ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

17 January 2003


from Andy Rees, the WEEKLY WATCH editor
Dear all

Welcome to WW13 bringing you all the latest news in brief on the GM issue.

Even by the standards of the biotech brigade this has been an AMAZING week for HYPE.  On the same day as devastatingly critical comments on GM crops were due to hit the UK media following publication of a report on GM by the Health Committee of the Scottish Parliament (see TOPIC OF THE WEEK), news popped up all over the place about how GM crops could "save the skylark", a bird endangered by intensive agriculture.  The claims were based on research part-funded by Monsanto and, unusually, published by the Royal Society.  Even the UK Government's Chief Scientific Advisor admitted on BBC radio that the key claims in the research were "not conclusively demonstrated." (see HYPE OF THE WEEK)

Interestingly, this exactly echoed what happened in 1999 when the British Medical Association produced a damning report on GM crops and the following day the first of three virulently pro-GM reports that week was released knocking the BMA story out of the headlines.  That report also came from the Royal Society who were also shown to have orchestrated attacks on Dr Pusztai's article in the Lancet (see:

The day after the GM to save the skylark story, it was GM to save the banana!!! Gm scientists "warned that, within 10 years, it could be a choice between genetically engineered bananas, or none."  Not a difficult choice (even if true), I would have thought!!!  And so think all the companies who are apparently refusing to put money into the GM banana research.  Come to think of it, there's no market for GM sugar either.

What a week!

Andy <>

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - Govt buries more bad news/advisors abusing public trust/Indian govt lied/Aid agencies backdown over GM aid/EU vows to fight WTO suit/AgBioIndia suppressed
TOPIC OF THE WEEK - Damning report from Scottish Parliament's Health Committee on GM crop trials
REPORT OF THE WEEK - India's great GM potato hoax
HYPE OF THE WEEK - GM to save the skylark (or GM-hype to save Monsanto!)

