Document Directory

22 Dec 00 - GMO - Gene-altered corn changes dynamics of grain industry
22 Dec 00 - GMO - Biotech wheat goes under the microscope
22 Dec 00 - GMO - Plant research may yield drugs as well as food
20 Dec 00 - GMO - Panel Backs Stronger Rules for Some Food
20 Dec 00 - GMO - Genetically Modified Corn Products Recalled
20 Dec 00 - GMO - What's Next for Biotech Crops?
18 Dec 00 - GMO - Scottish potato glows when it feels thirsty
16 Dec 00 - GMO - Scientists concede nobody knows GM risks
14 Dec 00 - GMO - Gene map will revolutionise farming
05 Dec 00 - GMO - Five guilty in GM crop damage case
03 Dec 00 - GMO - C of E says cloning is 'morally acceptable'
01 Dec 00 - GMO - Contrite GM firm pledges to turn over a new leaf
21 Nov 00 - GMO - GM feed firm falls victim to fowl play
20 Nov 00 - GMO - Genetic 'switch' could lead to ultimate slimming aid
20 Nov 00 - GMO - Eight Arrested During Chicken Protest At GM Soya Mill
20 Nov 00 - GMO - Pantomime chickens stage protest at GM soya mill
19 Nov 00 - GMO - McDonald's rejects GM feed meat
19 Nov 00 - GMO - McDonald's bans use of meat from GM-fed animals

22 Dec 00 - GMO - Gene-altered corn changes dynamics of grain industry

David Barboza

New York Times ... Friday 22 December 2000

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - At the Archer Daniels Midland Company's plant these days, the arriving truckloads of No. 2 yellow corn all need to pass the same test: they are checked for odor, damage, moisture, and something called Cry9C.

A seven-member crew divides, sifts, weighs, grinds and even sniffs the corn samples - a practice that grew more complicated a few weeks ago, after Kraft Foods recalled millions of taco shells possibly containing StarLink, a genetically engineered variety of corn that produces the Cry9C protein. The corn is not supposed to be in the human food supply because of concerns it might trigger allergic reactions.

Now, after a series of recalls, nearly every major food and agriculture company is frantically testing for Cry9C. The result has been a costly disruption to the nation's grain-handling system. Scores of trucks, rail cars and river barges are being turned away daily by inspectors who say that a splotch of red dye has turned up on what looks like a home pregnancy test, meaning their corn is not fit for food.

"It's a logistical nightmare," said Steven Phillips, the grain merchandiser at East Central Iowa Co-op in Hudson, a supplier to the plant here. "We had 15 truckloads of corn rejected last week."

The costs for the corn's developer, Aventis CropScience, are huge. It has promised to find markets for this year's StarLink crop and to compensate farmers, elevator operators like Mr. Phillips and processors for some of their expenses. Aventis received less than a million dollars in licensing fees over the last three years on StarLink, but the controversy could cost the company several hundred million dollars to resolve.

The StarLink episode has also raised the decibel level in an already high-pitched debate over the agricultural use of biotechnology. Though most farmers seem to favor biotech crops, saying they deliver higher yields or cut down on chemical spraying, many here in Iowa say they are growing wary.

Grain processors are warning farmers about next year's harvest, with Archer Daniels running radio commercials emphasizing that its plants will not accept genetically altered crops that do not have worldwide approval. And some farmers are questioning whether to plant even varieties that have been approved for human consumption

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Chris Huegerich, a farmer in Breda, Iowa, who grows Roundup Ready soybeans, a bioengineered variety that can be exported worldwide. "I want to do Roundup Ready beans but I'm worried something might happen. You just don't know."

Planting of StarLink, in any case, is moot; Aventis has already withdrawn its license for further sale. And no actual health hazards have been established from StarLink or any other bioengineered crops on the market. But some agricultural experts say they are worried that the StarLink case is simply a harbinger of more troubles to come.

Among other things, they say, the Cry9C mess shows how complicated the logistics of biotechnology can be for a grain-handling system that typically ships undifferentiated crops in bulk.

"We're not cut out to segregate," says Gary Alberts, a spokesman for the Iowa Institute of Cooperatives, a trade association for elevators. "We handle a lot of grain in a hurry. We're built to load a rail car in a day."

Yet now that farmers can choose between traditional and biotech seeds, new sorting, segregating and distribution needs are arising that may radically alter the dynamics of a grain-handling system built on economies of scale.

In the United States, a few big food makers have said they will seek conventional crops because of consumer concerns, but for the most part they have contracted directly with farmers to grow, say, nonbiotech corn for Frito-Lay chips. So there has been relatively little need for testing or segregation in the general grain supply.

But with increasing skepticism among consumers in Europe and Japan about bioengineered food, and in some cases new requirements for labeling, the need to separate bioengineered and conventional crops has grown. And so there may be more scenes like the roadblocks set up to stop any StarLink corn from getting into processing plants.

On a chilly morning in Cedar Rapids, a steady stream of semis was pulling up under a canopy at the inspection site to have their loads tested before entering the Archer Daniels corn processing plant, where raw corn is turned into high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and other products.

Inspections have always taken place at processing plants, to check the quality, moisture and weight of crops, but these days two additional men are sitting by a coffee grinder, grounding up corn samples, shaking them up in water, dipping tiny strips into the solution and then waiting 10 minutes for the results.

By 9:45 a.m., the inspectors had rejected 9 trucks out of 213, each filled with about 950 bushels of corn. The number of trucks turned away is striking, since less than 0.5 percent of this year's corn acreage nationwide was planted with StarLink seed. The elevators that shipped the corn are then stuck with it until they can find an alternative buyer for another use.

The inspections have clearly slowed the process of shipping corn to market, and some farmers and truckers complain that the tests being used, intended to detect Cry9C in one kernel of corn out of 400, are flawed.

"It's all in the probing," said one trucker, who asked not to be identified. "You have 10 samples that test positive and then one that doesn't. It's all the luck of the samples."

Farmers and truckers say their loads could be rejected over the presence of just one StarLink kernel in a batch of grain sampled from the 950 bushels. And while the truckers, and farmers, have been promised compensation, they say the difficulty of finding new buyers, and possibly losing out in some markets, has been troubling.

To ease the situation, Aventis has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to approve StarLink for human consumption for four years, to allow the StarLink corn already harvested to work its way through the food chain. In the meantime, several processors are asking the E.P.A. and food companies to make a tiny percentage of Cry9C acceptable in food, as they do with many other impurities.

"When the handler makes the decision, they have to have realistic expectations," said an Agriculture Department official. "When they have zero tolerance, it's impractical."

Farmers may be the hardest hit by all the testing. Even some who knew nothing about StarLink say it has turned up in their harvest.

"I didn't grow any StarLink corn, but I got contaminated by a neighbor," said Keith Weller, 50, who farms near Westside, Iowa. "This issue of contamination is a real problem."

