ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

29 March 2002


"Our own scientists appeared to be walking advertisements for GMO products." - Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Canadian MP

items taken from AGNET MARCH 29, 2002:
*Freedom for jailed GM crop protester
*Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, European Environmental Bureau joint media release
*Syngenta proposes rice gene project
*Canada's GM food fight
*Canadian canola growers face rocky regulatory road
*US figures for 2002 GE crop planting released today among worldwide
rejection of GE crops

March 28, 2002
BBC News

March 27 2002

Brussels - Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) today urged EU governments and the European Commission to safeguard European agriculture and biodiversity by preventing any genetically modified (GM) crops of beet and oilseed rape being grown in the EU.

A recent report by the European Environmental Agency (EEA) (1) confirmed a risk of massive contamination if GM crops are commercially grown in Europe.

Based on the EEA's conclusions, such a risk is unmanageable particularly for oilseed rape and beet.

In its report, the EEA warned that: "oilseed rape can be described as a high risk crop for crop-to-crop gene flow and from crops to wild relatives. It is predicted that plants carrying multiple [herbicide] resistance genes will become common post-GM release. Oilseed rape is cross compatible with a number of wild relatives and thus the likelihood of gene flow to these species is high". The problem was already recognised by the French government, which banned cultivation of GM oilseed rape in 1998 (2).

Massive and unmanageable genetic contamination is not only probable but has already happened in Canada where so-called 'superweeds' tolerant of three different herbicides are becoming common place, as was confirmed in a recent study by English Nature (3). The problem occurs when one variety of GM oilseed rape pollinates another, causing 'gene stacking' and multiple tolerance.  When seed is spilled at harvest, it remains in the ground and germinates later as unwanted weeds in crops of different species. These multi-tolerant superweeds were first identified in 1998, only 3 years after GM herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape was first grown in Canada. A study found evidence of gene stacking at all 11 sites sampled in 1999, with gene flow taking place at distances up to 800 metres (4). In 2000, non-GM oilseed rape imported into the EU from Canada was contaminated by GM rape grown over 4 kilometres away.

Agrochemical companies are now actively marketing new chemicals designed to deal with herbicide-tolerant superweeds. Rather than GM crops reducing the use of harmful chemicals as the biotech industry claimed, weedkiller applications for herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape in Canada are actually higher than for conventional oilseed rape. Between 1997-2000, there was an average of 2.13 herbicide applications per crop with GM Roundup Ready and Liberty Link crops, compared to 1.78 applications for conventional varieties (5).

Similar contamination problems exist for beet, another plant that is indigenous to Europe and has a number of wild relatives. According to the EEA: "Sugar beet can be described as medium to high risk for gene flow crop to crop and from crop to wild relatives. Pollen from sugar beet has been recorded at distances of more than 1 Km at relatively high frequency. The possible implications of hybridisation and introgression [of transgenes] between crops and wild plant species are so far unclear because it is difficult to predict how the flow of genetically engineered genes will be expressed".

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the EEB claim that EU authorities cannot ignore the EEA's findings, and that the report fully justifies the use of the Precautionary Principle, enshrined in the EU Treaty, in order to prevent irreversible damage to European agriculture and biodiversity. The NGOs therefore demand that cultivation of GM oilseed rape and beet should not be allowed in the EU, and that the European Commission and Member States take action to suspend several authorisations already granted for GM oilseed rape.

Finally, the environmental NGOs call on the European Commission - which is currently drafting a Directive to establish tolerance levels for adventitious contamination of non-GM seeds by GM seeds - to set a maximum threshold no higher than detectability level (0.1%). Anything above that, say the NGOs, will lead to creeping contamination of seed supplies and ultimately to the erosion of Europe's agricultural and natural biodiversity.

