Document Directory

05 Jun 00 - GMO - Gene maps pose legal risk to chemical firms
04 Jun 00 - GMO - Princess Royal says GM critics are wrong
04 Jun 00 - GMO - Anne in scathing attack on Charles over GM
04 Jun 00 - GMO - Sainsbury's in bid to develop new GM foods
04 Jun 00 - GMO - Scientists ein GM research at Maynooth
03 Jun 00 - GMO - Seed firm to pay farmers for GM rape blunder
03 Jun 00 - GMO - Pension funds catch charities on the hop
03 Jun 00 - GMO - Payout for farmers in GM seeds blunder
03 Jun 00 - GMO - Firm in GM seed mix-up to pay farms millions
03 Jun 00 - GMO - Farmers to get payout for rogue GM crops
02 Jun 00 - GMO - GM Crop Compensation Set To Cost Company Millions
01 Jun 00 - GMO - Fayed anger as farm hit by GM mix-up
31 May 00 - GMO - Soya gene find fuels doubts on GM crops
31 May 00 - GMO - Brown: No GM in British maize seeds
31 May 00 - GMO - GM genes 'can spread to people and animals'
31 May 00 - GMO - No market for the GM tomato that fights cancer
31 May 00 - GMO - Fayed is victim of GM blunder
28 May 00 - GMO - Research warns GM genes can jump species barrier
28 May 00 - GMO - Modified Crop Genes 'Jump The Species Barrier'
28 May 00 - GMO - Farmers told to destroy contaminated GM crops

05 Jun 00 - GMO - Gene maps pose legal risk to chemical firms

Paul Brown, environment correspondent

Guardian ... Monday 5 June 2000

Advances in genetic technology which allow scientists to tell the precise effects of chemicals on the body mean that the companies that produce them face a bleak future of lawsuits over allergies and toxicity, says a report by Friends of the Earth.

With the human genome project near completion, it will be possible to measure the effects of chemicals on the body's immune system and predict whether individual chemicals can cause cancer, birth defects or other genetic effects.

The report, Crisis in Chemicals, said this will leave companies open to legal action . Until recently it was not possible to tell the precise effects of chemicals on humans, and manufacturers have failed to test many of them for potential health effects. But genetic medicine means that effects on susceptible individuals can be measured for the first time.

The government welcomed the report, saying it "highlighted the possible implications of emerging research into the genetic susceptibility of individuals to chemicals". It had made some useful recommendations for new EU legislation on chemicals which the government would "consider carefully."

The report said individuals vary in their ability to break down chemicals, and in how much they respond to the toxicity of chemicals. Much of this variation is genetically determined. Scientists believe that susceptibilities to individual chemicals will be indentified and that people will be able to be screened easily and cheaply to see if they are in a susceptible group.

The report predicts that this will result in industries being hit by legal actions by people who have been exposed to particular chemicals in their workplace, in the products they use, from factory pollution and from pesticides in their food.

People taking legal action are likely to include workers or people living near polluting factories, and those who are most susceptible to chemicals in products - pregnant women and young children.

Michael Warhurst, author of the report said: "In English law the person claiming injury will not have to prove absolutely that the chemical plant he lives next to or the product he is using has caused damage to him, merely that on the balance of probabilities it has."

He added: "Companies that fail to clean up their act will face a heavy bill . So will insurers and investors. The biomedical revolution is now underway. Industry, governments and the financial sector cannot ignore it."

04 Jun 00 - GMO - Princess Royal says GM critics are wrong

By David Harrison and Ian Cobain

Telegraph ... Sunday 4 June 2000

The Princess Royal has come out in favour of genetically modified foods, setting herself up in conflict with the Prince of Wales who recently said that they could bring "disastrous consequences ".

In what will be seen as a criticism of her brother , who is a vigorous champion of organic farming, the Princess said: "It is a huge oversimplification to say all farming ought to be organic or that there should be no GM foods. I'm sorry, but life isn't that simple. Man has been tinkering with food production and plant development for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky to suddenly get nervous about it when, fundamentally, you are doing much the same thing."

In her first public comments on the GM debate, the Princess, who is the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, said could understand why shoppers were concerned about GM. She said they felt that the speed of change was "too fast to understand what the dangers are and where the weak points might be".

But she tells The Grocer magazine, in an interview at Buckingham Palace, that organic food was not the "overall answer" to the problem of feeding the world's growing population. The Princess's views, which friends say she has expressed privately for some time, have been shaped by her interest in science and her work in Africa as president of Save the Children.

Two weeks ago the Prince of Wales criticised scientists for using the world as a "giant laboratory". He said that only a rediscovery of "a sense of the sacred' could avert environmental catastrophe.

He also argued that humanity's "inability or refusal to accept the existence of a guiding hand" meant that Nature had come to be regarded as "a system that can be engineered for our own convenience". He said: "We need to rediscover a reverence for the natural world, irrespective of its usefulness to ourselves, to become more aware of the relationship between God, man and creation."

Last night Prof Richard Dawkins, the Oxford zoologist who was highly critical of her brother's speech, said: "The Princess has made a very balanced statement, and I would go along with it." Prof Patrick Leaver, the head of plant sciences at Oxford University, said: "The Princess is talking a lot of sense. A combination of food technology and biotechnology is our only hope of feeding all the people on the planet."

Charles Secrett, the executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Prince Charles has played a vital role in the debate about GM food . We back him all the way."

04 Jun 00 - GMO - Anne in scathing attack on Charles over GM

By Robert Mendick

Independent ... Sunday 4 June 2000

The Princess Royal poured scorn on many of her older brother's most cherished views last night, dismissing organic crops and backing genetically modified food.

Princess Anne chose to mount her attack in the Grocer magazine, a trade publication. In a direct attack on the Prince of Wales , a long-time champion of organic farming who has made outspoken comments critical of GM food, the Princess Royal said: "Man has been tinkering with food production and plant development for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky to suddenly get nervous about it when, fundamentally, you are doing much the same thing."

Only last month Prince Charles used Radio 4's Reith Lectures to say the exact opposite and to launch a scathing attack on scientists who engineer GM food. He said it was wrong that "... nature has come to be regarded as a system that can be engineered for our own convenience and in which anything that happens can be fixed by technology and human ingenuity".

It is not the first time the intense sibling rivalry has erupted into a public feud. The root cause of the conflict is thought to be centred on Prince Charles's decision to divorce Diana, Princess of Wales, and instead form a liaison with Camilla Parker Bowles. The Princess Royal is an old friend of Andrew Parker Bowles , Camilla's former husband.

The Princess Royal said in the interview she understood consumers' concerns over GM food but added: "... it is a huge over-simplification to say all farming ought to be organic or that there should be no GM foods. I'm sorry but life isn't that simple."

The siblings last clashed publicly in 1998 when Princess Anne chose to throw a 21st birthday party for her son Peter at Windsor Castle on the same day Ms Parker Bowles was hosting a 50th birthday for Prince Charles.

