ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
21 February 2003


HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - Syngenta shares fall as company posts loss/sector contracting
TOPIC OF THE WEEK - FSA contribution to the GM debate nothing less than a promotional exercise for GM foods & crops
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK 1 - GM Crops and War - two struggles or one?
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK 2 - Meacher warns about GM dangers
CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK - respond to Strategy Unit's Scoping Note

Syngenta shares fall as company posts loss/sector contracts
Syngenta shares fell 5% after the company reported its first net loss since AstraZeneca and Syngenta merged in 2000.
The high costs and uncertain pay-off from GM crops are major factors behind the increasing concentration of research into just a handful of firms, a study of the industry said on Thursday. Just four firms, Monsanto Co., Du Pont/Pioneer, Bayer/Aventis and Dow account for 57 percent of research and development of GM crops, said the report, "Agricultural Biotechnology at the Crossroads", by Bio Economic Research Associates. Agrochemical firms headed its list of 180 firms, universities and government agencies active in agricultural biotechnology. Development of a GM plant variety can take six to 12 years at a cost ranging from $50 million to $300 million, Bio-ERA said. Even then, "companies must face risks of market acceptance."
Study: Bio-Food Research Increasingly Concentrated
More time for public debate on GM crops
Defra minister, Margaret Beckett, has extended the consultation time for the public debate on GM crops by three months until the end of September, with funding increased to GBP500,000. Sue Mayer, of Genewatch, said: "Mrs Beckett's u-turn is good news ... We will at last be able to have an informed debate."
Terminator crops in the UK?
The GM oil seed rape varieties in the UK's farm scale evaluations are terminator crops with in-built sterility to protect patented crop genes. Terminator crops were vigorously rejected by farmers all over the world, since it goes against their right to save and replant seeds.  These crops are now being considered for commercial release in Europe.  Monsanto initially backed down from developing the terminator crops, described in that particular patent; however, ISIS has learnt there are many ways to engineer sterility.
GM farmer denies gun threat to BBC
The farmer at the centre of Scotland's controversial GM crop trials denied threatening to shoot a BBC cameraman, planning to film the latest protest damage at her farm.
Hunger for Profit - new report from christian Aid
Hunger for profit: the genetic modification of developing country agriculture
Christian Aid, UK
Gummer backs Krebs on organics
Sir John 'BSE' Gummer backed Sir John Krebs' stand on the question of organic food, by refusing to back claims that it was either better for the environment or consumer health.
Monsanto announces changes to its board of directors
Monsanto announced that George Poste DVM, PhD was elected to the Monsanto board of directors.  Dr Poste is Chief Executive of Health Technology Networks, a consulting group specializing in the application of genomics technologies and computing in healthcare.  Philip Needleman, PhD, has resigned from the Monsanto board.
Indian government bows to US pressure on GM food imports
The Indian government, bowing to pressures from foreign aid agencies [read U$], has decided to review its strategy and allow imports of GM foods on case-by-case basis.  Ms Choudhary, since becoming chairperson of GEAC last month, has already begun undoing the work of her immediate predecessor.
Top nutritional experts in India have expressed fears that there are currently no systems to adequately assess the risk or even to detect unapproved genetic modifications.
Brazil police sampling crops for illicit GM soy
Federal police in Brazil's No 3 soy state are collecting crop samples in an inquiry into the illegal cultivation and sale of GM soybeans, while the government and courts try to define Brazil's policy on GMOs.  "We called for the testing because they estimate 80% of the farming here is transgenic," Juarez Merchant of the prosecutor's office told Reuters. "If there is all that soy planted, we need to control it."  To plant or sell GM crops without authorization from the government's commission of biotechnology, the CTNBio, is a crime according to Brazil's 1995 Biosecurity Law, potentially carrying a penalty of up to three years in prison.
Lying and distorting the news is okay in Florida
A Florida appeals court ruled against journalist Jane Akre, who was fired from Fox Television (owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch) for threatening to report the station's pressure to broadcast what jurors decided was "a false, distorted, or slanted" story about the widespread use of Monsanto's genetically engineered growth hormone in dairy cows.  The news organization argued that the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to even lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.  The U$, the best democracy money can buy.
Chapela's radio broadcast
The Food Chain, with Michael Olson, guest: Prof Ignacio Chapela -
Kucinich more than anti-war candidate
Since his election to the House in 1996, Kucinich has been the most outspoken advocate in Congress for labeling GM food products, and a key player in struggles to win federal approval for labeling of organic food.  On food labeling, he has said, "Government has a moral responsibility to ensure the purity and safety of the food supply.  We cannot abdicate this responsibility to global corporations whose goals may be limited to profit orientation."  He has also just launched a presidential bid as the anti-war candidate for the 2004 Democratic nomination.
Wild sunflowers enrich fertility of African farms
As African countries grapple with dwindling crop yields and famine, some farmers in east Africa have discovered a new way to replenish soil fertility and increase farm yields, using the wild sunflower shrub (Tithonia diversifolia).   Soil fertility depletion on smallholder farms is the root cause of declining per capita food production in Africa.  The Tithonia plant - a good alternative to chemical fertilizers - contains 80% more phosphorus than legumes and enough nitrogen and potassium to promote crop growth.  It can increase farm income by  $457 per hectare.  As a swift growing shrub, it is also used for firewood, an animal feed, and to help combat soil erosion.

