ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

25 October 2002


from Andy Rees, the WEEKLY WATCH editor
Dear all

Welcome to WEEKLY WATCH no 3 from NGIN bringing you all the latest news in brief on the GM issue.

One item that's not so brief is our article of the week. This one's so good we've reproduced it in full at the end of this newsletter.

Hope you enjoy it and please circulate WEEKLY WATCH far and wide.

Andy <>


Seed companies block critical research
Two major seed companies stand accused of hindering attempts to assess whether GM sunflowers can turn their wild counterparts into 'superweeds'.
ESA meets in dictatorship-style secrecy
Armoured vans and over 110 police surrounded a Brussels hotel, as the European Seed Association (dominated by Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer) met behind closed doors to discuss the proposed seed contamination Directive. Both the European Parliament and Council of EU Environment ministers are being  excluded from the decision making process, replaced instead by an unelected technical committee, the Standing Committee on Seeds.  This looks like a stitch-up from start to finish.
Biotech industry adopts precaution
Spurred by fears that drugs or chemicals made in gene-altered plants will taint food crops, the North American biotech industry is adopting a broad moratorium on planting certain crops in major food-producing areas.  This is designed to prevent a repeat debacle of two years ago, when GE StarLink corn, approved only as animal feed, wound up in taco shells and other food products. Recalling the tainted products cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars.
Nature rejects paper confirming the results of Quist & Chapela.
...and yet it recently published three articles promoting GM crops and damning organic agriculture - none based on original research - in a special supplement sponsored by Syngenta.
USDA official in attack on organic has partisan track record
'USDA: Organic Foods May Be More Contamination-Prone' ran the headlines
But the official who made the attack has a track record of making statements that suit giant agri-biz
for more on the organic attackers:
Philippine biotech company applies for commercial use of Bt corn
Biotech research firm Pioneer Hi-Bred Philippines Inc. has joined Monsanto in applying for commercialization of GM Bt corn. Does this explain a black propaganda campaign that's been running in the Philippines.
Syngenta targets more GM sales to Vietnam
Biotech Syngenta wants to expand its GM sales in Vietnam
Force-feeding the hungry
As the World Food Programme's Executive Board met this week, NGIN launched a primer on the food aid crisis
Paul McCartney endorses Measure 27
Let It Be Labeled: Paul McCartney endorses Measure 27, records radio commercial. ĄPeople are genuinely worried about the power that these great big companies have," says McCartney.
You can hear the actual 30 second commercial featuring Paul McCartney if you have the Real Audio Player on your computer by going to the following link:
If you would like to read the Press Release about Paul McCartney's endorsement and radio ad, go to:
flash video about Oregon Measure 27:

"To date, there is not a single human-subject study that demonstrates the safety of GM food...  This whole affair isn't about science, though. The GM lobby know better than most that control over the food system is all about politics."  - Dr Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First.

"The tragedy is that while these well monied types [the GM lobbyists] try to filibuster the democratic process in Zambia, people are starving. And there's safe food in the region which USAID will not buy, because it doesn't support US business, and doesn't involve loans from the World Bank" - Dr. Raj Patel, author of Another Poisoned Chalice in Africa.

"Any threats to U.S. corporations are, it seems, threats to the U.S. government.  They're so worried that at the end of last month, Colin Powell asked the Vatican to intervene in the Zambian government's deliberations. The latest line of attack is this shameful report." - Anuradha Mittal, co-director of Food First.

"If the aid agencies had cash rather than maize they could resolve the crisis without touching GM, but it is the official policy of USAid to promote GM."  - Guy Scott, a former Zambian agriculture minister.

"the UN confirms there is enough non-GM food in southern Africa and on world markets... The US should [untie its aid] and stop putting a GM gun to the head of hungry Zambians."
Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid

"Trusting Monsanto to decide when there's enough acceptance out there would be a foolish mistake. Financially troubled Monsanto has everything to gain and nothing to lose by releasing GM wheat. It remains unclear what North Dakota farmers have to gain, but they clearly have huge markets to lose... we could let Monsanto decide. And maybe we also could get Enron to run our utilities and Arthur Andersen to keep the books."
- North Dakota farmer, Steve Pollestad, Grand Forks Herald, October 21, 2002

"I am going to ask you not to grow genetically modified wheat until we are able to sell the bread made from that wheat... if you do grow genetically modified or enhanced wheat, we will not be able to buy any of your wheat - neither the GM nor the conventional." - Rank Hovis, in the North Dakota Wheat Commission's newsletter.

