Document Directory

21 Jul 99 - GMO - 'GM free' food could still be modified
19 Jul 99 - GMO - Fury as CIA admits spying on British minister
19 Jul 99 - GMO - Too late to worry about honey and GM crops?
19 Jul 99 - GMO - GM trials to continue despite protest
19 Jul 99 - GMO - Six held over crop protest damage
19 Jul 99 - GMO - GM pants and socks next on protesters' list
19 Jul 99 - GMO - Gm Crops Plea
19 Jul 99 - GMO - GM crop is destroyed by 500 protesters
18 Jul 99 - GMO - M&S sells genetically modified Frankenpants
28 Jun 99 - GMO - Warning on 'GM pollution'
28 Jun 99 - GMO - Public to advise GM food group
27 Jun 99 - GMO - Winemakers admit to testing of GM vines
27 Jun 99 - GMO - Pupils develop test kit for GM foods
25 Jun 99 - GMO - EU agrees tougher limits on GM crops
22 Jun 99 - GMO - Scientists create a GM super tree
20 Jun 99 - GMO - Cancer scare over cattle drugs
20 Jun 99 - GMO - World's top sweetener is made with GM bacteria
20 Jun 99 - GMO - Meacher flouts Blair by backing GM food critics
20 Jun 99 - GMO - GM food 'threatens the planet'
19 Jun 99 - GMO - The seeds of wrath
19 Jun 99 - GMO - Avebury stones daubed in GM protest
18 Jun 99 - GMO - Organic farmers 'sell GM produce'
18 Jun 99 - GMO - Buffer zones 'no GM safeguard'
16 Jun 99 - GMO - We don't need GM food, Meacher tells Commons
15 Jun 99 - GMO - No need for GM food, says Minister



21 Jul 99 - GMO - 'GM free' food could still be modified

by Geraint Smith

Evening Standard ... Wednesday July 1999


The European Union is preparing to allow food to be labelled "GM free" even if as much as three per cent of it consists of genetically modified organisms , it is claimed.

A report by the Food Commission, being published tomorrow, says supermarkets including Asda, Iceland, Somerfield and Waitrose are working to a "tolerance level" of genetically modified food that allows anything between 0.1 and two per cent to be GM, even while telling customers that the product is GM free.

Some are already quoting "the two per cent tolerance level being mooted as a possible EU directive".

Sainsbury's, which says it is working to a maximum of 0.1 per cent modified content in GM free foods, says the "maximum contamination level set by the industry" is in fact as high as three per cent.

The Food Commission asked major retailers and trade bodies what their policies were on GM tolerance levels. Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Budgen said they required a zero tolerance on their own-brand products .

Safeway said it merely "aimed" at zero tolerance but did not say how high a level it would accept if this aim were not met. Sainsbury's said it was committed to reducing its 0.1 per cent maximum "to even lower levels".

However, the Co-op said it wants levels "to be as low as realistic for compliance purposes". It believed "realistic" meant that as much as two per cent of its GM-free food could come from modified products.

Asda said it would allow as much as one per cent modified organisms in GM free food. Waitrose said it was "awaiting the outcome of EU deliberations" which it believes will set the tolerance level at between one and two per cent.

Somerfield said: "In the case of soya and maize purchased as identity-preserved crops then the proposed legally permitted allowance of up to two per cent tolerance will be accepted." However, it believed it was "easily capable of doing better than two per cent".

It also said that it would "not declare genetic modification where ingredients, additives and processing aids are present in the final product at less than 0.01 per cent on a weight by weight basis".

The British Retail Consortium said its member shops would approach the problem "on the basis of de minimis" rather than setting a specific tolerance. De minimis is a legal loophole under which ingredients present in minute quantities - 0.01 per cent of the total - do not need to be acknowledged.

Pepper, for instance, does not need not be declared in any ready-made meals, provided it makes up less than 0.01 per cent of the whole meal.

It could be irradiated or GM, but the buyer would not even know it was there.