Some farmers who planted StarLink say they were not told about 660-foot buffer zones mandated by the E.P.A. between StarLink corn and corn grown for food, and they say pollen may have drifted even longer distances, leading to cross-pollination with a neighbor's crop.

Randy Kohorst, a 43-year-old corn and soybean farmer in Arcadia, Iowa, says he planted 200 acres of StarLink. But he says he was told nothing by the Garst Seed Company of Slater, Iowa, which sold him the seed, about buffer zones or marketing restrictions.

"We had it harvested before we heard it was a problem," he said. "And it was commingled, so now all my production is contaminated."

Now he is stuck with a StarLink crop and complaining about lost marketing opportunities.

A spokesman at Garst said that the company was informing farmers about the requirements placed on use of StarLink corn. "It's unfortunate some customers say they weren't informed about the program," said Jeff Lacina, the spokesman. "But we worked hard to get that message out."

And corn prices - already in a slump - may decline further this year because exports to Japan, the largest purchaser of American corn, are down because of concerns about StarLink, which has also been found in food there.

Mr. Kohorst and other farmers say the problem may be costing them more than the 25-cent premium Aventis is offering for the StarLink crop.

Elevator operators, who buy crops from farmers and then ship them to giant processors or feed lots, are also facing inconvenience, despite receiving extra transportation expenses from Aventis.

For Aventis, containing the spread of StarLink is not easy. The company says it has accounted for 90 percent of the 350,000 acres planted in 2000, but it admits that the 1998 and 1999 harvests are either buried on farms and elevators (in an undocumented fashion) or have already reached the market and entered the food stream.

To help deal with the problem, the company has supplied Cry9C test kits to grain elevators and processors around the country. It also says it will help farmers who did not plant StarLink but whose crops were contaminated by cross-pollination to find a market for their corn, and will consider additional compensation in some cases.

The bigger cost, though, could be borne by the biotech industry, which has spent billions of dollars over the last decade to develop genetically altered crops that mean higher yields for farmers and may some day deliver medicines and vaccines as well.

That effort, of course, could be upset if farmers decide not to plant biotech crops like Roundup Ready soybeans and corn, which are bioengineered to resist a common Monsanto herbicide called Roundup. Though the soybeans can be sold everywhere, the corn is unapproved in Europe.

"StarLink has definitely set back the biotech industry, maybe five years," said Lewis W. Batchelder, a senior vice president at Archer Daniels, which is based in Decatur, Ill.

Regardless of what farmers decide to plant, Jim Magnuson, general manager at the Sully Cooperative Exchange, an elevator in Sully, Iowa, says farmers need to pay more attention next year.

"For a producer, the lesson is to know exactly what you're planting," he said. "We as an industry have operated on the handshake. But what we know now is that in a big, bad world, those assurances no longer apply."

22 Dec 00 - GMO - Biotech wheat goes under the microscope

By Amy Martinez Starke

The Oregonian ... Friday 22 December 2000

Wheat is the world's most widely eaten food grain and the top grain traded internationally. It's a main crop in Oregon, where the wheat grown is the product of decades of cross-breeding and tinkering by researchers at public land-grant universities.

Now, wheat produced through genetic engineering is on the horizon in the Northwest.

At stake is a crop that contributed $104 million to the state's economy in 1999.

Administrators of Oregon State University's highly regarded wheat breeding program, responsible for developing wheat varieties for production in Oregon, are close to signing a research and development deal with the chemical giant Monsanto to develop a wheat that would resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

OSU sees the agreement as a means to help develop better wheat for Oregon farmers. The additional research costs for OSU are minimal, according to officials, and no money will change hands unless a commercialization agreement is drafted, possibly years from now.

Although the actual crops could be years away, genetically engineered wheat would profoundly affect U.S. food supplies. Already, most processed American supermarket foods contain genetically engineered plant material, mostly from soybeans and corn.

But whether Roundup Ready wheat will actually come to market is still up in the air. The international debate about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is fierce, and the international trade climate is downright hostile to such foods.

Oregon could see key farm exports shrink. About 85 percent of the wheat grown in Oregon and the Northwest is exported. Some of Oregon's big wheat trading partners -- particularly Japan -- strictly regulate or ban genetically engineered products outright.

In the Northwest, scientists and the farming community also are split about the role of biotechnology in developing new crop strains.

Many farmers feel stuck in the middle. Some may want the benefits of decreased weeds through Roundup Ready strains, with the potential for significant dollar benefits because of higher yields. But they also don't want to be left with bins full of unmarketable grain.

"The Pacific Northwest is not prepared for general introduction of GMOs in the wheat industry," said Mark Hegg, a farmer from Palouse, Wash.

Farmers' concerns

The recent costly recall of at least 300 products contaminated with genetically engineered StarLink corn, which has not been approved for human consumption, was the first recall of genetically engineered food. Farmers and producers are worried about the chaos and financial losses that such a fiasco could create for biotech wheat.

"This was a serious breakdown in the system, and we've gotten a chance to learn from the StarLink debacle," said Darrell Hanavan, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates biotech committee. U.S. Wheat Associates is an export trade organization based in Washington, D.C., with an office in Portland to serve the Japanese market. Hanavan, based in Englewood, Colo., is also executive director of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, the Colorado Association for Wheat Growers and the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation.

"It may save us from some mistakes," Hanavan said of the StarLink experience.

Keeping grain commodities separate so that genetically modified grains don't mix with standard varieties poses a daunting task for grain processors. North American grain handling systems are not designed to segregate grains to the very low tolerances for genetically engineered crops required by Oregon's customers in Japan and Europe.

"It's going to be the real challenge," said Jim Peterson, an OSU wheat breeder. "You have to have absolute perfect segregation. The tests are so sensitive they can literally pick out a few GMO seeds contaminating several thousand bushels."

Even those who don't plant genetically engineered wheat worry that their products will test positive because of accidental blending or cross-pollination -- and they worry about who will be liable. These worries are eased somewhat by the fact that wheat does not cross-fertilize as readily as some other crops.

"Any extra (segregation) costs will be borne by the farmer," even those who choose not to grow GMOs, farmer Hegg said.

Why buy altered wheat?

Wheat prices are low, and farmers cannot afford to lose markets. Why would a farmer opt to increase his production with biotech wheat and pay the Roundup Ready fees with crops already trading at a low price?

Even farmers who don't like the prospect of Roundup Ready wheat have to control weeds, and they agree that Roundup is one of the most efficient and environmentally benign weed control systems available. Planting Roundup Ready wheat would allow farmers to deal with weeds they hadn't been able to control before.

Saving seed is perhaps the farmers' biggest issue. Wheat is still the No. 1 crop under the farmer's control, where seed from each crop can be saved for planting the next year. As Stephen Jones, a Washington State University wheat breeder, said, "That's a basic farmers' right."

