ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

17 October 2002


from item 1:

Dr Vivian Howard, a toxicologist at Liverpool University, 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.

"Thalidomide caused a very rare and very obvious deformity, and the medical profession picked up on it," he said. "If, for example, thalidomide had caused cleft palate, we still probably wouldn't know, because that's a rather common condition."

Dr Howard argues that, with respect to GM food technology, no baseline studies have been done.

"You don't know where you've started from, and, if this was, for instance, making a difference to the levels of allergy in the population, there's no way of actually finding that."

more statement by scientists on Gm food safety:

1. GM food debate rages on
2. massive food experiment already underway
3. China Grains-GMO headache back after short respite


1. GM food debate rages on

[Photo caption: Police advance on protesters PA]
Worries over GM food have sparked protests in Europe
by Martin Webber BBC World Service business news editor
BBC Online, Business, Wednesday, 16 October, 2002

EU environment ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss  the regulations on the labelling of genetically modified food.  The BBC's Martin Webber takes a closer look at the debate surrounding  genetifically modified food on both sides of the Atlantic.

 The United States appears to have backed away from a fight  with Europe over genetically modified crops - for the time  being at least. The new less aggressive approach from  Washington comes in spite of the fact US biotech giants are  unlikely to be allowed to sell new GM seeds to farmers in  Europe any time soon. Back in February, the US Trade  Representative, Robert Zoellick, threatened to take Europe  to the World Trade Organisation if it didn't start  approving new varieties of GM crops. Mr Zoellick said  Europe's delaying tactics were "totally unacceptable."

 Eight months later, however, American anger seems to have  eased. Suspicious mindset? The new American tactics seem to  arise from the realisation that the vast majority of  consumers in Europe remain highly suspicious of GM  technology. Farmers are worried about GM genes blowing into their crops.  European leaders still won't approve any new GM products,  insisting on a new system for tracing and labelling  genetically altered foods. Those new rules will be  discussed at a meeting of environment ministers in  Luxembourg on Thursday. But progress isn't expected to be  fast, and French officials have said it could take another  year for arrangements to be sorted out.

BSE's legacy

The problem is that shoppers simply aren't convinced by  scientists who claim not to have found any health risks of  GM food. In the wake of the BSE crisis, consumers wonder  how hard the experts have been looking. Such concerns are  also supported by some scientists. Dr Vivian Howard, a  toxicologist at Liverpool University, describes as "totally  inadequate" the technique of "substantial equivalence",  which allowed GM crops in America to bypass normal testing  procedures. The "substantial equivalence" principle meant  that companies like Monsanto simply had to show that GM  foods were chemically pretty much the same as non-GM  varieties.

More study needed

Dr Howard 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.  "Thalidomide caused a very rare and very obvious deformity, and the  medical profession picked up on it," he said. "If, for example,  thalidomide had caused cleft palate, we still probably  wouldn't know, because that's a rather common condition."

 Dr Howard argues that, with respect to GM food technology,  no baseline studies have been done. "You don't know where  you've started from, and, if this was, for instance, making  a difference to the levels of allergy in the population,  there's no way of actually finding that."

 Global divisions

It's not just in Europe that Monsanto has  been encountering opposition to its technology. While GM  crops are approved in Argentina, the expected winner of  Brazil's presidential election, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,  has said he will uphold his country's GM-free status. Many  Brazilian farmers get premium prices on world markets for  their non-GM crops. Monsanto's case hasn't been helped by  the recent resurgence of interest among consumers in buying  organic foods grown using more traditional farming methods.  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.

 Alarmed farmers Mr Schmeiser told the BBC that he'd lost  his case because the judge ruled it was the responsibility  of farmers to keep Monsanto's gene off its fields. Mr  Schmeiser said the verdict had alarmed farmers all over the  world. "It means the complete control of the farmers," he  said, explaining that farmers would not sow their own seed  for fear of Monsanto's seed blowing onto land and  cross-pollinating crops. A spokeswoman from Monsanto's  Canadian division said that Mr Schmeiser knew - or ought to  have known - he was growing the company's patented canola.

