ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

28 February 2003


from Andy Rees, the WEEKLY WATCH editor
Dear all

Welcome to WW18 bringing you all the latest news in brief on the GM issue, including more big setbacks for the industry.  Watch out too for some great stuff on Monsanto's GM wheat in Canada, and the fight back there, and a powerful attack by a pro-GM scientist on the recent Bt cotton paper in Science claiming miraculous results in India.

PLUS:  Because it seems hard to work out what's going on with the UK's GM debate I've tried to produce a beginners' guide - see TOPIC OF THE WEEK - which can be read in conjunction with all the latest news about the debate and how to take part in CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK.

Hope it doesn't leave you more confused!  Do let me know what you think.

Andy <>

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 1 - The UK Government's 'Public Debate' on GM crops
TOPIC OF THE WEEK 2 - The risks of GM wheat for Canada
REPORT OF THE WEEK - Pro-GM scientist attacks Bt cotton paper in Science as "shoddy publication based on meagre and questionable field data"

Nunhems Seeds, the Indian subsidiary of Nunza BV of Holland, has suspended work on GMOs in India, because of concerns that the Government may not approve commercial cultivation of such crops, after the decision on GM mustard was deferred by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee.

Monsanto's March 2002 application for a permanent safety certification to replace temporary certificates now in place that support $1 billion in US soybean exports to China each year was recently turned down.

The Japanese have bought Brazilian corn in the first deal with Brazil since the discovery of the banned StarLink corn in a US shipment last year raised food safety concerns.

The Western Australian Government is preparing legislation to strengthen its powers to stop the planting of GM crops.

A two year ban on GM crops in Tasmania has, according to the State Government, been extended for five years.

*Bayer's "shares are in freefall"
Headache for Manfred Schneider
Financial Times; Feb 27, 2003
*Headline: Drug case may drain the life out of Bayer
By Geoff Dyer and Uta Harnischfeger
Financial Times; Feb 27, 2003
"The litigation fears have sent Bayer shares into freefall. After tumbling more than 14 per cent on Tuesday, they dropped a further 8 per cent in late trading yesterday... [there] has been feverish speculation about the potential liability, with some estimates going as high as $10bn... "The Baycol affair may turn into a matter of life and death for Bayer," adds one person familiar with the company."