Indian government lied over GM cotton failure
Greenpeace has demanded a full probe into India's official assertions that GM cotton offered better yield, and accused the government of "lying" to the nation.  At the behest of Monsanto, farmers involved in growing the crop had boosted yield figures.
US aid agencies backdown over Indian GM aid
Two international NGOs operating in India, CARE-India and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), have suddenly withdrawn their petitions to import GM maize and soya, from the US, for relief operations amongst the poor, responding to widespread public opinion against importing any GM foods.
AgBioIndia forced off-line
The AgBioIndia site is currently inaccessible and its list inoperative as its ISP has suspended its membership.  Why?  Someone who subscribed to AgBioIndia via its website then complained to the ISP that they were being spammed by AgBioIndia.  This has led to its suspension which is, of course, being contested.  It's curious, given the news item immediately above that this should happen just now to such a successful Third World centered list which has been proving both hugely popular and very influential.  But then you only have to read the spin coming out of the industry and the US administration to see that the world is being presented with a clash between the U.S. and the EU with all other actors and centres of resistance marginalised or portrayed as stooges or victims of European governments or activists.  The fact that there have been many, like Devinder Sharma, in India warning about the dangerous irrelevance of GMOs to the problems of hunger and sustainable development for almost a decade is simply ignored.  AgBioIndia is a voice they need to silence.
US Aid agencies instructed to report anti-GM nations to USAID
The USDA has instructed US Aid Agencies to act as international policemen and marketers on behalf of US biotech corporations, so that USAID will then take the necessary 'diplomatic action' (sanctions?, WTO prosecutions?, aid cancellations?, IMF action?) to ensure that the shipments are accepted.
UK Government buries more bad news
From The Guardian, 15.1.03: "The government's strategy unit requested comments on its paper, The Costs and Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops, and received 151 replies. In the spirit of burying bad news, the replies have been published at
without saying which organisation they are from..."  The vast majority of responses to the "Scoping note" are critical of GM crops and GM food. After the Guardian piece, the replies were hurriedly reordered to make clear whcih organisations they were from.
Science advisors to UK government abusing public trust
"Scientific Committees advising the UK government are playing fast and loose with scientific evidence, abusing public trust, and in blatant violation of both good science and the precautionary principle, says Dr. Mae-Wan Ho. "The UK government's science advisors have effectively given the green light to commercial growing of GM crops, ahead of the great 'national GM debate', in a summary dismissal of mounting evidence that GM crops are hazardous to health and the environment. "ACRE, ACNFP and the Food Standards Agency should all be disbanded.  They have betrayed public trust, and are serving no useful function whatsoever."  - ISIS Report, 'Science Advisors Abusing Public Trust'
EU vows to fight possible US WTO suit
The European Union vowed a vigorous defense against any possible US suit at the World Trade Organization, challenging its four-year moratorium on importing GM crops. A high-profile trade dispute could backfire by strengthening sentiment against GM crops in Europe.  &
USDA sued to stop GE grasses
Recently, the USDA was sued over its failure to recognize the dangers associated with GM herbicide-resistant grasses, which when released into the environment could proliferate wildly.  Monsanto and Scotts Company have asked for USDA approval to commercialize a GM variety of creeping bentgrass popular for golf course greens and commercial and residential lawns. International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said, "Going to court was the only way to ensure that these 'super weeds' are not released into our neighborhoods."
Canada considers cloned livestock
A livestock company has asked Health Canada whether it can sell meat from cloned animals for human consumption.  In the US, two livestock companies are already working on producing cloned pigs and cattle.  But no products of cloned animals or their descendants are currently on the market in Canada or the US.  Cloning is much more expensive than conventional breeding, and there is a higher rate of birth defects, miscarriages, and calf deaths.
Oxford Prof says NZ shouldn't lift moratorium
The NZ Government plans to lift a moratorium on the release of GMOs have been criticised by the head of Oxford University's zoology department, Prof Alan Cooper.
Swiss GM moratorium initiative gains momentum
Swiss Farmer's Union (SBV) supports a people's initiative for a GM moratorium. The Swiss Chamber of Agriculture voted to maintain Switzerland's agriculture as GM-free, thus effectively backing a new initiative for a five year moratorium on GMOs.  According to the most recent surveys, 70% of Swiss consumers desire GM-free food.
Scientists create brand new organism
A group of scientists has created an organism that produces an amino acid that no other living thing has ever used.  Scientists led by Scripps Research Institute chemistry professor Dr Peter Schultz have engineered a version of the E coli bacteria that can produce a 21st amino acid.
Researcher says judicial review could abort GE research
In New Zealand, researchers at Crown science company Agresearch said that the latest legal challenge to their efforts to put human genetic codes into cows could result in the research being abandoned or taken overseas yesterday.

Damning report from the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee
The Scottish Parliament's Health Committee, whose mebers come from all Scotland's poiltical parties, after listening to the evidence from all sides, including all the UK's official advisory committees and the Royal Society, has published a comprehensively damning report on the lack of health controls surrounding GM crops and food, and effectively calls for a moratorium on the planting of GM in Scotland.  The report, which has been warmly welcomed by the British Medical Association, makes clear that existing safeguards are seriously inadequate and there is also a request that ministers do more to monitor the health of those who live nearby.  The report also has obvious international implications, because if GM crops are not safe in Scotland, they are not going to be safe anywhere else in the world either.

The Scottish Executive now has eight weeks in which  to respond to the report. Bruce Crawford, the Scottish National Party environment spokesman (the SNP is the biggest opposition party) said, "The Executive must take immediate action to bring an end to these trials until they can be proved to be completely safe."