With biotech wheat, it's likely the companies would want to protect their investment with a technology fee and would restrict farmers from saving seed for another crop.

Hanavan of U.S. Wheat Associates estimates such tech fees would be about $10 an acre, but Monsanto says it's too early to tell.

Peterson at Oregon State defends Monsanto's fee: "That's the only way Monsanto can recoup any investment on that technology," he said. "If there is a benefit to the farmer, they'll buy it. Monsanto can't price it out of the market, either."

Farmer David Dechant of Fort Lupton, Colo., said he's worried he won't be able to save seed and won't be able to grow wheat unless he contracts with a big company and that he will be forced to grow genetically modified wheat to remain competitive, especially when increased production causes a fall in the wheat price.

"I don't feel that it's right not to save seed," Dechant said.

Peterson said farmers will have a choice. "Basically, 98 percent of wheats developed in the United States by public institutions are public varieties, and nobody has proprietary rights." he said. "They are mostly open-released, with no restrictions on regrowing it. I don't expect that to change in the near future, even with biotech."

University involvement

In all, Oregon State University has 90 scientists from six colleges involved with Center for Gene Research and Biotechnology, using $50 million in long-term grants from federal, state and private sources to finance genetic engineering research.

Between 5 percent and 10 percent of the 90 researchers, funded at the rate of $2.5 million to $5 million, are associated with transgenic plant research that could yield commercial crops, said Associate Dean Michael Burke of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. He said most of those 90 scientists are working on basic genetics and cell research, and not on genetic engineering of crops.

Burke said OSU gets little financial support from industry and that very little of its financing is tied to the companies that one day hope to market biotech products.

"We don't get much support from industry," Burke said. "Most comes from outside granting agencies, and most of them aren't Monsantos or DuPonts."

Ed Souza, a University of Idaho wheat breeder, has signed a similar agreement with Monsanto to work on Roundup Ready wheat.

"Who owns what, how do you pay for it? It's an enormous issue -- serving both of those masters and keeping everybody happy," Souza said.

Reluctant researcher

One university wheat breeder who won't sign a biotechnology agreement is Jones of WSU. He is chairman of the National Wheat Crop Germplasm Committee, which advises the federal government on the acquisition, protection and distribution of wheat germplasm, or genetic stock.

He refuses to sign any agreements for the highly prized wheat varieties he has developed that would result in technology fees, royalties or any other additional cost to wheat growers.

"Who actually owns this material?" he said.

He said he believes taxpayer-supported research shouldn't subsidize private companies. He is opposed to private ownership of wheat varieties and is concerned about the effect of genetic engineering on public crop breeding programs.

Researchers at the two other WSU wheat breeding programs (including spring wheat), he said, are willing to make agreements with biotech companies to work on developing genetically modified wheat crops. Other colleges involved in similar work include the University of Idaho, North Dakota State University, Colorado State University and the University of Minnesota.

Souza of the University of Idaho says there isn't a lot of motivation right now to work on the technology.

"There is a reluctance to move ahead," Souza said, "and Idaho wheat growers ask that we not release it until consumer acceptance can be guaranteed."

"The goals of the researchers and corporate concerns aren't necessarily those of the producer (wheat farmer)," said Hegg of Palouse, Wash. Hegg wants Oregon, Washington and Idaho to reach a cooperative agreement before introduction of genetically modified wheat.

Public-private agreements

Hanavan, chairman of the biotech committee, said public-private research collaborations benefit both companies and farmers.

"We see them as a partnership," he said. "They have helped provide competition and made available more than one source of wheat."

Peterson said public-private partnerships such as the one between OSU and Monsanto are essential. "They can't do it without us; we can't do it without them," he said.

Without these public-private agreements, Hanavan said, wheat farmers would lose on two issues. Biotech companies might bypass universities, eliminating the public breeding system, which develops the best wheats. And the companies could develop their own seed and sell it directly to farmers, as is the case with genetically modified corn and soybeans.

"You've got to put Roundup Ready wheat into the best adapted wheats, which universities have developed, rather than in inferior varieties," Hanavan said.

Peterson emphasized that if OSU eventually signs a commercialization agreement, the university and Monsanto will have "joint control over whatever comes out."

OSU owns the genetic stocks, and Monsanto owns the Roundup Ready gene. The research would be done in Wichita, Kan.

Even if biotech wheat is marketed, Peterson said he doesn't see blanket use of biotech wheat, mostly because it would lose its effectiveness.

"We don't have any intention of going 100 percent biotech," he said. "A large component will still be non-biotech. We want to maintain options for our growers."

Amy Martinez Starke can be reached at 503-221-8534 or by e-mail at

22 Dec 00 - GMO - Plant research may yield drugs as well as food

Ronald Rosenberg, Boston Globe

San Francisco Chronicle ... Friday 22 December 2000

Cambridge, Mass. -- The food of the future may come out of the labs here where Cereon Genomics studies a mustard weed known in botany circles as Arabidopsis thaliana.

Cereon is researching the plant's 22,000 genes to develop improvements to the nation's leading agriculture crops of corn, soybeans, cotton and canola.

And just as it takes about seven years to get a bioengineered drug from the research laboratory to your medicine cabinet, Cereon officials estimate that's also the time it will take to get gene discoveries into bioengineered food for your dinner table.

"We want people to eat healthier foods that are grown on the same amount of land without further endangering the environment," said Mark Trusheim, co-president and chief operating officer of Cereon Genomics.

Trusheim and co-president David Fischhoff run the only corporate-owned agriculture research center on the East Coast devoted exclusively to plant genomics. Their mission is to find the genes to create heartier plants that can withstand weather extremes. Cereon also is exploring ways of increasing the vitamins and nutrients in vegetables through genetic engineering.

Far from the amber waves of grain, corn, and soybeans that comprise the nation's breadbasket, Fischhoff and Trusheim are leading a staff of more than 200 plant geneticists, molecular biologists, computational biologists and other researchers to a deeper understanding of the genetic makeup of plants and what various genes do.

Their offices and research labs resemble a pharmaceutical company, with extensive computer technology but without the chemistry laboratories.

Instead, there are rooms -- even a second building -- with bar-coded mustard plants growing under artificial light and at varying temperatures inside green-colored growth chambers.

"This one is like an alpine meadow in the spring," beamed Trusheim, as he opened a chamber's small window.

Formed three years ago, Cereon is a wholly owned subsidiary of Monsanto Co., the large seed and agricultural chemical company that is placing heavy bets on biotechnology to create better foods. Its strategy: Get in on the ground floor of genomics to control everything from genetically engineered seeds to selling the seeds to farmers and influencing the marketing of modified foods and drugs.

In March, Monsanto, already the leading supplier of bioengineered seeds, was merged with Pharmacia Corp., the drugmaker based in Peapack, N.J.

Although owned by Monsanto, Cereon collaborates with Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., a leader in the use of genetic discoveries in drugs -- and its next door neighbor.