TOPIC OF THE WEEK - FSA contribution to the GM debate nothing less than a promotional exercise for GM foods & crops
This week the UK's Food Standards Agency under its avidly pro-GM, anti-organic chairman Sir John Krebs (see: stepped centre stage in the GM debate which is supposed to be under the control of the AEBC and its steering committee. The FSA, which is already serving as the "independent" advisors to the science strand of the public debate, is to spenda further GBP150,000 (the original amount allocated for the main debate was only GBP250,000) on a "distinctive and innovative range of initiatives to independently assess people's views on the acceptability of genetically modified food and how this relates to consumer choice... These initiatives will form the Agency's contribution to the wider Government debate about genetic modification."

Ignoring the body appointed to oversee that the debate takes place on a valid and fair basis, is what the FSA calls 'Opening Up the Debate', and it has produced a special booklet for the purpose. To download the 25 page brochure "GM Food - Opening Up the Debate" from UK's Food Standard Agency, click on
for the FSA press release:


Here are a few of the concerns Greenpeace's Dr Doug Parr has about the FSA's booklet:

*adjectives associated with genetic modification: "accurate, precise, specific" convey an impression which is highly contestable
*GM is discussed extensively as an extension of traditional breeding methods.. a way of formulating the issues that is controversial internationally
*The section "What GM technology is being developed?" leads with Golden Rice and the Indian project for a protein-enhanced potato!
*"Views of other scientific bodies" (p.12) includes a number of UK and international groups including the Royal Society and the Medical Research Council. Curiously it does not mention the British Medical Association whose concerns about GM food safety is well-known. Alternatively, having read this far, you won't find it curious at all.
*The booklet offers no space as to why people might think GM crops aren't wonderful. No mention of the Starlink incident, seed contamination occurrences, the cross-contamination of pharmaceutical crops with food crops even though pharmaceutical crops are discussed at the end of the text (p.19).

Dr Doug Parr concludes: " Above I suggested that the FSA is not Monsanto. A full reading of this booklet may suggest I've got that wrong. It is little better than a hard-sell for GM food. The FSA:

* should be immediately removed as the 'independent' advisors to the GM science review because they are so obviously partial.

* Their materials should be removed and pulped because of the undermining effect that this will have on the potential public debate.

Certainly their continued involvement damages the credibility of the debate overall."


Do complain to Prof David King, who is supposed to be running the GM Science Debate - with advice from the FSA.  Try Emailing him at this address:

For a scathing attack on the FSA, see Dr Brian John's (for GM Free Cymru) Letter of Complaint to Prof David King.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK 1 - GM Crops and War - two struggles or one?
Robert vint writes: "Blair's not listening to us any more - he's just listening to Bush and Big Business," - the main message from speakers to the two million at the Stop the War rally in Hyde Park.

The parallels between the push for GM crops and the push for war in the Middle East are remarkable.  Both are being led by Bush and Blair, with Blair as Bush's poodle.  Both are putting the health and livelihoods of millions at risk, especially in the Third World, without public consent. Both are being organised for the benefit of multinational corporations. It's no coincidence that the top officials in the US regime, from the President down, have been top officials in two industries - oil and GM crops. Bush is a Texan oil millionaire, the Agriculture Secretary was a Director of Calgene (now part of Monsanto) and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency was recruited from Monsanto. ...And both have provoked the mobilisation of global campaigns of resistance to US imperialism.