04 Jun 00 - GMO - Sainsbury's in bid to develop new GM foods

Tom Robbins and Annamarie Cumisky

Sunday Times ... Sunday 4 June 2000

Sainsbury's, the beleaguered supermarket group, is helping to develop a new strain of genetically modified (GM) vegetables, despite running advertising campaigns claiming that it is pro-organic and anti-GM.

The supermarket is working on an international three-year project to produce long-life vegetables, which could remain on the shelves for more time without decaying and would generate big savings by reducing wastage.

The 1.1m project, due to be completed this autumn, is based at the National University of Ireland, in Maynooth, which has a specialist biotechnology department. GM seeds are cultivated in laboratories there before being flown to Holland, where they are grown in greenhouses.

Sainsbury's is one of three industrial partners working on the scheme, which is mainly funded by the European Union. The supermarket is providing advice and data on how long vegetables remain fresh on its shelves.

EU documents list another partner as Zeneca-Vanderhave, part of Advanta, the company which supplied the GM seeds that caused accidental contamination of up to 30,000 acres of farmland .

Dr Philip Dix, who is running the project, said: "Sainsbury's is involved in advising the consortium. It is not involved in the laboratory work.

"Sainsbury's sends data on its own experience of the ageing of shelf-vegetables. The data is used as a benchmark for the research. It is taking a passive role because of the climate [towards GM foods]. It prefers not to be too closely associated with the project."

However, Dix confirmed that Sainsbury's representatives attended regular meetings to review the progress of the research.

Scientists have already successfully altered the genetic make-up of lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower to delay the ageing process of the leaves. Seeds in the new project are being modified to alter the levels of the hormone cytokinin, which controls this process. Such fine-tuning can delay the loss of chlorophyll, causing the leaves to remain green for longer.

It is not known if taste is affected ."We are not allowed to taste them because they are GM crops," said Dr Michael Davey, senior research officer at the plant science division of the University of Nottingham, which is also a member of the consortium.

A spokesman for Sainsbury's said that the company's involvement in the project was "marginal". Last July, the supermarket launched an advertising campaign claiming it was the first big supermarket to eliminate GM ingredients from its own-brand food. This claim was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority after Waitrose and Iceland complained that they had already done the same.

The Princess Royal has come out in favour of genetically modified foods, in direct opposition to her brother, the Prince of Wales.

Prince Charles, an organic farmer and vociferous opponent of GM foods, warned last week that the scientific manipulation of crops could have "potentially disastrous consequences ". But Princess Anne said in an interview with The Grocer magazine: "It is a huge oversimplification to say all farming ought to be organic, or that there should be no GM foods.

"Man has been tinkering with food production for such a long time that it's a bit cheeky to suddenly get nervous about it when, fundamentally, you are doing much the same thing."

04 Jun 00 - GMO - Scientists ein GM research at Maynooth

Annamarie Cumiskey and Tom Robbins

Sunday Times ... Sunday 4 June 2000

Scientists at Maynooth, traditionally a training ground for priests, are cultivating genetically modified (GM) crop seeds .

The experiments, aimed at lengthening the shelf life of lettuces, cauliflower and broccoli, are being conducted at the National University of Ireland (NUI).

News of the scientific tests are likely to trigger a debate about whether academics are playing God by tampering with nature. GM crops have been dubbed as Frankenstein foods by environmentalists across Europe, who say the resulting vegetables might cause health problems in years to come.

Pope John Paul II suggested that advances in biotechnology and life sciences were problematic in a papal address to the Vatican last year.

St Patrick's College, Maynooth, was awarded European Union money for the biotechnology research in 1997, but many academics on the site are unaware that GM work is happening there .

Thomas Corbett, a professor in dogmatic theology, said: "I am not aware of this research taking place on the campus."

In 1997, St Patrick's was split into two. The college retained the theology department while the rest became NUI Maynooth.

Sainsbury's , the supermarket chain, is helping in the project, although it advertises itself as being pro-organic and anti-GM . Long-life vegetables, which could remain on the shelves for longer, would generate huge savings for supermarkets by reducing wastage.

The Maynooth researchers are manipulating the genetic make-up of cytokinin, a natural hormone found in lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli which retards ageing in plants. The scientists have been able to change the hormone so that leaves stay green longer, thus reversing the effects of aging.

Professor Philip Dix, the project's co-ordinator, admitted that it is not yet known what influence the GM hormone would have on the overall well-being or taste of the plants . The seeds are cultivated in culture growth rooms at Maynooth then sent to Holland for planting in greenhouses by the project's Dutch partners.

"The seed is not being grown outdoors yet but it could be in the future, if the research is developed that far," Dix said.

The future of the whole set-up depends on the EU's willingness to continue to fund the 1.4m research after the project ends in August. The European commission awarded 750,000 to the project partners, some of which will cover Maynooth's research costs.

Dr Donal Murray, the Bishop of Limerick, said there was no church policy on GM foods as far as he was aware. He is a member of a British Isles church committee that is examining ethical issues, but it has not yet discussed GM foods.

"We would have the same worries as other people - whether any intervention is a good idea," Murray said. "The moral issue is about whether it's dangerous to health; that's what the concern would be."

In his statement to the Vatican the Pope said: "The life sciences and biotechnology continue to find new fields of application, yet they also raise the problem of the need to safeguard people's dignity, responsibility and safety."

Patricia McKenna, the Green party MEP for Dublin, said yesterday that it was "incredible " that the church would "play into the hands of the biotechnology industry " which was interested only in profit .

"The church is contradicting its own principles ," McKenna said. "Education institutions are very much backing the biotechnology industry, but one would expect that a university backed by the Catholic church would be reluctant to get involved in biotechnology."

Nuala Ahern, the Green party's Leinster MEP, was "absolutely shocked " to hear about the research. "Experiments into GM foods at Maynooth should be stopped , and anywhere else in the EU, until proper clinical trials are held to assess their impact on humans," she said.

EU documents list one of the research partners as Zeneca-Vanderhave, which formed Advanta, the company whose GM seeds resulted in the accidental contamination of up to 30,000 acres of British farmland, discovered last month.

Last July, Sainsbury's launched an advertising campaign proudly claiming to be the first big supermarket to eliminate GM ingredients from its own-brand food. The advertisements showed a Sainsbury's food label with the headline: "No genetically modified food where you see this label ."

More recently Sainsbury's has pushed its image as an eco-friendly store by opening what it calls the "world's greenest store" in Greenwich, southeast London, and producing television adverts claiming it sells more organic food than any other supermarket.

Dix said: "Sainsbury's is taking a passive role because of the climate in the UK [towards GM foods]. It prefers not to be too closely associated with the project." But he confirmed that Sainsbury's representatives attended regular meetings of the consortium to review progress.

A spokesman for Sainsbury's said its involvement was marginal and "the project was started in 1997, at a time when views on GM were very different to what they are now".