Recognizing that genomics could transform agriculture, Monsanto agreed to pay Millennium $218 million over five years for access to its entire genomics technology platform.

"We had to go where the leading genetic research was and it wasn't near us, " said Fischhoff, a plant geneticist for the past 17 years, referring to Monsanto's main research center near St. Louis.

And while Monsanto was the first to commit to advanced bioengineering of plants, its seed rivals, DuPont, Novartis and Aventis, have struck partnerships with genomics companies to develop new products. DuPont, for example, is looking to use biotechnology to make industrial chemicals and polymers from corn and other plants.

For now, Cereon is focused on identifying plant genes that control or influence traits that can be used to improve crop yields and nutrition and withstand the stress of bad weather conditions. The company believes biotechnology is the best hope for feeding a worldwide population expected to top 9 billion by 2050.

Already on the market is Monsanto's bioengineered seeds in which transplanted genes have been put into corn, soybeans and cotton to make them resistant to disease and pests or more tolerant of herbicides.

Farther down the road are plans by Monsanto and other companies to selectively combine medicine with agriculture, enabling plants to grow human vaccines. Other researchers are working on a potato that may help treat high cholesterol and prostate cancer.

"Eating your flu shot may not seem so strange" Trusheim said.

Working to put more genetically modified foods on supermarket shelves places Monsanto at the center of a controversy over the use of bioengineering in the world's food supply. Critics question the long-term impact of genetically modified foods, though there is currently no evidence they pose health risks.

Some European countries have refused to allow farmers to plant genetically modified corn.

20 Dec 00 - GMO - Panel Backs Stronger Rules for Some Food

By Andrew Pollack

New York Times ... Wednesday 20 December 2000

A blue-ribbon biotechnology committee formed by the United States and the European Union is expected to recommend that Washington strengthen regulation of genetically modified foods and move toward mandatory labeling, according to some panel members.

The report, scheduled to be made public today at a summit meeting in Washington between President Clinton and leaders of the European Union, says that consumers should have the "right of informed choice" about what they eat. It recommends that "at the very least," the United States and European Union "should establish content-based mandatory labeling requirements for finished products containing novel genetic material," according to an excerpt read by one panel member.

Critics of bioengineered foods, who have started learning of the recommendations, are hoping the report will put new pressure on the Food and Drug Administration, which does not require such foods to be labeled. "I'm quite surprised that the U.S. contingent would sign off on it," said Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But it is unclear how much weight the report will carry, especially with the administration changing in Washington. Moreover, the wording of the document leaves room for interpretation. One committee member said that the reference to "content-based" labeling referred pretty much to what the F.D.A. is already doing - requiring labeling only if the content of the food is changed significantly, not merely because genetic engineering was used.

The panel, known as the Biotechnology Consultative Forum, was established after the last United States-European Union summit meeting in May to discuss biotechnology-related issues that have led to trade tensions between Washington and Brussels.

Two panel members said the report recommended mandatory regulation of genetically altered foods. It contains language about foods not being let on the market until after they have been found to be reasonably certain of causing no harm, one member said.

20 Dec 00 - GMO - Genetically Modified Corn Products Recalled

Staff Reporter ... Wednesday 20 December 2000

Seoul, December 18, 2000 Genetically modified corn products not approved for human consumption were imported from the United States by a company known as ``D,'' but were recalled before distribution to consumers, the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) said yesterday.

Some 2,760 tons of corn products exported by U.S. companies, including Cargill Corporation contained StarLink, a corn variety engineered by Aventis to repel pests.

On Nov. 10, the KFDA also recalled tortillas that contained StarLink and banned all imports of products containing such genetically modified corn.

StarLink was approved by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency on May 1998 only for animal consumption as the product may provoke allergic reactions in humans if consumed.

KFDA has been testing for traces of StarLink since Nov. 29, when the U.S. government handed over an analysis kit.

``All imported corn from the United States will be tested for StarLink and handled accordingly,''said the administration.

20 Dec 00 - GMO - What's Next for Biotech Crops?

Carol Kaesuk Yoon

New York Times ... Wednesday 20 December 2000

Last week, more than a decade after the federal government allowed the first release of a genetically engineered organism into the environment, researchers concluded that scientists still cannot say with any precision what the ecological effects - either good or bad - of such genetically modified organisms might be.

The findings, published in Science, raise questions about why so little is known and whether some key questions about risk are, in practical terms, answerable.

For example, some scientists have estimated that answering just a single question of risk for a single organism - whether a type of biotech corn harms the monarch butterfly - would cost $2 million to $3 million, more than the Agriculture Department typically grants each year for the study of environmental risk. And if questions cannot be answered, where do we go from here?

Questions about risk first emerged when genetically engineered organisms started making their way out of the laboratory and into the public consciousness in the late 1980's. Men in spacesuits were assigned to release the first genetically engineered organisms into the wide world: bacteria sprayed on strawberries to protect them from frost. Soon afterward uneasy shoppers shunned the first genetically engineered crop, the ill-fated Flavr Savr tomato, whose only crime was a foreign gene for longer shelf life.

Today such organisms seem almost quaint as biotech salmon grow to market size in half the normal time and genetically modified goats make human blood proteins in their milk. And an international debate has sprung up over the value of these organisms, with participation from such unlikely quarters as the Vatican and Prince Charles.

But while biotechnology has raced ahead, scientists' ability to predict potential environmental consequences apparently has not, according to the new Science paper, a review of scientific literature by Dr. LaReesa Wolfenbarger and Dr. Paul Phifer. The study of the highest profile of environmental risks, the potential threat of genetically modified corn to monarch butterflies, is a case in point.

Questions about corn and monarchs first arose in the spring of 1999 when Cornell researchers showed that monarch caterpillars died in the laboratory after eating pollen from genetically engineered corn. The corn, given a gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium, then produced a toxin that killed the European corn borer pest.

Corn and monarch butterflies are two of the best studied organisms on the planet. How difficult could it be to determine whether monarchs were indeed at risk in the wild?

But last month, after a year and a half of research by more than 20 researchers from universities and industry, scientists gathered outside Chicago were still unable to say with any precision what the magnitude of risk was from the biotech corn to wild monarch populations.

One reason so little is known about the magnitude of ecological risks in general is that regulators deemed some effects, including those to species like the monarch - which are neither beneficial to agriculture nor legally protected as endangered species - of little concern.

"We knew things like monarchs and other butterflies would be susceptible," Dr. Arnold Foudin, an assistant director of scientific services at the Department of Agriculture, said in a phone interview after the Cornell study appeared. "That's part of the general background noise."

But the major problem for researchers is the inherent difficulty, expense and time involved in understanding ecological interactions.

Biologists first set out to see whether monarch caterpillars would even encounter Bt corn pollen in the wild. By fall, biologists announced that most toxic pollen is shed within a cornfield, rather than outside it.

