Document Directory

31 Aug 00 - GMO - Move to try out GM feed on cattle
31 Aug 00 - GMO - Natural way to decaf coffee or tea
24 Aug 00 - GMO - Biotech has bamboozled us all
21 Aug 00 - GMO - GM animal tests 'out of control'
21 Aug 00 - GMO - Scientists use more GM animals in experiments
20 Aug 00 - GMO - Welcome to the red, red grass of home
06 Aug 00 - GMO - GM grass is greener for the lazy gardener
05 Aug 00 - GMO - Novartis bans GMOs from own foods
05 Aug 00 - GMO - USDA to Commercialize 'Terminator' Technology
04 Aug 00 - GMO - Ministers defy MPs and name GM sites
04 Aug 00 - GMO - Defiant ministers back 25 more GM trials
04 Aug 00 - GMO - Ministers 'confused' over GM crop scare
03 Aug 00 - GMO - New GM crop trials announced
03 Aug 00 - GMO - Al Fayed 'to sue government over GMO crops delay'
03 Aug 00 - GMO - MPs attack GM seed contamination 'confusion'
03 Aug 00 - GMO - Al Fayed 'To Sue Government Over GM Crops Delay'
03 Aug 00 - GMO - GM crop trial sites announced
03 Aug 00 - GMO - Further 25 sites for GM trials
02 Aug 00 - GMO - DuPont attempts to influence anti-GM food campaigners
02 Aug 00 - GMO - Ssssh! Don't mention GM
31 Jul 00 - GMO - Genetic chickens get DNA copyright tag
31 Jul 00 - GMO - New trade war looms over GM labelling

31 Aug 00 - GMO - Move to try out GM feed on cattle

James Meikle

Guardian ... Thursday 31 August 2000

The government is to consider proposals for the first experiments using home-grown genetically modified animal feed on cattle. The feed is made from fodder maize grown during this summer's controversial farm trials .

The multinational biotech company Aventis CropScience wants approval to feed part of the harvest to cows , so as to reassure sceptical Britons.

It yesterday promised that milk or meat from the animals would not be sold to the public, saying this kept the company within the spirit of a voluntary agreement that no GM crops used in the farm trials would enter either the human or animal food chains until after the programme was completed in 2003.

Critics saw the latest move as another attempt by the biotech industry to force the pace on the spread of new technology in Britain , although Aventis pointed out that animal feed using GM ingredients grown abroad was already legally on sale in this country.

Company spokesman Clive Rainbird said: "The intention is to generate UK data to demonstrate the feeding of GM maize silage to cattle is just as nutritious (as conventional crops) and does not carry any risk to the animals themselves ot the meat or milk they produce... We could use North American data but we feel that if we have to persuade a sceptical British public, then we use British data."

The trials would only use a small proportion of the GM maize from the farm trials, which are designed to test the impact of GM crops on the environment, not their safety. The maize would be harvested from late September.

The proposal for feeding the maize to cattle has passed one formal government hurdle concerning the use of pesticides. It was not clear last night whether it legally needed any more because it already has EU marketing consent The company has promised, however, to send research protocols for the feeding trials to officials when the trials are completed.

A spokesman for the food standards agency, responsible for animal feedstuffs, said last night: "As far as we are aware, no one has contacted us over this yet."

It also emerged yesterday that the government has no legal powers over the way the maize being used in the GM trials is destroyed because of the EU approval.

Disposal is instead being governed by the industry's own voluntary guidelines , which involve the crop being chopped up into small pieces and ploughed back into the soil. GM oil seed rape being used in the trials has to be disposed of in deep landfill sites under stricter government rules.

Mr Rainbird said there was no scientific support for opponents' fears that GM material from the maize would be transferred to other crops through the soil. Maize grew eight feet tall and putting it in landfill was not a "practical proposition".

GM opponents were furious at the developments. Roger Mainwood, spokesman for Concerned Residents of Wivenhoe in Essex, where a GM maize trial is under way, said: "There is suspicion about the biotech industry's assurances and the method of disposal is potentially hazardous .

"Aventis should opt for the safest method on offer, which is incineration ."

- EU scientists will next month consider the implications of the latest research into BSE-like diseases which revealed they may jump between humans and animals more easily than previously supposed and be highly infective even carriers display no obvious symptoms.

31 Aug 00 - GMO - Natural way to decaf coffee or tea

Tim Radford

Guardian ... Thursday 31 August 2000

Scientists today foresee a world in which caffeine free coffee or tea is grown naturally on genetically modified bushes .

Alan Crozier of the University of Glasgow and four colleagues from three Japanese institutes list the bad qualities of caffeine in a report in the magazine Nature: "palpitations, gastro-intestinal disturbance, anxiety, tremor, increased blood pressure and insomnia."

But removing the alkaloid is not only costly, but "to discerning customers, flavours and aromas are lost".

The scientists have identified and "cloned" the gene that makes caffeine in leaves of Camellia sinensis, the source of tea - thus opening the possibility of removing the gene from both the tea plant and from Coffea arabica , the coffee bush. Such a step could even enhance tea's healing benefits - it has ingredients thought to be helpful against heart disease that caffeine may cancel out.

Some selected strains of both species are naturally low in caffeine - but a breeding programme to produce a decaffeinated crop would take 20 years. Large scale production of GM tea and coffee plants is more practical, the scientists say, though finding quite how the gene controls natural production of caffeine is still a way off.

24 Aug 00 - GMO - Biotech has bamboozled us all

George Monbiot

Guardian ... Thursday 24 August 2000

Studies suggest that traditional farming methods are still the best

The advice could scarcely have come from a more surprising source. "If anyone tells you that GM is going to feed the world," Steve Smith, a director of the world's biggest biotechnology company, Novartis, insisted, "tell them that it is not ... To feed the world takes political and financial will - it's not about production and distribution."

Mr Smith was voicing a truth which most of his colleagues in biotechnology companies have gone to great lengths to deny . On a planet wallowing in surfeit, people starve because they have neither the land on which to grow food for themselves nor the money with which to buy it. There is no question that, as the population increases, the world will have to grow more, but if this task is left to the rich and powerful - big farmers and big business - then, irrespective of how much is grown, people will become progressively hungrier. Only a redistribution of land and wealth can save the world from mass starvation.

But in one respect Mr Smith is wrong. It is, in part, about production. A series of remarkable experiments has shown that the growing techniques which his company and many others have sought to impose upon the world are, in contradiction to everything we have been brought up to believe, actually less productive than some of the methods developed by traditional farmers over the past 10,000 years.

