ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

10 February 2002


1. David Baulcombe Wins (Another) Award
2. Europabio and the European Commission's strategy for Europe
3. Oz & NZ: GM food slips through loophole
4. Biotech firms mull action against China over GMOs

1. David Baulcombe Wins (Another) Award

Congratulations are due to Prof David Baulcombe, head of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norfolk UK, for winning the 2002 Kumho Award from The International Society of Plant Molecular Biology ( for his pioneering research in the area of gene silencing in plants.

This is not the first time that Prof Baulcombe's gifts have been recognised. In 2001 Prof Baulcombe was a key part of the winning team working in the area of gene boosting and critic silencing that helped earn the John Innes Centre a prestigious Pants on Fire Award:

2. Europabio and the European Commission's strategy for Europe

Anyone who thought the wheels of Eurocracy ground slow will have been more than startled by the astonishing speed with which the European Commission  recently produced its game plan for the future of biotech in Europe.

Although the closing date for consultations on the EU's future strategy was only in November, and this was followed by the Christmas break, the Commission was able to determine and publish its new strategy well before the end of January!

Not so fast, however, that the Commission couldn't find time in the process to liaise with the biotech industry, as is apparent from the press release below from 'the voice of European bioindustries', EuropaBio, in which this industry body is able to both welcome the Commission's strategy document and make reference to its content before it had even been published!

The Commission's stategy is due for EU endorsement at Barcelona in March which, according to the original game plan, just happened to be when it was hoped the EU's moratorium on new approvals would also be lifted - all part, it seems, of a carefully coordinated "new beginning for biotech in Europe".
A new beginning for biotech in Europe?

Wednesday 23 January 2002: Today the European Commission is expected to set out a strategy for European life sciences and biotechnology. EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries, welcomes this effort to acknowledge biotechnology as a major source of innovation for a very wide range of products and the important role it can play in building a knowledge-based economy.

The communication, "Life Sciences and Biotechnology - a Strategy for Europe", is particularly welcome at a time when Europe's fledgling biotech industries are struggling to keep pace with their international rivals. "We have more companies than the US but we generate far fewer products," says Hugo Schepens, EuropaBio's Secretary General.

Although a European biotech strategy is a good start, resources and energies at EU and national levels must be mobilized and coordinated to make the strategy a reality.  "Supportive measures must be coherent, synergistic and attractive; and the regulatory process must be science-based, consistent and workable," says Hugo Schepens. "This has been Europe's weakness."

EuropaBio calls on the Commission to ensure that the strategy is carried through, and on EU leaders to endorse the strategy at Barcelona in March. EU leaders themselves identified utilizing the full potential of biotechnology and strengthening the sector's competitiveness as important in order for Europe to match leading competitors.  They must now ensure that biotechnology plays a full role in reaching the Lisbon summit goal of making Europe the world's most competitive economy by 2010.

Ethics is likely to play an important role in the Commission's strategy to ensure that developments in life sciences and biotechnology are accompanied by a strong societal platform to encourage public debate and openness. "We are committed to generate understanding about our industry and to contribute to public debate and ethical platforms on all issues of concern to the public," says Schepens.

EuropaBio represents 40 corporate members operating worldwide and 17 national biotechnology associations (totalling some 1000 SMEs) involved in research and development, testing, manufacturing and distribution of biotechnology products. EuropaBio, the voice of European bioindustries, aims to be a promoting force for biotechnology and to present its proposals to industry, politicians, regulators, NGOs, and the public at large.

For further information please contact: EuropaBio
6 Avenue de l'Armée, 1040 Brussels
Tel. + 32 2 735 03 13
Fax: +32 2 735 49 60
Mob: +32 475 93 17 24

3. GM food slips through loophole

By Deborah Hope
The Australian, February 07, 2002,5744,3729269%255E2702,00.html

In reports released yesterday, the nation's food safety watchdog recommended approval of genetically modified varieties of corn and canola, which are likely to reach Australia's supermarket shelves  as ingredients in  breakfast cereals, bread, pastries and other snack foods.

And shoppers might not be able to identify which foods contain the GM corn and canola  due to a loophole in new labelling laws introduced in December. Under the new regulations, food products have to be labelled as containing genetically modified food only where the changes are evident in the final product for sale.

