Document Directory

24 Jul 00 - GMO - Blair risks GM foods backlash
24 Jul 00 - GMO - Global battle rages over GM crops
24 Jul 00 - GMO - Blair supports Clinton stance
23 Jul 00 - GMO - Australian state says GM crops are pests
23 Jul 00 - GMO - Blair stands by Clinton in defence of GM food
23 Jul 00 - GMO - Cancer peril of animal organ transplants
19 Jul 00 - GMO - Far From Chickenhearted About Bioengineering
19 Jul 00 - GMO - Suburban Genetics: Scientists Searching for a Perfect Lawn
19 Jul 00 - GMO - Firm airs fears over bid to halt spread of GM seeds
19 Jul 00 - GMO - Regret over GM seeds
17 Jul 00 - GMO - GM protesters arrested
16 Jul 00 - GMO - Seven Arrested After GM Maize Is Destroyed
14 Jul 00 - GMO - Europe 'caving in to US firms' on approval for GM foods
11 Jul 00 - GMO - GM food 'can feed hungry millions'
25 Jun 00 - GMO - GM tobacco used to develop vaccine against cancer
21 Jun 00 - GMO - GM trials suffer new setback
20 Jun 00 - GMO - Shopping habits to be checked for GM risks
20 Jun 00 - GMO - Smarter GM mice enter a moral maze
20 Jun 00 - GMO - Study into GM food opens
20 Jun 00 - GMO - GM sales to be checked against diseases
19 Jun 00 - GMO - Tests on GM 'missiles' to target cancer cells
18 Jun 00 - GMO - Rejected GM food dumped on the poor



24 Jul 00 - GMO - Blair risks GM foods backlash

Mark Atkinson in Okinawa

Guardian ... Monday 24 July 2000


Britain backs US in rift over biotech advances

Tony Blair risked an angry reaction from consumers by siding with Bill Clinton in a row over GM foods at the Group of Eight's annual summit in Okinawa, Japan - urging them not to be swayed by prejudice into damaging the prospects of an industry in which Britain is a world leader.

The summit ended with a package of proposals to alleviate poverty in developing countries, including targets to reduce deaths from infectious diseases and spread literacy and new drives against money launderers and international drug cartels.

But there was nothing new in the final communique on alleviating the crippling debt burden in developing countries. And the rift between the continental Europeans and America over the safety of GM foods remained as wide as ever .

Acknowledging that his remarks might make him unpopular at home, the prime minister backed President Clinton by saying that decisions on GM food should be based on hard, scientific facts. (UK Editors note: in other words, Mr Blair eschews the precautionary principle)

Standing alongside Mr Clinton at a news conference, Mr Blair said: "Consumers should, of course, know what it is they are eating and consuming. But for the consumers to make that judgment properly, they need the best science available. And that's what we've been looking for.

"It's not always popular to say that, but I think it's important because it's the right thing to do. And who knows what in 10, 20, 30 years' time will be the judgment about this new science. All I know is that our responsibility as leaders is to say to people, let's set up the best system, best process available so that you get the real facts - not the prejudices of one side or the commercial interests of one side, but the facts and the science."

He said the biotechnology industry, in which Britain was a leader, could be to the first half of the 21st century what information technology was to the last half of the 20th century.

Mr Blair's comments - accompanied by warm praise for President Clinton , attending his last G8 summit - contrasted sharply with those of Romano Prodi, the EU president, who had earlier claimed that all European governments were behind the "precautionary principle" - where GM food is considered off limits to consumers until enough information is gathered to vouch for its safety .

The US, the world's biggest GM producer and home to a $4bn-a-year GM food industry, is concerned that coordinating further research could be just another way of delaying acceptance of the technology.

But Mr Clinton denied he was simply backing big business. "The real issue is, how to get the best food to the largest number of people in the world at the lowest possible price. "

He added: "I would never knowingly let the American people eat unsafe food."

The G8 leaders said they supported the efforts of a food safety body "to achieve greater global consensus on how precaution should be applied to food safety in circumstances where available scientific information is incomplete or contradictory".

A set of reports drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development at the request of last year's G8 summit aimed to set out the state of debate on all GM organisms.

The OECD report's assertion that governments are confident in the safety of GM products they have already approved has proved controversial. Activists say the OECD excluded anti-GM opinion from the process while favouring the biotech industry and pro-GM scientists .

Nor does the report provide definitive answers on the murkier scientific and ethical problems posed by GM food.

As part of a decision by the leaders to endorse a goal of ensuring basic education to children across the globe by 2015, Mr Clinton said that he was putting $300m into a fund to provide children with free school meals as an incentive to get them into the classroom.

"That money is enough to give one good meal to 9m school children for a year in the developing world," he said.

Jubilee 2000, the coalition of charities campaigning for debt relief, jumped on Mr Blair's remarks on Saturday, when he said he wanted to do more than simply endorse the targets set last year in Cologne.

It said: "Today he can prove it and start to make up for the failure of Okinawa. Britain collects around £70m a year in debt from the poorest nations. We don't need it, and they do. Mr Blair should stop taking it now and instead ring-fence it for health and education in these countries."


24 Jul 00 - GMO - Global battle rages over GM crops

John Vidal

Guardian ... Monday 24 July 2000


Out of chaos come international biosafety rules, signed but still to be ratified

When Professor Howard Atkinson and colleagues at Leeds University genetically modified a potato to be pest-resistant without the use of chemicals, it was decided to test it in Bolivia , one of the world's poorest and most malnourished countries and the place where the potato originated. The Bolivian government gave permission, and if the trial proves successful Prof Atkinson will not benefit financially.

The grassroots reaction surprised Prof Atkinson. Instead of the experiment, part-funded by the Department for International Development, being welcomed as an attempt to counter a dietary problem, activists went to the village near the proposed trial site and, he said, "provided them [the locals] with misinformation".

The trial has now been delayed for more than a year. The local groups feared that any genetic contamination could never be put right and argued that Bolivia should not risk its most important resource, its biodiversity.

Hundreds of such skirmishes are being fought around the world. While activists try to destroy the credibility of GM crop trials in Britain by trashing sites, scientists, lawyers, politicians, consumer and environment groups, corporations, ethicists, the popular press, international bureaucrats, academics, farmers, food companies, consumers and traders are involved in a global battle over a technology which has been on the market only five years.

Twelve countries are growing GM crops commercially , four more than last year. More than 100m acres are grown worldwide. In the US, where 72% of the crops are grown, more than 30 crops and hundreds of varieties are now sold.

Across the world, thousands of varieties are being tested. Within a few years most of the world could be awash with GM food. In Europe it is another story. Applications to start commercial growing of the crops are caught in the paralysed regulatory system, where there has been a moratorium - which the European commission is now to scrap, to the fury of anti-GM groups.

The industry has invested heavily in the technology and is only beginning to see the returns. The global market is worth about $3bn (£2bn) and should be worth $25bn by 2010. But the shift in public perception has also cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost markets.