Last week, Nature magazine reported the results of one of the biggest agricultural experiments ever conducted. A team of Chinese scientists had tested the key principle of modern rice-growing (planting a single, hi-tech variety across hundreds of hectares) against a much older technique (planting several breeds in one field). They found, to the astonishment of the farmers who had been drilled for years in the benefits of "monoculture", that reverting to the old method resulted in spectacular increases in yield . Rice blast - a devastating fungus which normally requires repeated applications of poison to control - decreased by 94%. The farmers planting a mixture of strains were able to stop applying their poisons altogether, while producing 18% more rice per acre than they were growing before.

Another paper, published in Nature two years ago, showed that yields of organic maize are identical to yields of maize grown with fertilisers and pesticides, while soil quality in the organic fields dramatically improves. In trials in Hertfordshire, wheat grown with manure has produced higher yields for the past 150 years than wheat grown with artificial nutrients.

Professor Jules Pretty of Essex University has shown how farmers in India, Kenya, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras have doubled or tripled their yields by switching to organic or semi-organic techniques . A study in the US reveals that small farms growing a wide range of plants can produce 10 times as much money per acre as big farms growing single crops. Cuba, forced into organic farming by the economic blockade, has now adopted this as policy, having discovered that it improves both the productivity and the quality of its crops .

Hi-tech farming, by contrast, is sowing ever graver problems . This year, food production in Punjab and Haryana, the Indian states long celebrated as the great success stories of modern, intensive cultivation, has all but collapsed. The new crops the farmers there have been encouraged to grow demand far more water and nutrients than the old ones, with the result that, in many places, both the ground water and the soil have been exhausted .

We have, in other words, been deceived. Traditional farming has been stamped out all over the world not because it is less productive than monoculture, but because it is, in some respects, more productive. Organic cultivation has been characterised as an enemy of progress for the simple reason that it cannot be monopolised: it can be adopted by any farmer anywhere, without the help of multinational companies. Though it is more productive to grow several species or several varieties of crops in one field, the biotech companies must reduce diversity in order to make money, leaving farmers with no choice but to purchase their most profitable seeds. This is why they have spent the last 10 years buying up seed breeding institutes and lobbying governments to do what ours has done: banning the sale of any seed which has not been officially - and expensively - registered and approved.

All this requires an unrelenting propaganda war against the tried and tested techniques of traditional farming, as the big companies and their scientists dismiss them as unproductive, unsophisticated and unsafe. The truth, so effectively suppressed that it is now almost impossible to believe, is that organic farming is the key to feeding the world.

21 Aug 00 - GMO - GM animal tests 'out of control'

Staff and agencies

Guardian ... Monday 21 August 2000

The RSPCA has warned that experiments involving genetically engineered animals may be getting out of control , and has called for greater scrutiny.

Home Office figures published last week showed a 14% rise in scientific procedures involving genetically modified animals between 1998 and 1999, up by 63,000 to 511,000.

The RSPCA is calling for tighter legislation and wants an independent body to consider the ethical, social and welfare implications.

Its senior scientific officer Vicky Robinson said it was vital to scrutinise the clinical relevance of using GM animals in research.

"While we acknowledge that some applications of the technology may bring benefits, we are concerned that GM animals may be produced simply because it is possible, and not because it is necessary. This is unacceptable."

The RSPCA is urging laboratories to consider alternative methods of research and to avoid duplicating data. "It is crucial that all those involved in producing, using and caring for GM animals make every effort to reduce the number of animals used, minimise suffering and improve welfare," said Ms Robinson.

Experiments on genetically modified mice , a standard procedure for testing genetic links to human diseases, represented the biggest rise in testing, up by 51,000 .

The RSPCA has previously warned of plans by the European Commission to test thousands of chemicals on millions more animals over the next 10 years.

The charity said the rapid pace of biotechnology research had fuelled its fears of a "massive" Europe-wide increase in animal testing without adequate controls.

21 Aug 00 - GMO - Scientists use more GM animals in experiments

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent ... Monday 21 August 2000

The number of genetically modified animals used last year in laboratory experiments increased by 14 per cent compared with 1998, according to figures released yesterday by the Home Office.

It was the biggest increase in any of the research categories for animal experiments and was largely the result of investigations into the function of genes thought to be shared between mice and humans.

The number of animals used in research in 1999 fell by 24,000 to a total of 2.57 million. With the exception of 1997, this was the lowest number since 1955, the Home Office said.

Shelley Simmons, a spokeswoman for the National Anti-vivisection Society, called for more freedom of information on licence applications for animal experiments so that scientists can be challenged on possible alternatives.

"The negligible decrease in the number of animal experiments simply masks the disturbing fact that there is a steep increase in the number of genetically modified animals used," Ms Simmons said.

The vast majority of animals, about 86 per cent, were mice, rats and other rodents.

About 71 per cent of the experiments involved genetically normal animals and 3 per cent used animals that suffered from naturally occurring genetic defects.

The largest single user of animals for scientific research is the pharmaceutical industry, which uses them for testing new drugs.

20 Aug 00 - GMO - Welcome to the red, red grass of home

Jonathan Leake

Sunday Times ... Sunday 20 August 2000

The green grass of home could soon be red , brown or purple . The traditional sward is in danger of being put out to grass by a new range of designer lawns that do not need watering or mowing.

Scientists are even planning to develop luminous lawns that will light up at night. The grass - containing a gene possibly extracted from luminous marine animals - will emit a gentle glow, becoming brighter when stepped on. It could provide the perfect setting for barbecues on summer nights.

Not everything in the garden is rosy, however. The new breed of genetically modified (GM) lawns have been nicknamed "Frankengrass" by environmentalists, who believe they pose a bigger danger to society than merely creating a new generation of indolent gardeners.

They warn that grass can cross-breed with a wide range of other species - allowing alien genes to escape into the environment.

Forty test sites in America have been vandalised by an anarchist organisation.

The new grasses will be able to kill pests without help by secreting a designer toxin within their blades that uses a gene taken from a poisonous fungus.

Scotts, the garden products company behind some of the research, believes its work will revolutionise gardens, golf courses and sports pitches within the next five years.

It is already trialling the grasses on test plots in America after buying the gardening arm of Monsanto, the GM crop producer, and gaining access to its gene library.

Charles Berger, Scotts' chief executive, said his dream was of a new generation of lawns. He said: "In the next five years lawns will need less fertiliser, water and mowing - and pest insects won't come near."