03 Jun 00 - GMO - Seed firm to pay farmers for GM rape blunder

By George Jones, Political Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 3 June 2000

Farmers who planted crops contaminated with genetically modified material were promised compensation yesterday if they destroyed them.

Advanta, the Lincolnshire-based firm that imported oilseed rape seeds from Canada unaware that they contained some GM material, has agreed to compensate farmers for their loss. The company refused to give any details on how much will be paid out, although the total is expected to run into millions of pounds in Britain.

The move was welcomed by environmental campaigners and was greeted with relief in Whitehall, where ministers have faced criticism over the delay in warning farmers that they had planted crops contaminated with GM material. The Ministry of Agriculture disclosed last month that about 500 farms had been affected, with GM-contaminated seed sown on about 9,000 acres in 1999 and 4,500 this year.

While Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, told the House of Commons that the incident posed "no threat to public health or the environment", campaigners expressed concerns and some farmers ploughed up their fields, fearful that they would not find buyers for the contaminated crops .

Advanta said yesterday: "Advanta has determined that at this late stage in the growing season, the only practical course of action is for farmers to remove these crops . Farmers need to assure themselves that the crops can qualify for European Union area aid payments."

The firm promised that the compensation package for affected farmers would be "fair and equitable". How much each farmer will receive will be negotiated by advisory panels of union representatives, loss adjusters and independent agricultural experts over the next few weeks.

Advanta said it was making this gesture, not because of any liability, but because "it has always put, and continues to put, the interests of its merchants and their farmer customers first". A spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry welcomed the "speedy solution" reached by Advanta, but stressed that the issue was primarily one between the supplier and its customers.

Tim Yeo, the Tory's agriculture spokesman, said the decision would be welcomed by all farmers who had suffered the uncertainty of recent weeks but it was not "the end of a tale of Government incompetence ".

03 Jun 00 - GMO - Pension funds catch charities on the hop

Paul Kelso

Guardian ... Saturday 3 June 2000

British charities invest pension funds in companies they oppose Some of the UK's leading charities are effectively financing the causes they oppose by investing pension funds worth tens of millions of pounds in companies involved in the arms trade, genetically modified crops and petrochemicals.

Oxfam, the British Red Cross, Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES) and Christian Aid are among 3,500 charities whose occupational pension schemes are run by the Pensions Trust, which specialises in investing on behalf of voluntary organisations and charities.

A detailed list of Pensions Trust investments dated February and seen by the Guardian reveals that its portfolio, worth 1.6bn, included shares in arms manufacturers GKN and BAe Systems; the petrochemical companies BP Amoco and Shell; Novartis and AstraZeneca, developers of genetically modified crops , and Nestle, whose marketing of powdered milk in the third world has been censured.

It also holds assets in Rio Tinto, the world's largest mining company, which is subject to campaigns by environmental groups across the globe.

FoES, which campaigns against GM crops, Rio Tinto and the oil industry, has become so concerned that it is in the process of switching to an ethical pension fund.

A spokesman said that FoES had assumed that because the Pensions Trust operated in the voluntary sector it would provide a more ethical dimension. A decision to withdraw from its scheme must be ratified at the next FoES board meeting.

Christian Aid, which has around 9m invested with the Pensions Trust, yesterday condemned some of the investments. "Investing in companies which sell arms, for example, is in our opinion immoral," it said. "It really is no good charities campaigning against pollution, supplying arms to children or on alcohol related issues when they... are propping up the very instruments of harm."

Christian Aid and Oxfam, who have some 25m invested, are working with the Pensions Trust to develop a 100% ethical fund.

British pension funds control an estimated 850bn of assets and account for 35% of the London stock market. According to the Ethical Investment Research Service, 60% of stocks do not meet ethical criteria. The Pensions Trust offer their 80,000 scheme members an ethical option, managed by Friends Provident, that blacklists ethically unsound stocks.

Some charities however are prevented from investing all their funds in the ethical scheme. Independent actuaries acting for Oxfam only permit the charity to invest 30% of its pension fund in an ethical scheme because of concerns about the volatility of the ethical investment market.

An Oxfam spokesman said they had been aware that the Pensions Trust invested in multinationals, but "saw it as the best deal that was on offer given the world that we live in".

"We're close to clinching a deal with the Pensions Trust to have a 100% ethical scheme," he said.

The Red Cross said it "promoted" the Pensions Trust's ethical option but was keen to see staff get "the return they deserved".

Richard Stroud, chief executive of the Pensions Trust, said that while the company did of fer an ethical option to its clients and was working to develop a fully ethical scheme, its main portfolio was run on a market basis. He said he had encountered apathy on the issue in the charitable sector.

"We wrote to 3,500 employers regarding the question of ethical investment and only 17 responded," he said.

Currently, pension funds are only obliged to maximise their client's investments. From July 3 however each fund's statement of investment principles must say whether it takes ethical considerations into account when investing.

The Pensions Trust issued a statement in January saying that ethical considerations are at the discretion of fund managers. Schroders, Fidelity, Capital, Hendersons, Legal & General, Richard Ellis and the ethical specialists Friends Ivory and Sime, manage 80% of the Pensions Trust's assets.

03 Jun 00 - GMO - Payout for farmers in GM seeds blunder

Staff Reporter

Guardian ... Saturday 3 June 2000

Hundreds of farmers who unwittingly sowed crops from seed contaminated by genetically modified material will get compensation running into millions of pounds, the company involved in the fiasco announced yesterday.

Advanta Seeds UK bowed to mounting political pressure and threats of legal action by setting up independent panels to determine financial packages to cover for losses suffered by farmers and seed merchants.

It denied any liability for the mistake, which has already resulted in some food being made from tainted crop s harvested last year, as the company and its international associates announced a Europe-wide deal after similar, smaller-scale, incidents in Sweden, France and Germany.

The money will only go to farmers who have had to destroy their crops of oilseed rape this year - about 400 in Britain alone. More than 11,600 acres are thought to have been affected, although twice that acreage of crops was grown and sold last year.

Advanta agreed a face-saving formula with Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, and government officials at a meeting on Thursday. It presented proposals for what it called a "fair and equitable" compensation package to distributors and farmers yesterday.

"To ensure fairness and consistency, independent agricultural advisers, professional loss adjusters and the farmers' unions of England and Scotland will be asked to propose the final settlement," it said.

This process is expected to take a few weeks and will probably result in a series of standard compensation schemes depending on acreage, financial arrangements and the intended destination of the crop into food processing or industrial use.

The company said yesterday that it expected the settlements would cost "a substantial sum" but its solution would be quicker than dealing with farmers individually.

"Advanta is making this gesture not because of any liability but because it has always, and continues, to put the interests of its merchants and their farmer customers first."