* We are not so satisfied that the current risk assessment procedure was sufficiently robust to adequately assess all potential hazards to human health.  Therefore, we believe that allowing crop trials to continue does contravene the precautionary principle...
* At present, risk assessment procedures in relation to public health would appear to be flawed in the following way-
     · They do not appear to follow a standard format.
     · They seek to prove the safety of the GMO rather than test and genuinely assess potential hazards.
     · They do not identify areas of uncertainty;
     · They are overly reliant on modelling and `model assumptions' rather than hard scientific assessment
     · There is no set period of time for which risks must be assessed, and subsequently reassessed.
* The Committee is convinced of the need for additional toxicological tests and, after considering the evidence, would also wish to see pharmaceutical-style testing being applied to GM crops.
* The Committee believes more research should be commissioned into the effect, allergic or otherwise, of GM pollen and recommends all GM crops considered for trials should be tested as if they were entering the food chain even if they were not intended to be so used.
* The Committee is concerned about the transparency of the decision making process and would wish to see all material considered by ACRE in the public domain...
* While we appreciate that the purpose of these trials is not the commercial cultivation of crops for entry into the food or feed chain, it is clear that there are real concerns that GM seed may already have done so. This may introduce GM oil seed rape into the food chain without testing.
* The Committee seeks clarification from the Executive as to whether the SCIMAC guidelines are binding on those responsible for producing the crop, and if so, what monitoring system and penalties are in place to ensure adherence to them.
*The Committee seeks assurances from the Executive that measures are in place to monitor the contamination of nearby non-GM crops, and other organisms, that may potentially allow GM seed or pollen into the food chain without the appropriate testing or licence.  The Committee is particularly concerned that even pro-trial organisations seem to accept the inevitability of GM contamination.
* The Committee is not satisfied that the Executive has pursued the appropriate monitoring procedures. The arguments being applied to counter the argument that GM crops may be hazardous to health - that no empirical evidence of harm has so far emerged - are similar to those applied in the past concerning other public concerns, where evidence of hazards to public health has subsequently emerged. Any major scientific intervention into the environment must be scrupulously monitored to measure any impact on human health. The Executive should be doing more to examine the effects on human health in relation to the local populations around FSE GM sites.
* The Committee is of the view that antibiotic marker genes should be phased out...
* The Committee accepts the Executive's acknowledgement of mistakes that have been made in the consultation procedures to date, and seeks reassurance that the Executive will adhere to the new Directive 2001/18/EC in relation to consultation. Directive 2001/18/EC (Article 9) states that public consultation must be carried out. The Committee wishes the Executive to provide more information on how it intends to put into place this new obligation.

The full report can be viewed at:

REPORT OF THE WEEK - India's great GM potato hoax

India's Research Foundation for Science Technology & Ecology have responded top all the recent hype about a GM potato to help fight malnutrition in India.

They note that "...the plan was presented at a conference in London by G. Padmanaban who as director of India's prestigious Indian Institute of Science had signed a secret deal with Monsanto which even his fellow scientists of the Institute knew nothing about."

They also note, "Even though it is independent institutes in the Third World... which first exposed the Golden Rice hoax, G. Padmanaban deliberately distorted the debate and identified "Western environment groups" as "demonizing" the golden rice project. This is the biotech industry strategy - silence & suppress Third World voices for food sovereignity & biosafety, present GMO's as the solution to hunger, & present all centers [of resistance] as "rich, western, environmentalists"."

The "protein potato" is just the latest PR gimmick from the biotech industry.  In fact, inserting amaranth protein genes into potatoes, and promoting the potato as a protein-enriched staple, is a decision not to promote amaranth and pulses, the most important sources of protein in India. GM potatoes will in fact create malnutrition, because they will deny other nutrients available in amaranth and not in the potato, like iron and calcium.  It will also push the amaranth further out of cultivation, spreading a monoculture of potato cultivation.  Pulses have been made scarce (and therefore expensive) through the spread of green revolution monocultures of wheat and rice.  In Punjab alone, the area under pulses went down from 13.38% to 3.48% during 1966-67 to 1985-86.  Traditional agriculture was based on mixtures of cereals & pulses.  Why not spread the cultivation of amazing grains like amaranth?

Dr Arpad Pusztai, renowned for his work showing the hazards of GM potatoes has also commented on the "protein potatoes".  Pusztai says he is absolutely disgusted at the lack of primary peer-reviewed publication behind all the hype as this makes it impossible to form a fact-based opinion.