The stakes are equally high for the activists, who see GM food as a social, ethical and ecological cause. Their greatest success is still in Europe, where powerful pressure groups say demand for the food has all but dried up, consumer resistance is as strong as ever, farmers are confused and wary of testing the crops, and big food companies are getting the message. As in Britain, many supermarket chains and food processors are committed to GM-free food, at least in their own brands.

Scientists developing the second generation of GM crops hope that by building in health benefits such as added vitamins or low fat oils they will persuade consumers. Much hinges on what happens in the US. Sweetcorn and sugar beet growers scaled down GM plantings, but soya and cotton are reported to be well up. Polls indicate that support for the crops among US consumers and food and drink companies has slipped.

Seven major GM companies, fearing that the home market could implode, as in Europe, are spending $50m to "build public support for GM" . Their campaign seeks to distance these foods from environmental or safety issues and link them to the benefits of GM developments in medicine.

Marketing challenge

"In the past," said David Rowe of DowAgro Sciences, a subsidiary of the GM company Dow Chemicals, "agribusiness has spent only trivial amounts on marketing, compared with the billions spent on developing the technology. The greatest challenge is not in the technology, but the marketing."

In Japan, the leading importer of GM products, a petition of more than 23m names asking US farmers not to plant GM crops chivvied the government into introducing strict labelling .

US embassies and trade missions promote the technology. International scientific bodies, world agriculture bodies and the UN system are moving strongly behind its potential, with caveats about safety and regulation. The World Bank is looking at ways it could assist the development of agricultural genetic engineering in the third world.

"The bank has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to develop agriculture, including biotech, in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, and Mexico, and has asserted that feeding the world is 'inconceivable' without genetic engineering," said Luke Harding, a British activist and author.

Biotech is also becoming an "aid" component. Western governments, together with multilateral donors such as the EU, are beginning to allocate public money to its development in poor countries.

"Intellectually the debate is becoming polarised, with positions hardening," said a South American analyst. "You have powerful northern groups linking with southern organisations pumping out their propaganda, and a frenzied defence of the technology from governments, corporations and scientists. It is becoming a global faultline."

Opponents argue that the revolution is happening too fast to assess its effects properly and that the strict science and safety approach adopted by proponents is too narrow. In rich countries most debate has been about food safety and pollution; in developing countries the concerns are often about socio-economic issues, such as who owns the technology, the potential dependency of farmers and debt.

Uncertainty

Many countries fear going down the route of full-scale GM planting while there is so much uncertainty. Thailand turned down the opportunity to grow GM rice for fear it would be unable to export it. Greece and Brazil say the way forward may be to designate entire regions as GM-free . Tasmania is proposing to use its quarantine laws to ban the foods.

Meanwhile, the trend for the large GM companies to buy up conventional seed companies in developing countries is continuing. The industry is accused of taking advantage of places where there is little or no regulatory control. The companies say they work within existing laws and in some cases help draft biosafety legislation.

In Colombia protesters say that GM trials of cotton, rice, potatoes and tomatoes are taking place without full biosafety laws, and that people have been eating, without their knowledge, imported GM foods.

Olga Berlova, of the Socio-Ecological Union in Moscow, said: "In Russia we know from UN organisations that GM soybeans are growing, yet even Russian officials are unable to get information from companies. The corporations are paying Russian institutes directly to do the trials and bypassing the regulatory system."

In China, where GM cotton and tobacco are grown, a new law will require labelling of GM seeds, the country's first restriction of the crops. Brazil broadly opposes GM crops, mainly for pragmatic reasons, having benefited from selling conventional soya to Europe. The state of Rio Grande do Sul has declared itself GM-free, but the policy is not popular with all farmers, especially those short of feed grain for their livestock after drought.

The GM company Monsanto has faced long delays in introducing its crops in many countries after opposition in the courts and communities. It has now been allowed to undertake large-scale field trials of its cotton in India, but is caught up in a legal battle in Brazil.

Tony Coombes, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto UK, said the growing proportion of neutral and positive news about GM developments bore out what had been happening in the world recently. Acreage was "flat to up", compared with last year, which itself saw a 44% increase on 1998. "With Brazilian ministers listening hard to farmers' demands, China racing to make sure it can feed its population, academics in developing countries asking to be free to make their own minds up, global GM now seems to be taking two steps forward for every one step back.

"Confusion in the debate seems to originate from failure to distinguish what is fact, hypothesis, speculation, opinion and fear of the unknown. There now seems global acceptance that the science isn't perfect, but it is better than the alternative, which is guesswork and stargazing."

Opponents do not see it that way. Greenpeace France said this week: "We are in the middle of a huge fight. It is difficult to predict what will happen."

Out of the chaos, international rules are emerging. This year the first treaty regulating the trade in GM products was signed. The biosafety protocol should, if ratified, allow nations to bar imports of the crops and other GM organisms based on social, environmental, health and social risks. But it could take years to translate into national laws.


24 Jul 00 - GMO - Blair supports Clinton stance

By Philip Webster

Times ... Monday 24 July 2000


Tony Blair sided with President Clinton against the European Union yesterday in a dispute over genetically modified foods on the last day of the G8 summit.

Mr Clinton said that Europeans were too cautious about GM foods and that he was convinced that the produce was safe on the evidence he had seen. In the face of opposition from France, Italy and Germany, Mr Clinton said that regulations on GM foods should be "based on clear science".

He said that the EU argued that the scientific case for the foods was unproven and wanted to add a "precautionary principle" to the regulations that would allow the banning of the food on safety grounds.

American diplomats have called the European attitude "protectionism in disguise". The final summit communiqué fudged the issue and failed to resolve the dispute between America and the EU.

Mr Blair said that he would risk "running into trouble" by supporting Mr Clinton , but he added that biotechnology could be, in the first half of this century, what IT was in the second half of the last century.

"We should have an open and fair debate. There are intensely held views on both sides. Consumers should know what they are eating and to make that judgment they need the best science available," he said.

The strength of the relationship between Mr Blair and Mr Clinton was clear. Mr Blair said: "We will all miss him a lot."


23 Jul 00 - GMO - Australian state says GM crops are pests

By Geoffrey Lean, in Sydney

Independent ... Sunday 23 July 2000


Genetically modified crops will today suffer a new indignity. They are to be officially classified as pest species .

The classification, by the government of the Australian state of Tasmania, is another blow to the GM industry world-wide . It will blow a hole in the pro-GM policy of the Australian government which has been perhaps the US administration's closest ally in pushing the technology.

It is also likely to provoke a constitutional crisis in Australia. The federal government is threatening to take legal action against the state for exceeding its powers but Tasmania claims that other states will follow its lead as local resistance to the central government's policy grows in the face of popular revolt .

Genetically modified cotton and carnations are already grown in Australia and the central government has introduced legislation which will enable GM foods to be grown as well . The bill would set up a gene technology regulator who would be able to give permission for planting and trials.