Mike Ruthven, general manager of Advanta Seeds UK, said: "So far as we are concerned, the position has not changed. We have not broken any law that we are aware of and we acted properly." Slightly fewer farmers are now thought to have been affected by the crisis than the 500 to 600 originally estimated.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, gave a cautious welcome. "We will not be fully satisfied with the outcome until we know the full details of the settlement."

The government has been severely embarrassed by the international furore surrounding the mistake, which the company blames on cross-pollination of its conventional crop seed by GM material on the Canadian plains two years ago. Although Mr Brown last week advised farmers to destroy the crops, he admitted he had no legal powers to order them do so. But there was no market for the crops once the contamination was revealed.

The Ministry of Agriculture last night said: "Anything that can bring a speedy resolution has to be welcomed." But it stressed the deal was a matter for Advanta and farmers.

The government has had to rush through new procedures for random testing of imported seeds but is resisting pressure from seed companies to agree that conventional seed could be contaminated by up to 1% GM material.

Compensation paid in Britain alone may total more than 2m through seed, planting, destruction and loss of contracts for food or industrial uses, although the European Union did allow final planting dates to be extended so that farmers could qualify for subsidies with another sowing of uncontaminated seed.

03 Jun 00 - GMO - Firm in GM seed mix-up to pay farms millions

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent ... Saturday 3 June 2000

The company that unwittingly sold seed in Britain contaminated with genetically modified material said yesterday it would compensate farmers who had been advised to destroy their crops as a result.

Advanta Seeds UK, which is based in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, said independent experts would determine compensation , which is expected to be millions of pounds . Friends of the Earth, which has led an anti-GM campaign, welcomed the decision but condemned the company and the Government for taking so long to act.

Advanta, which imported the oilseed rape from Canada unaware that it was adulterated, emphasised that the payments did not indicate it had accepted liability .

Last month the Ministry of Agriculture said that about 500 farms had been affected. GM-contaminated seeds were sown on about 9,000 acres in 1999 and 4,500 this year.

The ministry had already told farmers that they could not sell their oilseed rape in Europe and advised them to destroy affected crops.

Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, told the House of Commons that the incident posed "no threat to public health or the environment". Environmental campaigners expressed concern and some farmers ploughed up their fields, fearing that they would never find buyers for the contaminated crops.

Yesterday Advanta said: "After detailed discussions of other alternatives, Advanta has now determined that at this late stage in the growing season, the only practical course of action is for farmers to remove these crops. In a meeting with Maff earlier this week, Advanta presented proposals for a fair and equitable compensation package that could be made available to farmers who have grown crops from the affected seeds."

Independent agricultural advisers, professional loss adjusters and farmers' unions will work out a final settlement within the next few weeks, said Advanta, which has an annual turnover of 24m and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Advanta BV, based in the Netherlands.

The company said: "Advanta is making this gesture not because of any liability but because it has always, and continues, to put the interests of its merchants and their farmer customers first."

03 Jun 00 - GMO - Farmers to get payout for rogue GM crops

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Saturday 3 June 2000

Compensation payments are to be made to up to 600 farmers who unwittingly planted rogue genetically modified crops.

The pledge to farmers who destroyed their contaminated spring oilseed rape crop was given last night by the company at the centre of the controversy , Advanta Seeds UK. Final sums are to be decided by an advisory panel of experts, but farming experts believe that the total will be about 2 million. The sums could be paid within weeks.

The compensation is available only for farmers who have planted 11,000 acres this year and is not being offered to farmers who grew 22,000 acres of the crops in 1999.

Advanta discovered it had imported the GM-contaminated seeds two months ago. The company said: "Advanta is making this gesture, not because of any liability, but because it has always... put the interests of its merchants and their farmer customers first."

02 Jun 00 - GMO - GM Crop Compensation Set To Cost Company Millions

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Friday 2 June 2000

Farmers have given a cautious welcome to an offer from seed company Advanta to compensate them for losses caused by contamination of their crops with genetically-modified material .

Following lengthy discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) and farmers' unions, Advanta advised farmers who had sown the impure oilseed rape to destroy the crop and promised to provide "fair and equitable" compensation .

Advanta would give no guidance on the cost of the payout, but it is expected to run into millions of pounds.

Around 500 farmers inadvertently sowed seeds containing 1% of GM material after a consignment imported from Canada by Lincolnshire-based Advanta Seeds UK was mixed with small amounts of a modified seed not licensed for growth in Britain.

The mix-up was revealed last month, when Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the Commons that GM-contaminated seeds had been sown on about 9,000 acres in 1999 and 4,500 this year .

While Mr Brown insisted that the incident posed "no threat to public health or the environment", environmental campaigners expressed concerns and some farmers ploughed up their fields, fearful that they would never find buyers for the contaminated crops .

One farmer, John Sanderson, of St Cross, Suffolk, who destroyed his crop of oilseed rape after discovering it was contaminated with GM seed, said: "I think this will act as a wake up call to the industry and maybe in the future they will think a bit more carefully."

In a statement released today, Advanta said: "Advanta is making this gesture, not because of any liability, but because it has always put, and continues to put, the interests of its merchants and their farmer customers first."

National Farmers Union president Ben Gill said that he would not be satisfied until a settlement fully compensating farmers for all their losses was agreed.

01 Jun 00 - GMO - Fayed anger as farm hit by GM mix-up

By Charles Clover

Telegraph ... Thursday 1 June 2000

Genetically engineered food - Greenpeace Mohamed Fayed is one of the farmers and landowners who have unintentionally planted seed contaminated by genetically modified material, it emerged yesterday.

Staff at the Harrods owner's Balnagown Estate, near Inverness, confirmed that they had planted 55 acres of oilseed rape supplied by the Canadian firm Advanta. A spokesman for Mr Fayed said: "I can confirm that 55 acres have inadvertently been planted with this seed, which has been contaminated with GM."

He said Mr Fayed was "outraged " by the discovery, saying: "He feels that he and other farmers who have been affected are certainly entitled to compensation and that they should protest against this." He is in touch with the Scottish Farmers' Union and members of the Scottish Parliament."

It is thought that in the last two years up to 600 farmers in Britain may have planted more than 30,000 acres of oilseed rape, supplied by Advanta, which was contaminated with a GM rape seed variety that had not been approved for commercial growing in Europe.

Jim Walker, the president of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, has called on the Government to pursue Advanta for compensation , destroy affected crops and make interim payments to affected farmers.

31 May 00 - GMO - Soya gene find fuels doubts on GM crops

James Meikle

Guardian ... Wednesday 31 May 2000

Monsanto, the international company that pioneered the use of genetically modified crops, has revealed that its most widely used GM product contains unexpected gene fragments , raising fresh doubts that the technology is properly understood.

Two extra gene fragments have been found in modified soya beans that have been grown commercially in the US for four years and used as an important ingredient in processed foods sold in Britain for a similar period.