"It is meaningless to say that the GM potato contained one third more protein without knowing how the GM plant was grown and whether it was grown under strictly controlled conditions and side-by-side with the parent line before any comparison is made.  As regards the claims of increased essential amino acids; this is again meaningless."

"There is also a claim that this GM potato passed an (undefined) allergenicity test on mice!  I am sure, a lot of scientists would like to hear more about this test because it appears that the Indian scientists did not only have a GM potato breakthrough but also have developed an allergenicity test previously unknown.  Again, without describing it in an actual scientific paper it is very difficult to judge the validity of this startling scientific claim. "

Sooner or later, and usually sooner, says Dr Pusztai, when one reads these PR pieces moral blackmail turns up: "I think it would be morally indefensible to oppose it" as we are told.  Scientific, agronomic, nutritional, toxicological, etc considerations do not come into it.  If you oppose it you must be a Luddite and a morally reprehensible one at that!

Dr Charles Saunders, chairman of the British Medical Association's Scottish committee for public health, medicine and community health, gave evidence during the Parliamentary Committee's inquiry. He said, "I am delighted that the committee, having listened to both sides of the debate, are supportive of the BMA's view that we do not know the potential risk GM crops pose to human health."

The chairman of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) [the biotech industry's leading boosters for GM in the Third World], Clive James admitted that transgenic biotechnology is "not a golden bullet for solving all problems in agriculture." His comments were in reference to the poor performance of Bt cotton in India.

Scientist Dr Brian John, commenting on the Monsanto-funded GM beet study released this week, in a letter to the Royal Society: "This is just a desperate PR ploy by Monsanto and by their "tame" research scientists at Broom's Barn.  The study simply confirms that chemical/GM crop farming is pretty horrible, but that it can be ever so slightly less horrible if band spraying is done.  Wow!  I hope these comments will be of use to the Royal Society.  I have to say that I am disappointed that the Royal Society continues to give space to propagandist papers of this type, and allows its name to be associated with highly misleading press releases."

Desperate biotech corporations are deserting academic research despite massive bailouts from our governments. It is high time to redirect,public investments away from this financial and intellectual dead-end" - Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, director of ISIS,

"Zoellick specifically linked the threat to a refusal by Zambia last November to accept US aid of 15,000 tonnes of genetically modified maize despite the threat of famine in the African country. Almost at the same time the European Commission gave Zambia 15 million pounds to purchase about 33,000 tonnes of non-genetically modified (GM) food. The EU's executive arm lashed out at the linkage of the Zambian situation. "It is scandalous to use a serious situation in Africa to justify any complaint about GMOs," said Gonzalez [EU spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez]" - EU vows to fight if US files WTO suit on GMO ban, The Associated Press, January 10, 2003

"If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that's something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can't live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time." - Noam Chomsky

Roundup is Monsanto's biggest product, and by far the most popular herbicide in the world, accounting for about 40% of its estimated $4.6 billion revenue in 2002. Roundup Ready crops, the linchpin of Monsanto's biotech business, had a revenue of roughly $470 million in 2002.

About 65% of the cotton and 10% of the corn grown in the US contains the Roundup Ready gene, according to Monsanto.

Dr James, the chairman of ISAAA [the biotech industry's leading boosters for GM in the Third World], claimed that 27% of developing countries have adopted GM crops [a very dubious claim - see below].  However, most transgenics are in commercial crops and not in staple crops, needed for food security.

Dr James also said that biotech acreage reached 58.7 million hectares globally in 2002 (which is only just over 5% of the total land area of the US), a 12% increase in world GM coverage for the last year.  However, the progress is in crops like cotton, canola (rapeseed), corn and soyabeans. Nearly 6 million farmers in 16 countries are now using GM-technology, including those from 9 [a very long way off 27%] developing countries.

"Some European nations are threatening hungry African nations by tying foreign aid to their rejection of these [GM] US crops."  - From the "Center for Consumer Freedom," a US food industry PR front. for the real story - how the U.S. has held a GM gun to Africa's head:

"The reality is, and the facts are that, one, resistance to glyphosate is rare and, two, where it has occurred around the world it is very manageable" - Kerry Preete, vice president for US markets, Monsanto.

