills (UK)

"Give us Roundup Ready bread? I don’t think so." US Wheat Associates

For excerpts from the film’s commentary see


A coalition of US environmental and consumer groups has threatened to sue the US Agriculture Department unless it places a moratorium on planting biotech crops genetically engineered to produce medicinal and industrial products. The coalition, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Center for Food Safety, accused the USDA of allowing the experimental crops to be planted without conducting required environmental risk assessments. Without such analyses, the USDA "is risking permanent contamination of the environment and our food supply with numerous drugs and chemicals," said Peter Jenkins, attorney for the Center for Food Safety.


GM Bt cotton has been a failure in Andhra Pradesh. Farmers in Andhra Pradesh grew Bt cotton crop on 8,000 acres last year. The genetically modified crop with in-built pest resistance was expected to reduce heavy input cost on pesticides and increase yield. But the state government says farmers aren't getting the yields they were promised and the poor quality of the crop also fetches a lower price in the market. "Overall information is that the farmers have not experienced very positive and encouraging results," remarked V S Rao, Agriculture Minister, Andhra Pradesh.

Raja Mouli, a farmer of Nagaram Village, Warangal District, now curses the temptation that led him to experiment with Bt Cotton, "The official report has only confirmed what I knew all along. I have experienced the failure of the crop first-hand. Now that the truth is out, I want other farmers to be saved from this disaster - the government should stop these criminal companies at least in time for the next season."

A remarkable attack, 'Outstanding Performance of Bt Cotton in India... Really?' was posted on Prakash's pro-GM AgBioView email list on a recent paper in SCIENCE claiming startling benefits from Bt cotton growing in India.

What makes the attack remarkable is not only where it was published but the fact that the author, Shanthu Shantharam, is a strong proponent of GMOs and Bt cotton who supported the campaign against Quist and Chapela's Mexican maize paper. He writes of the Bt cotton claims, "This kind of shoddy publication based on meagre and questionable field data in reputed journals like SCIENCE do more harm to science and technology development, perhaps set GMO technology backwards."

Shantharam writes, "[The SCIENCE paper] raises serious questions about the falling standards of 'peer-review'. The entire process of 'peer-review' has now degenerated into ‘you pat my back and I pat yours’."

In fact, the SCIENCE paper was based on outdated data from field trials carried out in 2001 by the Maharashtra Hybrid Company (MAHYCO), a subsidiary of Monsanto - not from commercially farmed cotton. The report spoke of a 70 to 80 percent yield increases of Monsanto's patented Bt cotton, compared to conventional hybrids.

Influenced by the high-decibel campaign by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech and with a lot of hope, Indian farmer Akki Ramulu raised a Bt Cotton hybrid, buying the seed at a cost about four times higher than the usual hybrid variety. But after six months, he is a shattered man. After months of hard work, he may just be able to get a quintal of cotton, against the promised yield of 10-12 quintals per acre.

Following dire publicity over the performance of its GM Bt cotton in India, and with many poor Indian farmers facing ruin, Monsanto-Mahyco came up with findings which it provided to the Indian government showing that really it had all been a great success! Unfortunately for Monsanto, Greenpeace-India sent its own researchers to check up on how the data had been compiled and, amongst much else, the researchers collected testimonies from farmers who said that they had been advised by the company to inflate their real yield figures!


Biotech companies hype fears over burgeoning world population in order to push the case for GM crops, though such crops have largely failed to boost yield and in many cases reduce it. The following excerpt is from just one of many articles which agree with UN predictions of a levelling out and eventual fall of world population.

[Re world population] "A growing number of demographers now believe that the world is settling onto the path that follows recent UN ‘low range’ estimates. These make startling reading. According to the latest version, published earlier this year (World Population Projections to 2150, UN Population Division, New York, 1998), the world population will peak in about 2040 on 7.7 billion and then go into long-term decline. Not just a small decline, either. By 2100 we could be back under today's population, and by 2150 the projection is for a world population of 3.6 billion, less than two-thirds of today's.

"It is worth noting that this doesn't assume any global catastrophe, just couples carrying on doing what they have always done, making rational decisions for themselves about how many children they want. As the Australian demographer John Caldwell told the UN population conference in Cairo in 1994: ‘The experience of the past 20 years makes it much more likely that we will end up with a declining population’ (This Week, 17 September 1994, p 6)." - "Will the world cope with a rapidly ageing population?" Fred Pearce, New Scientist 6/20/98, p. 20

The number of chronically hungry people in the world is set to fall from 776 million now to 440 million in 2030, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]*. The introduction of genetically-modified crops is not critical, says the FAO report: "Agricultural production could probably meet expected demand until 2030 even without  major advances in modern biotechnology." - FAO report quoted in New Scientist Online

A problem with using biotechnology to alleviate African famine is that no GM seeds have been commercially developed with the purpose of increasing yields. Some 80% of the seed produced commercially is designed to resist herbicides. These can then be used extensively on crops to kill weeds. However, this does not lead to improved yield but may decrease the labour requirements for crop production - a distinct disadvantage in Africa. - Sunday Times (Johannesburg)


Syngenta has reported its first net loss since it was created by the merger of the agrochemical concerns of AstraZeneca and Syngenta in 2000.


