ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

21 December 2001


1. Crying for Argentina: the curse of the gene giants
2. more on Bt contamination of Canadian river sediment


1. Crying for Argentina: the curse of the gene giants

Argentina is currently wracked by food riots due to shortages, yet this is a country that not so long ago was self-reliant in food and whose agricultural sector might be expected to be booming.

But as well as embracing the disastrous economic prescriptions of the IMF, Argentina has also steadfastly pursued the promises of the gene giants, turning its agricultural sector into one of the big three in terms of global GM crop production.

Compare its current sorry plight with that of its GM-free neighbour Brazil:

"The surprising strength of Brazilian corn exports has been maintained deep into the inter-harvest period and the local produce has even started to attract premiums over U.S. corn.

"At the start of 2001, Brazil sold cheaply abroad as it tried to open space on the international market for part of its bumper 2000-01 crop, but now foreign buyers are paying up to $8 per tonne over the Gulf of Mexico FOB price to get hold of Brazilian corn.

"Analysts said importers from Japan, Korea and Spain, amongst others, are willing to pay because they know that Brazilian corn is free of genetically modified organisms (GMO), and more specifically free of Starlink traces.

" Brazilian exporters have established the quality of their production the international market, they are in a much stronger position to negotiate good prices next year. Brazilian corn has enjoyed international acceptance with ships going to 38 different countries over the past year. The sudden explosion of corn exports was the big surprise of the 2001-02 season."
[Brazil enjoys non-GMO premiums on corn exports Dec 19, 2001 (FWN Financial via COMTEX)]

And it's not just GM free corn that has Brazil's economy booming:

"Throughout Brazil's history, rubber, sugar and coffee booms have fueled economic growth, but today, soy is the commodity shaping Latin America's largest economy.

"Soybeans have spurred a virtual gold rush... The soybean boom in Brazil is good news for the country's economy but not for U.S. farmers [or Argentina's], who could see their crop overtaken by the Latin American country within a decade if present growth patterns persist."

Helping to fuel the soy-based boom, once again, is Brazil's ban on genetically modified crops:

"Although Europe and Asia are not yet paying a premium for Brazil's GM-free grains, they are looking here first to buy, which gives us a significant advantage." - Cesar Borges de Souza, president of the large Caramuru grains cooperative


2. More on Bt contamination of Canadian river sediment


19 December

A scientific study by Professor Jean-François Narbonne of the University of Bordeaux (France) has revealed that sediment of the Richelieu River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence surrounded by fields of transgenic Bt corn, contains concentrations of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis - used in agriculture as an insecticide) five times higher than in nearby agricultural watersheds. According to a published article in Le Devoir (1), Professor Narbonne theorises that Bt genes have been transferred from the root of the transgenic corn grown in the surrounding fields to other bacteria. These in turn have produced Bt toxin which is then discharged into adjacent waterways.

"This scientific study confirms once again the serious, potentially disastrous, consequences of allowing the release of GMOs into the environment," stated Dr Éric Darier, genetic engineering campaigner for Greenpeace. "The federal government must act immediately to impose a moratorium on the environmental release of GMOs into the environment. This would be consistent with the precautionary principle recommended, notably, last February by the Royal Society of Canadaās panel of scientific experts." explained Éric Darier.

"Is our government and the biotech industry going to wait for a transgenic Chernobyl to occur before taking the responsible course of action and putting an end to the environmental release of GMOs?", asked Éric Darier.

"It's disturbing that a foreign scientist is the one who has brought to light the genetic contamination of the Richelieu River in Quebec when the scientists of Environment Canada and the Biochnology Research Institute located in Montreal who originally collected the Bt samples from the Richelieu River, have remained silent. That speaks volumes about the supposed neutrality and independence of Canadian government scientists!" concluded Éric Darier.

1) Pauline Gravel, "Pollution par les OGM dans le fleuve Saint-Laurent - La toxine du maïs transgénique Bt a contaminé les sédiments fluviaux ", Le Devoir, December 18, 2001, front page.