(1) "Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): The significance of gene flow through pollen transfer", European Environmental Agency,
(2) On 30th July 1998, the French government announced a national moratorium on the cultivation of plans such as oilseed rape which present risks of cross-pollination with other species.
(3) "Gene stacking in herbicide tolerant oilseed rape: lessons from the North American experience", English Nature, February 2002,
(4) Beckie, H.J., Hall, L.M. & Warwick, S.I. (2001): Impact of  herbicide-resistant crops as
weeds in Canada, proceedings Brighton Crop  Protection Council - Weeds pp 135-142.
(5) See footnote 3 above.

March 28, 2002
Washinton Post
Justin Gillis

Steven Briggs, president of a Syngenta research institute, was cited as disclosing at a briefing here that his company had proposed an international collaboration between public and private interests that would rapidly finish a genetic map of the rice plant. The story says that the proposal by Syngenta International AG of Basel, Switzerland, came as a bit of a surprise to some scientists in a public consortium already working on the rice genome, but they welcomed the offer in principle and said they would consider it.

Ben Burr, a biologist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who has helped guide the public effort, which is funded primarily by Japan and known as the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, was cited as saying that the project might be hastened if Syngenta and other private companies were willing to contribute money or laboratory resources under suitable terms, describing it as "a statement of desire on our part." He added, "We hope that the international project and any other parties with an interest" will join in such a public-private consortium, and he said Syngenta might be willing to contribute funds as well as scientists. Separately, Syngenta confirmed that -- as previously reported -- it is near agreement to share a large volume of rice data with the international project. Several scientists said this agreement is likely to be concluded within days and is not dependent on the formation of the broader alliance.

March 29, 2002
The Gazette (Montreal)
Editorial / Op-ed
Lyle Stewart

Columnist Stewart writes that the overwhelming visual association he gets from the biotech industry's television advertising on genetically engineered food is with the 1970s sci-fi classic Soylent Green in which the dying person is bombarded with idyllic video images of sun-dappled fields and natural wonders, a soothing mind massage before being fed into the food factory.

Compare that to the advertising campaign of the Council for Biotechnology Information, called "Good Ideas Are Growing." Stewart says the council relies pretty much on the same imagery: sun-drenched green crops surrounding an old-fashioned barn on the prairie; the healthy, tanned farm family rocking gently on a rope swing; a sturdy Third World peasant at work in fields of bounty.

What they don't show you are courtroom scenes in which huge multinational corporations put family farmers out of business because their crops became contaminated with patented genetic varieties. They don't show the massive corporate lobbying of political decision-makers. They don't show honest government scientists being silenced with gag orders while taxpayer-supported public relations for the biotech industry is presented as "science-based" information.

Stewart says that it all cries out for a truth-in-advertising reality check. And the reality is that the federal government and the biotech industry - it's almost impossible now to distinguish between the two - do not want you to know what you are consuming. It's a so-far successful policy of obfuscation and delay on the issue of labeling GMOs at the expense of Canadian consumers and exporters.

Take some of last week's otherwise fascinating testimony to the Commons standing committee on health. Dr. Alan Wildeman of the University of Guelph - one of the centres for biotech research in Canada - was cited as telling the committee that labeling would cost producers up to 10 per cent of the retail food price, stating, "Producers will be pushed to a thinner profit margin since they don't set the price of the commodities that are going into the food products that we eat. If we are forced to label at that price ... the farmer will get squeezed on it. As someone who grew up on a prairie farm in Saskatchewan, I would argue that there is not a lot of margin to squeeze any more."

So, says Stewart, there's the pro-biotech position: labeling will put the family farmer out of business. The reality is that GM products are rapidly achieving the same effect by increasing corporate control of agriculture, and by eliminating export markets around the world that demand genetic identification or bar outright imports of GM crops.

It's too bad Wildeman was late for the committee hearing, because, says Stewart, he would have benefited from listening to Dr. John Fagan of Genetic I.D. Inc., of Fairfield, Iowa. Fagan pointed out that the prerequisites for mandatory labeling - testing and identity preservation - are already working effectively in many countries around the world. And the cost? "Negligible," Fagan said. With large-scale shipments, determining GM content raises costs by 0.6 per cent. With smaller scale containers of, say, 20 tons of food grade soy, costs may be up to 1.6 per cent.