The company and the British government, which approved the soya's use in food and animal feed on behalf of the EU, yesterday insisted that the beans were no more risky to human health than conventional types (UK Editor's comment: well, there's a surprise!). However, the revelation will cause further problems for ministers trying to prove they can manage and monitor the introduction of the technology.

Monsanto alerted the Department of the Environment to the results of new studies on its Roundup Ready soyabeans on May 19, two days after ministers revealed that thousands of acres of oilseed rape had been grown unwittingly from conventional seed contaminated by GM material. German research has suggested that a gene used to modify rape seed could leap the species barrier into the guts of bees.

Monsanto said the new studies used more advanced techniques to provide "updated molecular characterisation" of its beans which contain an inserted gene to ensure they are not destroyed by weedkiller. The tests found that two "inactive" pieces of genetic material were inserted at the same time as the whole gene . Dan Verakis, a spokesman for the company, said: "All this means is we are able to see genes in soya more clearly now. It is like putting a telescope in orbit allows astronomers to see stars better."

He insisted that the fragments were in the product when it passed safety assessments by US authorities in 1992 and in Britain in 1996.The company's letter to the government says that nearly 100m acres of such beans have been cultivated round the world since 1996 "without adverse impacts on the environment or human health. They have also been widely consumed in Europe in foods and animal feedstuffs without adverse effects." No GM soya is grown in Britain.

The Department of the Environment said its own preliminary study "suggests that the risk from these beans when used in food or animal feed is no different from conventional soya beans". The in formation was considered by one advisory committee, on releases of GM material into the environment, last Thursday. The government has promised to publish its final verdict which will be passed on to the European commission.

Andy Tait, GM campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: "This shows exactly what we have been saying for years, that genetic modification is inherently unpredictable and will have all sorts of knock-on effects once released into the environment." Soya is used in a wide range of foods . About half the US harvest is now thought to be GM.

31 May 00 - GMO - Brown: No GM in British maize seeds

By Sarah Schaefer, Political Reporter

Independent ... Wednesday 31 May 2000

Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, yesterday played down suggestions by environmental campaigners that GM-contaminated maize seed may have been imported.

Speaking at question time, he said there was "no indication" that 5 to 15 per cent of the crop contained GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Last week the Government admitted GM oilseed rape had accidentally been planted on 600 farms.

Mr Brown said the Government was looking into legal aspects of the case involving the rape; it would be "unwise" to say more at the moment.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, asked Mr Brown: "Why did you take a whole month to warn... that these crops are now being grown extensively in Britain ? Won't farmers whose crops have been damaged, communities whose environments are threatened, consumers whose ability to choose a GM-free product has been jeopardised, all rightly blame you for keeping the information secret for a whole month and failing to take any action?" Mr Brown replied: "I am not keeping any information secret. I have gone out of my way to be candid."

But Mr Yeo said: "Do you agree with the Environment minister, Michael Meacher, that the 1 per cent threshold for GM-contamination of seeds proposed by the European Seeds Association is totally unacceptable to consumers and potentially dangerous to the environment?" Mr Brown said he agreed. "We, the British government, have no indication that any conventional maize seeds imported into the UK do contain modified varieties."

31 May 00 - GMO - GM genes 'can spread to people and animals'

By Geoffrey Lean, Volker Angres and Louise Jury

Independent ... Wednesday 31 May 2000

Genes from genetically modified crops can spread from plants into other forms of wildlife , new research shows. The research, which is the result of a three-year study at the University of Jena in Germany, supports environmentalists' warnings and raises the possibility that people who eat GM foods may also be affected .

Beatrix Tappesser from the Ecology Institute in Freiburg said: "This is very alarming because it shows that the cross-over of genes takes place on a greater scale than we had previously assumed.

"The results indicate that we must assume that changes take place in the intestinal tubes of people and animals. The crossover of microorganisms takes place and people's make up in terms of micro-organisms in their intestinal tract is changed . This can therefore have health consequences ."

The research - which has found that bees take up engineered genes from oilseed rape - will dramatically increase pressure on farmers and ministers to destroy the crop accidentally sown over thousands of acres of Britain. Yesterday, Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, in an emergency announcement, advised farmers to plough in the crop at a cost estimated by the National Farmers' Union at 3m.

While this represented a sharp U-turn from his previous denials that such action would be necessary, he admitted he had no legal authority to order them to do so. Mr Brown said they had the alternative option of harvesting the crop and trying to sell it outside Europe, although it was unclear whether the law allows them to do that.

He ruled out any government compensation for the farmers, although the food industry has now made it clear that they will not buy any of the crop . He said that farmers should instead seek redress from Advanta, the company who sold them the GM contaminated seed.

The new research about GM genes infecting other forms of life seriously undermines assertions by the biotech industry and GM supporters that the genes cannot spread and is being taken "very seriously " by the German health ministry .

Professor Hans-Heinrich Kaatz of Jena's authoritative Bee Institute released the insects onto a crop of genetically modified rape and removed the pollen they gathered when they returned to the hive. He fed the pollen to young bees, and when he analysed the bacteria in their guts found that they had taken up the same modified genes .

He told the German television station ZDF: "They had obviously taken up these genes. They were in the bacteria in the intestinal tract of the bees and seemed to have come from the genes of the original plant and to have been taken up into their own genetic make-up."

Ulrike Riedel of the German Health Ministry said that the experiment should be taken "very seriously". She added: "This kind of study is a good reason why we should not assume that everything is OK ."

Brian Johnson, English Nature's top GM expert, said that the main question was whether the bacteria had incorporated the modified genes temporarily or permanently. He thought that the risk of permanent alteration was "very small" but added: "We can't rule it out ."

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth said: "This study shows once again how little we know about the science and adds strength to call for a freeze on growing all GM crops."

Nick Brown said yesterday that the accidental GM contamination of the oilseed rape highlighted the need for European standards on seed purity. While the crops posed "no danger" to the environment or to public health, the consumer had the right to know what was in the food supply.

At an informal meeting with European colleagues tomorrow, he will press his European colleagues to establish standards and tougher checks.

31 May 00 - GMO - No market for the GM tomato that fights cancer

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent ... Wednesday 31 May 2000

Scientists have developed a genetically modified tomato rich in anti-cancer nutrients but they admit it has no market in today's anti-GM climate.

The tomato has been manipulated to boost production of b-carotene to three times normal levels. The body converts b-carotene, a powerful anti-oxidant said to help prevent cancer, to vitamin A, essential for health and good eyesight.

University researchers and Zeneca, a biotechnology company, inserted a bacterial gene into the tomato plants, which increased the rate of formation of lycopene, a chemical precursor to b-carotene and another known anti-cancer agent.

The technique, described in the journal Nature Biotechnology, caused a 3.5-fold increase in b-carotene and that also passed on to at least four generations of tomato plants.

Zeneca hopes the tomato could be sold as a "second generation" GM product - after the first generation, herbicide-resistant crops - aimed at the health-food market.