What is becoming ever clearer is that at the root of both crises, and many others, is the ongoing takeover of government by big business - a takeover that happened first in the US and is now happening in Britain.  It is a situation that will increasingly force elected governments to betray their own electors and to grovel to vast corporations in order to survive.  The massive economic sanctions imposed on Germany by the US as a punishment for voting the wrong way on war (possibly exceeding $20 billion) are a rare revelation of the routine threats made by the USA to all nations that consider stepping out of line.  Similar threats were made to Sri Lanka and Croatia when they banned GM food, forcing their surrender - and these threats are now being made against the EU.  If EU nations end up supporting both war and GM crops it will not be because they believe in them - it will be because they could not afford the cost of US sanctions.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK 2 - Meacher states GM is dangerous
In an interview with the Ecologist magazine, Michael Meacher dismisses the Earth summit in Johannesburg last year as a failure and questions the government's belief it can make globalisation work for the poorest countries.  "The effect on many countries has been more poverty, not less."
Read the interview here:

The article portrays Mr Meacher as opposed to policies on the nuclear industry, international development, support for business, and GM foods. Mr Meacher outlined his concerns over GM technology: "The real problem is whether 10, 20, 30 years down the track, serious and worrying things happen that none of us ever predicted.  .It's these sorts of totally unpredicted problems that make me very, very cautious.

"The human race has existed on this planet for about a quarter of a million years. We have been feeding ourselves perfectly adequately since overcoming problems of hunger in our early existence. GM is not necessary.

"The question is, can we trust the companies and be sure that they are telling us all they know?"

But, he said, the Government does not have the resources to conduct its own trials of GM technology.  [Strange, then, how it can find up to £3.5 billion for a totally unnecessary and immoral war on Iraq.]

Mr Meacher also expresses concern over the role of Lord Sainsbury, the government's science minister, who, whilst on the cabinet committee in charge of overseeing the GM trials, has links with biotech firms. "As far as I know, the only way he seeks to avoid this conflict of interest is by absenting himself when decisions are taken."  &

Michael Meacher's damning attack on GM foods was disowned by his own department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which described Mr Meacher's attack as "his views" and indicated there was "creative tension" within Government on the issue.  Mr Meacher's gloomy warning contrasts starkly with Tony Blair's avowed enthusiasm for the potential "massive" benefits of the technology.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher who has recently spearheaded the government's Organic Action Plan and voiced his concerns about GM food is to give a major public lecture hosted by the Soil Association on Wednesday 19 March at One Whitehall Place, London SW1.

A fundraising, four-course organic dinner will follow, where diners will have the chance to mingle with the leading lights of the organic movement.

Admission to the Lady Eve Balfour Memorial Lecture is £15 and tickets for the lecture and dinner are £95. To book please telephone 0117 914 2451 or email

A spokesman for the Australian Minister for Agriculture, Warren Truss, downplayed the prospect of farmers losing markets, if GM canola is given the green light: "At the end of the day decisions are made by industry as to what they plant and who they market to and how they do it," he said.