"We also intend to continue to market Wales as an area of the European Union where the agricultural produce is GM-free." - Rhodri Morgan, First Minister, Welsh Assembly

"Well I think there is a very real problem . in the way that private companies have entered the university, both with direct companies and with contracts to university researchers, the whole climate of open and independent scientific research has disappeared, the old idea that universities were a place of independence has gone. Instead of which one's got secrecy, one's got patents, one's got contracts and one's got shareholders."
- Professor Steven Rose of the Open University Biology Dept

The idea of helping the Third World with transgenic vaccines is little more than "a ruse," Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists believes. "It's selling biotechnology on the back of the poor".

No pharmed human drug has come to market yet, and only a few companies have got past test plantings.

According to recent Europe-wide opinion polls,  71% of the public do not want GM food, and 94% want clear labelling.

57% of the public do not want the UK Government to allow GM crops to be commercially grown, according to a new NOP poll.

Large US agricultural corporations receive over $1 billion in contracts in food aid from the US government.

Currently, in the EU, an estimated 30,000 products may contain GM soya and GM maize derived ingredients, such as vegetable oil or maize syrup. These do not have to be labelled, as they don't contain DNA.

In India, GM cotton seed costs 4 times that of domestically bred varieties.

Local maize varieties - 54% of the crop - are the key to food security in much of Africa.  They would be seriously jeopardised by GM maize aid, some of which would be planted by hungry farmers, thinking about next year's harvest.

A European Commission report concluded that if only 10% of a country or region was planted with GM crops, the resulting contamination would likely mean that "organic farms will lose their organic status."

"Pharmacia is taking a $1bn write-off related to its spin off of Monsanto... Monsanto proved to be a headache for Pharmacia after it acquired the business in March 2000 to gain control of its drugs division. It announced plans to spin off the agribusiness division just 18 months later. Pharmacia fell to a loss of Dollars 429m in the third quarter after the charge."
Monsanto's Dollars 1bn write-off, The Guardian, October 23, 2002

Monsanto has withdrawn its proposal to commercialize GE creeping bentgrass, a popular grass for golf courses and gardens, following legal action by the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), who feared it would become a superweed.

The recent farm economics report from the US Dept of Agriculture states:
*GM crops do not increase yield potential and may reduce yields
*Bt corn has had a negative economic impact on farms

On a university farm in India, American bollworms (the main pest of Indian cotton) have eaten more than 80% of a crop of pest resistant GE Bt cotton. "When Bt seed was introduced, its advocates said it would render pesticides obsolete," Dr Palarpawar said.  Meanwhile, beside it, the non-GM Nanded 44 cotton produced a successful crop!

In Canada, scientists have found that GM canola has become a nearly uncontrollable weed.

A new GM onion that does not produce tears was beaten to the market place by a non-GM version produced in Australia.

The biggest Philippine farmers' organization announced an international protest against the AGM of CGIAR in the Philippines.

Thousands of Bavarian farmers are protesting against what they call a return to serfdom: plant breeders having to pay "seed-saving fees" to agrochemical multinationals.

The proposed European Seed Directive has drawn opposition from a coalition of over 300 European farmer, environmental and consumer groups, representing over 25 million individuals.

Delegates at a members meeting of Agricore United, Canada's largest grain company, told their new board that they don't want any more GM crops developed without market acceptance.

Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) supports the ban on GM maize into the country, until policies and legislation are in place.

GM-free areas have been declared in parts of Germany, France, Australia and Switzerland.

Despite the fact that Pioneer, the largest seed company in the world, has confirmed that it can supply non-GE seed to the Austrian market without any GE contamination, the European Seed Association writes that it "is convinced that thresholds need to be set at least at 1% and at even higher levels for some crops (e.g. oilseed rape) according to their biology."