06 Aug 00 - GMO - GM grass is greener for the lazy gardener

Antony Barnett, public affairs editor

Guardian ... Sunday 6 August 2000

The news will horrify environmentalists and delight gardeners: a British professor is developing genetically modified grass that does not need to be mown.

Peter Day, director of the biotechnology centre at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is working with GM corporation Monsanto and the world's largest garden products manufacturer, Scotts, to produce stunted lawns .

The 'low mow' grass would have an alien gene which slows growth , reducing the need for lawnmowers. The firms are also looking at drought-resistant grass which needs less water.

Scotts believe there would be a 7 billion global market for gardens and sports grounds.

Day told The Observer: 'There is no doubt such a product would be very popular. But we would also need a way of stimulating grass to grow in areas of heavy use such as around goal posts, cricket stumps and the base line at Wimbledon.'

Day believes it will be three years before a grass which remains healthy after being sprayed with weedkiller is ready for the market.

He even raised the possibility of GM grass in different colours , glow-in-the-dark or which could change colour when stepped on.

Craig Bennett, of Friends of the Earth, said: 'GM grass would be an ecological disaster with GM pollution spreading through the gardens of England. Grasses have a long history of cross-pollination in nature and are found in virtually all habitats around the world.The environmental risks do not bear thinking about.'

But Sports Turf Research Institute spokeswoman Anne Wilson said: 'If it was tough, able to grow in shade and didn't need mowing or watering then it would be perfect.'

05 Aug 00 - GMO - Novartis bans GMOs from own foods

Staff Reporter

Reuters ... Saturday 5 August 2000

Novartis, one of the world's largest providers of seeds for growing genetically modified (GM) food, confirmed on Thursday that it has made its own food products GM-free .

The Swiss agribusiness and pharmaceuticals giant which is at the forefront of GM crop technology banned genetically modified ingredients from all its food brands worldwide from the end of June this year.

The policy was revealed in a letter the company sent to the Belgian office of Greenpeace in an attempt to get the environmental group to include Novartis on its list of GM-free food producers .

Novartis said it was aiming to guarantee all its foods -- mostly health foods such as cereal bars -- were free of GM ingredients because of pressure from consumers. Many consumers across Europe are distrustful of transgenic foods.

"With the current sentiment among the population towards GMOs, we have decided to take all necessary practical measures to avoid using genetically modifed organisms in our products worldwide,'' Novartis said in its letter".

A spokesman for Novartis confirmed the company's consumer health division had opted last summer gradually to phase out GM ingredients from its food lines.

The Novartis policy even goes as far as demanding certificates from its ingredient suppliers stating their products are GM-free.

``Consumer health, being in a consumer-driven market, has to deliver what consumers want. We have to respond to the changing needs of the various markets,'' the spokesman said.

Asked if Novartis' anti-GM stance conflicted with its position as a vociferous promoter of GM seeds, the spokesman said: ``That's a totally different question.''

``All our business centres operate independently in totally different markets. The market for seeds is totally different from the market for food products,'' he said.

GROWING CONSUMER CONCERN Genetically modified food -- made from plants whose gene sequence has been scientifically altered to give qualities such as resistance to pesticides -- has caused increasing concern among consumers and environmentalists who fear the new technology could pose a threat to human health or nature.

European Union governments have become so sensitive to the issue that they have refused to grant any new authorisations for GM crops for the last two years.

Among the crops currently languishing in the EU's stalled authorisation procedure is a Novartis GM maize .

The Novartis spokesman pointed out that the firm was about to spin off its agribusiness unit into a joint venture with AstraZeneca.

The move would clearly separate the company that makes GMOs from the firm that bans them from its food products.

However, this did not mean Novartis was turning its back on biotechnology, which would continue to be important for its pharmaceutical division, the spokesman said.

``We are convinced that GM plants provide advantages to farmers and processors and will offer clear benefits to consumers in the future,'' he said.

Novartis is not the first biotechnology company to be accused of double standards on GMOs, as Greenpeace has done in this case.

In December last year, U.S. rival Monsanto was embarrassed by press reports that it had banned GM foods from its own staff canteen run by an independent caterer at one of its British offices.

05 Aug 00 - GMO - USDA to Commercialize 'Terminator' Technology

Jocelyn Kaiser

Medline ... Saturday 5 August 2000

For the past year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been juggling a political hot potato : whether to pursue commercialization of a controversial biotech discovery that can render seeds sterile. A diverse group of opponents, including some scientific groups and companies, have disavowed this so-called "terminator" technology as an unconscionable threat to poor farmers .

But last week USDA officials announced they will move ahead with the technology because of its scientific promise--albeit with conditions negotiated with its industry partner to guard against it being used in harmful ways. Antibiotech activists adamantly oppose the decision, which runs counter to the intentions even of biotech giant Monsanto.

At issue is what is formally called a "technology protection system," developed by USDA and Delta & Pine Land Co. (DPL) of Scott, Mississippi, which are co-inventors on related patents. The intended application is to protect a company's investment in developing genetically engineered plants by preventing farmers from using their seeds for the next year's planting. This is done by adding three genes to a plant. If the seeds from the modified plants are treated with an antibiotic , the plants that grow from those seeds will produce a toxin that renders their seeds sterile. So far, the technology has been tried only in an experimental tobacco plant at a USDA lab in Lubbock, Texas.

When word got out about the first patent in 1998, the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) and others launched a highly visible campaign against the technology (Science, 30 October 1998, p. 850). Critics charged that it would prevent subsistence farmers from saving seeds and that pollen from the plants might sterilize neighboring fields as well . Soon after, the world's largest nonprofit agricultural research group, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, pledged never to use the technology in its crops. Faced with heated opposition, Monsanto (now part of Pharmacia) also declared a moratorium on using the technology last October when it was considering buying DPL.

Meanwhile, away from the fray, some scientists inside and outside USDA have been arguing that the technology is too promising for the department to abandon. "There's so much good science to come from it," says James Cook, a plant pathologist at Washington State University in Pullman. The patent could be used to turn any gene on and off--"a goal of all plant breeding," said USDA tech transfer official Richard M. Parry Jr. at a meeting last week of USDA's new biotech advisory panel. He adds that "there are many other beneficial applications," including preventing the spread of genes from genetically modified crops to wild plants. These benefits persuaded USDA to pursue its patent and its agreement with DPL, despite vociferous opposition .