But Tasmania, traditionally an independent-minded and environmentally conscious state, has now put this strategy at risk. In public notices issued this weekend it has classified GM crops as forbidden "pests" under its quarantine laws, thus prohibiting them being brought into the state or grown there.

It has also imposed a one-year moratorium on trials of the crops, unless grown under pollen-proofed covers that will prevent the gene spreading, the first such ban yet to be announced in Australia.

David Llewellyn, the state's primary industries minister, said: "We need to be certain that genetically modified organisms won't pose a risk to our health or our environment or our agriculture."

An inquiry by the state's food industry council is expected to rule against the crops next month.


23 Jul 00 - GMO - Blair stands by Clinton in defence of GM food

By Andy McSmith and George Jones

Telegraph ... Sunday 23 July 2000


Tony Blair stood side by side with Bill Clinton yesterday as the US President accused Europe of being too cautious about experiments in biotechnology and genetically modified foods.

Mr Blair risked annoying his fellow European Union leaders, who said they were winning an argument with the Americans over which takes priority: food safety or free trade. Mr Blair acknowledged that his comments could cause controversy in Britain, where suspicion and consumer resistance to GM foods is far greater than in the United States.

But his decision to stand alongside Mr Clinton at the Manza Beach Hotel, in Okinawa, at the close of the G8 summit was Mr Blair's way of saying thank you and farewell to a president who has proved a valuable ally. The Prime Minister, who has borrowed many Clinton campaigning techniques and stood by him during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, led the tributes to Mr Clinton, who leaves office in January.

He (Mr Blair ) said: "The leaders spoke not just of our affection for President Clinton personally, but also of our admiration for his leadership over the last few years." Mr Clinton repeated that he believed that GM foods were safe, and pleaded for decisions to be made on scientific evidence alone.

Other European heads of government at the summit, particularly President Chirac of France, have argued for what they call the "precautionary principle", which would mean that GM and other biotechnologically-produced food would not be sold to consumers until they were proved to be safe.

The French also want environmental groups, as well as scientists, involved in decisions about biotechnology. EU spokesmen had told journalists at the summit that the four EU countries represented - Britain, France, Germany and Italy - were united against the US. Mr Clinton said: "I would never knowingly let the American people eat unsafe food. The real issue is how you get the best food to the largest number of people in the world at the lowest possible price."

Mr Blair said: "Biotechnology is, perhaps, going to be, for the first half of the 21st century, what information technology was to the last half of the 20th century, and it's particularly important, especially for a country like Britain that is a leader in this science, that we proceed according to the facts. The most important thing is that we get access to the best scientific evidence. It's not always popular to say that, but I do think it's the right thing to do."

As Mr Clinton left early to return to the Middle East peace talks at Camp David, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, made his summit debut and established himself as the rising star in the G8 firmament. The ex-KGB spy's performance was so polished that some leaders said it was time to make Russia a full member of the G8.

At present, Russia is excluded from pre-summit talks that the Group of Seven - the four European countries plus the United States, Japan and Canada - hold on financial and economic issues. The leaders were particularly impressed by Mr Putin's account of his trip to North Korea last week.

But his failure to meet M Chirac provided more evidence of the crisis in relations between Russia and France. The historical allies are locked in animosity across a range of issues such as Chechnya and the impounding of a Russian tall ship by the French courts.


23 Jul 00 - GMO - Cancer peril of animal organ transplants

Robin McKie, science editor

Observer ... Sunday 23 July 2000


Transplanting animal organs into humans could trigger a global pandemic of a deadly new disease. A new study by British scientists has found that cancer-causing retroviruses are spread relatively easily between different creatures in the wild .

The discovery, outlined last week by the Natural Environment Research Council, will reinforce concerns raised by experiments which recently revealed that pig hearts and kidneys carry potentially deadly animal retroviruses, dashing hopes that animals could one day supply spare parts for human surgery.

As a result of these initial experiments, Western health authorities imposed a moratorium on all xenotransplant surgery, although biotechnology companies are known to be continuing with research. Human organs are desperately scarce, as are supplies of brain tissue for treating stroke victims and Parkinson's sufferers. It was hoped specially-reared animals, mainly pigs, would provide tissue and organs for tens of thousands of operations a year.

The dangers of this plan are underlined in the study by biologists Michael Tristem and Joanne Martin of Imperial College, London, which focused on murine leukaemia viruses, close relatives of the cancer retroviruses that are known to infect pigs. Traces of virus DNA were found in a range of mammalian species in the wild, suggesting that pig retroviruses are capable of infecting other animals - including humans - with relative ease.

'There are two ways to demonstrate that animal retroviruses pose risks,' said Tristem. 'You can show they can be grown in human cells in the laboratory. Scientists have done that. Or you can show such viruses jump easily between species in the wild. Our study now proves this also happens - that cancer viruses will jump species in the real world, not just in artificial laboratory settings.'

Finding leukaemia virus DNA mixed up with the genes of different animals does not prove these creatures were all made ill by their infection, Tristem admitted. 'However, when viruses jump species they usually acquire pathogenic properties, just as HIV did when it leapt from monkeys to humans. There is a real, but small risk that pig organ transplants could trigger a new disease epidemic .'

Virologist Professor Robin Weiss, who first demonstrated that pig viruses could infect human cells, agreed. 'Xenotransplants do not seem to pose a big risk. But then BSE or HIV were not thought to pose big risks when they were first discovered. We obviously have to be very careful.'

Professor George Griffen, a member of the UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority, said: 'There is always going to be a chance that a viral stowaway could be transplanted into a human along with a pig heart or kidney. It could then spread through his or her body, and then to other individuals, triggering a new epidemic.

'However, if the risk of this happening is found to be very, very small, would it be right to block xenotransplants, given that they could help treat so many serious illnesses? And don't forget that none of the hundreds of pre-moratorium xenotransplant recipients have yet to show reactions to retroviruses .'

Sceptics point out that transferred viruses could take decades to take effect, and these transplant patients could still develop retroviral illnesses in 20 years. They also argue that stem cell surgery, in which the patients' own cells are used to grow new organs, could soon obviate the need to use animal hearts or livers. 'I think it is now touch and go whether xenotransplants will ever be given the go-ahead in the West,' said Griffen.

Even if they were approved, operations would only be permitted under the most stringent conditions. Patients would have to be monitored and tested for the rest of their lives, as would their sexual partners and children.

What worries some researchers is the prospect that these costly lifetime safeguards may drive an unscrupulous surgeon or biotech company to carry out transplants in 'xeno-havens', developing nations that do not impose regulations.


19 Jul 00 - GMO - Far From Chickenhearted About Bioengineering

By Tom Abate

The San Francisco Chronicle ... Wednesday 19 July 2000


Program may yield birds that grow faster, bigger

Robert Kay has a new twist to the old riddle about the chicken and the egg. As chief executive of Origen Therapeutics in Burlingame, Kay knows that birds begin life as embryos, and he hopes to parlay that knowledge into a technique that could change the future of chicken-kind.