''To segregate and certify GE-free grain will cost farmers 10 to 15% of their crop's value, according to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics, the government's agricultural advisers.  If they don't, they will lose markets in the Middle East, Europe and Asia,'' said Bob Phelps of the Genethics Network.
At present, nearly 2/3 of all commercial GM canola crops are grown in the US.  Canada, Argentina, and China are the only other countries to have approved them.
Growing opposition from Australian farmers and environmentalists is sprouting over an application by Monsanto and Bayer for Australian government approval of the commercial release of GM canola, due to be decided in April.
The country's peak grower body, the Australian Grains Council, has called for a review of the protocols for importing grain into Australia, following news that a bucket-load of imported corn, some of it GM, fell into a shipment of wheat for export, whilst being unloaded in Melbourne.
China aims to develop its northeast into the world's largest producer of non-GM soybeans, with high oil content, over the next five years in a move to compete with foreign beans.
China has adopted a more cautious approach on GM than India.  While Bt
cotton was approved for commercial sale, no other important GM crops have got the nod since 1998.
An initiative, named Stop GMOs, has started in Switzerland, and was initiated by Swiss farmers' associations, consumer protection organisations, and 15 MPs from six political parties.  Swiss environmental organisations and lawmakers launched a referendum drive to slap a five-year ban on GM foods.  70 to 80% of the Swiss refuse to consume products containing GMOs.
The Lake District National Park Authority [LDNPA] is to host a major conference on GM crops, which could lead to the Lake District, and other national park authorities, asking the Government and European Commission to help make National Parks GM-free areas, under an EU directive. South Hams District Council in South Devon has voted to ask for the same. Devon County Council has called on the Government to ban commercial implementation of GM technology until proven safe, and introduced policies to avoid GM food and crops.  And the South West Regional Assembly may discuss the issue when it meets next month.  Calls to go GM-free are also being discussed by a number of other authorities.
Dolly the sheep, the first animal cloned from an adult cell, has died aged six.  Under normal circumstances, sheep can live for 10 to 16 years.  Coming a week after the sudden death of the first sheep cloned in Australia, it is bound to raise fresh fears about the wisdom of cloning.  In December, the company Clonaid claimed to have created the world's first cloned baby but has failed to provide any proof.
"Thanks to the [wide international] publicity [in the journal Nature], there is an erroneous impression that the study [of the first commercial harvest of Bt cotton in India - 2002] was based on the crop season that ended.  In reality, the analysis is based on the data MAHYCO-Monsanto had collected in the final year of field-testing in 2001, a year before the crop was commercialized," says Devinder Sharma, a leading food policy and trade analyst.  Not only was MAHYCO-Monsanto entrusted with carrying out its own field trials, unusual in a country which has large, well-funded agricultural research organizations, but the results were never made public.
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the NGIN archive
20 February 2003
GE cotton report sows confusion/Top nutritionexperts express fears  about lack of GM food checks
Hunger for profit/Feeding the world without GMOs
More time for public debate/Gummer backs Krebson organics
19 February 2003
Lying and distorting the news OK in Florida
Roundup Unready/More Than Anti-war/
Stop GMOS Initiative starts In Switzerland
18 February 2003
GM Crops and War/gene snatchers/gun threat/GoodbyeDolly/WHY?
17 February 2003
China cools, India accepts?
16 February 2003
Meacher states GM is dangerous
GM testing
FSA at it again
Meacher: My fears over GM crops/Saddam and GM
14 February 2003
Former Ag Minister warns farmers to shun Bt cotton
Cover-Up to the Bt Cotton Fiasco
Brazil police sampling crops for illicit GM soy
Row Sprouts over Requests for Approval of GECanola

Please respond to Strategy Unit's Scoping Note Brief on the Economic Strand of the Public Debate on GMOs.

Here's some pointers from the Munlochy Vigil team: where to send comments at end.

The Strategy Unit has produced 5 working documents for the second stage of it's assessment of the costs and benefits of growing GM crops in the UK.

They are:

1 The methodology of how they aim to carry out the assessment
2 Costs and benefits for the environmental and health
3 Costs and benefits in the product chain
4 Costs and benefits to industry and science
5 Potential UK impact on developing countries

Each of these sections has a list of questions should you wish to respond on a section by section basis.

 The Strategy Unit has based the background papers around 4 scenarios:

1 There is a UK demand for GM products and GM regulated in the same way as non-GM
2 There is a UK demand for GM products and a GM specific regulatory regime
3 UK rejects GM and there is a GM specific regulatory regime
4 UK rejects GM and GM regulated in the same way as non-GM

Some general points which could be raised in response to the papers include:

1 The impact on human health is not covered in enough depth considering its importance and potential huge future costs.  It should therefore have a complete section on its own to reflect this and the weighting given to health should make it the most important section in the whole study.   Especially as there is a whole section on each of the biotech industry's and developing country's costs and benefits but public health doesn't seem to warrant one.
2 This health section could draw on the work already carried out by the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee and should refer to the BMA policy paper on GM crops and food and also the BMA's submission to the Scottish Parliament.

3 An Expert Advisory Group should be set up to fully research the area of health (as has been done for the other sections in the study).   It should include representatives from the BMA, the Medical Research Council and independent scientists in the field of toxicology (as mentioned in the Parliament's Health Report e.g. Vyvyan Howard, Liverpool University).  Other scientists who have expertise in the health effects of GM include Dr Stanley Ewen, Aberdeen and Dr Harash Narang, Leeds University.