If monarchs were unlikely to live in cornfields, as industry spokesmen suggested, the effects of the new crop might be quite limited. But this summer researchers discovered that large numbers of monarch caterpillars live on milkweed in cornfields.

"We're finding them between the rows of corn," said Dr. Karen S. Oberhauser, ecologist at University of Minnesota.

To complicate matters further, it appears that risks to monarchs will vary both by region and by variety of corn grown.

More important, other scientists report finding this summer that the survival of monarch caterpillars in Bt and normal corn fields is indistinguishable. The potential complication is that the vast majority of caterpillars are killed by predators.

"Only 2 to 5 percent of them ever make it," said Dr. Rick Hellmich, research entomologist with the Department of Agriculture working at Iowa State University.

So while some are again ready to conclude that Bt corn poses no undue risk to the monarch, others say with such a minuscule survival rate, even important differences between the survival rates in the two fields would be tiny, probably requiring much larger-scale studies to detect. "Given the ups and down on this one, I'd hate to jump to conclusions now," said Dr. David Andow, entomologist at the University of Minnesota.

The difficulty in coming to conclusions about corn and monarchs raises the question of how much scientists can be expected to learn about what researchers say are the other, much more complex ecological threats from biotech organisms. In addition, authors of the new Science paper say there are some risks that scientists may never be able to fully understand.

For example, in the past scientists have recorded delays of 30 to 50 years between the arrival of a plant and its widespread infestation as a weed, making reliable predictions of the long-term likelihood of threats like superweeds extremely difficult.

Dr. John Losey, a co-author of the original monarch study, said he and a group of other researchers originally estimated it would cost between $2 million and $3 million to answer the monarch question.

If this is the cost of understanding just one risk from one biotech organism to one species, where will the big research dollars come from to answer the variety of questions being raised by the development of many new organisms? Dr. Michael Phillips, executive director for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade association representing biotechnology companies, said he seconded the new Science study's call for further research of ecological risk, but said the public should not look to the private sector to foot the bill.

The public source for such money is the Department of Agriculture's Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants program, which typically finances just over $1 million in research a year - the mandated 1 percent of total dollars spent on biotechnology research by the department. These grants cover risk research on everything from biotech fish, insects and plants to viruses.

Whether the science being called for will ever be in hand remains to be seen. But researchers on both sides of the debate note that any decision about what to do next will be determined not only by the magnitude of the risks and benefits, determined by scientists, but by the value placed on them by those making the decisions.

"Much of the objection to biotechnology involves values," said Dr. Peter Kareiva, senior ecologist for cumulative risk assessment at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Answers, he said, will not come just from "handing off a science answer like a stone tablet from the mountaintop."

18 Dec 00 - GMO - Scottish potato glows when it feels thirsty

By A Scotland Correspondent

Times... Monday 18 December 2000

Scottish scientists have pioneered the world's first intelligent super potato. It glows green when it needs watering.

Researchers at Edinburgh University have produced a prototype of the new potato by adding a jellyfish gene to the vegetable. The potato plant's foliage emits a green glow when viewed through a special hand-held device if it is in need of water.

Scientists are now searching for sites to begin field tests on the genetically modified vegetable before it can go into commercial production.

Professor Tony Trewavas, who is leading the research at Edinburgh University's Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, said yesterday that the new technology will make food production more efficient and cost-effective.

"The best-placed organism that can tell you what is happening in terms of environmental insults like dehydration and mineral depletion is the plant itself," he said. "It has been shown that if potato crops do not get enough water the harvest can be reduced by up to two thirds."

Professor Trewavas and his team have been working on the 250,000 project for almost five years. He said that the research could be also be applied to root vegetables such as carrots , parsnips and turnips .

The technology would, he said, allow farmers to save water, which he predicts will become the most expensive agricultural commodity: "This new development will reduce the price of potatoes to the consumer."

Sandy Bain, chairman of the Scottish National Farmers' Union, said: "This kind of technology could be exceptionally valuable in determining precisely when we have to irrigate and feed our plants so we can try and ensure we get the best possible return."

16 Dec 00 - GMO - Scientists concede nobody knows GM risks

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent... Saturday 16 December 2000

Two American experts have refuelled the controversy over genetically modified (GM) crops by saying no one can be certain of the risks or benefits .

The scientists, from the US Environmental Protection Agency, said that genetic engineering and selective breeding may not have the same long-term effects.

"As more economically useful and health-related genes are identified and isolated, it appears that the variety of genetically engineered organisms will increase dramatically. This increase may collectively represent an environmental risk ," wrote LaReesa Wolfenbarger and P R Phifer, in the journal Science .

Environmental campaigners have seized on the paper as evidence that GM research is moving too fast . Pete Riley, food campaigner of Friends of the Earth, said: "This review hits the nail very firmly on the head and backs up what we have been saying for many years.

"The alleged benefits of GM crops are not based on independent studies and there is hardly any research on the long-term environmental risks .

"Why has the biotech industry been allowed to grow commercial crops when the scientific case is so feeble? The biotech industry is using us as guinea pigs and the environment as an open-air lab ."

The Environmental Protection Agency is now involved in a dispute with the US Department of Agriculture, which has allowed the commercial planting of thousands of acres of GM crops such as soya and maize.

No GM crops have been approved for commercial planting in Britain, pending the results of "field trials" to assess the impact. There is now growing consumer pressure in America for labelling to be applied to GM-derived food, as it is in Europe.

14 Dec 00 - GMO - Gene map will revolutionise farming

Tim Radford, science editor

Guardian... Thursday 14 December 2000

Thalecress is a weed but it promises to trigger a new agricultural revolution: for the first time, scientists have unravelled the complete DNA blueprint of a plant.

Some 300 scientists across the world have spent 50m on a six-year hunt to identify the 116m "base pairs" that make up the genetic code of Arabidopsis thaliana, a cabbage relative.

According to a report in the journal Nature, researchers now have a toolkit with which to understand the planet's huge array of flowering plants. The information has been placed in a public database, free to researchers everywhere.

Mike Bevan of the John Innes Centre in Norwich said: "Genome sequence changes the way you do biology, so from this point onwards plant science will never be the same again, and genetics will never be the same again, because we have got the complete set of genes which make this small organism.

"What we learn in this little plant can immediately be applied to a wide range of other plants, and this even extends to the grasses such as rice, wheat and corn, which are the major food supplies of humans."

The genes have been mapped out but it is not yet clear what most do. However, researchers have found genes which in humans are linked to deafness, blindness and cancer. Other genes control growth, productivity and disease resistance.

So far researchers have recorded the complete genetic blueprints for 600 viruses, 37 bacteria, one fungus, a worm, a fruitfly and a human. British researchers yesterday claimed Arabidopsis as the most important yet.