But Peter Bramely, head of biochemistry at London University's Royal Holloway College in Egham, Surrey, and the research project leader, admitted they face an uphill task. "With the present misinformation and climate on GM food, right now is not the best timing in the world for this."

Similar research has produced a GM "golden rice" plant rich in b-carotene, which could prevent blindness and premature death in up to 2 million Third World children suffering serious vitamin A deficiency.

The GM tomato is aimed at people in the developed world who overeat the wrong foods, a policy that has not escaped the notice of anti-GM activists.

Sue Meyer of the pressure group Genewatch believes tinkering with the genetic make-up of food crops could destabilise their known nutrient levels. "If you change the basic biochemistry, you could alter the levels of other nutrients very important for health," she said.

31 May 00 - GMO - Fayed is victim of GM blunder

Staff Reporter

Telegraph ... Wednesday 31 May 2000

Mohamed Fayed, the owner of Harrods, is among landowners who have fallen victim to the GM contaminated seeds affair.

Staff at the businessman's Balnagown Estate, near Inverness, unintentionally planted 55 acres of genetically modified contaminated oilseed rape supplied by Canadian firm Advanta.

A spokesman for Mr Fayed said: Mr Fayed feels that he and other farmers who have been affected are certainly entitled to compensation and that they should protest against this. He is certainly in touch with the Scottish Farmers' Union and members of the Scottish Parliament and is hoping that they will present a united front."

It is thought that in the last two years up to 600 farmers in Britain may have planted more than 30,000 acres of oilseed rape, supplied by Advanta, which was contaminated with a GM rape seed variety which has not been approved for commercial growing in Europe .

28 May 00 - GMO - Research warns GM genes can jump species barrier

Staff Reporter

Voila News ... Sunday 28 May 2000

London (AFP) - - Research by a leading German zoologist has shown that genes used to genetically modify crops can jump the species barrier , newspapers reported here on Sunday.

A three-year study by Professor Hans-Heinrich Kaatz at the University of Jena found that the gene used to modify oil-seed rape had transferred to bacteria living inside honey bees.

The findings will undermine claims by the biotech industry and supporters of GM foods that genes cannot spread .

They will also increase pressure on farmers across Europe to destroy fields of oil-seed rape contaminated with GM seeds.

In an interview for The Observer newspaper, Kaatz said: "I have found the herbicide-resistant genes in the rapeseed transferred across to the bacteria and yeast inside the intestines of young bees. This happened rarely, but it did happen."

Asked if his findings had implications for the bacteria inside the human gut, Kaatz replied: "Maybe, but I am not an expert on this."

The Observer said Kaatz was reluctant to talk about his work until it is officially published and reviewed by fellow scientists.

The reports come a day after Britain's Agriculture Minister Nick Brown urged farmers to destroy crops contaminated with genetically modified seeds.

Up to 600 farmers in Britain are believed to have inadvertently planted more than 30,000 acres of oilseed rape contaminated with GM rape seeds, supplied by Anglo-Dutch seed company Advanta.

Similar crops have been planted elsewhere in Europe, including in France, Germany and Sweden. The French and Swedish governments have already announced they are ordering the uprooting of the crops.

28 May 00 - GMO - Modified Crop Genes 'Jump The Species Barrier'

By Anthony Barnett - Public Affairs Editor

Observer ... Sunday 28 May 2000

A leading zoologist has found evidence that genes used to modify crops can jump the species barrier and cause bacteria to mutate , prompting fears that GM technology could pose serious health risks .

A four-year study by Professor Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a respected German zoologist, found that the alien gene used to modify oilseed rape had transferred to bacteria living inside the guts of honey bees .

The research - which has yet to be published and has not been reviewed by fellow scientists - is highly significant because it suggests that all types of bacteria could become contaminated by genes used in genetically modified technology, including those that live inside the human digestive system. If this happened, it could have an impact on the bacteria's vital role in helping the human body fight disease, aid digestion and facilitate blood clotting.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, who was yesterday advising farmers who have accidentally grown contaminated GM oilseed rape in Britain to rip up their crops, confirmed the potential significance of Kaatz's research. He said: 'If this is true, then it would be very serious.'

The 47-year-old Kaatz has been reluctant to talk about his research until it has been published in a scientific journal, because he fears a backlash from the scientific community similar to that faced by Dr Arpad Pustzai, who claimed that genetically modified potatoes damaged the stomach lining of rats. Pustzai was sacked and had his work discredited.

But in his first newspaper interview, Kaatz told The Observer: 'It is true, I have found the herbicide-resistant genes in the rapeseed transferred across to the bacteria and yeast inside the intestines of young bees . This happened rarely, but it did happen.' Although Kaatz realised the potential 'significance' of his findings, he said he 'was not surprised' at the results. Asked if this had implications for the bacteria inside the human gut, he said: 'Maybe, but I am not an expert on this.'

Dr Mae-Wan Ho, geneticist at Open University and a critic of GM technology, has no doubts about the dangers . She said: 'These findings are very worrying and provide the first real evidence of what many have feared. Everybody is keen to exploit GM technology, but nobody is looking at the risk of horizontal gene transfer .

'We are playing about with genetic structures that existed for millions of years and the experiment is running out of control.' One of the biggest concerns is if the anti-biotic resistant gene used in some GM crops crossed over to bacteria. 'If this happened it would leave us unable to treat major illnesses like meningitis and E coli.'

Kaatz, who works at the respected Institute for Bee Research at the University of Jena in Germany, built nets in a field planted with genetically modified rapeseed produced by Agr-Evo. He let the bees fly freely within the net. At the beehives, he installed pollen traps in order to sample the pollen from the bees' hindlegs when entering the hive. This pollen was fed to young honey bees in the laboratory. Pollen is the natural diet of young bees, which need a high protein diet. Kaatz then extracted the intestine of the young bees and discovered that the gene from the GM rape-seed had been transferred in the bee gut to the microbes .

Professor Robert Pickard, director-general of the Institute of the British Nutrition Foundation, is a bee expert as well as being a biologist and has visited the institute where Kaatz works. He said: 'There is no doubt that, if Kaatz's research is substantiated, then it poses very interesting questions and will need to be looked at very closely. 'But it must be remembered that the human body has been coping perfectly well with strange DNA for millions of years. And we also know many people have been eating GM products for years without showing any signs of ill health.'

28 May 00 - GMO - Farmers told to destroy contaminated GM crops

Jonathan Leake and Geraldine Murray

Sunday Times ... Sunday 28 May 2000

The GM crop crisis took a new turn yesterday when the government told farmers they should destroy contaminated crops - but admitted it had no powers to force them to do this, write.

Agriculture ministers said farmers ripping up and replanting crops they unwittingly contaminated with imported genetically modified seeds would be able to claim subsidies for re-placement crops . Alternatively, farmers can carry on growing their contaminated rapeseed, but will face prosecution if they try to sell it in Europe.