In some processing, such as distilling canola oil from canola, the DNA is destroyed. Because of this, said the  Australia New Zealand Food Authority's Michael Dack, the genetic modification is not evident in the final product and escapes the labelling requirement.

Dr Dack said that only about 5 per cent of supermarket products required labelling.  But a much higher proportion might include genetically modified ingredients.

Nearly two-thirds of Australians polled on the subject 18 months ago said they would not buy GM foods. More than 90 per cent  supported laws requiring such foods to be labelled.

The corn and canola recommended for approval have been modified to resist herbicides, and the corn, developed by multinational Monsanto, has also undergone genetic changes that will give it protection against insect pests.

The move brings to 22 the number of genetically modified foods the Australia New Zealand Food Authority has recommended for approval since July 2000. Of these, 10 have received final approval, four are pending ministerial approval and five are under public consultation.

 In seven of these cases, Monsanto has been the applicant. None of the approved GM crops is  grown in Australia.

So far only genetically altered cotton and carnations have passed the necessary regulatory hurdles for commercial production. Final approval means only that Australian manufacturers  can import the products as ingredients.

ANZFA acting managing director Greg Roche said that on the basis of the available evidence, the food authority believed food derived from the two GM crops was as safe for human consumption as conventional varieties.

"I can say with some certainty that we know more about the genetic make-up of these GM foods than any other food in the food supply," Mr Roche said. Judy Carman, a member of the Public Health Association's Food, Legislation and Regulation Advisory Group, said the evidence ANZFA required to secure approval was not sufficiently rigorous.

"My position is there is no evidence genetically engineered foods are safe, because there is no evidence," Dr Carman said. "It's a big black box," she added.

See also:
Green Party challenges claim by food safety watchdog

4. Biotech firms mull action against China over GMOs

CHICAGO, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Two big biotechnology-related companies are ready to take action against China if it goes ahead and implements controversial rules on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, a U.S. lawyer said on Wednesday. China plans to implement the rules ­ which could curtail the $1 billion in annual sales of U.S. soybeans ­ on March 20.

William DiSalvatore, a partner in the New York law firm Hale and Dorr, said the regulations would deprive the firms, which he declined to name, of business in the world's most populous country.

"My clients will consider some form of action if the rules are implemented on March 20 because they are a barrier that will impede trade," he told Reuters in an interview, adding that one of the companies is based in the United States and the other in Europe.

He did not specify what type of action might be taken.

"There are other things (possible actions) apart from court action, but I am not at liberty to say," he said.

DiSalvatore, who was lead counsel in a patent dispute relating to GMOs in the United States, spoke as U.S. officials held meetings with their Chinese counterparts to clarify the rules.

The regulations require exporters of genetically modified foods to China to apply for safety certificates stating that the goods are harmless to humans, animals and the environment.

U.S. grain industry sources have accused China of using the rules to stem the surge in soybean imports. China accounts for nearly one-quarter of total world soybean imports, and its business is worth about $1 billion to the United States.

The United States is the world's largest producer and exporter of soybeans, and nearly 70 percent of the soybeans grown in the country are genetically modified.

Exports of U.S. soybeans to China have slowed in recent weeks amid uncertainty over how the government will implement the regulations, and a lack of clarity over testing standards and tolerance levels for cargoes of transgenic goods.

DiSalvatore said it was too early to assess potential financial losses his clients could suffer due to the rules.

Beijing's regulations might prove temporary or be modified once China is able to produce its own varieties of genetically modified crops without foreign technology, he said.

"The suspicion is those regulations are going to be temporary. Maybe they'll stay for a year. Once China develops a rice variety, then they will modify the rules ... once they have the advantage," he said.

DiSalvatore said China's attempt at developing an indigenous biotechnology industry was evident in its plans to ban new foreign investment in the development and manufacture of seeds of genetically modified plants.

A draft government document showed China also planned to limit foreign investment in the production of cereals, potatoes, cotton and oilseeds.

"If China is going to shut down foreign investment in GMOs, it will be very difficult for all of the big players in the ag biotech industry to focus on that market," DiSalvatore said.

DiSalvatore said he would advise his clients to get strong patent protection in the United States and Europe in the event China is in the process of developing a particular transgenic product and hopes to sell it in the United States.

"That could be an act of infringement in the United States," he added.
"The greatest danger to America's dominant position today is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is the arrogance of American power."
London Times, 7 Feb 2002,,258-2002062638,00.html

ngin bulletin archive