The opponents were well represented at the panel meeting, where USDA sought advice on what conditions it should include in the licensing agreement with DPL--not, as some expected, on whether it should proceed with the agreement at all. The diverse panelists offered several, such as making DPL legally liable should the plants damage a neighbor's field ; removing USDA from the controversy by transferring its patent rights to a trust; and not licensing it to companies that own more than 40% of the market for a seed. "I still think it's a bad idea. I'm signing on to something that would make it a tiny bit better," said Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

By the meeting's end, the panelists had reached consensus on just one recommendation: USDA should ban the technology's use on existing varieties and on all plants that aren't highly self-pollinating--which, critics note , is what DPL plans to do anyway.

USDA's decision--it expects to finalize the agreement with DPL in the next few months--is unlikely to satisfy groups such as RAFI, which issued a press release calling the advisory board discussion "a giant charade ." But in the larger scheme, what USDA does will not determine the fate of "terminator" technology; several companies are pursuing patents on similar technologies--and they will probably not be inviting critics to the table.

04 Aug 00 - GMO - Ministers defy MPs and name GM sites

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Friday 4 August 2000

The Government named 25 new sites for genetically modified crop trials yesterday in defiance of advice from MPs to introduce further safeguards.

MPs on the Agriculture Select Committee called on ministers to review the distances allowed between GM and other crops before the start of the new trials, to protect conventional and organic farmers.

Planting of the winter crop of oil-seed rape is to take place before the end of the month, although Whitehall officials confirmed last night that ministers will not have made up their minds about distances between crops by then.

The Agriculture Ministry is still awaiting a Canadian report about contamination by rogue Advanta GM seeds which were planted 21/2 miles from a test site. GM oil-seed rape can at present be planted in Britain 50 yards from a conventional crop and 200 yards from organic crops.

One Whitehall official said that the Canadian results may not be too relevant because the British and Canadian climates were very different. Scientists have advised ministers that the distance needed between GM and non-GM crops for a 0.1 per cent cross-pollination level is 100 yards, but it seems highly unlikely that ministers will reduce the present 200-yard buffer from organic crops.

MPs said yesterday that it was vital that crops were protected from "inadvertent cross-pollination which will require a rapid assessment of the consultation on segregation distances and an equally rapid implementation of the advice that emerges." David Curry, Tory chairman of the committee, said last night that it was "inevitable we will want greater separation distances".

Colin Breed, Liberal Democrat Agriculture spokesman, was angry that the Government had announced new trial sites without reaching conclusions on separation distances.

It also emerged last night that Mohamed Al Fayed, the Harrods chairman, is to sue the Government and Advanta Seeds UK for the alleged contamination of his land with rogue GM seed.

04 Aug 00 - GMO - Defiant ministers back 25 more GM trials

By Paul Waugh and Michael McCarthy

Independent ... Friday 4 August 2000

Opposition to controversial experiments is swept aside as government ploughs on with tests to determine effect on countryside

Twenty-five new trial sites where genetically modified oilseed rape will be planted this month were announced yesterday by the Government, as it ignored concern over the distances between GM and conventional crops.

The Commons Select Committee on Agriculture had called earlier yesterday for an urgent review of the distances separating the trials from other crops before any more went ahead. But the Government announced the new plantings with the same buffers as before , the maximum being 200 metres.

The MPs' demand came in their report on the Advanta Seeds affair, Britain's worst GM pollution incident , in which 34,000 acres on farms in the UK were planted with Canadian oilseed rape that was supposedly GM-free but had in fact been contaminated in Canada by pollen from a neighbouring GM crop understood to have been growing up to four kilometres away - certainly at a much greater range than any observed in the British trials.

The MPs, who severely criticised the Government over its handling of the incident in the spring, said that this year's batch of conventional oilseed rape seed must be tested and certified as free from GM content.

Their report went on: "For farmers near the field trials, it is also vital that they can be sure that their crops are protected as far as possible from inadvertent cross-pollination which will require a rapidassessment of the consultation on segregation distances, and an equally rapid implementation of the advice which emerges as a result."

But it became clear yesterday that neither the assessment nor the advice would be available before September, some considerable time after the next set of trial GM crops are in the ground. The Government says it will not be able to make a decision until the Canadian authorities have reported to them on the contamination, and this could take several weeks.

Ministers revealed in May that a batch of Advanta Seeds products bought by up to 600 farms over the past two years had been contaminated . Although Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, stressed that the contamination posed no threat to human health or the environment, he authorised farmers to rip up the crops and Advanta offered them compensation.

In their report, the MPs found that the biotechnology company had first alerted the Government to the problem as early as mid-April , some four weeks before the public was informed.

Crucially, Advanta Seeds also warned that it would not make its oilseed rape available in the UK next spring unless ministers acted to provide better GM regulation.

The Commons committee said there had been "confusion " inside Whitehall over whether the Ministry of Agriculture or the Department of the Environment should handle the affair. The MPs said that Britain should have followed the example of the Swedish government , which had gone public about its own contamination problem as soon as it was informed by Advanta.

"Clearer procedures are required for dealing with incidents of this kind. It was obvious that confusion existed as to which ministry should lead on this issue," their report said. "The lengthy internal debate on this incident contrasts with the robust rapid Swedish disclosure in like circumstances."

Seed companies needed "urgent regulatory guidance " to try to prevent future mix-ups, the cross-party committee said. It called for input from the newly established Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.

David Curry, Tory MP and chairman of the select committee, said that the Government should now take sensible measures to find out "how we can grow these products without any risk. It is inevitable that we will insist on greater separation distances," he said.

The Liberal Democrats' agriculture spokesman, Colin Breed, said that the MPs' report was a damning indictment of the Government's "dither , delay and cover-up " of the Advanta incident. "The report highlights the underhand way in which the Government have tried to cover up the cross-contamination issue. They were forced into the disclosure by the swift and decisive action of the Swedish government in similar circumstances," he said.

The environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth said that the latest announcement on the GM trials programme was "environmental risky , scientifically worthless and politically stupid ".

Adrian Bebb, a GM campaigner, said: "The public have shown they don't want these crops. Genetic pollution is now threatening our environment and the livelihoods of neighbouring farmers."

04 Aug 00 - GMO - Ministers 'confused' over GM crop scare

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 4 August 2000

The Government was accused by MPs yesterday of dithering over the genetically modified crops fiasco in May which led to GM oilseed rape seed from Canada being accidentally planted on up to 600 British farms.

In a strongly worded report, the Commons Select Committee for Agriculture condemned the failure of the Cabinet Office , the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment , to decide quickly who should take responsibility for dealing with the crisis.

Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, was told on April 17 by Advanta Seeds, the company which supplied the contaminated seed, that a mistake had been made. But Mr Brown waited for a month before alerting his counterparts in Scotland, where most of the contaminated seed was sent. It had been planted over an estimated 30,000 acres in England and Scotland.