 Lost cause?

She agreed that GM canola could blow around  fields accidentally, but told the BBC that it was up to  farmers to contact Monsanto so the company could remove any  unwanted GM plants. Mr Schmeiser has already appealed  against the verdict, but lost his case last month. He's now  hoping to raise enough money for an appeal to Canada's  supreme court. But the farmer has already spent his life  savings fighting the case.


2. Playing with our food: a massive food experiment already underway;  genetically engineered foods

Margulis, Charles
Earth Island Institute, Earth Island Journal December 22,

Most Americans know little if anything about a massive food  experiment already underway in our nation's fields and  grocery stores. Already thousands of products, including  many of the best-known brand name foods found in millions of households, contain ingredients from genetically engineered  (GE) crops. Yet since none of these products are labeled as  "genetically engineered," consumers don't even know  about--and can not avoid--these genetic experiments in their shopping cart. Greenpeace is working to stop this massive  food experiment, which poses unknown risks to human health  and the global environment. We oppose any release of  genetically engineered organisms, since these human-made  life-forms can not be controlled or contained once they are  let loose into nature. The companies producing genetically  engineered crops today are among the worst polluters of the  20th century. Their chemical experiments have left a legacy  of contamination that threatens nature and human health on  a planetary scale. Now, with genetic engineering, these  companies are introducing a new form of pollution:  biological pollution, pollution that is a qualitatively  different than any previous human intrusion on nature. With  this technology, we face the specter of pollution that is  alive, that reproduces and moves through the environment.

 Doctors warn that genetically engineered foods could pose  immediate and long-term risks to our health, while the  biotech industry goes about contaminating the entire food  supply with its genetic experiments. Your Right to Know  Many GE crops have been approved for commercial sale in the  US, and consumers are often confused about what foods in  their stores might be gene- altered. Though many crops are  in development, just four crops--soy, corn, canola and  cotton-make up nearly all the genetically engineered crop  acreage in the US. There are virtually no fresh foods sold  in supermarkets grown from gene- altered seed (with the  possible exception of papaya from Hawaii, where about half  the crop is GE). Yet estimates routinely note that 60-70  percent of the foods in supermarkets are made with  gene-altered ingredients. This reflects the massive amount  of processed foods that include ingredients from soy and  corn. A look at processed food labels shows how ubiquitous  ingredients like soy oil, lecithin, soy protein and corn  syrup, cornstarch and other corn and soy ingredients have  become. Canola and cottonseed oil are also widely used in  processed foods. Avoiding just these four foods requires  eliminating virtually all processed foods from our diets.

 It is also important to know that just two gene-altered  traits account for almost all of the US acreage of GE  crops. GE crops are being grown either for insect  resistance (including corn and cotton) or herbicide  tolerance (including soy, corn, cotton and canola). While  industry repeatedly touts biotech foods that will be more  nutritious, better tasting, or healthier, neither of these  varieties has any such benefits. Herbicide tolerant crops  make up about 70 percent of the acreage of GE crops in the  US. These crops are engineered so toxic plant-killing  pesticides can be sprayed directly on the crop. Previously,  farmers using such herbicides had to carefully avoid the  crop, which would also be killed by the chemical. Now, GE  herbicide tolerant varieties can be sprayed once, twice,  even three times a season, without harming the crop. While  industry promotes genetic engineering as reducing pesticide  spraying, independent researchers have shown that farmers  who grow Monsanto's "Roundup Ready"(RR) soy actually use  two to five times more chemicals than farmers who grow  natural soy. In fact, when its RR soy was in development,  Monsanto successfully petitioned the Environmental  Protection Agency (EPA) to raise the amount of its flagship  chemical Roundup allowed on soybeans. Overnight the agency  raised the tolerance of Roundup on this food from 6 ppm to  20 ppm.