For those whose familiarity with fowl husbandry comes from the new claymation movie "Chicken Run," an overview of the chicken industry is the prerequisite for appreciating the boldness of Kay's plans.

Let's start with the numbers. Each year, Kay said, Americans consume some 10 billion chickens. When the rest of the world gets factored in, the annual appetite hits 38 billion birds.

To achieve these volumes, chicken production has become a specialized industry that begins with the Big Three -- two breeding firms in the United States and a third in Britain. Between them, they breed billions of chicks that they sell to the farmers who raise them into the birds we eat.

For the really big farms, the ones that raise 50 million birds a year, time is money. They try to grow their flocks from chick size to market size -- which is about 4.5 pounds -- as quickly as possible to minimize their main costs of providing feed and removing waste.

Thus the Big Three have focused on breeding birds that fatten up in as little as 42 days. And they strive to continue bringing that number down by developing breeds that bulk up faster.

According to Kay, however, traditional breeding techniques are starting to hit some limits. For instance, when breeders select birds that grow fatter faster, these birds tend to be duds at laying eggs. Meat industry breeders aren't interested in eggs as products. But they do need to make sure that their meat birds can lay enough eggs to create flocks large enough to serve the 38 billion-bird market.

So the breeders must compromise, Kay said, making sure their newest meat birds retain some egg-laying skills, even though this might mean a sacrifice in their time-to-market traits.

But what if there was a way to have the best of both worlds, to create a breed that reached market weight in record time, but also had a high egg-laying potential, so breeders could quickly supply farmers with billions of these new super-birds?

That is where biotechnology comes in.

Return, for a moment, to the fertilized chicken egg. Imagine peering through the Shell, past the egg white to the tiny embryo, about the size of a match head, that floats on the yellow yolk.

In laboratory experiments, Robert Etches, Origen's chief scientist, has removed embryonic cells from one breed of chicken and injected them into the embryo of a different breed. The process is akin to cloning.

When this experimental technique works -- which Origen says is about one out of 10 tries -- the result is a chicken that gets many of its traits from the injected embryo.

So far, the company has focused on showing visible traits, such as feather color. It is trying to boost its success rate, especially in assuring that the desired trait -- fast weight gain -- ends up being dominant.

Experimental though it may be, Kay thinks this technique can eliminate the compromise between fast egg laying and fast meat growth. Say breeders had their best laying hens lay billions of eggs, creating huge flocks in record time. Of course, left alone the eggs from these hens would create scrawny chickens that were good at laying eggs but lousy at making meat.

But Origen wouldn't leave those eggs alone. It would inject the eggs with embryonic tissue from birds bred to maximize meat production, at the expense of egg laying ability. Chickens would be specialized as never before. The layers would do all the laying, and biotech would come in at the factory level to zap all those billions of eggs with embryonic tissue from the best meat-growers that science could devise.

Remember, the whole idea of meat production is to get the time from chick to market weight down from 42 days to as brief a time as technically feasible. Kay thinks this technique could do just that.

"And how are we going to do this on a billion-bird scale?" Kay said, anticipating my question.

It turns out that a North Carolina firm, Embrex Inc., is already injecting vaccines into billions of chicken eggs annually, to inoculate the birds against diseases that might otherwise decimate flocks and cripple production. (See the process at www.embrex.com).

Last month, Origen and Embrex announced an agreement to co-develop Kay's high-tech chicken breeding process. Origen will provide the biotech know-how, and Embrex will contribute the industrial injection smarts.

Even Kay, who has to be optimistic, thinks it will take three to five years to solve the myriad technical challenges ahead, not the least of which is making sure that the needles hit the embryos, unerringly, 30 or 40 billion times a year.

Whether Kay succeeds or fails, the larger point is that every aspect of food production is moving in the same direction, pushing the limits of traditional breeding by using a variety of genetic engineering techniques.

Wary of the controversy around genetically engineered foods, Kay emphasized that his process would not add any non-chicken genes. He simply hopes to clone the ideal meat chick on an industrial scale.

"We plan to make full disclosure on a label to let the consumer decide," Kay said, aware that his plans will make some people uneasy.

And no wonder. The bioengineered corn on the market today sounds tame alongside the foods on the drawing board; salmon and tomatoes genetically tweaked to grow large; eggs bioengineered to lessen artery-clogging cholesterols; rice altered at the genetic level to address vitamin deficiencies.

Some of these may be good ideas, and others bad. But I feel uneasy about the fact that a breed of hairless apes, not all that far removed from the days when their kind dined on wooly mammoths and wild berries, now wields an exponentially increasing power to hack into the genetic code, to superimpose its profit needs on 4 billion years of nature's handiwork.

Yet I don't see the alternative. Oh, I could quit barbecuing chicken, but I don't think that would solve the underlying problem that your modern Homo Sapiens want their bellies filled, cheaply and conveniently, and would resist the sort of social reengineering it would take to migrate them from their comfortable city jobs to the chore-filled green acres.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder which side of the barbed wire we're on in this Chicken Run world.


19 Jul 00 - GMO - Suburban Genetics: Scientists Searching for a Perfect Lawn

By David Barboza

New York TImes ... Wednesday 19 July 2000


Arysville, Ohio, July 7 -- Standing in long rows in Greenhouse No. 3 at the Scotts Company's research laboratory here are pots of grass that could be a suburbanite's dream come true.

The grass, which Scotts hopes will eventually carpet every lawn and golf course around the world, is genetically altered to withstand applications of the most potent weed killers and remain healthy and green.

Scotts, the world's largest maker of lawn and turf products, has other varieties in the works as well. One, nicknamed "low mow" by company scientists, has been designed to grow at a slower pace, thereby reducing the need for a lawn mower. Other strains could be drought-resistant, or bred to flourish in the winter.

The company is also working on genetically modified roses and other flowers that will bloom longer than the ones found in nature. And some scientists at Scotts are even talking about someday developing grasses in different colors.

"There's no end to what you might do," says Peter Day, director of the biotechnology center at Rutgers University, which is working with Scotts and Monsanto to develop the grasses.

"You might put a luminescent gene in so that your grass might glow. Or, if your foot stepped on it, it would glow. You could also make novelty grasses."

The products, which are still in various stages of development, are not expected to reach the market for at least three years. But Scotts executives hope the company will then reap enormous profits in a market they believe could reach $10 billion.

First, though, they must contend with critics who are horrified by the notion of blanketing the world with genetically altered grass. Environmental activists, already concerned about the genetically modified crops now growing on more than 70 million acres of American farmland, have attacked research laboratories experimenting with genetically altered grass and trees out of fear that the plants will fundamentally alter the environment. Others are speaking out against this latest form of genetic experimentation.

"This is going to put biotech in everyone's backyard," says Jeremy Rifkin, a longtime opponent of biotechnology. "It's going to open up a national debate, because everyone has a lawn. You're going to see a 'not in my backyard' phenomenon."