Yesterday's report called for clearer procedures to deal with emergencies involving several Government departments and for tighter controls to ensure that commercial crop seeds are GM-free. The report also demanded protection for non-GM crops against cross-pollination by GM varieties.

The report concluded: "It was obvious that confusion existed as to which ministry should lead on the issue. The lengthy internal debates on the incident contrast with the robust, rapid Swedish disclosure in the same circumstances."

The committee called on preliminary results from existing gene-flow trials to be scientifically peer-reviewed urgently for publication. It added: "Seed companies, too, need urgent regulatory guidance from the Government, if only in the interim."

David Curry, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon, said the report was "an attempt to bring a little common sense to the argument". He added that European rules would soon define what constitutes a GM-free seed. The report emerged as Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office Minister, in charge of GM policy, defended the announcement of 25 new provisional sites for farm-scale trials by Aventis of crops of GM oilseed rape. Ms Mowlam said the trial crops would be being grown "legally and under strict controls " and attacked activists for destroying crop trials.

But Greenpeace attacked the new programme, which, it said, would not prove whether GM crops and food were safe .

Mohamed Fayed , owner of Harrods, said yesterday that he was to sue the Government for its "irresponsible failure to prevent Britain's worst GM contamination disaster". Fifty-five acres of his Scottish Highlands estate were sown earlier this year with oilseed rape seed contaminated with GM material.

03 Aug 00 - GMO - New GM crop trials announced

Staff Reporter

Telegraph ... Thursday 3 August 2000

The Government is to go ahead with genetically modified crop trials at 25 sites in England and Scotland even though an investigation into seed contamination is still ongoing , it was revealed today.

Scientists confirmed that planting will take place later this month, before the study on separation distances between GM and non GM crops is finalised . The current separation distance is set at 200 metres, but ministers are awaiting results from the current Canadian investigation into the Advanta seed contamination before reviewing this figure, a spokesmand for the Department of the Environment said.

News of the new trials came just hours after the Government was criticised by MPs for failing to respond more clearly to an incident involving the contamination of normal crop seeds with GM material. The Agriculture Select Committee found that there had been "confusion " inside Whitehall over which department should handle the mix-up that sparked fears over GM crop releases.

03 Aug 00 - GMO - Al Fayed 'to sue government over GMO crops delay'

Staff Reporter

Evening Standard ... Thursday 3 August 2000

Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed plans to sue the Government after genetically modified crops were planted on his estate in northern Scotland.

He is also suing Advanta Seeds UK, the company which provided the oilseed rape seed which was used to plant 55 acres on his Balnagown Estate in Easter Ross this year.

The millionaire businessman says he wants to see ministers held to account for "delaying crucial information" which could have stopped 600 holdings on his estate being planted with the GM seed .

03 Aug 00 - GMO - MPs attack GM seed contamination 'confusion'

Staff Reporter

Independent ... Thursday 3 August 2000

The Government was today criticised by MPs for failing to respond more clearly to an incident involving the contamination of normal crop seeds with GM material.

The House of Commons agriculture committee found there had been "confusion " inside Whitehall over which department should handle the mix-up that sparked fears over GM crop releases.

In the incident UK farmers sowed Advanta Seeds UK conventional rapeseed that contained about 1% of genetically modified rapeseed.

In a report into GM organisms and seed segregation, the agriculture committee said: "Clearer procedures are required for dealing with incidents of this kind.

"It was obvious that confusion existed as to which ministry should lead on this issue.

"The lengthy internal debate on this incident contrasts with the robust rapid Swedish disclosure in like circumstances."

The committee said: "Planting of the new crop of winter oilseed rape begins in August and it is essential that farmers are able to plant these crops with confidence.

"This means that this year's batch of seed must be tested and certified as free from GM content .

"For farmers near the field trials, it is also vital that they can be sure that their crops are protected as far as possible from inadvertent cross-pollination which will require a rapid assessment of the consultation on segregation distances and an equally rapid implementation of the advice which emerges as a result."

Seed companies needed "urgent regulatory guidance" to try to prevent future mix-ups, the cross-party committee said. It called for input from the newly-established Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.

"These judgements will carry little confidence outside a narrow scientific community without broader consultation."

In the longer term, the committee said the Government should work with other EU states to produce "workable regulations" on seed purity.

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed said: "The report highlights the underhand way in which the Government have tried to cover up the cross-contamination issue.

"They were forced into disclosure by the swift and decisive action of the Swedish Government in similar circumstances."

Mr Breed added: "Today they announced 25 new trial sites, and they are still sitting on the results of consultations into separation distances.

"The Government must act now to ensure that there is proper protection for conventional and organic farmers.

"The Government's policy has been characterised by dither , delay and cover up . Only decisive and open action can restore public confidence."

Environmental groups today attacked as "irresponsible " plans to extend GM crops trials in the UK due to be announced later.

The Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions this afternoon was expected to give details later today of up to 25 new GM testing sites .

Government experts were also set to discuss recommended separation distances between GM and non GM sites.

But Friends of the Earth demanded compensation for bee keepers whose hives are affected and organic farmers whose crops could be contaminated.

A FoE spokesman said: "Beekeepers are having to move their hives six miles from the farm-scale trials to protect the purity of honey. Will they be compensated ?"

According to Friends of the Earth, sites earmarked for GM trials are located in Lincolnshire, Cheshire, North Yorkshire, Hertfordshire, Warwickshire, Herefordshire, Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire, Norfolk, Worcestershire, Leicestershire, Aberdeenshire, and Ross and Cromarty in Scotland.

Agriculture Minister Baroness Hayman said the Government's policy was to take a "precautionary, scientific approach" to GM technology.

Speaking ahead of today's announcement, the minister said that the Government would not rule out "technology that could bring benefits for the environment and farmers".

She said: "I don't think these trials are worthless at all.

"There have been a lot of assertions made about the effects on biodiversity and on the environment that growing GM crops might have.

"We need to know the answers to these questions over and above what has already been done on the assessment of safety.

"We have a full number of sites available for this year's winter plantings."

But she denied that the trials were in disarray, adding: "I really deplore trashing of the sites and vandalism.

"I particularly deplore people who are taking away the evidence of the effects on biodiversity, the monitoring of wildlife, which is what these trials are all about."

03 Aug 00 - GMO - Al Fayed 'To Sue Government Over GM Crops Delay'

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Thursday 3 August 2000

Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed plans to sue the Government after genetically modified crops were planted on his estate in northern Scotland.