The remaining biotech crop acreage in the US is in  insect resistant crops. Also called Bt crops, these plants  pose a tremendous threat to organic farming. Bt is a  natural pest control, used in emergency situations by about  half of America's organic farmers to control certain  insects. The Bt sprays they use are derived from natural  soil bacteria, and farmers (both conventional and organic)  have used the sprays safely for over 30 years. Now the  biotech industry has engineered plants so that the plant  produces an altered form of Bt. Unlike natural Bt sprays,  which naturally degrade in the environment in a matter of a  few days, genetically engineered Bt plants produce an  altered toxin throughout the entire growing season, at a  very high dose. This scenario will surely lead to insect  resistance to Bt, probably in just a few years. When such  resistance develops, farmers who use pesticides and GE  crops will simply move on to the next toxin, but organic  farmers will have no options. This threat to organic  farming led Greenpeace to bring together over 70 organic  farmers and farming organizations in a lawsuit challenging  EPA's registration of Bt crops. Biotech industry proponents  say that there is no evidence that GE foods cause any harm.  In fact, there is already evidence of environmental problems from GE crops, and doctors around the world warn that these  foods could harm human health. Lab evidence that Bt corn  could harm monarchs and other endangered butterflies has  been verified in the field. Despite a massive industry  attempt to debunk this research, the scientific debate is  still raging. In Canada, scientists have found that  engineered canola has become a nearly uncontrollable weed.

 One scientist there said the crop is a classic  "superweed." Other scientific studies 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. For consumers, the prospects are  even more worrisome. The New England Journal of Medicine  warned in 1996 that the Food and Drug Administration's  (FDA's) policy on GE food left consumers at risk from  potential new food allergies, yet the agency still has made  no change (the policy has actually never been finalized,  leading a federal judge to rule that FDA has no rules  regarding GE foods). This is even more stunning after the  StarLink incident, in which a gene-altered corn that was  never approved for human consumption contaminated over 300  products sold in supermarkets and restaurants across the  country. Scientists repeatedly told the government that the  corn could trigger dangerous food allergies, and hundreds  of consumers reported allergic reactions. Even more  recently, Britain's leading scientific body, the Royal  Society, suggested that consumers should be tracked for  potential allergic responses to GE foods, noting that  infants and children could be especially at risk. Of  course, since there is no labeling of GE foods in the US,  such tracking here would be virtually impossible. The True  Food Network: Action for Change While the problems are  daunting, we have seen amazing successes. When Greenpeace  tested Gerber baby food and found contamination from  gene-altered soy and corn, we were able to pressure the  company to announce it would eliminate all GE ingredients  from its products. Gerber's announcement forced Heinz, its  main competitor, to follow suit. Consumer pressure also  lead McDonalds, Frito Lay and McCain Foods (one of the  world's largest potato processors) to reject Bt potatoes.

 Monsanto has since been forced to shut its Bt potato  development facility, and the crop is off the US market.

 The FDA has approved genetically engineered rice and sugar  beet, but the biotech industry has been forced to shelve  the crops, since farmers know consumers don't want these GE  foods. As more and more Americans learn about GE foods, it  becomes even harder for industry to bring these genetic  experiments into the market. Yet the industry continues to  fight labeling of GE food, so Greenpeace took action,  compiling the True Food Shopping List to support your right  to know what is in your food. Since the first launch of the  List in October 2000, thou sands of consumers have joined  our free True Food Network to take action against GE food.

 The Network connects consumers across the country in a  grassroots effort to force food companies to stop using GE  food. Last year, the Network won a major victory when a  year-long campaign against the supermarket chain Trader  Joe's resulted in that company declaring it would eliminate  GE foods from its line of store brand products. Now the  campaign is focusing on other supermarkets, including the  New England-based Shaw's stores and the national chain  Safeway. In Europe, this kind of consumer action forced  nearly the entire food industry away from GE food.

 Together, we can do the same here.

To join the free True Food Network, go to,
or call Greenpeace at 1-800-326-0959.