05 Dec 00 - GMO - Five guilty in GM crop damage case

Staff and agencies

Guardian... Tuesday 5 December 2000

Five people were found guilty of criminal damage yesterday after destroying genetically modified crops. But a judge in Liverpool said he accepted that they honestly believed they had a "positive purpose".

A hearing in Darlington last month heard that the five pulled up and bagged 2,000 worth of oilseed rape, planted for research at a farm in Hutton Magna, Co Durham, by Agr-Evo UK in October last year.

Stephen Gordon, 26, Hugh Baker, 26, and Zoey Exley, 23, all of Manchester, Miss Exley's mother, Lorraine, 51, of Poole, Dorset, and Emma Henry, 22, of York, admitted destroying the crops but denied causing criminal damage.

They said removing the plants was necessary to prevent gene pollution which could damage crops, farmland, the environment and public health.

Yesterday district judge Paul Firth, who had heard the case at Darlington and reserved judgment to the Liverpool hearing , conditionally discharged the five for 12 months and ordered them to pay a total of 1,500 in costs. But he stopped short of ordering them to pay compensation to Agr-Evo, now known as Aventis, or to George Richardson, the farmer whose land was involved.

Mr Firth said: "I am accustomed to dealing with many defendants who damage property belonging to others. Almost without exception the damage caused is wilful, disruptive and negative.

"I say almost because this is the exception _ I accept the honesty of [these defendants'] motives insofar as they believed they were doing this for a positive purpose."

The five, who are not affiliated to any group, said they took action after trying to lobby the Labour party conference last year on the GM crops issue and becoming "disillusioned with the democratic process".

Ms Exley senior, a writer, said she was relieved they were not being made to compensate Agr-Evo UK; she would have gone to prison to avoid doing so.


03 Dec 00 - GMO - MPs 'astonished' by hushed-up GM sites

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Independent... Sunday 3 December 2000

GM crop sites are still being kept secret, despite repeated government assurances of increased openness.

Four more unpublicised sites were used to test modified maize this summer, and their locations have been kept so confidential that even ministers do not know where they are.

We have also learned that similar tests have been conducted, in secrecy , since 1995, and that more are planned for next year.

The revelations have astonished politicians and environmental groups. Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture secretary - who says he is "absolutely staggered" by it - is to write to Michael Meacher, the environment minister, to ask whether there are any more secret trial sites that have yet to come to light.

Meanwhile, Britain is opposing a European Union proposal to set up a public register of land used to grow GM crops when they are farmed commercially.

Today's disclosure blows a new hole in the credibility of the Government's constant protestations of openness over GM trials. Ministers repeatedly take the credit for giving detailed map references for the 25 farm-scale trials being undertaken into the environmental safety of the crops and allowed the impression to grow that these were the only tests taking place.

But two months ago this newspaper revealed that the Ministry of Agriculture had authorised a further five tests . Mr Meacher said he had "no information" on them and it was extremely difficult to find out where they are.

Finally, after a major row, Nick Brown, the Agriculture Secretary, put the names of the parishes in which they were located - Histon in Cambridge-shire , Stoke Talmage in Oxfordshire , Ercall Magna in Shropshire , Brockley in Somerset , and Bramham cum Oglethorpe in Yorkshire - on his ministry's website.

But today's revelation show that there is another series of even more secret sites . Aventis, the biotech company, tested herbicide-resistant maize on four sites, the size of tennis courts, between April and October this year. They were used to try out different varieties of maize with the gene, and the effectiveness of weedkillers.

The company is under no legal obligation to tell the Government or the public where the sites are, as the genetic modification they are using - the same on as in the Ministry of Agriculture tests - has been approved by the EU.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions says it does not know where the sites are, but believes that three of those used this summer were next to sites where publicised trials took place.

Chris Mullin, a junior environment minister, says that the department is "discussing with industry" whether they wished to make the locations public but adds, "given the recent vandalism of such sites they may be reluctant to do so". Aventis confirmed late last week that the trials had taken place, but refused point blank to identify the sites, citing the "extreme levels of pressure and intimidation" suffered by some farmers testing GM crops.

The company declined even to name the counties in which the trails took place. But Roger Turner, chairman of the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops, the industry's umbrella body for GM trials, urged openness.

While stressing that it was a matter for Aventis, he said: "We have got nothing to hide. There is no point in keeping things secret because we know that people like you will find out."

Tim Yeo said; "I am absolutely staggered that you have found yet more sites , after all the publicity there has been. I will write to Michael Meacher to ask how many more there are."

Patrick Holden, head of the Soil Association, added: "We were under the impression that all the test sites had been put in the public domain."

Secrecy may grow in future as Britain has been resisting EU plans , proposed by France and Italy, for a public register of all commercial GM crops . Negotiations on the plan resume this week, but the Department of Environment will only say the issue is "under review"

03 Dec 00 - GMO - C of E says cloning is 'morally acceptable'

By Lorraine Fraser and Jonathan Petre

Telegraph... Sunday 3 December 2000

The Church of England has entered the controversy over embryo research by suggesting that cloning human embryos is no more unnatural than a heart transplant.

A briefing paper for the Church's Board for Social Responsibility dismisses fears that allowing scientists to create embryos as part of research into new treatments for disease would be the "slippery slope" towards cloning human beings.

It argues that such research "may be thought to be as morally acceptable" as experiments on embryos to discover treatments for infertility, which are already allowed in the UK.

While not official Church policy the paper, written by Canon Dr John Polkinghorne, chairman of the Board's Science and Medical Technology Committee and a leading scientist and theologian, will be highly influential.

Canon Polkinghorne - who is also a member of the Human Genetics Commission - is a leading Church adviser and member of the General Synod. In addition, the Board, chaired by the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend Richard Harries, will have approved the submission before its release.

This is the first time the Church has stepped so explicitly into the controversy over the morals of so-called stem-cell research, on which MPs are due to vote. However, the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales said they were "greatly concerned" by the implications of cloning human embryos.

They urged Catholics to write to their MPs in advance of the free vote on new regulations in Parliament. The Catholic bishops said in a statement: "We believe that research on cloned human embryos is both immoral and unnecessary. It is immoral because it involves the deliberate creation of new human lives for the sole purpose of extracting stem cells for research."

The bishops said: "It strips an individual human life, in its earliest form, of all dignity, reducing it to no more than a commodity, a supply of disposable organic matter. It is also unnecessary because other avenues of stem-cell research exist which may offer the same potential benefits without the ethical difficulties."

The bishops said that they recognised the laudable motives of research to cure disease, but what was technically possible "is not for that reason alone morally acceptable".

Scientists believe stem cells, embryonic cells with the capability of becoming a range of cell types, could be the key to new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and diabetes, and might even be used to grow organs for transplants.

The government's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Liam Donaldson, has recommended that the research be allowed to go ahead under the control of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The law in the UK already allows research on human embryos up to 14 days old for fertility treatments. The government intends to lay regulations which will allow researchers to use embryos left over from fertility treatment in stem-cell experiments.