Sue Dibb, co-director of the Food Commission and author of the report, said: "Consumers wanting GM-free foods need to know that the strictest standards operate to keep GM contamination out of the entire food chain.

"All food companies which claim their products are GM-free should be aiming for zero tolerance levels. GM-free should mean GM-free."

However, she also acknowledges that making a product entirely free of genetically modified ingredients might no longer be possible in the case of non-organic food.

"Trading standards inspectors are now saying privately that the label GM-free should no longer be allowed," she said.

Tolerance levels also operate in other matters not related to GM.

A label on high-quality pasta declaring that it is "100 per cent durum wheat" actually means that it could be just 97 per cent durum wheat, the remainder being cheaper, soft wheat.

Let's have a picnic

Normandie Keith and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson are backing the campaign against genetically modified food and will be attending a giant organic picnic to be held this Sunday in Greenwich Park.

According to the organisers, who include the Soil Association and Greenpeace , thousands of people will turn out in the biggest protest yet against GM food .

Others supporting the picnic include Jemima Khan - wife of Imran Khan - supermodel Elle Macpherson, Emily Lloyd, Simon and Yasmin le Bon and Ben Elliott. The picnic is free and open to the public, but organisers are asking participants to supply their own - organic - food.


19 Jul 99 - GMO - Fury as CIA admits spying on British minister

By Andrew Gilligan, Rob Evans and Greg Neale

Telegraph ... Monday July 1999


CIA agents have secretly investigated the environment minister Michael Meacher , The Telegraph can reveal.

Mr Meacher said last night that he was "astonished" after the US government confirmed that the CIA keeps a file on him. Compiled recently, it is believed to contain details of Mr Meacher's reservations about genetically-modified foods, which Washington promotes in Europe.

The CIA last night refused to release details of the contents of its file, described by another department as a "biographical profile". Inquiries by The Telegraph have uncovered no other files compiled by the CIA on British ministers.

Environment groups expressed alarm over the CIA's actions . Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "The immediate fear is that the CIA is working hand in glove with Monsanto [the US biotechnology company] to do anything they can to force this technology down our throats whatever democratic politicians say. It would be dynamite if this file has anything about Michael Meacher's track record on genetically modified crops and foods. What business is it of the CIA's to worry about any politician's views about biotechnology products?"

With the US pressing for GM products to be allowed more freely into Britain - despite British consumers' worries - GM food is emerging as a potential source of conflict between the two countries . President Clinton is known to have had several conversations on the subject with Tony Blair and US diplomatic missions abroad have been ordered to promote the GM industry.

The existence of the CIA file on Mr Meacher came to light after The Telegraph conducted inquiries using the US Freedom of Information Act to ask whether Government agencies held any information about British ministers. Most agencies and departments said they had nothing. A small number of departments replied that they had drawn up conventional briefs to prepare their own staff for visits to Washington by British ministers. The briefs, which were drawn from published and embassy sources, were freely disclosed to The Telegraph.

However, the US Environmental Protection Agency - Mr Meacher's counterpart department - said it held a file on him but could not disclose it because it "originated within the Central Intelligence Agency" . The EPA could not say whether it held the complete file, or whether its holding was part of a larger CIA file. A spokesman, Lynn Schoolfield, said: "We have a biographical profile of Mr Meacher which was compiled by the CIA. But I don't think it's of any great concern. There's nothing to worry about here."

The CIA said that it could not release Mr Meacher's file . A spokesman said: "We never comment to the press on the contents of files."

Mr Meacher said he had "no idea" why the CIA had information on him. "I am astonished. I find it interesting, but I have no idea what the reason might be." Mr Meacher refused to comment on the action he may now take, but he is likely to raise the matter with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson.

Within the Government, Mr Meacher has been the most cautious on GM crops, insisting that none should be grown commercially before trial plantings establish whether they pose an environmental risk. He is also reconstituting the main committee advising ministers on GM foods to reduce the number of members with links to the biotechnology industry.