GMO opponents argue against lifting of EU moratorium
Germany, France, Greece, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria - "outspoken opponents of GM products" - oppose any lifting of the EU five year de facto moratorium, until laws governing rules on the origin and labelling have come into force.
EPA approves Monsanto's new corn
A new Monsanto corn genetically engineered to resist rootworm can go
onto the market, the US's Environmental Protection Agency has announced.
US derailing India's biosafety regulatory system to allow import of hazardous Bt corn-soya blend
The US Dept of Commerce has utilized the Indian Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to intervene in the workings of the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee - the government regulatory body that clears all decisions to import and release GMOs in India), by getting it to hold a special meeting for USAID representatives, and give the go ahead to the previously banned corn-soya blend imports by NGO agencies CARE and CRS, which is primarily financed by USAID.  Food aid is becoming the biggest market mechanism for rejected US GM.
92% Americans want GM labelling
According to a recent survey, US residents trust American small-farm owners, don't favour corporate, non-family farms, or trust GM or foreign-grown food; they want their food produced under safe environmental conditions, and would pay more for food labeled with such assurances.  For food safety information, elected officials and business executives are mistrusted by about 2/3 of the respondents.  Nearly 92% want labels on GM foods, only 1% do not, the other 7% are undecided.  Only 25% believe GM plants are safe and only 17% think foods from GM animals are safe.
Syngenta advancing GM wheat research in US
Syngenta is negotiating with several US universities for help in work on GM wheat, purportedly resistant to fusarium head blight, a fungal disease. They hope to have a product on the market as early as 2007.
Man pleads quilty of improperly using Monsanto's cotton seed
A Tennessee man pleaded guilty to a charge connected to "misusing" some of Monsanto's patented cottonseed.  He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Restitution is mandatory, and the total loss is about $165,000.
Giant Novartis wants to get bigger
Novartis was formed in 1996 by the merger of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy.  Now, there is talk of a merger between Novartis and Roche, which would mean the final merger of the one time three biggest Swiss pharmaceuticals into one giant entity, with annual sales of $45 billion.  It would also create the world's second-largest pharmaceuticals maker, after Pfizer, which plans to complete its acquisition of Pharmacia next month.
Bayer apparently knew of dangers of its cholesterol drug
Newly disclosed company documents indicate that some senior executives at Bayer were aware that their anticholesterol drug, Baycol, had serious problems long before the company pulled it from the market. Approximately 100 deaths and 1,600 injuries worldwide have been linked to a muscle disorder caused by the drug.  The documents provide a rare glimpse inside a major company's marketing efforts in the face of mounting indications of trouble.
And these people are going to make our food??? for more on Bayer:
Brazil travels to search out non-GM Argentine corn
A group of Brazilian government and meat industry representatives will visit Argentina to research the possibility of importing non-GM corn
Rural Education Council pesticide deaths report
Agrochemical giants Like Dow and Monsanto must make amends for pesticide-caused deaths by funding rural education in the developing world.
Bove gets 10 months jail for GM crop attack
A court ordered radical French farmer-protester Jose Bove to spend 10 months in prison for damaging fields of GM crops, in his battle against junk food and globalisation.
GM crop action court dates and trial outcomes
Court cases are a part of the action and a great opportunity to put GM on trial. It is essential for the sustainability of our work to support people who have taken a risk.  Please come along to watch and give your support at case hearings and, most importantly, at the actual trials. If you want to attend any court hearings or trials please phone first (see each case for appropriate phone no. or call GEN 0845 456 9329) to check the date and time as they often get changed at the last minute.  For information on court dates, see:
There's also information about the outcome of trials and how to support convicted campaigners with donations for fines.
Criticism of Thai Agriculture Ministry
The Thai Agriculture Ministry's proposal to allow field testing of GMOs, despite the fact that GMOs were formally banned by the government in April 2001, met strong opposition from environmentalists and consumer groups. They said the plan plays into the hands of the US, which wants to push global GMO trade at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum this year.

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 1 - The UK Government's 'Public Debate' on GM crops
See also the latest news from Clare Devereux under Camapign of the Week

The whole programme (three strands) was supposed to consist of:
1.  a Science Review (coordinated by DEFRA)
2.  an Economic / Strategic Review (coordinated by the Cabinet Office)
3.  and a Public Debate coordinated by AEBC
After September 2003, the UK government will decide whether to allow commercial GM planting.

However, the GM debate has not had a very auspicious start, with a leading group of independent academic experts saying late last year that the UK's 'Public Debate' has all the appearances of a sham by a Government that seems set on GM crop commercialisation.

This is particularly the case in view of the very limited time and budget allocated to it, and the massive level of vested interest on the Science Review panel.

There was widespread anger when it looked as though the Public Debate would take place before the results of the UK GM Farm Scale Trials were  even out (July 2003); the government has recently backed down on this.

However, the government has shifted its summer publication of the results of GM Crop Trials from the rigorously peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Ecology to the Royal Society, whose antics in relation to peer review have brought the Society into disrepute.

The declared aim of these scientific meetings is to explore, in public, the science underlying particular GM issues.  The formats will vary but it is envisaged that 3 to 4 scientists will be invited at each meeting to offer different perspectives on an issue.  Reports of the meetings will appear on the web site above.

However, there is a massive level of vested interest on the Science Review panel. See Weekly Watch 8, Topic of the Week: UK Govts Science Review at:

A number of NGOs have accused, the once august, Royal Society of attempting to rig the current GM Science Debate.  Dr Brian John of GM Free Cymru says: "We are gravely concerned about what is happening within the Royal Society.  . its direct involvement in pro-GM propaganda and in bad science is a disgrace.  . it is turning the "science strand" of the GM debate into a farce."

The FSA also appears to be attempting to hijack the GM Public Debate by engineering a special status for itslef within the Science Review, and by using pro-GM publicity materials which make a nonsense of the FSA's pretence of impartiality.