The American Society of Landscape Architects, with more than 14,000 members, joined Mr. Rifkin on Friday in petitioning the Agriculture Department, calling for the agency to suspend all field tests of the new grasses that Scotts is conducting.

"We are highly concerned with the use of genetically modified plants because they could potentially affect the whole ecosystem of native plants," said Janice Cervelli Schach, president of the society. "We want bodies outside of Monsanto and Scotts to assess these risks."

Many consumers are also wary of the genetically altered grass. "This whole genetic thing has gotten out of hand," said Nancy Childs, a 29-year-old restaurant owner who was loading her cart with some black-eyed Susans at a Home Depot store in Chicago. Genetically altered grass would be "convenient, but it's not normal," she said.

Scotts, however, says it is moving cautiously. It says it is conducting intensive research under the oversight of federal regulators to ensure that the new products are safe and to avoid the maelstrom that has erupted, at least in Europe, over genetically altered crops. The Agriculture Department regulates where Scotts can plant the experimental grass, and Scotts must obtain the department's permission before it can transport the grass anywhere.

"These products will give you more beautiful lawns and gardens," said Mark R. Schwartz, head of the branded plants group at Scotts, which is based in Columbus, Ohio. "And if there are problems with the technology, then it won't come out. But we're following all the rules, taking all the precautions."

Scotts, which is best known for its lawn fertilizer, Ortho pesticides and Miracle Gro plant food, is far ahead of its competitors in the race to create the raw material for perfect lawns.

"That's how we make money, beautifying the world; trying to generate more beauty with less maintenance," Charles M. Berger, the company's chief executive, said. "And we'll use every tool in the toolbox. Biotech, that's just another tool in the toolbox."

While a company in Australia has been trying to create a blue rose through the use of biotechnology, scientists at Scotts have already developed genetically altered petunias and geraniums in laboratories in St. Louis.

Scotts says it will develop an even larger arsenal of "smart" plants with longer lasting blooms, different colors, and in some cases built-in pesticide.

Genetically altered grass, however, may be the first bioengineered lawn product to reach the market. Scientists at Monsanto and Rutgers have been working with Scotts for several years now to develop the new grass strains.

The first grass likely to be available is creeping bent grass, a strain that is used on golf courses around the world. Despite its name, it is a sturdy grass even when it is clipped as short as a quarter of an inch to form putting greens.

But creeping bent grass is expensive to maintain and prone to infestation by weeds. David Bishop, a spokesman for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, says that is why genetically altered turf would be welcome on greens and fairways throughout the nation.

"Grasses on golf courses are maintained at the very edge of their tolerance," he said. "If you could produce a grass more tolerant at an eighth of an inch, that's less likely to go into stress and may require less water, that would be great."

Scotts executives say the first creeping bent grass could be Roundup Ready Grass, which is grass genetically modified to survive spraying of Roundup, the popular weed killer developed by Monsanto.

The new grass could drastically reduce costs and maintenance at golf courses, and a drought-tolerant variety could reduce the amount of water needed to keep the turf healthy, Scotts executives say.

But activists are already sabotaging test plots in protest.

Last month, a group calling itself the Anarchist Golfing Association caused more than $300,000 worth of damage at an Oregon research center that was testing genetically altered grass for golf courses.

Within the last year, activists have also vandalized a university lab in Minnesota and torched a research site belonging to Boise Cascade, the giant paper company, which had been experimenting with genetically altered trees.

Crystal Fricker, president of Pure Seed Testing Inc., a grass seed company in Hubbard, Ore., said that early last month activists destroyed pots of genetically altered grass at her company. But not before the company made some troubling discoveries about how widely the plants' pollen might be dispersed.

"We were doing risk assessment and we learned pollen can flow over 1,000 feet," she said last week. "It could go 3,000 feet. And it cross-fertilizes," mating with a different strain of grass and creating a new genetically modified breed.

Ms. Fricker said the company's studies raised serious questions about whether genetically modified grass should be introduced into the environment.

"Our concern is mostly with pollen flow," she said. "It's going to be a huge problem to keep this stuff contained."


Scotts says it is working to assess the risks. Pollen is unlikely to spread on golf courses, executives at Scotts say, because the grass on putting greens is not allowed to flower. As for lawns, the company says it may adopt a Monsanto technology called Terminator , which makes seeds sterile. That could prevent genes from jumping from one backyard to another.

Pedro Windsor, a 50-year-old minister in Chicago, says he would welcome the "mow me less" lawn as long as it did not harm the environment. "We probably pollute the environment more just by mowing the lawn," he said while buying some cedar mulch for his yard.

Scotts became involved in biotechnology in 1998, when it formed an alliance with Monsanto to produce genetically altered grass and ornamental plants.

(Scotts also has the exclusive license to sell Roundup to consumers who garden.)

Much of the research is done here in Marysville, where Bob Harriman, the company's chief scientist and a former Monsanto employee, is working to bring genetically altered grass and flowers to market.

Recently, Dr. Harriman was in Greenhouse No. 3, holding a small pot of grass up to the light and marveling at its promise. "These were sprayed three days ago," he said, fingering the bright green blades of the grass, which had been used in a test of the Roundup weed killer. "They are in great condition. You can tell they have a nice green leaf structure."

Dr. Harriman says that a few months ago, scientists here used what they call a gene gun to shoot a bacterial gene into a tissue of grass in the hope of making it immune to Roundup. Days later, tiny blades of the new grass sprouted in a petri dish. Now, there are dozens of pots around him with full tufts of genetically modified creeping bent grass .

Dr. Harriman says that once the outcry over genetic engineering subsides, Scotts and other companies will will churn out countless varieties of grasses and ornamental flowers.

And the visions are not just of verdant lawns. Why not purple lawns? Or orange roses? What about seeds that would let the University of Florida use orange and blue grass seed in its football stadium, for example?

When the Scotts products do come to market, however, the company says it will not use the word "biotech" on the labels.

The word is already generating negative feedback in consumer surveys.

"It seems unlikely we'd ever call them biotech," Mr. Berger of Scotts said. "We'd call them superior plants."


19 Jul 00 - GMO - Firm airs fears over bid to halt spread of GM seeds

By Severin Carrell

Independent ... Wednesday 19 July 2000


The seed company at the centre of the GM-contaminated crops scandal, Advanta, has raised serious doubts about attempts to stop genetically modified seeds from contaminating the environment .

Advanta was giving evidence to MPs yesterday after it emerged in May that 5,400 hectares of its allegedly GM-free oil seed rape , which was planted across the UK, had been contaminated by genetically modified crop pollen .

All the crops, grown from Canadian seed, have been destroyed because of the risks of further cross-contamination.

Baroness Hayman, an Agriculture minister, admitted to the Agriculture Select Committee that she should have gone public on the scandal much earlier . Ministers waited four weeks after first being alerted, to assess the legal and scientific implications, before making details of the contamination public.

Earlier, Advanta executives told the committee the seed had become contaminated even though Advanta's Canadian sister company had used a 4km-wide buffer zone between it and GM crops, five times the 800-metre exclusion zone required under Canadian law.

