ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

21 July 2002


The GE Information Bulletin is a project of New Zealand's GE Information Service


The GE Information Bulletin

An independent digest of widely-sourced information relevant to the GE debate
No. 3   July 2002


Largest Foodmakers Express Growing Impatience      With Direction Of Biotech Industry
Drug Genes Could Enter Food Chain
Weeds Fight Back
European Union In Disarray Over GM Seeds
Australian Insurers Wary Of GM Crops
EU Moratorium On GMOs Could Last Until Traceability, Labeling Regime In Place
Thailand: Import Of GM Crops Banned
Croatia Should Ban Import Of GM Products
Russia To Ban US Imports Of GM Maize, Soya
Senate Rejects Moratorium On GM Crops

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With New Zealand's current focus on three specific areas of GE - liability, moratoria and contamination - items in this Bulletin reflect similar international concerns.

The robust debate here regarding our regulatory authorities is mirrored in some of these stories, and shows that not only do authorities have different approaches to regulatory systems, but that there is often dispute about such regulation.

The BBC reports on unexpected occurrences with some crops. Pharmaceutical-producing crops are also getting attention.

Chicago Tribune, July 2, 2002   (USA)
Foodmakers are growing impatient with the biotechnology industry's efforts to develop crops that have some nutritional or health value for consumers. A General Mills Inc. executive said food manufacturers receive no marketing advantage from the current technology, which helps farmers fight insects and weeds but offers little appeal to consumers. Instead, foodmakers have had to deal with one controversy after another surrounding genetically engineered corn and soybeans. "Candidly, we have told the biotech industry that we are in a perilous situation until consumer benefits arrive," said Austin Sullivan, senior vice president at the Minneapolis-based cereal-maker. When asked why foodmakers do not stop using genetically engineered ingredients altogether, Sullivan responded: "That's a question we ask ourselves from time to time."
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New Scientist, July 6, 2002   (UK)
The rules the US government is proposing for field tests of crops that have been genetically modified to produce pharmaceutical products are not strict enough to prevent the contamination of food crops, experts have told New Scientist. They say the proposed rules are based on flawed science, that there are loopholes allowing them to be bypassed, and that companies do not even have to disclose what genes have been added. The National Academy of Sciences report points out that some of the USDA's rules have no clear scientific rationale. For instance, the isolation distance for corn is simply double the 200 metres it recommends for the production of GM seeds. The assumption is that this spacing will reduce contamination to 0.1 per cent, but there is no evidence that the contamination risk drops off with this increase in distance. Norman Ellstrand, who sat on a committee that reviewed the regulations for GM crops, agrees that stricter containment is needed. And to be absolutely certain the food supply is safe, he argues that only plants that aren't grown for food should be used to make drugs.
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Transcript, BBC 2 - Newsnight, June 25, 2002   (UK)
You may have worries about genetically modified foods. But the good thing is that at least they avoid the need to tip loads of poison on the land, right? Wrong. As our Science Editor has discovered, they've found that they still need to use industrial quantities of a herbicide which is so toxic it's banned in some countries.
Professor Mike Owen (Iowa State University) and his colleagues across America have found that in practice the Liberty GM technology from Aventis will not get rid of all weeds in maize without repeated doses. Aventis in America has quietly accepted that GM farmers aren't satisfied with Liberty alone, putting on sale a product called Liberty ATZ. This is a mix of a little bit of Liberty and a lot of atrazine, the residual chemical that's banned in most of Europe. Michael Owen says this combination has now displaced the original environmentally friendly option for Liberty corn growers.
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Nature Biotechnology, April 2002   (Online)