He is also suing Advanta Seeds UK, the company which provided the oilseed rape seed which was used to plant 55 acres on his Balnagown Estate in Easter Ross this year.

The millionaire businessman says he wants to see ministers held to account for "delaying crucial information " which could have stopped 600 holdings on his estate being planted with the GM seed.

Mr Al Fayed says his estate was unwittingly planted with the seed over an area equivalent in size to 20 football pitches.

He says Advanta discovered the product was contaminated on April 3 , but failed to tell Whitehall until April 17 . The Government did not make a public announcement on the issue until May 17 .

Mr Al Fayed says the contaminated seed continued to be sown on the estate as late as May 2, two weeks after the Government had been alerted by Advanta. He claims planting could have been avoided if Agriculture Minister Nick Brown had acted sooner.

"Nick Brown showed utter incompetence in failing to understand the gravity of the situation. The environment will be contaminated for years and the Government must take responsibility for the full extent of the untold damage that has been done.

"Many of the farmers affected cannot afford to take legal action and I want to help them in their fight for justice . I am looking for guarantees from the Government that steps are put in place which will avert future disasters. Measures must be taken to ensure the protection of the British countryside."

Mr Al Fayed says he has provided financial help to the National Farmers' Union Scotland, which is pressing for compensation for farmers affected by the incident.

A spokesman for Advanta Seeds UK said the company would not be commenting on Mr Al Fayed's action., while a Ministry of Agriculture spokesman said: "We will consider anything we receive from him (Mr Al Fayed) when we receive it."

03 Aug 00 - GMO - GM crop trial sites announced

James Meek, science correspondent

Guardian ... Thursday 3 August 2000

Environment minister Michael Meacher today revealed the names of 25 sites across Britain where new trials of GM crops are likely take place - provoking accusations of irresponsibility from environmental groups.

Mr Meacher insisted that without trials, society would never know for certain whether the crops were safe or not. In the past, environmental campaigners have attacked fields of GM crops.

The crop involved, created by the seed company Aventis, is a winter-growing variety of oil-seed rape, genetically modified to be more resistant than its conventional counterparts to herbicides.

Mr Meacher said that the plants had already been through exhaustive tests in the laboratory and in smaller trials. He will make a final decision on trials at the 25 sites later this month.

"One thing I must make crystal clear is our commitment to protecting the countryside," he said. "These herbicide tolerant crops have been through one of the toughest regulatory processes in the world, having been extensively tested in laboratories and in small scale trials.

"We cannot take action in respect of GM crops unless we can show evidence that they constitute a risk of harm either to human health or the environment.

"These trials will show whether there is such evidence. Only by testing these crops under farm conditions can we be sure whether or not they pose any threat to local wildlife."

Even before GM crops reach the point of human consumption, there are fears that they could contaminate the environment, spreading their artificially-altered mix of genes into other animals and plants, with unpredictable consequences.

Beekeepers , whose bees would pick up GM pollen from the test sites, would suffer losses if they were too close to the farms involved, Friends of the Earth said today.

"Beekeepers are having to move their hives six miles from the farm-scale trials to protect the purity of the honey. Will they be compensated ?" an FoE spokesman said.

Mo Mowlam, who as Cabinet Office minister is trying to pull together the government's GM policy, said: "These crops are being grown legally, and under strict controls ...Those who have vandalised sites are prejudicing the very trials which could provide the evidence to support or refute their claims."

In a separate report today, parliament's agricultural select committee criticised the government's confusion which followed the discovery earlier this year that farmers had accidentally sowed rape containing a small percentage of GM seeds.

"Clearer procedures are required for dealing with incidents of this kind," the report said. "It was obvious that confusion existed as to which ministry should lead on this issue."

At the heart of the debate over GM foods lies a dispute between most scientists and most environmentalists about the nature of genes. Genes are long stretches of an acid called DNA, found in the nucleus of all cells of all living creatures. They give instructions to chemicals inside an organism to maintain and renew it.

Scientists point out that if you pick a natural apple off a tree and eat it, you are consuming billions of cells, each of which contain apple genes - yet the apple genes are not incorporated into your DNA.

The same, most argue, applies to GM foods containing non-natural genes.

Environmentalists counter that the mechanisms of inserting new genes into plants are not fully understood, that there is a danger of kindred species acquiring unintended characteristics from GM species, and that the chemicals "ordered up" by novel genes could themselves be hazardous.

The 25 sites announced by the government are: Thorganby, Lincolnshire; Lymm, Cheshire; East Newton, North Yorkshire; Spital-in-the-Street, Lincolnshire; Piccots End, Hertfordshire, Harbury, Warwickshire; Hutton Magna, North Yorkshire; Laverton / Stanton, Gloucestershire; Long Marston, Warwickshire; Castle Bytham, Lincolnshire; Thorganby, Lincolnshire; North Kelsey, Lincolnshire; Little Cawthorpe, Lincolnshire; Preston Wynne, Herefordshire; Boxworth, Cambridgeshire; Meden Vale, Nottinghamshire; Horningtoft / Gately, Norfolk; Banham, Norfolk; Aston Somerville / Wormington, Worcestershire; Aldminster, Warwickshire; Woodhouse, Leicestershire; Daviot, Aberdeenshire ; Rothienorman, Aberdeenshire; Munlochy, Highland County; Daviot, Aberdeenshire.

03 Aug 00 - GMO - Further 25 sites for GM trials

James Meikle

Guardian ... Thursday 3 August 2000

A total of 25 new sites for GM trials of oil seed rape will be announced today, the first time the government-backed programme has hit the target set by its scientific advisers.

Nearly half the autumn plantings will be made on the same farms or in the same villages used for this summer's troubled trials of spring rape, maize and sugar beet.

But advisers are still concerned that a recent spate of crop trashings that have damaged seven sites in recent weeks will mean that it will be difficult to find volunteer farmers in sufficient numbers to protect the scientific validity of the rest of the three year programme run by the industry. Several of 66 sites named earlier this year for the summer trials pulled out after local pressure.

Ministers, who have warned they might have to keep locations secret if attacks by anti-GM activists continued, said the trials were vital to establish what effects, if any, the new crops had on wildlife.

The list of sites, leaked to Friends of the Earth yesterday, contains four in Scotland , two more in Daviot , Aberdeenshire, site of the present trial north of the border, another at Rothienorman in the same county, and the fourth at Munlochy in Highland county.

There are no new sites in Wales . The announcement of the present one at Sealand in Flintshire caused fury in the Welsh assembly this summer.