Their evidence raises serious questions about the safety of the Government's existing 50 to 200-metre buffer zones , which are now under review.

However, Michael Meacher, an Environment minister, told the committee the Canadian government had yet to prove pollen from 4km away was responsible for the contamination.

Dr David Buckeridge, Advanta's European affairs director, admitted his company had never tested the "Hyola" hybrid seeds, sold in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden and Finland, for GM contamination because it thought the 4km buffer zone was sufficient.

Dr Buckeridge added, however, that he had serious doubts about the reliability of the tests currently being used to check that seeds are GM-free. It was impossible, he said, for non-GM crops to be entirely pure because of the scale of GM crop planting, which now stands at 40 million hectares worldwide.

The committee was told Advanta was considering suing the Government after Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, announced on 27 May, without warning the company, that all the affected crops would be destroyed. Advanta had hoped to sell the crops abroad to countries "less sensitive" about GM foods, Dr Buckeridge said.


19 Jul 00 - GMO - Regret over GM seeds

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 19 July 2000


Baroness Hayman, the agriculture minister, said yesterday she wished the Government had "gone public earlier " about the planting of seed contaminated with genetically-modified ingredients on British farms.

Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, asked why ministers waited from April 17 , when they were told by Advanta, the seed company, that farmers had inadvertently planted GM contaminated seed, until May 17 before telling the public.

He told the Commons Agriculture Select Committee that the ministry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions had done nothing until then to deal with the problem of cross-contamination, which had been raised by the industry itself. They then "panicked " and "dithered " because of the previous media outcry over "Frankenstein foods".

Lady Hayman told MPs: "I now wish we had gone public earlier because the delay became the issue." But she said: "It didn't feel like dithering and I don't think we panicked. It felt like establishing the facts." MPs heard from Advanta that the Swedish Government went public on May 16 , the day before the British Government, only 24 hours after learning that seed in Sweden had been contaminated.

Dr David Buckeridge, director of Advanta Seeds UK, said that there was an "urgent need" to bring in rules setting the acceptable level of contamination from GM crops to cover next month's winter oil seed rape planting and said there was confusion in the seed industry about legal liability .

In a written submission, Advanta said: "It is a matter of some regret that these issues, when industry has warned about for some time, have not been adequately addressed by the regulatory authorities to date. Early political action... would have at best prevented this incident from occurring or at worst managed public expectations about seed purity and averted further media hysteria."

Lady Hayman said that the first possible option was a voluntary EU agreement to enforce a certain degree of purity, for example 0.5 per cent tolerance for material contaminated by GM ingredients. She hoped to have an agreement in place by the end of the year.

Michael Meacher said the matter of the limit was a matter for consumers as well as ministers. "My personal view is that [the level] should be the minimum that can be controlled." He believed that the definition of GM-free would be tested in court before long .


17 Jul 00 - GMO - GM protesters arrested

Staff Reporter

Times ... Monday 17 July 2000


At least three environmentalists were arrested yesterday during protests at a farm that is being used in government-backed tests on genetically modified maize.

Campaigners dressed in Grim Reaper outfits broke into the site at Over Compton, near Sherborne, Dorset - one of 48 trials - where they cut through sections of the crop .

Those detained were expected to be charged with criminal damage .The 300-strong gathering was organised by the direct action group Surge - Southern Union of Resistance to Genetic Engineering.

The protest follows East Dorset District Council's decision to examine the planning regulations surrounding the tests at Over Compton which were set up three months ago.

Although the site has permission for agricultural use, anti-GM groups say that technically it is being used for scientific experiments.


16 Jul 00 - GMO - Seven Arrested After GM Maize Is Destroyed

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Sunday 16 July 2000


Dozens of anti-GM demonstrators destroyed part of a trial crop of maize in Dorset before they were stopped by police.

About 50 protesters climbed into the field at Over Compton, near Sherborne, and began flattening sections of the crop. Seven of the demonstrators were arrested.

The demonstration began peacefully when up to 300 campaigners, including young children and pensioners , gathered at the village hall in Nether Compton for a rally and picnic before walking the mile to the controversial field - the only GM trial in the south west.

Several were dressed as Grim Reapers carrying huge scythes. Others carried placards and banged drums.

When the group arrived at the field, about a quarter of them scaled the gates despite the presence of police officers and the force's helicopter.

Mark Howard, spokesman for the direct action campaign group SURGE (Southern Union of Resistance to Genetic Engineering), said: "These crops are dangerous and as far as we are concerned it is like the BSE crisis in its implications.

"We don't want any scientific experiments on GM crops to take place because we cannot control them . They are already contaminating other organic crops in the area."

The protest follows East Dorset District Council's recent decision to look into the planning regulations surrounding the tests at Over Compton which was set up three months ago.

Although the site has permission for agricultural use, anti-GM campaigners say technically it is being used for scientific experiments and is therefore in breach of local authority planning policy .

East Dorset District Council is to meet on August 1 to discuss the issue which could end up as a test case undermining the Government's GM crop tests running across the country.


14 Jul 00 - GMO - Europe 'caving in to US firms' on approval for GM foods

Andrew Osborn in Brussels

Guardian ... Friday 14 July 2000


The European commission was yesterday accused of caving in to pressure from large US biotechnology firms after it signalled it would rush through a controversial proposal to scrap the current Europe-wide moratorium on approval of new types of genetically modified food.

In an outburst which angered environmental activists, the commission said the time had come to accept that GM food did not pose a serious threat to public health and that new types of gm food should be approved.

No new GM crops have been authorised for sale or use in the 15-state EU for around two years after public concerns about the safety of GM food prompted Europe's environment ministers to demand a stricter regulatory framework .

But the commission yesterday vowed to do its utmost to push through a directive governing gm food which it claims is far tougher than its predecessor and will include provisions on the labelling and traceability of any new food approved.

Although the content of the new directive has to be definitively approved by the European parliament and EU governments, it could become law by the end of the year, kick-starting the EU's moribund approvals system.

In an unprecedented step, the commission is lobbying for the new directive to become law as soon as it is endorsed in Brussels, and thinks it cannot afford to wait for individual countries to implement its provisions, a process which could take a further two years.

"The scientific evidence that is available to all of us is that there is no scientific danger in any GM foods," David Byrne, the commissioner in charge of consumer protection, said yesterday. He acknowledged that many consumers did not want to buy GM products , but promised the new legislation was sufficiently rigorous to guarantee the safety of GM food as far as this was scientifically possible.

Margot Wallstrom, the environment commissioner, added her voice to calls for urgent action and said doing nothing would leave the commission vulnerable to a rash of lawsuits from biotechnology companies.

"The moratorium is illegal and unjustified and we cannot stop advances in new technology by refusing to act," she said.

The commission's proposals will be discussed this weekend when EU environment ministers meet in Paris.

Greenpeace accused the commission of being in the pocket of US biotechnology giants such as Monsanto who are desperate to get their products approved in Europe.