Mr Meacher's background is on the Labour hard Left, but no more so than several other key figures in the Blair government. He led Tony Benn's campaign for the Labour deputy leadership in 1981 and was a member of the shadow cabinet before the 1997 election, but was not appointed to the Cabinet after Labour's election victory. He is well regarded by environmentalists.


19 Jul 99 - GMO - Too late to worry about honey and GM crops?

Sam Westmacott

Telegraph ... Monday July 1999


Bees have been in and out of genetically modified flowers for at least seven years

Bees are good to us. They provide us with honey, one of the purest foods in the world. But are we being good to them? The question is disturbing thousands of beekeepers.

Frank Eggleton, a 67-year-old retired design engineer, is terrified by the threat of genetically modified crops . He cares deeply about bees. There are about 150,000 in the garden of his 17th-century cottage in Wiltshire.

Like many beekeepers, he has infinite patience and a great love of the countryside. Not the kind of chap who you would expect to go ballistic. But he did, when Captain Fred Barker planted genetically modified oil-seed rape at Lushill Farm, Hannington, where his bees forage.

"My bees are in danger," he says. "And what about cross-pollination? Bees scatter pollen all over the place. Wild turnips, cabbages and all kinds of domestic and wild plants will be contaminated."

He knows that the rape, sponsored by AgrEvo - a major GM company with six field-scale trials this year - has an extra gene and a specific herbicide resistance, so that weeds such as charlock will be destroyed without affecting the main crop.

Eggleton is convinced that the gene's presence will contaminate his honey. He has no evidence for this assumption, but that does not deter his protests.

Friends of the Earth held a meeting in the village hall and Eggleton declared: "Big field trials of GM rape are a step too far. I would never give my two-year-old grandson GM honey or eat it myself. I would rather dump my crop."

Captain Barker burnt his crop in response to pressure from his trustees and the Soil Association. But Eggleton's fear spread throughout the beekeeper community. Adrian Waring, the general secretary of the British Beekeepers Association, was besieged by members worried about genetic pollution.

"No one knows what to believe," he says. Rumours spread that beekeepers would be fined £5,000 for a hive near GM crops and that Brussels labelling laws would force them to mark their pots "Contains genetically modified pollen". Who will buy it then?

The beekeepers find it difficult to understand how a scientist can think that a buffer zone of 200 yards between GM and other plants can stop cross-pollination. Bees pollinate plants up to three miles away from the hive.

People have forgotten the reason for buffer zones - to protect a crop from contamination. According to AgrEvo, the industry guidelines initially requested 50 yards so that the grower could claim 98.5 per cent purity of seed certification, although they are not yet growing commercially.

Similarly, while the public believes cross-pollination is a real threat, it seems that the Government has other evidence. Imperial College, London, did a series of experiments examining the effect on pollen transfer through wind and insects, including bees. It was on the strength of that work in the Eighties that the Government allowed open-air trials.

AgrEvo and the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that conventional oil-seed rape, a man-made crop created about 300 years ago, had never cross-pollinated outside a laboratory. Such intermittent and partial revelations infuriate Waring and association members. "The Government has been so cagey and the bio-technical companies so slow to publish their research, that they've got us all hopping about and shouting," says Waring.

When the Government announced large field trials last October, most people understood that meant a greater acreage of crops would be planted. Wrong again.

The first GM crops were planted in 1987. By 1992, they were un-netted in the open air. Bees could fly freely in and out of the crops. The plots were about the same size as the floor space of a three-bedroom house. The acreage covered could be vast.

One man who knows how far GM research has gone is David Parker. For 30 years, he has worked with agri-chemical and bio-technical companies carrying out trials on his 900-acre farm in Oxfordshire. He sees research as his mission in life. "Why else would God give me an inquiring mind and put me on a farm?" he asked.