More controversially the regulations would also allow "therapeutic cloning", the creation of embryos with a genetic make-up identical to a living adult. This would be done by the same methods which produced Dolly the sheep, and could, in theory, produce a cloned human being. The nucleus of a human egg would be removed and replaced with a nucleus of a cell from an adult.

Scientists argue therapeutic cloning is an essential part of the search for new treatments as individuals who are ill will best be helped by new organs which identically match their own. They would "harvest" stem cells from the embryos which would not be allowed to develop further.

But opponents, including the Roman Catholic Church, protest that therapeutic cloning will inevitably lead to cloned human beings because the basic scientific method, known as Cell Nuclear Replacement, is exactly the same.

They also point to evidence that adult human beings have stem cells in the body which can be coaxed into different cell types and argue that the embryo research is not needed. In his paper Canon Polkinghorne says the use of this method to create a child - which the government has said it will ban - would be "ethically" unacceptable'.

Canon Polkinghorne says that therapeutic cloning "can be readily fenced off from reproductive cloning" by prohibiting attempts to implant embryos into a woman where they could, theoretically, develop into a child. Canon Polkinghorne argues against the "absolute" view of the Roman Catholic Church that an embryo is a full human being from the point of conception and thus any intervention other than for its own good is wrong.

Canon Polkinghorne says that while this view must be given "respectful attention, it is fair to say that it does not wholly correspond to actual practice. No one seems to suggest holding a funeral service for an embryo that failed to implant and was lost."

Canon Polkinghorne admits that research in human genetics raises anxieties about "playing God" but he says: "A heart transplant is as radically unnatural a procedure as CNR." He says that Man's power to manipulate his world could be seen as "God-given". Canon Polkinghorne says: "The point then is to use those powers aright and in accordance with the divine will."

Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford, and an active supporter of regulated stem-cell research last night welcomed the paper's "positive approach". He said: "Opponents of embryo research cannot say they have a monopoly on the religious arguments. Many of us feel that it would be morally wrong not to allow embryo research to find new treatments for terrible diseases."

Tony Blair's plans to allow cloning are under threat from Brussels which regards the practice as "unethical". A key European Commission committee ruled that the research is "premature". The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, which reports directly to Commission President Romano Prodi, has also warned that therapeutic cloning may breach the European Union's new Charter on Fundamental Rights.

01 Dec 00 - GMO - Contrite GM firm pledges to turn over a new leaf

John Vidal

Guardian... Friday 1 December 2000

Five years ago, Monsanto planned to flood the world with GM crops and reap the profits. Three years ago it received a bloody nose in Europe and had to apologise to the British for misunderstanding their hostility.

Now, in a feast of humble pie , the world's leading biotech company has admitted to the world that it has been arrogant , blind and insensitive and has formally pledged to be "honourable, ethical and open " in all its future actions.

The new Monsanto, said the corporation's president and chief executive Hendrik Verfaillie, is now outwardly very different to the one which promised to be part of the solution to world hunger and environmental problems only five years ago.

Instead of trumpeting "faith, hope and prosperity", the genetically modified line is now that biotechnology is a way to improve human health and that Monsanto is contrite, listening and leading world business into an ethical age.

"Even our friends told us we could be arrogant and insensitive ," said Mr Verfaillie of the company, which has merged with the pharmaceutical giants Pharmacia and Upjohn.

"We were blinded by our enthusiasm," he told a Washington audience this week. "We missed the fact that this technology raises major issues for people - of ethics, of choice, of trust, even of democracy and globalisation. When we tried to explain the benefits, the science and the safety, we did not understand that our tone - our very approach - was arrogant ."

Mr Verfaillie said he believed biotechnology was now "at a watershed" and that society everywhere had changed.

"The shift that started 40 years ago is approaching maturity," he said. "It is a movement from a 'trust me' society to a 'show me' society. We don't trust government - and thus government rulemaking and regulation is suspect. We don't trust companies - or the new technologies they introduce into the marketplace. We were still in the 'trust me' mode when the expectation was 'show me'."

From now on, he said, the new Monsanto would be ethical and to prove it it had published a five-point pledge of new commitments which were, he said, unprecedented in the biotechnology industry.

"We commit to respecting the religious, cultural and ethical concerns of people," said Mr Verfaillie. "[Monsanto] will not sell grain products until they have been approved for consumption by both humans and animals; nor will [Monsanto] use genes taken from animal or human sources in our agricultural products intended for food or feed, or sell foods in which known allergens have been introduced." And he promised not to pursue technologies that resulted in sterile, or so-called terminator, seeds .

The company has been criticised for imposing GM farming on poor countries. No longer. The new Monsanto will, according to its chief, "bring the knowledge and advantages of all forms of agriculture to resource-poor farmers in the developing world to help improve food security and protect the environment".

To those who accuse Monsanto of having consistently evaded government regulations , he promised to work legally, probably a first in corporate history.

In response to critics who have alleged the company is secretive about sharing its research, he said it would now publish all scientific data and data summaries on product safety.

Yesterday the company's many critics around the world were congratulating it on its pledges but were mostly hoping it would pledge to go away .

"Sweet isn't it," said a Friends of the Earth spokesman. "Here's a company with its back to the wall and its technology going down the tube . We welcome its pledges but it must face up to the fact that people do not want its food ."

"We have read the commitments," said an Indian anti-GM activist who has been marching with many thousands of small farmers against Monsanto and other giant companies. "They are very fine. But a tiger is not a pussy cat. If it has large whiskers it is probably still a tiger with a plan to gobble you up even faster ."

Monsanto, said its chief, had set up "a dedicated team to facilitate its pledges and share its GM technology with public institutions, charities and industry round the world".

Yesterday the Guardian asked the Monsanto HQ switchboard to be put through to one of the team. The call was met with an answering machine .

21 Nov 00 - GMO - GM feed firm falls victim to fowl play

By Russell Jenkins

Times... Tuesday 21 November 2000

Police were trying last night to cut free three Greenpeace protesters dressed as pantomime chickens after they chained themselves to a conveyor chute at a soya mill on the dockside in Liverpool.

Another four demonstrators were hanging below the chute in a mountaineers' tent determined to take keep the protest against GM soya going for a second day.

Around 60 protesters burst out of the back of four lorries shortly before 8am yesterday after they had been driven through the main gate of the grain importers Cargill at Gladstone Dock. Each wore distinctive costumes with red leg warmers, yellow wings, tail and outsize chicken heads bearing an angry expression.

Greenpeace, which has targeted Cargill for some time, claims that imports of genetically modified soya are being used as feed for egg-laying hens . Cargill, which imports non-GM and GM soya, said that the demonstration did not disrupt production.

20 Nov 00 - GMO - Genetic 'switch' could lead to ultimate slimming aid


PA News... Monday 20 November 2000

A "genetic "switch " that reduces weight by speeding up metabolism has been successfully tested on rats.