"The commission is bowing to US threats with a proposal which flies in the face of current consumer and member state concern," spokeswoman Isabelle Meister said.

A recent EU poll found that 66% of Europeans viewed GM food as a health hazard . Eighteen GM food products have been approved for commercial use in the EU.


11 Jul 00 - GMO - GM food 'can feed hungry millions'

By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent

Telegraph ... Tuesday 11 July 2000


Some of the world's leading scientists launched a campaign supporting genetically modified food yesterday with a report outlining how the research could help feed the world.

The statement from seven international science academies, including Britain's Royal Society, said that GM techniques should be harnessed to tackle the food crisis by increasing yields. It urged the biotech industry to share knowledge for the common good. The report also called for an international GM food watchdog.

It has taken a year to prepare and is part of an international move to persuade the public that GM crops have a potential for good. Prof Brian Heap, the Royal Society vice-chairman, said that 800 million people, or 18 per cent of the world's population, did not have enough food. Six million children under five died of malnutrition each year.

Scientists from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the US, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society produced the report, Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture.


25 Jun 00 - GMO - GM tobacco used to develop vaccine against cancer

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Sunday 25 June 2000


Genetically modified tobacco is being developed to fight cancer. In a remarkable turnaround, scientists believe they can use the plant - which kills some four million people world-wide each year - to produce a vaccine against cervical cancer .

Their work, which is backed by the US government, was hailed as "a very positive development" by anti-smoking campaigners yesterday.

Scientists from Georgetown University Medical Centre in Washington DC and North Carolina State University are growing the potentially life-saving tobacco and say they will know whether they have made an extraordinary medical breakthrough within two years. The US Congress recently voted $3m to finance their research.

Dr Ken Dretchen, Dean of Research at the medical centre, said last week that the research was designed to develop a vaccine against the human papiloma virus, which causes cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women in Europe. This claims 1,200 lives in Britain alone each year.

So far, scientists have failed to produce a vaccine the normal way, by cultivating a dead version of the virus. The new research succeeded in inserting genes from the virus into tobacco seeds, which have been sown in a North Carolina field.

The plants are growing, and the idea is that the virus will multiply. After harvesting, the raw material for a vaccine - minus nicotine and other harmful substances - will be extracted. Dr Dretchen says his team will know whether they have succeeded "at the end of two or three growing cycles". The plant is suitable, he says, as it is easier to grow and harvest, and simple to insert genes into.

Congressional backing for the research has been led by right-wing senator Jesse Helms and Congressman Robin Hayes - both Republicans representing North Carolina.Cynics speculate that it may be designed to encourage the State's hard-pressed tobacco farmers in an election year.

But Clive Bates, Director of Action on Smoking and Health, said yesterday: "This kind of thing is the way ahead for tobacco and the people who farm it. We have not got anything against the plant itself, just the way it is used. If they can find something better to do with it than turning it into coffin nails that has to be a good thing."


21 Jun 00 - GMO - GM trials suffer new setback

James Meikle

Guardian ... Wednesday 21 June 2000


Government backed trials of genetically modified crops suffered another public relations blow last night as ministers revealed that supposedly GM-free crops at the only Scottish site in the programme are contaminated with GM material.

But the Scottish executive insisted that the trial at Daviot, Aberdeenshire, would continue - despite ministers' advice that commercial farmers should plough up similar conventional rape crops grown from seeds provided by the Advanta company, which blames accidental cross-pollination in Canada.

The latest mistake in an embarrassing catalogue follows last week's revelation that another trial is taking place on a farm in Essex which has suffered a serious crop disease .

There are only 48 trials instead of up to 80 originally forecast this year, and the government cannot afford to lose many more in the programme, which is designed to compare the effects of herbicide treatments for GM and non-GM plants on the environment and wildlife.

Tests revealed that there was 0.9% GM contamination of the control crop at Daviot, nearly twice the 0.5% level the European commission thinks should be allowed in conventional seeds until more permanent decisions are made on purity. The Scottish executive was already furious that officials in England did not alert them to the Advanta contamination until weeks after the company first told the government of the problem. Neither the government nor its independent scientific advisers had tested any of the conventional seeds used in the trials for GM presence before learning of the Advanta mistake on April 17. It only asked Aventis, another seed company whose GM rape crops are being tested on 12 sites around the country, whether any of the control crops were affected at the beginning of June.

Aventis notified the government of the Daviot problem on June 9 .The oil seed rape there is due to be harvested in late July or early August .

Ross Finnie, the Liberal Democrat rural affairs minister on the executive, said that he was satisfied the validity of the trial had not been compromised . He told the Scottish assembly: "It is important to recognise that there is a very pertinent difference between a crop which is grown for commercial purposes and one which is being grown as part of this trial."

Government officials said the site was a kilometre away from commercial farms and there was little risk of cross-pollination.

But Richard Dixon, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "There is a clear contradiction here. The advice to any other farmer is 'If you have this crop in the ground, plough it up'. It is crazy ."

Greenpeace said: "If the government wants to maintain any credibility, it should declare this trial void and destroy the crop immediately."


20 Jun 00 - GMO - Shopping habits to be checked for GM risks

James Meikle

Guardian ... Tuesday 20 June 2000


Britons' shopping habits and consumption of GM foods are to be monitored in another attempt to shore up confidence in the new technology.

The new food standards agency believes it will soon be able to track the sale of products and match them to medical data for populations by area, to provide an early warning of increased rates of chronic illnesses, allergies or foetal abnormalities.

It will announce in the next few days an 18-month experiment in matching the nation's buying power to its health. The system will use data collated by market research bodies, including information from supermarkets.

If the trial works, the consumption of GM products and other foods, including, for instance, ingredients designed to lower cholesterol or replace sugar, will be monitored even after they have passed all the existing safety procedures.

The government is keen to provide what one minister has called "a comfort blanket" without giving the impression that the public are being used as guinea pigs.

The system may also help to alert health officials to trouble and allow the government to respond rapidly should unexpected effects occur.

The food agency is also planning random tests this autumn to ensure that companies are not breaking EU rules requiring them to label any GM ingredients making up 1% or more of a processed food.


20 Jun 00 - GMO - Smarter GM mice enter a moral maze

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent ... Tuesday 20 June 2000


Scientists have shown intelligence can be improved by genetic engineering - at least in laboratory mice.

The researchers found that altering a gene involved in the production of a key growth factor in the brain improved the ability of the animals to find their way out of a complicated maze.

Ethical objections to the genetic manipulation of human embryos prevents similar experiments on people but the study is likely to help scientists in the field to understand better the development of the human brain.

Aryeh Routtenberg, a neuroscientist at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, demonstrated that super-intelligent mice could be created by manipulating a gene called GAP-43, which controls the production of a protein that stimulates the growth of nerve cells in the brain.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, builds on the results of experiments last year showing that other kinds of genetic manipulation can improve the abilities of laboratory mice to find their way out of a maze. The latest findings demonstrate that the murine genes, which are also found in humans performing similar functions, play a decisive role in determining the differences between the behavioural abilities of mice.