For more information contact: Dr. Éric Darier  Tel.: (514) 933-0021, ext
15 / cell.: (514) 240-6497



December 20, 2001
The Wall Street Journal [via Agnet]
Scott Kilman

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, trying to douse one of the hottest trends in food retailing, is, according to this story, warning Hain Celestial Group Inc. and five other natural-foods companies that they are misleading consumers with labels touting products as free of genetic modification.

The story says that the non-GMO label is on hundreds of food products. Virtually unknown in North America just three years ago, the label is materializing on everything from pasta and breakfast cereal to baby food and jam.

The label is popular because repeated surveys show that the majority of U.S. consumers want to know about the presence of genetically modified ingredients, apparently so that they can choose whether to avoid them. But, the story says, the FDA letters, issued on Nov. 29, reflect the growing concern of agency officials that some marketers might be trying to play to the public's worries about an unfamiliar technology -- which that FDA has declared is safe. Christine Taylor, director of the FDA office that supervises label claims, was quoted as saying, "We want to stop misleading statements."

It's far from clear, however, exactly what a food company can legally say about its efforts to avoid biotechnology. The agency is still wading through 55,000 comments on the wording guidance it wants to issue to companies. Among other things, the FDA wants to stop companies from claiming products are free of genetically modified ingredients. Regulators fear consumers equate such a claim with a healthier product, much as dieters seek out fat-free products.

The FDA also doubts that food companies can make a non-GMO claim with absolute certainty. The Wall Street Journal, for a page-one article on April 5, had a food laboratory analyze products that bore labels claiming that none of the ingredients were genetically modified. Of the 20 products tested, 16 contained evidence of genetic material used to modify plants. The FDA complained in its letter that some Hain products -- such as Bearitos tortilla chips -- are labeled as ``pure`` with the claim that they donít contain genetically engineered ingredients. Hain, Uniondale, N.Y., didnít return phone calls seeking comment on the FDA letter, which asks the company to explain how it intends to comply with branding laws that prohibit misleading labels.

The story says that Healthy Times Inc., a closely held maker of natural baby food, will probably drop its non-GMO label. Richard Prescott, who runs the small Poway, Calif., company with his wife, was quoted as saying, "We have a natural philosophy, so we avoid GMOs. `But we aren't big enough to the fight the FDA."

U.S. Mills Inc., Needham, Mass., was cited as saying it will try to reword the label on its Erewhon brand of breakfast cereal and move it to a less conspicuous spot on the box. Charles T. Verde, president of the company, was quoted as saying, "We need the information [on the box] or people will constantly call us. The FDA is way out of line on this."


December 20, 2001
Agence France Presse English

MONTPELLIER, France -- France's anti-globalisation champion Jose Bove was given a six month prison term by an appeal court Thursday for uprooting genetically-modified (GM) crops at a government research station in 1999.

Bove's lawyer said however that he would appeal the ruling, which means that if he goes to jail, it will not be until after the appeal has been heard.

At his original trial in March along with two other activists, Bove was given an eight-month suspended prison term, but at his appeal last month the prosecution asked for a stiffer sentence.



December 17, 2001
ETC group News Release

How can monopoly patents threaten food security and the livelihoods of farmers? The controversial Enola bean patent demonstrates the abuses of intellectual property monopoly: A US patent on a yellow bean variety has disrupted export markets for Mexican bean growers and is now wreaking havoc on small farmers and seed companies in the United States.  The patent makes it illegal for unlicensed users in the United States to grow, sell, import, or use the proprietary yellow bean seeds.

Larry Proctor, the president of Pod-Ners seed company (Colorado, USA) and the owner of the controversial US patent on a yellow-colored bean variety, filed a lawsuit on 30 November 2001 against 16 small bean seed companies and farmers in Colorado, claiming that they are violating the patent by illegally growing and selling his yellow "Enola" bean. Proctor holds both a US Patent and a US Plant Variety Protection certificate on the Enola yellow bean.

"We were shocked to be accused of infringing Proctor's intellectual property," said Bob Brunner, President of Northern Feed & Bean, "We've been growing yellow beans from Mexico since 1997 - and they are not Proctor's Enola beans."