Scientists believe the research could lead to the ultimate slimming aid - one which allows people to eat what they like without getting fat .

But the researchers question whether such a development would be desirable, since cheating nature in this way may not be healthy .

The technique involves de-activating a gene in a part of the brain, the hypothalamus, which produces a hormone called neuropeptide Y .

Scientists at Hammersmith Hospital in London first introduced a synthetically produced extra copy of the gene into the brains of rats. The result was that the rats' appetites increased and their metabolism slowed down, causing them to become obese.

Then a "reversed" version of the gene was introduced, which had the opposite effect. The rats' own neuropeptide Y genes were switched off, and the animals rapidly lost weight .

In this case, weight loss occurred with no reduction in feeding suggesting that metabolism, rather than appetite, was most affected.

Researcher Dr Wing May Kong will present the findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Endocrinology taking place in London.

She said: "Our results demonstrate that switching off this gene reduces weight gain through an increase in metabolism rather than a reduction in food intake. We know that neuropeptide Y has a similar distribution in humans as it does in rats and probably acts the same way.

"However a lot of clinicians would be worried about a treatment that acted through metabolism. It might encourage people to eat whatever they wanted in the knowledge that they would stay thin. But even if it doesn't make you overweight, eating large amounts of rubbish isn't healthy."

20 Nov 00 - GMO - Eight Arrested During Chicken Protest At GM Soya Mill

From Ananova

Guardian... Monday 20 November 2000

Eight people have been arrested after environmental activists stormed the UK's only genetically-modified soya mill dressed as pantomime chickens .

The Greenpeace volunteers said they took staff by surprise when they arrived at the plant at Liverpool's Gladstone Dock which processes both GM and normal soya at 8am.

According to a Greenpeace spokesman sixty "chickens" burst out of the back of four trucks driven into the dock through the main gate.

Campaigners said the vehicles were immobilised in a bid to block weighing stations used by grain trucks entering and leaving the riverside site.

A Merseyside Fire Service spokesman confirmed specialist cutting equipment was used to free a number of protesters chained to equipment within the plant which is run by multinational company Cargill.

Three activists are believed to be still inside the plant while Port of Liverpool Police are continuing to monitor the situation.

"The protesters are in a position where they cannot be reached to be arrested . All the police can do is continue to monitor the situation," said Eric Leatherbarrow speaking on behalf of the force.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Louise Edge said the volunteers were camped in a small tent set up on the side of a forty-metre-high conveyor belt which transports soya from the silos to the crushing plant.

"They are looking at staying there as long as they can. It is looking likely that they will last the night," she said.

The demonstrators claim the Liverpool plant is the main gateway for GM crop imports into the UK and have vowed to occupy the site until the company agree to stop.

Greenpeace campaigner Emma Gibson said: "By continuing these GM imports, Cargill is ignoring valid public concerns about the effects of feeding GM crops to animals and the environmental risks involved in growing them."

Cargill spokeswoman Geraldine O'Shea earlier dismissed claims that the action had caused disruption at the plant: "It is not disrupting operations at all. Our major concern is for the health and safety of not only our employees but of the protesters as well. "

20 Nov 00 - GMO - Pantomime chickens stage protest at GM soya mill


PA News... Monday 20 November 2000

Environmental activists, many dressed as pantomime chickens, have stormed the UK's only GM soya mill .

Volunteers from Greenpeace claim to have taken staff by surprise when they went into the plant at Liverpool's Gladstone Dock.

Organisers say some 60 "chickens" burst out of the back of four trucks driven through the main gate of the plant which is run by multi-national firm Cargill.

A Greenpeace spokesman claims other protesters have chained themselves to a 40-metre conveyor belt which transports soya from the silos to the site's crushing plant.

Other volunteers are said to have set up camp in a small tent suspended over the side of the conveyor belt while entry to and from the site is blocked, according to the group.

But Greenpeace's claims to have shut down the mill have been refuted by Cargill spokeswoman Geraldine O'Shea.

She said: "It is not disrupting operations at all. Our major concern is for the health and safety of not only our employees but of the protesters as well.

"It does seem they may be putting themselves at some risk. The safety of people is what's important here. If there is any suggestion of danger, some decision may have to be made at some point," she added.

Ms O'Shea says Cargill, which has been operating in the UK since 1955 and employs around 5,000 people in plant and offices nationwide, has always acted openly.

She said: "Cargill's position is that we are bringing in what our customers require. That includes both non-GM and GM soya . We have acted very openly about that and what we are doing is legal.

"We did send a letter to Greenpeace in November in which we outlined our position. We do believe people have the right to choose," added the spokeswoman.

A spokesman for the Port of Liverpool police says senior officers are at the site but declined to comment further on the operation.

19 Nov 00 - GMO - McDonald's rejects GM feed meat


PA News... Sunday 19 November 2000

McDonald's has announced it will not use meat reared on genetically modified feed .

The decision is in response to public concerns and fears about the safety of the so-called 'frankenstein' foods .

A spokeswoman for the company said: "McDonald's in the UK has taken the decision to move away from the use of animal feed containing genetically modified ingredients.

"We have therefore requested that our suppliers seek non-GM sources of feed . Our chicken supplier already uses feed containing soya meal of Brazilian origin, which is principally non-GM .

"We are continuing to work with our suppliers of beef , pork , eggs and dairy products to identify sources of non-GM animal feed , although sustainability remains a concern."

She added: "We are listening to concerns expressed by consumers seeking reassurances about the safety of food produced in this way. And we will continue to monitor public opinion and scientific developments."

The US burger giant made a stand during the height of the BSE crisis by taking British beef off the menu.

19 Nov 00 - GMO - McDonald's bans use of meat from GM-fed animals

By Cahal Milmo

Independent... Sunday 19 November 2000

McDonald's, the fast food chain, announced yesterday that it was phasing out the use of meat fed on genetically modified feed .

The company said it was responding to public concern about the implications of GM products by asking its suppliers to ensure none entered its food chain.

Brazilian soya meal used to produce the 18,000 tons of chicken sold by McDonald's in the UK each year has already been certified as non-GM by the chain, which serves 2.5m people a day in this country

"Safety is the top priority for our business ", a McDonald's spokeswoman said. "we will not serve food that we do not consider safe ".

The company admitted that "sustainability" remained a concern but said it was aiming to supply GM-free beef, pork, milk and eggs over the next year.

McDonald's sells 30,000 tons of beef a year, 5,200 tons of pork and 40m litres of milk. All of its chicken and milk is produced in the UK along with 70 per cent of its beef and 75 per cent of its pork. The remainder is produced in the European Union.

The move comes two days after Prime Minister Tony Blair attacked "anti-science" attitudes which he said were in danger of being imposed on the British public on issues such as GM foods.

But environmentalists applauded the stance and predicted it was likely to have a knock-on effect among other fast food producers and in other countries.