For more on the insufficient Strategy Unit's Scoping Note Brief on the Economic Strand, see Campaign of the Week, Weekly Watch 17, at:

Members of the public will get the chance to have their say on GM food in a nationwide debate during May, June and July.  The government has agreed to provide £500,000 to fund the debate - twice the original budget, but still a paltry sum. The programme will include:
* six national and regional conferences - three in England and one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - venues to be announced
* smaller county-level meetings; a 'toolkit' to encourage discussion right down to village and local group level; a film


1.  You have until Friday 28 February 2003 to send the government your response to their latest consultation document on GM crops. It focuses on the economics of introducing GM crops into our food supply.
2.  Take part in the GM public debate: Although it's still not officially started, you can feed in your views on GM at

TOPIC OF THE WEEK 2 - The risks of GM wheat for Canada
On Dec. 23, while most Canadians were distracted by holiday revelry, Monsanto quietly submitted an application to a government agency for GM wheat, breaking its promise to listen to and address the widespread concerns about GM wheat.  If requirements are met, Canada could become the first country to allow commercial production of this GM wheat - which has the potential to virtually kill Canada's wheat export markets.

At around $3 billion annually, wheat is Canada's leading agricultural product.  Canada exports 75% of its wheat.  The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) estimates that customers for 82% of western red spring wheat, the main wheat grown in Canada, do not want to buy GM wheat.  The CWB has joined with groups such as Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians - two organizations it has clashed with in the past - to present a united front opposing GM wheat.

As a spokesperson for Rank Hovis, Britain's biggest flour mill, has said, "If you do grow GM wheat, we will not be able to buy any of your wheat - neither the GM nor the conventional.  This has nothing to do with principle, or with trade barriers. We just cannot sell it."

Farmers growing GM wheat will be worse off to the tune of $45.8 million, those who don't by more than $32.3 million.  The only party expected to make money is Monsanto, who would generate about $157 million in net returns. For Monsanto, this application is all about economics. The company has been hemorrhaging money - a $1.69 billion loss last year compared with profits of $295 million in the same period a year earlier. The poor financial performance led to the abrupt departure in December of the company's chief executive.  Sales of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide are down.  The patent has expired, allowing competitors into the market, and the company's biotech strategy has so far proven to be a loser.  Roundup Ready wheat would boost herbicide sales at a time when Monsanto is surely desperate to return to profitability.

GM wheat could be the final blow for many of Canada's farmers. Monsanto shouldn't be setting public policy and determining when it's okay to grow GM wheat.

"They're trying to push a product there is no market for," said Louis Kuster, North Dakota Wheat Commissioner and a farmer himself. "It is going to be devastating to our market for foreign wheat." But, he said, "Monsanto right now holds the power." Monsanto courts farmers on gene-altered wheat, Reuters Securities News February 28, 2003


NFU president Stewart Wells, was cited as saying at a press conference that if farmers are opposed to the introduction of Roundup Ready wheat, they should boycott Roundup herbicide, adding, "Monsanto is sensitive to changes in Roundup sales.  If farmers affect Monsanto's bottom line and shareholders' profits, farmers can reverse Monsanto's decision to force GM wheat onto the market."

A Major prairies tour against GM wheat, with a series of 11 public meetings in communities across the three Prairie provinces, is set to kick-off in Winnipeg.  The Council of Canadians, the National Farmers' Union, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, and the Parkland Institute tour will focus on the dangers of the genetic contamination of traditional crops, the loss of biodiversity, the inability to save seeds for replanting, the potential market loss for wheat farmers, and the rural-urban resistance against GE wheat.

REPORT OF THE WEEK - Prakash-supporter attacks Bt cotton paper in
Science as "shoddy publication based on meagre and questionable field data"
A remarkable attack was posted on Prakash's pro-GM AgBioView listserv concerning the recent paper in Science, claiming startling benefits from Bt cotton growing in India [David Zilberman and Matin Qaim's, "Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries" - Science, Feb 7, 2003, Vol. 299].  The author of the attack, Shanthu Shantharam, is a strong proponent of GMOs and Bt cotton.  He writes, "This kind of shoddy publication based on meagre and questionable field data in reputed journals like SCIENCE do more harm to science and technology development, perhaps set GMO technology backwards.