The crisis began two weeks ago when agriculture officials revealed that Advanta, an international seed company, had unknowingly (UK Editor's note: more likely deliberately) imported rapeseed contaminated by genetically modified plants grown in adjacent fields. About 500 Scottish farmers are believed to have planted a large quantity of the seed.

Yesterday's announcement by Nick Brown, the agriculture minister south of the border, illustrated the relative weakness of British consumer legislation . While Sweden, France and Germany have ordered the destruction of all the rapeseed fields planted with contaminated seed , British ministers can only issue "advice" - and admit that farmers following either course will lose money.

By yesterday afternoon it was clear that their suggestions were likely to be widely ignored and that there was every chance of some contaminated crops being used in food products. Farmers could sell their crops outside Europe, where they might be processed and returned to Britain.

Officials were also forced to concede that they had no way of tracing the farmers who had bought the contaminated seed . Advanta and the wholesalers who passed the seed on to farmers cannot be forced to reveal their customers' names . Farmers with contaminated crops therefore have every chance of being able quietly to sell them to processors.

The incentive for farmers to carry on growing the contaminated rapeseed remains strong because if they destroy it they will have to pay for ploughing and reseeding, while harvesting without selling would mean that they would receive no income from the crop.

Neither the government nor Advanta has yet offered any kind of compensation , although Brown is meeting the company's executives this week to discuss the options. Yesterday he said: "In the end this is something that may have to be decided by the courts." Leaders of Scottish farmers yesterday described them as "innocent victims" in the debacle and criticised the options presented by Brown.

More than 6,000 acres of farmland north of the border have been sown with the contaminated seed, leaving farmers facing a 1.2m bill for damage if they choose to destroy the crops.

John Kinnaird, vice president of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, said that he was seeking an urgent meeting with rural affairs minister Ross Finnie.

Kinnaird said: "Farmers are innocent victims in this episode. We will be pushing for full compensation for all farmers who inadvertently planted these crops."

Finnie is seeking separate legal advice on the matter in Scotland. It emerged last week that Finnie's officials were only told of the GM contamination by their counterparts in Westminster a month after they learned about it.

Tomorrow Brown will start discussions in Europe on setting up a European inspectorate to check on the purity of all types of seed.">

26 May 00 - GMO - Seeds of Resistance: Grassroots Activism vs. Biotech Ag

Julie Light

Corporate Watch ... Friday 26 May 2000

San Ramon, CA - About a dozen demonstrators dressed in mock biohazard suits dump food products from Safeway supermarket shelves into a plastic bin in front of the Marriott Hotel in this quiet suburban town East of San Francisco. Inside Safeway shareholders are set to vote on a resolution asking the nation's third largest supermarket chain to remove genetically engineered (GE) ingredients from its products .

TV cameras roll while an organizer explains that the crackers, cereal, soda, macaroni and cheese, and other products contain genetically engineered ingredients . One demonstrator wearing monarch butterfly wings-symbolizing a local species endangered by GE corn-looks on. Another carries a toddler on her hip.

Although Safeway shareholders rejected the resolution, as expected-- less than the 3 percent required to reintroduce it next year supported the resolution-- organizers say their fight has just begun.

The Safeway action is just one tiny indication of a burgeoning movement in this country against genetically engineered agriculture . For some five years European farmers and consumers have forged a formidable alliance calling for a moratorium on genetically engineered crops. Indian farmers have burned fields believed to be planted with genetically engineered cotton in actions dubbed "Operation Cremate Monsanto ." Japanese consumers have long been sounding the alarm forcing their government to label genetically engineered foods. But an emerging alliance of consumers, farmers, anti-corporate and fair trade activists has only recently gathered steam in the US. What was a relatively obscure issue a year ago, is now emerging as a powerful grassroots challenge to the biotechnology industry.

Public awareness of the issues surrounding agricultural biotechnology got a boost at the end of last year when protestors converged on Seattle for the WTO meeting. Environmentalists, farmers and consumers joined together to oppose the patenting of seeds and other life forms . While farmers in Europe and the global South have long been fighting WTO agricultural and intellectual property agreements, it was the first time that many in the US public took notice . Since then, biotech agriculture has become a hot issue in the press from Time to Mother Jones.

In December, shortly after the Seattle WTO protests, more than a thousand people demonstrated outside Food and Drug Administration hearings in Oakland, in what the New York Times described as "the largest rally ever in the United Sates against the use of genetic engineering in food." That is until 3,500 rallied in Boston less than three months later in early March. Cities and towns across the US have passed local ordinances supporting federal legislation limiting GE agriculture . Artists design labels to illicitly slap on products on grocery shelves identifying GMOs (genetically modified organisms.) Leading chefs have pledged to ban GE ingredients from their cuisine. Farmers are suing the Monsanto for monopolizing seed. Some anonymous activists have even sabotaged crops, in what remains the most controversial tactic to date. And shareholder activism is heating up. The Safeway measure is just one of twenty two such resolutions introduced this spring by shareholders of a number of major food manufacturers and distributors, from Coca Cola to Kellogg.

Activist concerns vary. Some emphasize the growing corporate control of agriculture and the global food system, while others raise the issue of unknown long term health effects of new technology. Still others are alarmed by environmental dangers such as the creation of super weeds and the destruction of non-target species like the monarch butterfly. And unlike some campaigns opposing corporate power, biotech activists are promoting a clear alternative: sustainable agriculture. For some it means organic farming, for others it means protecting the local family farm. For still others it means promoting farmers' markets and making healthy, affordable food available to inner city consumers.

Local Communities Go On Record Against GE Crops

In communities from Berkeley, Petaluma and Sebastopol, California to five townships in Pennsylvania to the City of Boston, Massachusetts coalitions of parents, farmers and environmentalists have gotten local legislators to pass an array of anti-biotech resolutions . Some, like the one passed unanimously by Boston City Council in March, urge the federal government to require labeling of genetically engineered foods . Others, like Sebastopol's, support federal legislation calling a moratorium on genetically modified organisms unless they are proven safe . The resolutions are non-binding, but they are meant to educate the public and send a strong message to the biotech corporations and the federal government. Community activists have been convening town meetings and participating in the local political process, often helping to draft the measures. Activists say they are reclaiming the political process.

"What we've been trying to accomplish in different parts of the country is local democracy," explains Dave Henson Director of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Sonoma County, California. "We can't do this at the national level because corporations control the political process ," adds Henson who has been involved in various local initiatives as well as national strategizing.

"The resolutions are a drop in the bucket," agrees Erica Peng of the Berkeley Food Policy Council which is advising the city government on biotech issues. "They are a way of getting information to people, empowering people and making them feel part of a long term effort," she says. Berkeley's resolution, passed in December 1999, grew out of an earlier policy by the school board warning against the dangers genetically engineered ingredients used in school lunches .