Ministers will be encouraged they at least have enough sites to start with this autumn.

Today the Commons agriculture select committee is expected to criticise strongly ministers' handling of the accidental contamination of imported conventional rape seed by GM material. Hundreds of farmers had to destroy their crops after unwittingly planting the seeds.

An announcement as to whether ministers regard present buffer zones between GM and conventional crops to be adequate is also expected. The Department of the Environment last night refused to comment "on what we have not announced yet".

For the moment, the government will continue to publish map references but it has warned that illegal activity might forced it to reconsider.

02 Aug 00 - GMO - DuPont attempts to influence anti-GM food campaigners

Andy Rowell

Guardian ... Wednesday 2 August 2000

Sowing seeds of doubt A leading GM company is trying to weaken a national campaign for a moratorium on the growing of GM crops in Britain by questioning whether some of the coalition's constituent organisations truly represent the views of their members.

A UK representative of DuPont has sparked the behind the scenes row by attempting to persuade four of the largest and most influential partners in the five-year freeze to withdraw their support . The coalition, set up in February last year, now comprises over 100 national trade unions, religious, environmental, consumer and development groups, along with 500 local authorities and 100 companies. In total they represent over 3m people.

The coalition is calling on the government to introduce a freeze on the commercial growing of GM crops; on the imports of GM foods and crops and on the patenting of genetic resources for food and crops.

Now Unison , the Townswomen's Guilds , the Local Government Association and the National Federation of Women's Institutes have been approached by Martin Livermore, an external affairs manager for DuPont UK, asking them to stop supporting the freeze and join an alternative coalition .

He provoked an angry response by claiming that the rank and file members of these organisations might not really support the freeze. "I would ask you to consider whether this position at least truly reflects the opinions and best interests of your members," wrote Livermore to one organisation.

His letter added: "There is a common myth that there is overwhelming opposition to crop biotechnology and food derived from it in this country... I would urge you to reconsider your support for a campaign which has - in the absence of evidence - made up its mind, and seeks to prevent the general public coming to its own decision."

"These large membership organisations actually do have a very good democratic base for decision making ," says Helena Paul, chair of the five-year freeze. All the organisations involved had consulted their members as to whether to join the freeze. In 1998 the Women's Institute conducted a survey on GMO's amongst its members and last year 8,000 WIs voted on a motion to support the freeze at its annual conference. Unison also voted to join at its national conference.

"The letter is based on insufficient knowledge and understanding of the issues ," says a spokesperson for Unison, which has also published a report on GM crops and food production. "The report reflects our policy of support for the campaign, and a policy which is sceptical about the claims made by the GM companies about their technology.

Livermore is unrepentant. "We are not going to get acceptance of the technology without trying to build bridges. I feel it was worthwhile as an individual to make contacts to see if we could get dialogue going."

02 Aug 00 - GMO - Ssssh! Don't mention GM

Joanna Griffiths

Guardian ... Wednesday 2 August 2000

The US government is trying to bully the EU into a ban on labelling GM food because they know people won't buy it.

News came from Washington today that the US government is considering making a formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva on the grounds that labelling GM foods is a restraint of trade . The US has said it will ask the WTO to impose sanctions on EU exports if GM labels are not removed from US food exports.

A spokeswoman for the US food and drug administration (FDA) called the labelling of GM foods "economic fraud". She continued: "We would not have allowed these products on the market if they were not safe, they are the same as non-GM food, so they do not require a label." Any labelling of GM foods as GM foods is, she suggested, "trade discrimination and therefore wrong".

This is quite extraordinary behaviour. The purpose of labelling is to inform the public of the ingredients of the food they eat. The FDA claims such information is "fraud ". Their system - to deliberately neglect to inform the public - is, by their terms, "not fraud".

The FDA has accused the EU of "discriminating" against GM foods by labelling them as GM foods. This is particularly unfair, their spokeswoman suggests, because GM foods are the "same" as non-GM food. But, GM foods are not "the same" as non-GM foods. GM foods are made by altering the properties of plants by direct scientific intervention in the make-up of their DNA. Non-GM foods are not made in this way.

The US government and FDA demands are also extraordinary business practice. They are trying to boost the sales of an unpopular US export by asking trading countries to treat it in 'the same' way as other products which sell better. This makes it starkly obvious that GM manufacturers and promoters in the USA believe the European public perceives no positive benefit in GM food manufacture.

They do not believe that advertising campaigns, however backed by billions, will persuade this public that there are any positive reasons - any positive benefits of health, or cost, or distribution, or resource-use - for eating GM foods. Instead, the best US GM companies can hope for is that European consumers can be conned into buying GM foods without realising .

The FDA is an organisation given to creative use of labelling for GM foods . In 1997, they produced a staggering ruling that GM foods could be labelled as "organic ". And the recent statement from Washington is merely the latest stage in a long line of US to Europe pressure over food practice.

In talks at Downing Street in 1998, Clinton was briefed to warn Blair of the huge cost to US corporations of current EU approval processes for GM foods. At the same summit, US representatives also expressed disapproval at the labelling of GM foods .

The EU ban on the use of hormones in beef has led to a 12 year embargo on US beef . In response, the US has imposed 100% tariffs on French cheese and truffles and German and French mustards. Britain has nominated itself in support of the US, while being bound by EU legislation.

There is a danger that the US bullying will work . Two weeks ago the European commission stated that it would mount a proposal to reverse the current European moratorium on the introduction of new types of GM food.

Eighteen GM food products have already been passed for commercial use in the EU. Proposals such as this latest one fly in the face of popular opinion - which remains vehemently opposed. A recent EU poll found that 66% of Europeans saw GM foods as a health hazard .

The USA, a country which thrives on free market competition, has conceded that it cannot compete with the organic trade . It needs special dispensation . It needs GM foods to be sold as if they are something other than GM foods. It needs the public to be lied to.

31 Jul 00 - GMO - Genetic chickens get DNA copyright tag

James Meek, science correspondent

Guardian ... Monday 31 July 2000

Biotech firm plans to create strain with extra large breasts for more meat

A US biotech company plans to create a strain of chicken genetically engineered to have an extra large breast to yield more meat, with a DNA copyright tag inserted among its genes to stop anyone breeding it without permission.

If successful, the firm, AviGenics, based on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens, would be one of the first to enable GM meat to appear on US supermarket shelves, opening up new tensions with Europe over genetic engineering in food.

AviGenics is already one of three US companies racing to turn poultry into drugs factories - adding human genes to chickens to create "transgenic" birds which would then produce human proteins such as insulin in their egg whites.