Parker has grown GM crops every year since 1996 . Sipping beer in the Carriers Arms, Watlington, he waits anxiously for a protest march to arrive on his land and tells me that he is puzzled that the public outcry had not happened sooner.

"The research is lessening. At 18 acres, this is a small trial. The biggest was 27 acres in 1996 . Every summer, conventional rape and beehives have been dotted all around my GM crops. The bird or bee has already flown, " he says.

AgrEvo and the Government confirmed Parker's statement. The acreage planted is smaller, but this is not in response to public opinion.

In 1998, there were 300 trials, this year there were only 150. "We have collected the data we need for various submission packages to the regulators, so there is less call for trials," says a spokesman for AgrEvo.

Bees all over Britain have been in and out of GM flowers for at least seven years. We have probably already eaten honey made from GM pollen. Does it matter?

The government agency that is responsible for safety standards and the labelling of GM food says: "Consumption of gene products from pollen in honey is likely to be negligible." In other words, they do not know what the effect will be.

Honey must be clearly labelled. If a beekeeper knows his bees have been foraging in GM crops and he does not label his honey, he may be fined £5,000.

Parker suggests that genetic modification is to us what steam travel was to the Victorians. "When George Stephenson developed the Rocket, people said the human body could not withstand speed in excess of 20mph. We always fear what we do not understand."

A recent poll by Mori showed one per cent of consumers believe GM is a good thing. The rest of us do not want organic crops compromised or standards changed to allow GM foods, and we do not want field trials on farmland.

Are our fears justified? Three years ago, Catherine Tulip, a solicitor, resigned to fight for the abolition of GM. Last year, she removed the crops on Parker's farm. I expected her to be well informed, a mistress of the facts.

Not so. She knows there are 32 million hectares of GM crops growing commercially worldwide, but she does not know the extent of trials in Britain nor the nature of those on Parker's farm. She expresses a deep human revulsion against man playing God, but has little evidence on which to base her objections. None the less, she is determined GM will stop.

Unlike America, where farming areas are huge and remote, Britain is a small country where urban sprawl penetrates deep into rural areas. None of us, especially the beekeepers, will rest easy until the politicians come clean and make their research open.


19 Jul 99 - GMO - GM trials to continue despite protest

Staff Reporter

Evening Standard ... Monday July 1999


The Government said today that genetically modified crop trials will continue , despite the destruction at the weekend of GM oilseed rape.

An Environment Department spokesman said damage was still being assessed following yesterday's "depressing" incident, but in no way would the protest interfere with the Government's determination to see GM trials through to the end .

Six protesters, all men, were arrested after the 25-acre field of rape was torn up and trampled in Watlington, Oxfordshire. They were bailed and charges involving criminal damage are expected in the next few days.

It is expected there will be more arrests after police study film footage of the incident, which began after a peaceful a rally to protest against GM crop production.

Around 100 environmentalists in white protective overalls and face masks, marched into the field and started to pull up the crop after a rally which brought hundreds of people to the farm, which is one of six in Britain taking part in major Govern-ment-backed trials of GM foods.

Environmentalists want all such trials banned , claiming the new crops could contaminate surrounding fields and plants .

Supermarkets have been competing to remove GM ingredients from their shelves in the face of widespread public concern . Sainsbury's claimed today that it is the first major British supermarket to have eliminated GM ingredients from its own-brand products .

The company has worked with more than 1,000 suppliers to review its products. It had clearly labelled all relevant items from its 12,000-plus range while it worked to find alternative soya sources . Sainsbury's took a lead in the GM issue earlier this year when it established a help-line to inform and gain feedback from its customers.

In March it announced it would eliminate GM ingredients from its own-brand products and set up an international consortium of food retailers and industry experts to establish verified sources of non-GM crops and products .

Legislation does not require ingredients such as oil and lecithin to be labelled.