In reaction to this widespread public pressure, earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new guidelines on GE foods. Those guide lines do not commit the FDA to carry out pre-market safety testing or require industry to label GE food. Instead, the FDA will "consult" with corporations developing the new technology. The Biotechnology Industry Organization , which heavily lobbied the FDA, is solidly behind the new guidelines. "We oppose measures that would unnecessarily frighten consumers," says spokesperson Charles Craig.

But activists like Simon Harris of the Organic Consumers Association, consider new FDA policy on genetically engineered crops inadequate. They say it amounts to unmonitored, self-regulation, and are highly skeptical of agribusiness's ability to police itself. "By the time these foods reach the shelves they haven't been tested by anyone but scientists who work for these giant corporations" notes Harris.

Meanwhile, 52 members of the House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of a bill, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, requiring labeling of all genetically engineered food. California Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

Farmers Revolt

In December 1999 five U.S. farmers and a sixth from France filed a class action suit against Monsanto and nine alleged corporate co-conspirators . The suit accuses the companies of forming a cartel to monopolize control of genetically engineered corn and soybean markets as well as price fixing . Furthermore, the suit alleges that the corporations rushed the transgenic seeds to market without adequately testing the health and environmental risks.

"The real truth is that GMOs cost more and yield less," explains Bill Christison, President of the National Family Farm Coalition, which is a co-sponsor of the suit. Christison plants about twelve hundred acres of soybeans annually in Chillicothe, Missouri. It costs him $6.51 a per acre planting from saved seeds, compared to $42 an acre for Monsanto's Roundup ReadyTM soybeans. But his biggest reservation about genetically engineered crops is that agricultural giants like Monsanto and Cargill own the seed patents and forbid farmers from saving seeds for future harvests. He says these corporations are threatening the social fabric of family farming by further wresting control of agriculture from local farmers.

According to Christison, farmers need to be alerted to the potential risks of GE crops because they have the most to lose . "Farmers readily accept new technology because they are accustomed to believing that new technology is good technology," he told Corporate Watch. "They've been sold a bill of goods with GMOs," he adds. Even if GMOs were proven safe over the long term, their impact on local farming would be reason enough to ban them, argues Christison.

Leading Chefs Call for a Moratorium on GE Foods

In 1992 when biotech agriculture was in its infancy, leading chefs around the country called on the federal government to label and test GE food products. Now, about 60% of soybeans , 40% of corn and 27 % of cotton grown in the US are genetically engineered .

The Chefs Collaborative 2000 , an organization of more than 1,500 US chefs is urging food professionals to sign a pledge to refuse to use genetically engineered foods in their restaurants. "I don't want to make choices that I will regret later because we don't know what the power of this technology might be," explains Rick Bayless chef and owner of the Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago. He says many chefs like himself are turning increasingly to organic ingredients to avoid genetically engineered food. The best way to educate customers, he says, is with great cooking. "When people taste unadulterated, healthy, seasoned organic food, they're won over." The chefs also pledge to get written assurances from suppliers that their products are GMO free as well as to support organic distributors and local family farmers.

Seed Spin Control

The biotech industry knows it has a public relations problem--one that could turn into a disaster . I n 1998, before European concern over genetic engineering began to infect the US public, the Biotechnology Industry Organization poured almost four million dollars into lobbying efforts. While more recent figures have not yet been released, it is safe to assume that those figures have escalated along with growing public and congressional concern.

"There's no question we have to do a better job of convincing the public of the benefits and safety of biotech foods," explains Charles Craig, of the Biotechnology Industry organization (BIO) which lobbies Capitol Hill, federal agencies like FDA, state legislatures and international trade organizations like the WTO.

Earlier this year industry giants like Monsanto, Du Pont Monsanto, Dow, and the European companies Novartis, Zeneca, BASF and Aventis launched the Council for Biotechnology Information. The group will spend $50 million a year for up to five years to win public acceptance of genetically engineered foods through a television, print and Internet advertising blitz (See Corporate Watch's Earth Day Greenwash Awards.). It remains to be seen, however if the ad campaign-whose slogan is "Good Ideas are Growing"-- will be able to overcome farmer and consumer resistance to what critics call "Frankenfoods ."

To Label or Not To Label

Most opponents of genetically engineered food agree that the goal is to win a moratorium and eventual ban on GMOs. However, there is less consensus on labeling as an interim measure. Some like Shepherd Bliss, who runs an organic berry farm in Sebastopol, California, sees labeling as a first step in educating consumers and reining in agribusiness . He says it's tough to convince the public to oppose biotech agriculture if they don't know they're eating GE foods. Bliss acknowledges that consumers will continue to eat food made with genetically modified ingredients-- labeled or not-- just as they continue to eat fruits and vegetables sprayed with harmful pesticides. But in the same way consumers and farmers concerned about pesticides have been going organic over the last two decades, Bliss sees genetically altered crops falling out of favor in the long run.

Others, like Dave Henson, believe that labeling will actually legitimize the use of genetically engineered ingredients. "It licenses the problem. It gives corporations the right to do it," says Henson of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. He also points out that labeling is a solution aimed at middle class, educated consumers and will do little to protect low income communities that often have limited access to affordable food. Instead of labeling, Henson favors an immediate moratorium on transgenic crops. Yet the debate around labeling has not prevented the two activists from working together.

Meanwhile, some stores are doing their own kind of labeling . The Community Store in Santa Rosa, California takes a positive approach by declaring that "to the best of our knowledge this product is free from genetically engineered ingredients." The label, which sports a DNA double helix being severed by a scissors with a circle and slash through it, requires members of the store collective to research the items.

Where Does Biotech Activism Go From Here?

While most activists agree that they are up against a formidable opponent in corporate giants like Monsanto, Du Pont, Cargill, Dow, and Novartis, they point out that many of the companies are already moving away from biotech agriculture. Monsanto is under pressure from investors to sell off it's "life sciences" division, in response to the public controversy over GE food. Grain manufacturers are beginning to separate transgenic seeds as farmers reject the crops . McDonalds recently announced it would stop using genetically engineered potatoes to make french fries and Frito Lays says it will ban the use of transgenic corn in its chips. And Gerber and Heinz have pledged to remove GE ingredients from baby food.

"Change is inevitable," states John Harrington, President and CEO of Harrington Investments, a socially responsible firm. Harrrington Investments has spearheaded several shareholder resolutions with companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Quaker Oats and McDonalds. Despite his optimism however, Harrington acknowledges that corporations will not move on the issue without a fierce fight.

As a handful of US and European corporations are increasing their stranglehold on the world's food supply, resistance is sprouting everywhere from India, Brazil, the UK, Japan and the Philippines to the US heartland. The United States is becoming increasingly isolated in its refusal to label or test GE products. Countries around the world are embracing the "precautionary principle," outlined in the International Biosafety Protocol, which calls for regulating new technology unless it is proven safe. It remains to be seen if this world-wide alliance can deter the push towards genetically engineered foods. What is clear is that the resistance, and the alternative -- sustainable agriculture -- have found fertile ground.