In Belgium, police raided the Ghent offices of activist group Collective of Action GénEthique (CAGE), removing computers and documents on the spread of GMOs in the environment and in the food chain in Belgium. In Flanders, police raided the offices of the Ministry of Environment, where documents on the cultivation of GMOs were seized without explanation. Press reports referred to "suspicions" that assistants of the Minister of the Environment were implicated in the digging up of GM crops. CAGE’s press release links the heavy-handed police raids to the fact that pro-GM interests are concerned that the number of experimental GM releases in Belgium has fallen from 144 in the year 2000 to just 1 in 2003!


More than 600,000 supporters of French farmers‚ leader Jose Bove - including 6,000 from Japan and hundreds in the US - have written to President Chirac asking him to pardon him. Bove has been ordered by an appeal court to serve 10 months in jail for two assaults on GM crops. He has already spent two terms in prison for dismantling a half-built McDonald's restaurant in 1999. Bove said, "This is the first time a union leader has been sentenced to such a long prison term in France for a legitimate action of civil disobedience. Last summer, I drove to prison in my tractor. This time, if they want to throw me in the Bastille, they have to come and get me."

Former Fox TV investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, who tried to get the truth out about Monsanto's genetically engineered cattle drug rBGH, are appealing against a court order to pay $24.3 billion to Fox TV. Fox TV was busy promoting their journalists’ programme until they got a call from Monsanto threatening legal action. Akre and Wilson have ended up having to take on not just Monsanto but America's pro-corporate media and judiciary.

The ruling assessing the fees came on the heels of a ruling overturned an August 2000 jury verdict and $425,000 award to Jane Akre. Jurors had concluded she was pressured by Fox lawyers and managers to broadcast what the jury agreed was "a false, distorted or slanted story" and was fired for threatening to blow the whistle. But the jury decision was later reversed on a legal technicality when a higher court agreed with Fox that it is technically not against any law to slant or distort the news. The court said the media overseer, Federal Communications Commission’s prohibition against news distortion is merely a policy, not a law.


Dolly the sheep, the first animal cloned from an adult cell, has died prematurely at 6. The average lifespan of a sheep is 10-16 years. She was put down after developing lung disease, but had also been suffering from arthritis.


James Watson, the US biologist who won a Nobel Prize for his role in unlocking the structure of DNA 50 years ago, has advocated using genetics to "cure stupidity". He said children who are genetically enhanced by their parents will dominate the world. Turning to beauty, Watson says this, too, could be engineered. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great," he says.

Psychologist Oliver James accused Watson of "ropy thinking" which ignores the role of nurture in intelligence. Watson also fails to consider environmental influences - certain pollutants are known to diminish IQ. Many scientists point out too that environmental influences feed back into the genome, changing the DNA for better or worse.


On 27 February BBC Horizon aired a programme on the failure of gene therapy and the death of teenager Jesse Gelsinger in a gene therapy clinical trial. The programme flagged up some seemingly insurmountable problems which also apply to GM foods, as the methods of engineering crop plants are similar to those used in gene therapy.

1. The viral vectors used to carry the desired "healthy" gene into the host genome are dangerous, in spite of repeated attempts to find safe vectors. This problem is also central to GM foods. Doubts have been expressed by independent scientists, including Joe Cummins, Mae-Wan Ho and Arpad Pusztai, about the safety of the vectors (which carry the desired gene into the host genome) and promoters (which switch on the gene and prevent it being rejected by the host plant's immune system) commonly used in creating GM food plants. See NGIN/GMWATCH's extensive archive on the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) promoter.

2. The most brilliant scientists can claim that they have genetically engineered the chosen virus to make it "safe" and yet be wrong.

3. Scientists with excellent reputations can deliberately ignore danger signals because of ulterior motives. These may include greed for funding money, but (according to the lawyer for the family of the teenager killed by this gene therapy experiment), the motive is as likely to be a religious zeal to achieve a brilliant cure with gene therapy, resulting in the normal cautions being thrown to the wind.

4. The much-hyped cures expected from gene therapy have not materialised. The few apparent cures have not been reliably replicated, and some patients have suffered severe complications and deaths. A recent gene therapy trial was abandoned when two children developed leukemia. These failures were predicted at the outset by scientists who have kept up to date on genetics and know that the genome is not a static entity like a car engine whose faulty bits can be successfully replaced by healthy bits. It's a fluid entity where genes work in combination with other genes in complex relationships, and where genes change and respond to influences in the environment. Future cures are therefore more likely to come from therapies that involve the patient as a whole in the context of his environment.

"In 1998 [before the gene therapy trial], Jesse was as healthy as I had ever known him"
- Paul Gelsinger, Jesse's father

To see the Trial and Error programme summary, visit

The New Zealand government is speeding up the approval of animal and human medicines, vaccines and pesticides containing GM organisms or hazardous substances, to counter emergencies such as a bioterrorist attack. Normally, these would go be fully assessed by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma), including public notification and consultation, which could take four weeks.

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