What you can do Check out these organizations:

Organic Consumers Association (OCA) (
Activist or Media Inquiries: Phone:
(218) 226-4164 Fax: (218) 226-4157 The OCA promotes food  safety, organic farming and sustainable agricultural  practices in the US and internationally, providing  consumers with factual information they can use to make  informed food choices. The Campaign to Label Genetically  Modified Foods ( Phone: (425) 771-4049  Fax: (603) 825-5841 This organization sells the fabulous  "Take Action Packet", which includes form letters that can  be sent to elected officials to request labeling. Move your  investments out of stocks, mutual funds, retirement funds,  etc. that involve producers of genetically-manipulated  crops and foods (Monsanto, Dupont, Novartis and Agrevo  [Hoechst and Schering]). Visit for  more information. Contact grocery stores to request they  carry more organic foods. Contact food product  manufacturers and ask them to replace any non-organic soy,  corn, potato, dairy or canola ingredients they have with  organic, non-genetically- manipulated ingredients. Remove  GE food ingredients from your diet. Shop at stores that  sell foods with non-GMO ingredients. Use the shopping list  that follows on page 6. This is a partial list, printed  with permission of True Food Now. (Visit for the entire list.) Greenpeace  compiled the guide primarily from direct communication with  food producers. In some cases, Greenpeace received company  policy statements from consumers who passed them along. In  addition to written statements, Greenpeace spoke to many  company representatives to clarify or assess their position. Charles Margulis is a genetic engineering specialist with  Greenpeace. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and a long-time  professional baker.


3. China Grains-GMO headache back after short respite

CHINA: October 16, 2002 HONG KONG -
Reuters via

Headaches over China's rules on genetically modified (GM)  crops have returned after a respite, with Beijing saying it  may take 60 working days or more to get documents necessary  for soy imports, traders said yesterday. On Friday, China  said it would extend an interim measure on GM food imports  for nine months until September 20 next year, allaying  market worries that Beijing might disrupt soy imports in  December for the second time this year. The announcement  comes ahead of the Sino-U.S. summit next week and follows  Washington's repeated requests to Beijing to smooth the way  for the US$1 billion soy trade between the two countries.

 But after studying the announcement, traders were no  longer certain whether Beijing would really allow soy  imports beyond December 20. The documentation process, laid  out in Friday's announcement, looked to be more difficult  than the current regime, they said. Confirming such  worries, an official at the Agriculture Ministry told  Reuters the whole procedure of acquiring temporary safety  certificates and labelling approvals for imports of GM soy  could take 60 working days. Some traders said it might take  another 30 working days for quarantine authorities to issue  the required papers. In addition, the announcement  stipulates the temporary permits can be used only once, not  repeatedly as is the case at present. "If each shipment  needs to have a certificate, it is going to be a  nightmare," said a trader at a major international house.
"Obviously they are going to keep the control. There's no question about that.... The question is whether they really  intended to open it up from December to next September,"  the trader added. The traders said the only way to find out  the real intention of Beijing was to apply for the  temporary certificate and see how it would react. Although  the Agriculture Ministry said foreign exporters could now  apply for the permits, so far no foreign suppliers have  managed to secure one, due in part to the lack of clarity  in the procedure, traders said.


Despite such uncertainties, the traders were not  panicking, with ample soy cargoes arriving at present and  the ongoing domestic harvest of a record crop of 16 to 17  million tonnes. "We are not in hurry. We have time to get  better understanding of this," said an analyst in Shanghai.  "Currently the prices of U.S. new crop prices are not so  attractive. Maybe not much buying or trade will happen.... We are quite optimistic on this issue."

Other traders agreed, saying hardly anybody in China was  currently interested in booking more U.S. beans as domestic  soybeans were priced by some 200 yuan ($24) per tonne  cheaper than U.S. oilseed seen at around $240 per tonne,  C&F. Some noted there was persistent talk of cancellation  or deferals of a few U.S. soy cargoes by Chinese buyers,  though no traders could confirm such moves. "I'm quite sure  there were a few that were either deferred or cancelled.    But frankly I haven't got any confirmation of those," the  first trader said. Looking further into 2003, the traders  said, however, China has booked already 35 to 40 South  American cargoes for shipment after April, though premiums  have climbed to about 50 U.S. cents per bushel from around  45 last month.

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