The European Union could be facing another chaotic season involving disputes over the adventitious presence of GM seeds in batches of conventional seeds to be sown. The Commission has been trying to determine acceptable levels of GM seeds in batches of conventional seed since the spring of 2000, when many European countries discovered small amounts of GM seeds in conventional cotton, oilseed rape, and soybean seeds imported from the US and Canada. Most European countries agree[d] to an "Interim Action" to accept a 0.5% threshold and try to coordinate monitoring and testing of seed batches. Until EU countries reach agreement, they are left to apply the Interim Action at their discretion. Germany, for instance, has rejected it, and tolerance levels for GM seeds now differ from state to state. France has started a self-control system to "minimize" mixing. Austria passed a law in January 2002 setting a threshold of 0.1%. Although it could be possible for a country as small as Austria to find enough GM-free seeds for its needs, it is impossible for larger countries.  On December 28, 2001, Italy's agricultural minister Gianni Alemanno  commissioned [a] survey [that] found that seed producers were able to  declare as GM-free only 14% of corn and 6% of soybean seeds sold in  Italy-not enough for Italian farmers' needs. Despite [this], Alemanno  has confirmed the zero tolerance threshold but has not actually set it  by decree.
"Based on French data, we can expect adventitious presence of such GM corns in many lots sowed in Italy," says Norberto Pogna, director of genetics at the Experimental Institute for Cereal Research in Rome.
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Farmers Weekly Interactive, November 18, 2001   (Online)
The Insurance Council of Australia says it is loath to insure farmers and biotechnology and food companies for claims involving GM foods. [It] believes "the unforeseen risks of GM foods may be too high for insurers". "It is such a new technology, it is virtually impossible to assess the risks down the track," insurance council spokesperson Rod Frail says. Product liability lawyer David Poulton told the Weekly Times that insurance companies were likely to insert exclusion clauses in policies or decline to cover the risks associated with biotechnology altogether.
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International Trade Daily, October 30, 2001   (Online)
The European Union's three-year-old moratorium on genetically modified organisms could last for "many more years" because some EU member states insist that traceability, labeling rules, and a liability regime be in place before any new gene engineered seeds get regulatory approval. French Environment Minister Yves Cochet said her country would insist on a liability scheme before it lifts its opposition.
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The Nation, January 31, 2002   (Thailand)
Surapol Yinasawapan, a highranking official of the departments' Agricultural Regulatory Division, yesterday said the 37 GM crops including oranges, apples, coffee trees and wheat would be put on the prohibited plant list. At present there are 40 GM plant species on the prohibited list. None of those plants or parts of them can be imported, except for scientific experiments in quarantine conditions under the control of the National Biosafety Committee. The Cabinet last year agreed with a proposal from the Assembly of the Poor to forbid field tests of GM crops until the country has a biosafety law.
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Hina News Line, June 15, 2002   (Croatia)
Croatian Environment Protection and Urban Development Minister Bozo Kovacevic said today he will advocate the parliament adopting a law on banning the exports, use and production of genetically modified organisms and products. The law would forbid the use and transport of genetically modified organisms which are used for nutrition, and would be a transitional solution until regulations are passed which will fully regulate the issue, Kovacevic told a news conference after a meeting with representatives of the agriculture, tourism and science ministries and the Zelena Akcija [Green Action] non-governmental organization. Kovacevic announced a campaign "Croatia-GMO-free Country", which would promote Croatia as a country of health food. The campaign will begin this summer by the setting up of billboards on border crossings.
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AFX European Focus, July 3, 2002   (EU)
The government will ban imported genetically modified maize and soya from the US in October, at least temporarily, agriculture minister Sergei Dankvert said. The restrictions come under a new law on GM foods, which takes effect on October 1 and authorises a limited list of GM products that can be imported into Russia. He added however that the Russian authorities are examining "the possibility of authorising" the US GM products.

Xinhua News Agency, June 14, 2002   (Switzerland)
The Swiss Senate has rejected a proposal to introduce a moratorium on the commercial use of genetically modified plants, local media reported. However, it said strict scientific and environmental controls needed to be imposed. The commercial use of GM crops depends on the federal authorities giving their approval. If the law takes effect, environmental groups will have the right to appeal, and foods containing GM ingredients will have to be clearly labelled. In other business, the Senate unanimously approved a 10-year ban on the commercial use of GE animals.
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