HYPE OF THE WEEK: GM beet research - much ado about nothing
New research on GM sugar beet will provide the Government with little new information on the commercialisation of GM crops, says Friends of the Earth.  They were deeply unimpressed by environmental claims made about the crop. "This research tells us nothing about the impact of GM sugar beet on farmland birds, but shows that Monsanto is desperate to find a case for promoting GM seed.  Sugar beet farmers were sold the idea of GM crops in the mid 1990s on the basis that they were good for weed control and to produce clean ground."  Now Monsanto are selling the crop's environmental credentials based on its weediness! Professor Sir David King, the UK Government's Chief Scientific Advisor, was also unimpressed on the Today programme.  "I don't think it is conclusive.  The indications from the results are in my view, that the strongest claims are not conclusively demonstrated." Scientist Dr Brian John in a letter to the Royal Society noted:
*The paper simply compares "wildlife" impact of one chemical-based farming system with another
*There is no indication of the size of the trial plots or of the time scale
*There is no consideration of the impact on soil microbiology *Why not just use a mechanical system of weed control and not bother to spray at all?
*There is actually nothing in the paper about bird life
"They sampled the population levels of two kinds of insect, and spiders, and found that in the gaps [where no herbicide was applied until later in the season] there was a sevenfold increase over those found in regular spraying."  - The Guardian, 15.1.03
"Scientists from the Broom's Barn research station say that it should now be possible to transform fields of crops planted in rows from *ecological deserts* into habitats and feeding grounds for lapwing, grey partridge and skylark."  - Daily Telegraph, 15.1.03
All this proves is how damaging conventional chemical farming is ('decreases two kinds of insect, and spiders' sevenfold and  'transforms fields of crops planted in rows' into 'ecological deserts'), and how beneficial organic farming is by completely abolishing those agrochemicals - not just removing some herbicides, from some of the field, at some periods of the year, as GM might do.

HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the NGIN archive
15 January 2003
GM beet research answers very few questions
Scientists Create Brand New Organism
Roundup becoming useless - New York Times
BMA delighted GM risks recognised by Health Committee
Government buries more bad news
U.S. challenge "a huge gamble"
Prof. King says beet research not validated
Pusztai on the Indian GM potato
USDA sued to stop GE grasses
14 January 2003
Europeans "threatening hungry African nations"
Health Committee to call for radical changesto GM crop trials
Indian government lied over GM cotton failure - Greenpeace India
Oxford Prof says keep GM in the lab - moratorium should stay
Immediate moratorium on GM crops call in Scotland
US Aid Agencies instructed to report anti-GMnations to USAID
Science Advisors Abusing Public Trust
13 January 2003
EU attacks as "scandalous" U.S.'s African linkage of WTO case
A clone in every pot?
India's GM potato hoax - Poviding proteins tothe poor
11 January 2003
'Against the grain': Guardian article on U.S.bully-boy tactics
Government Officials Uproot GM Maize Plants/moreon US embassy
Japan corn trade paralysed by Starlink fear
Roundup-resistance moves into the corn belt
Roundup-resistant weeds are cropping up
Attack against GM wheat
10 January 2003
Roundup Resistance
US ready to declare war overGM food/India/Australia
Lack of U.S. safety standards for GM crops revealed in Brussels
9 January 2003
WHO 'infiltrated by food industry'
Rejected GM corn dumped in Australia
Anti-terror laws used against GM campaigner
GM protest charges dropped
Nestlé on feeding the hungry/Nestlé and Ethiopia
European nations back Zambia's stand on GM food


The hugely important report from the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee needs the widest possible dissemination internationally. It is also an opportune time to write to Ross Finnie, the Minister responsible for GM in Scotland, demanding that he takes all the recommendations on board, and enforces an immediate moratorium on growing GM crops, at least until all the concerns raised have been addressed.

Contact details:
Ross Finnie
The Scottish Parliament
EN99 1SP


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