4 The Minister for the Environment, Michael Meacher recently expressed concerns on the potential health effects over a timescale of 10 to 30 years (Ecologist Magazine, March edition).

5 There is no mention on how growing GM affects future land values.  The Syngenta Report proposes a prospective fall in land values of about 17% (current estimate) due to weeds becoming herbicide tolerant.  Once farmers have grown GM products it will be more difficult/costly to convert back to conventional/organic farming.

6 There is insufficient attention given to the potential market power that GM seed suppliers would have.  In future this could lead to increased seed prices and with herbicide resistant crops, an increase in herbicide prices.

7 There is a presumption that if there is an initial yield increase this will be maintained.  This is unlikely to be correct as increasing herbicide resistance in weeds will lead to yield drag over time.  This phenomenon has been detailed in many reports e.g. Seeds of Doubt (Soil Assoc), ISIS etc.

8 The list of countries identified as "developing" specifies:  Argentina, China, S. Africa, Mexico, Bulgaria, Uruguay, Romania, and Indonesia - are they really what most people would identify as developing countries?

9 There is clearly inadequate time to do a report of this kind any justice in the time-scale provided given the amount of material included.

10 The weightings of the results will be extremely critical in terms of the overall outcome and at present haven't been specified.  We suggest the biggest impacts will be felt in the areas of health, the environment and product chains.

11 Again, the point must be made about the inclusion of a specific section for the Biotech Industry.  This is questionable in itself and the most likely connection between GM crops and the rest of the biotech industry is negative due to widespread public rejection of GM crops and food.  N.B. the world GM crop market is only worth 4.25 billion dollars.

12 All the supposed potential environmental benefits listed have major long-term environmental costs associated with them which isn't mentioned and are aspirational rather than proven (as are the supposed benefits to human health).

13 Although pharmaceutical crops are mentioned, whether they are grown under glass or in the open environment will have enormous impact on the cost benefit analysis.  Reference should be made to the Prodigene contamination in the US.

14 Michael Meacher and the AEBC are currently looking into UK liability legislation.  This will have major implications on the cost-benefit analyses portrayed in the paper.  A short extension of the study's time-scale until proposals vis a vis liability have been firmed up would therefore be beneficial.

15 The substantial and continued decline in farming sector employment is drawn to our attention in the study.  However, it is not noted that further intensification associated with GM agriculture will exacerbate this leading to increased rural poverty.  (Directly and indirectly via the multiplier effect)

16 It is also noted in the document that during this period agricultural output increased.  However, this is not linked to declining employment and incomes and there is no questioning as to whether increasing output is the solution to problems encountered in the farming sector.

There are many other points which could be raised from the papers produced by the Strategy Unit, this is simply a brief overview of the study as a whole.

Should you wish to view all the working documents produced for this stage of the consultation process, they  can be downloaded from the Strategy Unit's web site:

Responses should reach the strategy unit at either:


GM Crops Team
Strategy Unit
Cabinet Office
4th Floor
Admiralty Arch
The Mall
By 5pm on 28th February 2003

"Why, when the most urgent threat arising from illegal weapons of mass destruction is the nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, is the US government ignoring it and concentrating on Iraq? Why, if it believes human rights are so important, is it funding the oppression of the Algerians, the Uzbeks, the Palestinians, the Turkish Kurds and the Colombians? Why has the bombing of Iraq, rather than feeding the hungry, providing clean water or preventing disease, become the world's most urgent humanitarian concern? Why has it become so much more pressing than any other that it should command a budget four times the size of America's entire annual spending on overseas aid?

"...Strategic thinkers in the US have been planning this next stage of expansion for years. Paul Wolfowitz, now deputy secretary for defence, was writing about the need to invade Iraq in the mid-1990s. ...blood is a renewable resource; oil is not." George Monbiot, 'Too much of a good thing' The Guardian, February 18, 2003,5673,897814,00.html

"Blair's not listening to us anymore - he's just listening to Bush and Big Business". A comment on the GM 'Public Debate'? No, it was the main message from speakers to the two million at the Stop the War rally in Hyde Park [London].  Robert Vint , GM Crops and War - two struggles or one?
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