AviGenics claims to have already created transgenic roosters which have successfully passed on to new generations of chicks the human gene for a substance called alpha interferon , used to treat hepatitis and certain cancers .

The company hopes to use the same technology to create a new kind of everyday eating chicken. Instead of adding human genes to make birds lay drug-rich eggs, genes - not necessarily human - would be added, or chicken genes removed, to give the birds bigger breast muscles, faster growing rates or greater disease resistance.

To keep proprietorial control over these valuable new animals, AviGenics is working on a novel kind of trademark, a unique sequence of DNA which would be introduced into the chicken's genes. The "trademark" would not only be locked into each of the chicken's millions of cells, but would be handed on to the bird's offspring indefinitely .

Contacted by the Guardian last week, the chief executive of AviGenics, Carl Marhaver, confirmed that his company was working to create genetically engineered and trademarked poultry for the dining table, but did not want to comment further.

Referring to recent protests in Minneapolis during a conference on animal genetics, he said he did not want the firm "to become an exhibit in an anti-GM article".

AviGenics does not plan to raise and market GM chickens itself, but to make its new strains available to large, well-established poultry breeders.

The science was developed by Robert Ivarie, professor of genetics at the university and co-founder of AviGenics. He could not be contacted for comment but the promotion on the company's website says: "Poultry is one of our most important meat sources, outranking beef consumption by an increasingly cost and health conscious public.

"With AviGenics-engineered transgenes that control muscle fibre development, proprietary lines of chickens can be created that grow larger breast muscles, enhancing white and, eventually, dark meat yields.

"Poultry breeders are concerned about improving the quality of life for their flocks. Genetic modification of the chicken genome will eventually impact disease resistance, improving the quality of life for birds."

Echoing earlier efforts by GM plant firms to keep a grip on their products by developing "terminator genes ", AviGenics says it can use DNA trademarks to control the proliferation of its chickens once they are sold on to breeders.

"Unique DNA sequences can be engineered and introduced into the poultry genome to indelibly mark valuable transgenic and breeder lines, effectively acting as genetic encryption devices ," it says.

Until now it had been thought that the first GM animals likely to reach the consumer were farmed fish, genetically engineered to grow faster and bigger or to survive in colder waters than their natural cousins. Research into GM fish is particularly advanced in Canada.

Concerns have already been voiced about the dangers of GM fish escaping and mating with their wild counterparts. But proponents of GM chickens could argue that centuries of selective breeding have already produced birds as different from their wild ancestors as a musclebound GM superchicken would be from one of today's standard broilers.

In the short term, AviGenics investment in GM chickens for food seems to depend on its success or failure in producing GM chickens to make drugs.

Mr Marhaver said AviGenics had made great strides in making hens which laid alpha interferon eggs, and was now expanding its flocks to gear up for commercial production of the drug, the annual market for which is worth about a billion pounds in the US alone.

Two other US companies, GeneWorks LLC and TransXenoGen, are also preparing to launch commercially sized flocks of drug egg laying chickens. TransXenoGen plans to seek a listing on London's Alternative Investment Market.

The technology behind genetic engineering of birds is difficult and sceptics point out that the companies working with chickens, citing commercial secrecy, have been coy about publishing their work in scientific journals.

But if chickens can be made to lay the golden eggs of high-value pharmaceuticals, they will be more cost-effective for would-be "pharmers" than other, existing, GM animals being developed to produce drugs in their milk, such as sheep, cows, goats and rabbits.

31 Jul 00 - GMO - New trade war looms over GM labelling

Paul Brown in Washington

Guardian ... Monday 31 July 2000

Europe and the United States are on a collision course over the issue of the labelling of genetically modified food which threatens to spark a trade war.

Washington has warned the EU that it is considering making a formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva on the grounds that labelling GM products is unfair discrimination against US goods and therefore a restraint of trade . The US says it will ask the WTO to impose sanctions against EU exports if GM labels are not removed from supermarket shelves.

The row comes at a time when trade relations with the US are tense over other disputes.

A spokeswoman for the US food and drug administration, which insists that only nutritional information should be on the label, said: "This is getting extremely serious. We regard requiring GM labelling as economic fraud. Our view is that we would not have allowed these products on the market if they were not safe, they are the same as non-GM food, so they do not require a label. In fact, to label them is trade discrimination and therefore wrong."

The agency confirmed there had been discussions with the European commission over labelling and the restraint of trade issue, but the two sides were "as far apart as ever" .

Among those urging the US to take action is Senator Christopher Bond, a Republican from Missouri and a leading advocate of US bio-technology. He told the Guardian that the EU's insistence on labelling was designed to lower consumer confidence in US goods and was a barrier to trade. "I will be pushing for trade sanctions over this hysteria," he said. "We are on a collision course, and our government must go to the WTO if the EU does not give way."

In Brussels, Beate Kminde, speaking for the commission, said the EU was aware of US threats but no formal complaint had been made . "We are aware of our trade obligations but we also believe in consumer choice so we require GM foods to be labelled. The Americans will not accept this but we are determined. We will have to see what they do."

Unless the row is resolved, there could be a trade war that would make present disputes seem very small.

The British government is already braced for heavy job losses in the Scottish cashmere industry as a result of US retaliation in the long-running US-EU banana dispute . US officials complain that Caribbean producers in former colonies of EU members are getting preferential treatment.

Britain has so far escaped sanctions in the row over the EU ban on the use of hormones in beef, which has led to 12-year embargo on US beef . Goods including French cheese and truffles and German and French mustards have faced 100% US tariffs in tit-for-tat action but Britain's support for the US position, even though it cannot opt out of the EU ban, has meant British goods have not been targeted.

The EU meanwhile has complained about US export subsidies to huge corporations such as Boeing, Exxon, Ford and Monsanto.

Regulators on opposite sides of the Atlantic disagree about the purpose of food labels and the EU stance on consumer choice is regarded as fundamentally wrong in Washington. The FDA believes that GM foods are safe and the nutritional value is the same as non-GM foods, so there should be no mention on the label of the "process" by which the food was grown.

In Washington, Tom O'Connor, director of technical services for the national grain and feed association, said the EU labelling system would "kill GM technology in Europe" .

"It looks like a warning, like putting a skull and crossbones on the packet, a kiss of death in marketing terms," he said.

The FDA and other regulators decided in May to look again at the issue after US organic and other food producers began to label food GM-free. No final decision has been made but officials believe that to conform with regulations the food would have to be 100% non-GM, a difficult feat in a country where almost all processed food contains some GM maize or soya.