And Fagan emphasized mandatory labeling makes economic sense. "Introduction of GMOs into Canada and the U.S. has actually led to significant loss of export markets," he said. "Those markets will begin to gain or regain confidence in Canada's ability to provide the kinds of products that they want and those lost markets will be regained. It is, in my view, the most important argument for taking on a labeling program of this sort that allows Canada to join the rest of the world instead of being marginalized in this way."

Indeed, reading the committee transcript (from March 21; E-mail me for a copy) in full, demonstrates how full of holes are government and industry objections to mandatory labeling. Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the NDP MP for Winnipeg North Centre and a member of the health committe said she was almost embarrassed the only in-depth, thorough and thoughtful testimony has come from Americans, adding that, "Our own scientists appeared to be walking advertisements for GMO products."

March 28, 2002
Kanina Holmes

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Dale Adolphe, executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association, was cited as telling the Canola Council of Canada's annual convention in Vancouver earlier this week that countries opting to grow transgenic crops for export will likely face more regulatory hurdles but those obstacles could be overcome if genetic modification produces a direct consumer benefit, adding, "We've had a paradigm shift where we've moved from no evidence of risk in terms of what consumers were looking for, to evidence of no risk. You can also define it as, we were innocent until proven guilty and now we're into a paradigm where we're guilty until we prove ourselves innocent."

The story says that Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of canola, a variant of rapeseed. While the annual crop is about 60 percent transgenic, because of the country's bulk grain handling system, genetically modified and non-GM canola are seldom separated, making all exports classified as genetically modified.

Adolphe's comments come at a time when billions of dollars worth of Canadian canola and U.S. soybean exports to China have been halted or slowed as Beijing developed a strict new certification process for many genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Canadian canola exports have been closed to Europe since 1998 due to a moratorium on GM crops that followed a wave of public and political concern about food and environmental safety. Last year Japan, another major canola market, toughened its labeling requirements on GM imports. Adolphe, a former president of the Canola Council of Canada, was further cited as saying that while proponents of GM crops are losing the regulatory battle, despite a lack of scientific evidence that they are a risk, there still may be a way to win the public relations war, adding, "The consumer is already being hypocritical, from the standpoint that they accept pharmaceuticals produced through the science but don't accept food produced through the science. What we really need is a genetically engineered product that has direct consumer benefit that the consumer can see."

March 28, 2002
From a Greenpeace press release

AMSTERDAM- Official prospective planting figures for genetically engineered (GE) crops have been released today by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They reveal an increase for plantings of GE soya (up from 68 to 74 percent of the US soya acreage), cotton (up from 69 to 71 percent ) and maize/corn (up from 26 to 32 percent) in the United States in 2002.

The new figures stand in contrast to a wealth of evidence that clearly demonstrates increasing worldwide rejection of GE crops. In reality, just two countries (the US and Argentina) account for 90 percent of GE crop acreage in the world. Just two crops (soya and maize/corn) account for 82 percent of that acreage. Just one company, Monsanto, accounts for 91 percent of the world total area sown to GE crops.

Greenpeace spokesperson Jean-Francois Fauconnier said: "The increase in GE crop planting in the US is another blow to the environment, but considering the political and agricultural influence exerted by Monsanto in the US, it was not unexpected. Thankfully and more importantly, the clearer international trend, which today's figures cannot dispute, is that the growing of GE crops is isolated to a few countries and that worldwide rejection of GE crops is growing."
"American shoppers are demanding safe, GE-Free food, and food companies are responding," added Charles Margulis, Greenpeace Genetic Engineering Specialist. "These companies know that Americans don't want genetic experiments in our food, and they're sending the biotech industry packing."

The new Greenpeace briefing "GE crops - increasingly isolated as awareness and rejection grow" documents the worldwide isolation and rejection of GE crops.

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