Just 2 GM traits account for almost all the US acreage of GE crops: insect resistance (including corn and cotton) and herbicide tolerance (including soy, corn, cotton and canola) - 30% and 70% of it respectively.  Meanwhile, the biotech industry repeatedly lures us with promises of foods that will be more nutritious, better tasting, or healthier - insect resistance and herbicide tolerance instil none of these benefits. GM crops are also touted as reducing pesticide useage, and yet farmers growing Monsanto's "Roundup Ready"(RR) soy use 2-5xs more chemicals than farmers growing natural soy. Furthermore, insect resistant (Bt crops), pose a tremendous threat to organic farming, which in emergencies commonly uses Bt as a natural control. Bt will be rendered useless, once pests become Bt resistant from GM crops.

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.

GM crops "double production" + other lies from the GM lobby

NEW! Feeding or Fooling the World? Can GM really feed the hungry?' now available from:
This briefing:
§Challenges the assumptions on which claims that GM crops can feed the world are based,
§Raises questions about the way patenting and corporate control over agriculture negatively affects farmers livelihoods and food security worldwide,
§Explores the reason why high profile GM technologies such as 'Golden Rice' only address part of the complex problem of dietary deficiencies,
§Shows that effective solutions to hunger must address poverty, exclusion and inequality,
§Highlights affordable, sustainable, non-GM approaches.  Paper copies available for GBP5 from the Freeze campaign.  Cheques made payable to 'The Five Year Freeze' to the address below.
The Genetic Engineering Alliance
94 White Lion Street
N1 9PF
Tel: 020 7837 0642/01273 822700
Fax: 020 7837 1141

HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the NGIN archive
23 October 2002
NATURE rejects new Mexican maize paper
GM debate just another smokescreen?
Stop putting a GM gun to the head of hungry Zambians
Oregon lost?
Monsanto drops GE grass
The Killing Seeds
Lord Sainsbury - "stunning change in entrepreneurial attitudes of universities"
Monsanto and Dupont target Philippines, Syngenta targets Vietnam
Re: Please respond to UK government stitchup!
22 October 2002
European Union remains GM-free
EU not budging on biotech
GM-Free Britain: Now or never
GM-Free Britain campaign launched
Force feeding the hungry - primer on the food aid crisis
'Biotech industry adopts precaution' and other pharming stories
Non-GM tearfree onion
21 October 2002
GRAIN says "No to GM food aid"
Razor wire and GE seeds
19 October 2002
Row grows over GM food aid for Africa
18 October 2002
Bollworm eats into Bt cotton's pride
CGIAR not welcome in the Philippines
and the world!
Seeds of doubt - The Guardian
"Better dead than GM fed?"  - 'Seedling', October 2002
17 October 2002
URGENT: Please respond to UK government stitchup!
More on UK Government stitch up
Still more on UK Government stitch up
EU Member States refuse to reconsider the moratorium
Zambian's starve as food aid lies rejected
The Junkman's identity crisis
Debate rages over massive food experiment
16 October 2002
UK alone in Europe in putting biotech industry first
Seed companies block critical research
India - biotech  watchdog challenged
U.S. isolated say Corn Growers


UK government in the pocket of the biotech industry
The Government's "public debate" on GM crops begins this autumn.  The trials at the heart of the debate are totally flawed, as they only investigate the effects of herbicide usage on GM crops on certain "indicator" species. They do not test more crucial things like cross-pollination with wild species or gene flow to soil bacteria or food safety issues.

FoE GM Campaigner Pete Riley said of the UK's role in Europe: "Once again the UK Government is putting the interests of the biotech industry ahead of consumers and the environment. Why else is the UK opposing European GM labelling rules when every other EU Member State supports the proposals? They also want to end the moratorium on licensing new GM food and crops, despite the absence of any rules to protect farmers, consumers and the environment from unwanted GM contamination. The Government's stance on this issue makes a complete mockery of its claim to have an 'open mind' on GM issues."

The Government's Scoping Note, which forms part of the Government's Public Consultation on GM crop commercialisation, makes some outrageously biased assumptions about the benefits of GM.

See also Article of the Week below

'GM-Free Britain: Now or never'

Decisions will soon be made about the future of genetically modified (GM) crops in Britain. This could be your last chance to demand a GM-free Britain.