Genetically manipulated mice have GAP-43 genes that go into overdrive, producing excess growth factors in the brain and stimulating a greater number of connections between nerve cells.

"In the past 25 years, candidate growth genes have been implicated in learning processes, but it has not been demonstrated that they in fact enhance them," Dr Routtenberg and his colleagues report.

"Genetic overexpression of the growth-associated protein GAP-43... dramatically enhanced learning."

The genetically engineered mice were significantly more likely to remember a route out of the maze as well as learning more quickly how to escape, the researchers found.


20 Jun 00 - GMO - Study into GM food opens

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 20 June 2000


Possible health risks caused by genetically modified food will be investigated by the Food Standards Agency.

The study, expected to start within days and take 18 months, was disclosed by Jon Bell, the agency's deputy chief executive yesterday. Food buying habits of millions of consumers will be monitored and compared with databases on human illnesses. Sources of information will include supermarket "loyalty cards".

In a separate move, the agency will seek the public's views on what should appear on food labels to indicate whether products contain GM ingredients. One difficulty for the agency and other bodies advising British and other European governments is whether retailers will ever be able to claim that a product is completely "GM free".

Labels are seen as a key safeguard of consumer choice and there are detailed European Union rules for labels on foods containing GM ingredients, additives and flavourings.

Member states have unanimously agreed to label only where GM material is present in foods sold to consumers, but individual companies can go beyond this voluntarily. For example they can state that ingredients have been obtained from a GM source, but there is no GM material in the final food, or claim that a food is GM free .

The European Commission is trying to draw up rules to regulate labelling . Some officials in Brussels say that companies should be allowed a margin of up to one per cent GM ingredient in food described as GM free. The agency will hold its next public forum in Glasgow on Thursday. It promises to give the public as much say as possible in any safeguards it recommends to ministers.


20 Jun 00 - GMO - GM sales to be checked against diseases

By Valerie Elliott, Consumer Editor

Times ... Tuesday 20 June 2000


The Food Standards Agency is to monitor shopping habits as part of research into the possible impact of genetically modified and other unusual food products on human health .

The testing is to start in July, using supermarket loyalty cards, which are linked to postcodes and can be used to establish buying habits and matched to diseases reported to the Public Health Laboratory. If card data is not available, researchers will analyse regional food sales.

They are to check the sales data for food containing GM soya and maize which could be contained in oils and processed foods. It is also expected that there will be tests on the effect of ingredients developed using GM technology such as lecithin, a solidifier used in the manufacture of chocolate, and chymosin, a rennet used in vegetarian cheeses and pizzas.

Consumption patterns will be linked to such data as the number of birth defects or increased cases of cancer , diabetes and other diseases . Any health benefit from eating the food will also be assessed. It is likely to take at least 18 months to see if a model can be set up that can act as an "early warning" system for foods that affect human health.

Spot-checks on food sold in supermarkets as GM-free are also to begin in the autumn.Agency officials want to check whether supermarket labels and information on hotel and restaurant menus is accurate.

At least 20 laboratories are to carry out the checks. The agency wants to know the precise percentage level of GM ingredients in products.The information is to help formulate a new labelling policy.


19 Jun 00 - GMO - Tests on GM 'missiles' to target cancer cells

By Rachel Sylvester

Telegraph ... Monday 19 June 2000


Institute of Cancer Research British scientists are about to test whether a genetically modified virus could help to treat cancer .

The first patient will be injected with the modified cold virus this week and geneticists hope the research could provide a breakthrough in the treatment of liver cancer. The Medical Research Council and the Cancer Research Campaign are backing the gene therapy - the culmination of five years' research.

The treatment is being pioneered by Prof David Kerr, of the University of Birmingham, who is the Government's chief adviser on cancer services. He is also on the Commission for Health Improvement, which decides which drugs should be available on the National Health Service.

He said: "This has worked on mice. If you gave me a mouse with cancer I could cure it. But man is not mouse. There are lots of promising signs but it is too early to know whether this will work on humans." The cold virus, which forms the basis of the treatment, has been genetically modified so that it acts as a "guided missile " designed to destroy cancer cells .

Scientists have removed the genes that make the virus divide and multiply and put "suicide genes" in their place designed to destroy cancer cells. The virus will be injected directly into the patient's cancerous liver . Prof Kerr said he hoped that the treatment showed the potential benefits of the race to decipher human DNA, the so-called "book of life". He said: "The benefits we are likely to realise from DNA technology are huge."

Roger Highfield writes: Gene therapy has already shown encouraging results in the treatment of various cancers. More than half of all cancers have a mutation in the p53 gene, a so-called tumour suppressor gene. By introducing a normal copy of the gene, scientists hope that a tumour can be programmed to die or stop growing.


18 Jun 00 - GMO - Rejected GM food dumped on the poor

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

Independent ... Sunday 18 June 2000


Hundreds of thousands of tons of genetically modified food, rejected by European consumers, are being dispatched to the world's poorest people , The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The GM food aid - provided by both the United States government and the United Nations - has alarmed senior UN officials and was denounced by leading aid groups last night. It is being seen as a way of bailing out US farmers who are growing GM crops, produced by companies like Monsanto, but have now found their markets disappearing through a widespread refusal to buy them.

New US government figures show that the planting of GM corn and soya is decreasing , after years of rapid expansion, and even US shoppers are turning against the foods.

Both the US Agency For International Development (US Aid) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) told The Independent on Sunday last week that they supplied GM food, grown in the US, to third world countries as aid.

The US gives just over two million tons of it directly to the Third World each year, while the World Food Programme distributes another one and half million tons donated by the US.

US Aid says it does not distinguish between GM and non-GM food, and the WFP said that it distributed food that "meets the safety standards for domestic consumers in the country where it is produced".

The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, based in New Delhi, India, has taken a sample of a mixture of corn and soya provided by the US government as food aid after last year's cyclone in Orissa, and sent it off for testing at a US laboratory, which found it to contain "significant levels of genetically-modified DNA ".

Doctor Vandana Shiva, the head of the foundation, said: "This proves that the US has been using the Orissa victims as guinea pigs for GM products which have been rejected by consumers in Europe. We demand that the US government stop using the money meant for relief to the poor for subsidising the biotech industry and helping it to use emergencies to create market access and market entry for GM products."

Ruchi Trapathi, food rights administrator for Action Aid, said that the news would "concern many people worried about the safety of GM food."

She added: "It must be questionable to give food rejected in Europe to countries which lack the resources to test it. Poor people have the same rights to health as those in the West."

The news will add to the long-running concern over food aid. Half of US aid, and a fifth of the United Nations aid, is given as routine "programme aid" to poor people.

Development experts have attacked this as a means of subsidising US and other rich world farmers (because their governments buy the food from them before donating it) at the expense of the poor farmers of the Third World. The free food undercuts local farmers and drives them out of business.