Brunner told ETC group that his yellow bean seeds come from Sinaloa, Mexico. Farmer and civil society organizations have condemned the Enola patent as a textbook case of biopiracy because Proctor readily admits that his proprietary bean seed originates from a bag of edible dry beans he purchased in Sonora, Mexico in 1994. In his 1997 application for plant variety protection, Proctor wrote, "The yellow bean, 'Enola' variety is most likely a landrace from the azufrado-type varieties" (which originate in Mexico).

The Enola bean patent is the focus of international controversy from Colorado to Cali. The patent is being legally challenged by an international plant breeding institute in Cali, Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The challenge is supported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). CIAT and FAO have responsibility for holding crop seeds in-trust for the world's farming community. CIAT's gene bank holds more than 27,000 samples of Phaseolus (dry bean) seeds, and some 260 samples of yellow seeds. Although Proctor did not obtain bean seed from the Colombian gene bank, CIAT's legal challenge notes that six bean accessions found in its gene bank are "substantially identical" to claims made in Proctor's patent. CIAT and FAO officials are concerned that the Enola bean patent could obstruct CIAT's mission to freely distribute yellow beans and to keep these seeds in the public domain.

CIAT's legal challenge points out the yellow bean was "misappropriated" from Mexico, and violates Mexico's sovereign rights over its genetic resources, as recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Patent Challenge Stalled at US Patent and Trademark Office: It has been almost one year since CIAT filed its request for re-examination of the Enola bean patent. The PTO's decision has been stalled because Larry Proctor's lawyers have amended the original patent by filing 43 new claims! The PTO responded by merging the re-examination proceedings with the re-issue proceedings, thus complicating and delaying a final decision.

Action Needed Now! Email campaigns targeting the US Patent & Trademark Office are rare. However, since there is no alternative avenue for civil society to register its concern, we urge you to send an email message or fax to the newly appointed director of the US PTO, urging him to give careful consideration to the re-examination of US Patent # 5,894,079 on a yellow bean of Mexican origin.

The Honorable James E. Rogan
Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of
the US Patent & Trademark Office fax: (703) 305-8850 email:
Subject: Re-examination of US Patent #5,894,074 and its reissue patent
application 09/773,303---
A sample message follows:
Dear Judge Rogan:
I am writing to urge you and your examiners to give the utmost attention and deliberation to the re-examination of US Patent #5,894,079 on a field bean cultivar named "Enola." The patent claims on the yellow bean fail to meet the statutory requirements of novelty and non-obviousness, and ignore prior art. The patent covers a bean variety of Mexican origin that is clearly based on the knowledge and resources of farmers and indigenous people. I respectfully urge you to cancel the patent and all of its claims.
Your Name
For more information:
Hope Shand, ETC group,, tel: 919 960-5223 (US)
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC group,, tel: 52 55 55 63-26-64 (Mexico)
Julie Delahanty, ETC group,, tel: 819 827-9949 (Canada)
Bob Brunner, President, Northern Feed & Bean Co., Lucerne, Colorado (US)
tel: 970-352-7875
The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC group (pronounced Etcetera group) is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights.



December 20, 2001
The Spectator
Pat Venditti, Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner, Toronto, writes regarding 'Food safety from farm to fork' (Dec. 12) to take exception to the assertion in this article that genetic engineering (GE) cannot make people sick.

First, no one knows if GE food is safe, as no independent long- term testing is currently required. The government depends largely on information provided by big biotech companies, such as Monsanto, to approve products. In doing so, it exposes consumers to the same risks to which it exposes the environment: conducting an experiment with living, reproducing organisms, lacking any proof of safety.

Second, the assertion is at odds with a recent report by the Ontario Public Health Association which identified potential health risks such as exposure to toxins and allergens that could arise from the use of GE foods. In the event of a health threat, the lack of labels on products would make it impossible to discover the source of the problem, thus endangering public health.

The campaign to put labels on GE food is supported by Greenpeace and millions throughout Canada; almost 95 per cent of Canadians feel they have the right to know what they're eating. Neither Loblaws nor the federal government supports mandatory labelling, making consumers unknowing guinea pigs in this biotech experiment. European, Australian and Japanese consumers have the right to know if their food is genetically engineered, yet Canadians do not. At a basic level, one wonders why, if GE food is so safe, these authors and others oppose the right of people to know if they are eating it.

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