"It was equally startling as to how this report passed the muster of peer review at Science. This paper really questions the current standards of peer review in a prestigious journal like Science that has a century old reputation for high scientific standards.

" suggest as the authors Matin Qaim and David Zilberman do that Bt cotton has out yielded non-Bt cotton by more than 80% and link it directly to a single Bt gene is outlandish.  It is obvious that the authors have no background in plant breeding and genetics; otherwise prudence would have them consult cotton breeders before staking out such a claim.

"The other weakness of the paper is total reliance on the company (Mahyco) supplied data from field tests and extrapolating it into the stratosphere.

"This paper has been published in undue haste, and considering the fact the Mahyco Bt cotton varieties were just commercialized last April and only one or two pickings have taken place, the authors and the company should have waited for another two more years and collect statistically meaningful data ...

"There is hardly any good quality science in the paper and yet SCIENCE chose to publish it."

Compare this, to the Qaim and Zilberman response to Devinder Sharma over his critique of their paper.  See:

"[Monsanto] is a company that has been optimistic on the borderline of lying," said Sergey Vasnetsov, senior analyst with Lehman Brothers in New York. "Monsanto has been feeding us these fantasies for two years, and when we saw they weren't real," its stock price fell. Monsanto shares traded above $30 in early 2001 but plummeted over the summer. The stock closed Friday at $17.07 a share.
"They're trying to push a product there is no market for," said Louis Kuster, North Dakota Wheat Commissioner and a farmer himself. "It is going to be devastating to our market for foreign wheat." But, he said, "Monsanto right now holds the power." Monsanto courts farmers on gene-altered wheat, Reuters Securities News February 28, 2003

"The research follows the dollars, so who is this benefiting?" said Stephen Jones, a wheat breeder at Washington State University, one of Monsanto's partners. "The pressure is tremendous from Monsanto and these other corporations." Monsanto courts farmers on gene-altered wheat, Reuters Securities News February 28, 2003

"...those are the two big, bad bullies in the market [Monsanto and Syngenta], so they're going to slug it out," said Bill Johnson, a weed scientist with Purdue University."

HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the NGIN archive
26 February 2003
Firm stops work on GMOs in India
Powers to stop the planting of GMOs strenthened in Australia
Pro-GM scientist attacks Bt cotton paper
Saving us from their poisons with GMOs
RS wants balance
25 February 2003
92% of Americans want GM labeling
No lifting of EU moratorium say ag ministers
Japan buys Brazil corn amid StarLink fear
Bayer Knew of Dangers Long Before It Pulled Drug from Market
Canadian boycott of Monsanto?
The risks of modifiedwheat
Prairies tour against GM wheat
24 February 2003
Monsanto & Syngenta "two big, bad bullies"
China denies Monsanto a safety certificate
Re: A Scientific Fairytale
US derailing India's biosafety/Novartis wants to get bigger
21 February 2003



After an uncertain few months over Christmas and New Year, while issues of timing and funding for the much awaited Public Debate on GM were resolved, things are at last moving forward.
At the end of January Margaret Beckett responded to the Public Debate Steering Board's (PDSB) request for more funds, with a letter allocating £155K more.

However at the same time a letter came from the Welsh Assembly, echoed by both Scotland and Northern Ireland, expressing a desire that the public programme of debate should start after the elections in the devolved administrations (1 May 2003) and should include the publication of the results of the Farm-Scale Evaluations, expected in July.  As the Government has from the outset insisted on the Public Debate reporting in June, thereby avoiding inclusion of the FSE results, this obviously represented a bit of a rift between Government and the devolved administrations (DAs).  At the same time the Steering Board wrote again to Mrs Beckett saying that for our own reasons (ie loss of time due to the funding problems) we needed to revise the timetable, and follow the same dates suggested by the DAs, and deliver a report in September.  We have now received confirmation from Mrs Beckett of this - with the addition of further funding from the DAs given that the timetable now satisfies their requirements.  The total budget for the whole Debate is now £500K - twice the original figure allocated.  This is not as much as we had hoped to have, however with some compromise we feel we can attempt a process that achieves our objectives.
Proposed Plans
The Central Office of Information have now come up with a set of proposals deliverable within the revised budget, as follows:

the production of a 'tool-kit', the details of which are being worked up, but it is expected that it will consist of a video, a CD-rom, and a paper version of the creative content of the first two.  This will form the basis of three 'tiers' of public meetings:
*the first tier will be six regional meetings in early May across the UK (three in England, one each in Scotland, Wales and NI).  These meetings will serve to launch the process and the 'toolkit', as well as offer the opportunity for deliberative interaction between members of the public and 'experts'
*the second tier will be larger 'local' meetings run by county councils etc for which technical and faciliation support will be offered and which will follow the deliberative process created by the 'tool-kt'.  These meetings will obviously be dependent on take-up by councils - therefore how many and where they might take place can not be guaranteed.  Already Norfolk, Shropshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire have expressed interest in hosting meetings
*the third and final tier of meetings will be grassroots events run by local networks - ie Womens' Institutes, trade unions, universities, schools etc.  The toolkit once again will enable groups to run a deliberative event - something novel and different from the 'standard' public meeting concept.  Once again this level of meeting will be dependent on takeup by groups across the country  for those people unable to attend any of the above meetings a version of the intereactive element of the toolkit will be available via the webiste and also paper version for those unable to access the internet.

There will be a feedback mechanism for all of the above elements of the process to allow for capture and analysis of participants views there will also be ten 'reconvened' workshops, which will mirror the Corr Willbourn workshops run before Xmas.  The participants will be selected in order to ensure that grassroots opinions are captured in a deliberative process echoing the bigger meetings

The debate will be launched in April, and events will start in May (kicking off in England and a bit later in the DAs) and run through to July.  The report will be written up over the summer and delivered at the end of September.  If the FSEs results are published in July as currently projected then these can be incorporated also - however if this timetable slips we will need to revisit this timetable.
How to engage
Following the above proposals - but bearing in mind that it is still
early days and things are very much at planning stage - there are several ways that individuals and organisations will be able to get involved:

go along to a regional meeting - these will be announced when the debate is launched in April
encourage your local council - either City, District or County - to run a large scale meeting, and go along
take up the 'toolkit' and organise your own event in your community  log on to the website (when it is up and running in May) and participate in the interactive component  request a paper version

If you require more information on any of the above please email with queries or to register your interest in getting involved in organising a local meeting.
General information, minutes of meetings etc, are available at the Public Debate website - and you can also register views here (using above email address).
Information for materials to be used in the debate
The materials that will be produced to underpin the debate ie for use in a video or CD-rom, are currently the subject of a convoluted process designed to ensure that they are balanced, fair and present all sides of the argument.  They are based on the workshops run before Christmas with members of the public (for the  report from these see ) which gave rise to many questions, and which also indicated a recognition that what are sometimes presented as 'facts' often aren't - and that there are always two or more answers to one question!  The workshops indicated the desire to have information which presented all sides of the issue.  Consequently an inclusive process of engagement with key players (including Friends of the Earth, Soil Association and Greenpeace) is taking place and it is hoped it will end up with materials which adequately express the many differing views held on this issue.  Although this process is a difficult one - and novel - fingers crossed the outcome is worth it.
Food Standards Agency
In the last update I sent out I highlighted the FSAs intention to hold parallell but unconnected events.  They have now created a website
with information on what they are doing (a citizens jury, schools debate etc) as well as general, supposedly independent, information on GM.  Currently the activities of the FSA are of great concern to members of the PDSB as well as NGOs as there is potential for much confusion on who is running what and who is really reporting to Government.  And it is fair to say that the desire by the PDSB to run a process that is open, transparent, rooted in public concerns, framed by the public and underpinned by information that is balanced and expresses all views - is not one shared by the FSA in practice.  For more information on this get in touch with me.
The next Five Year Freeze newsletter, due out next week, will have more information on this, the Science Review and the Strategy Unit's economics review.  If you do not currently recieve this (in hard copy not electronic) then email with your postal details.
Any questions please don't hesitate to mail me.
Best wishes
Clare Devereux
The Genetic Engineering Alliance
94 White Lion Street
N1 9PF
Tel: 020 7837 0642/01273 822700
Fax: 020 7837 1141

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