The GM-Free Britain site is set up for online action or for you to build your GM campaign in your locality.

**Tell Margaret Beckett to make Britain GM-free**

Action guide
Take action on- and off-line
Get free posters, stickers etc to use in your actions.
Create your own GM-Free Britain press releases.
& more...

Is this GM debate just another smokescreen?
Western Morning News, October 21 2002,

GM food is about to hit the UK headlines again. The troubled three-year farm trial programme is coming to an end, and the Government will soon have to decide whether to allow commercial planting.

Tony Blair is still thought to be keen to allow the first full-scale crops to be planted as soon as possible. Environment Minister Michael Meacher, on the other hand, has, the story says, admitted his scepticism about commercialisation and has been quoted as saying "We are not going to be bounced into this by the Americans."

The Government will be launching a "public debate" on GM crops this autumn, in parallel with a scientific review and a cost / benefit study. The question now is whether this is a real consultation which will influence Ministers' decisions. All the signs are that it will in fact be just another public relations exercise.

The debate is to be run by a steering group chaired by Malcolm Grant, of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC).

The Government has candidly advised Professor Grant that: "... Ministers are not seeking a quasi-referendum on the future of GM crops...They would find it particularly helpful if the debate could identify the issues which cause public concern, the strength of the concerns and, could suggest how they might be addressed by government when considering applications for commercialisation of GM crops."

There is a clear intention to complete the "debate" before the results of the field trials are published next July. This would pave the way for public rejection of GM to be "outweighed" by the combined impact of the cost/benefit study, the scientific review, and the results of the trials.

While keen to play up the fact that it will be holding a public debate, the Government has never claimed that its outcome will determine policy. The consultation will in effect be a giant focus group exercise, revealing the best way to "manage" objections to GM. One unnamed Minister has already been quoted as saying "the decision has already been taken."

At least one crop which is likely to be grown in the UK, Aventis's "Chardon LL" maize, already has EU consent, and could be commercialised here next season if Aventis succeeds in its controversial application to have it added to the National Seed List.

Defra's new chief scientific adviser, Professor Howard Dalton, recently suggested that there could be a delay in commercial development of GM crops for "a couple of months - maybe six months or whatever" if he is not completely satisfied with their safety. This has not reassured those of us who want a much longer delay, or ideally a full moratorium on commercial planting.

The present trials are only investigating the effects on the numbers of certain "indicator" species of the herbicide use patterns associated with GM crops. The scientists are essentially counting the beetles in the GM and non-GM halves of the trial fields. They are not, for instance, testing for cross-pollination with wild species or gene flow to soil bacteria.

The trials also have no relation to food safety issues. There is still considerable doubt as to whether the trials will be scientifically valid, as so many have been deliberately damaged.

The story says that a report earlier this year by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre concluded that if only 10 per cent of a country or region was planted with GM crops, the resulting contamination would be likely to mean that "organic farms will lose their organic status and face severe problems to grow their crops according to the regulations given by the EU." This is clearly a price not worth paying.

The truth, revealed by countless polls, is that there has been a major public debate going on in this country for at least three years, and the outcome is clear. People in the UK do not want to eat imported GM food, and they certainly don't want it grown here.

They are not alone. One story that didn't feature much in reports from the Johannesburg summit was that even in famine-torn southern Africa, Zambia has joined Zimbabwe and Mozambique in refusing shipments of unsold GM maize sent from the US as "food aid".

New Labour has ensured that the UK is the biotech industry's best friend in Europe. But they are not getting it all their own way.

The European Parliament, in a major defeat for the biotech industry and the UK Government, voted on July 3 for full labelling and traceability of all GM foods and animal feeds. Parliament also voted against industry-backed proposals to allow up to 1 per cent contamination by unapproved GM varieties.

The US Government, backed by Monsanto, is apparently preparing a complaint to the World Trade Organisation against the EU, claiming that its restrictions on GM imports and crop-testing are an obstacle to free trade.

They may well also cite the proposed new labelling regime. It is important that Europe resists this pressure, and that Britain plays its part. Tony Blair has no mandate to make Britain the weakest link.  (See also Topic of the Week)

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