Supermarkets may now have to scrutinise the clothing tracks, too. Marks & Spencer is being accused of selling "politically incorrect" underwear because the cotton used in manufacture is genetically modified. America is the world's biggest exporter of cotton, and GM ingredients form almost half this year's crop.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth has warned biotech companies that they risk being sued for damages if GM crops harm human health or the environment. FoE has been campaigning for a five-year freeze on the commercial planting of GM crops.

In the US, the American Soybean Association suggested that British shoppers may have to pay more for non-GM products.

The association says that the costs for segregating GM from non-GM crops could push up prices to the consumer.

Some seven per cent of the $13 billion American soya crop comes to the UK, and US farmers said investing in segregation would cost millions of dollars.


19 Jul 99 - GMO - Six held over crop protest damage

Staff Reporter

Times ... Monday July 1999


SIX people were arrested yesterday after the destruction of part of a field where genetically modified crops were being grown , Thames Valley police said.

The arrests came at a mass protest at the 25-acre field of genetically engineered oilseed rape at Model Farm, Watlington, Oxfordshire. A police spokesman said: "After assurances this would be a peaceful protest, protesters started destroying the crops. We did everything possible to facilitate the peaceful protest, and as a result of the actions of a section of the march we have had to make arrests."

Protesters destroyed the half of the field that is genetically engineered , said a spokesman for the campaign group Genetic Engineering Network. "This experiment here has been invalidated by the destruction carried out by activists today," he added.


19 Jul 99 - GMO - GM pants and socks next on protesters' list

By Robin Young

Times ... Monday July 1999


Are your pants politically correct and environmentally acceptable? That is the question that clothing retailers and department stores are going to dread in coming weeks as attention turns from genetically modified foods to genetically modified underwear.

To date, the fury of the public debate about genetically modified crops has concentrated on maize and soya, ingredients used in almost two thirds of manufactured foods.

Supermarkets have been falling over themselves to clear their own-brand foodstuffs of genetically modified ingredients. Now they are going to have to scrutinise the clothing racks too .

For there is a third genetically modified crop which, in the view of the environmentalists campaigning against the practice, is just as important as maize and soya. That crop is cotton and in America , which is the world's biggest exporter of cotton, genetically modified cotton forms almost half this year's crop . As was the case with soya and maize, the Americans have not segregated the crops from genetically modified cottonfields and those from conventional plants.

Marks & Spencer, which boasts that it has banned GM ingredients from its St Michael brand foods , agrees that it has yet to tackle the problem of underpants, socks and chinos . Bob Underwood, the company's cotton specialist, says: "The trouble is that we cannot test for GM cotton. There is absolutely no way that we can tell whether cotton fibre comes from a genetically modified plant or not."

Friends of the Earth, a leading campaigner against genetic modification, has written to clothing companies asking if they are prepared to ban genetically modified cotton from their stores. No such undertakings have been forthcoming yet. Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said yesterday: "This issue does not stop at food safety. What the public is worried about is the effect that GM crops may have on the environment, on biodiversity and on farmers in the Third World."

The Consumers' Association said: "Leading retailers have reacted positively to consumer concern about genetically modified food, either by banning them or insisting that they are labelled. The next step should be that clothes made from GM crops should be labelled too. "

The GM cotton on the market, like the soya and maize, is genetically engineered by the agro-chemical concern Monsanto to be resistant to its Roundup weedkiller.

Other products in development are cotton that would be genetically modified for resistance to pests and genetically modified seed that would produce coloured cotton yielding blue, brown and grey threads.

Boots, the high street chemist, has agreed that genetically modified products may be used in some of its own-brand medicines because many medicinal products contain ingredients derived from cotton. Some liquid medicines, for example, use as thickening agent an acid derived from cellulose, which itself comes from cotton grown in the United States.

The inability to guarantee that such items as cotton shirts, socks, underwear, handkerchiefs and pyjamas are GM free is shared by all clothing retailers in Britain. Cotton is traded as a commodity to manufacturers and the US, selling unsorted cotton of which almost half is genetically modified, is an important supplier to all markets.


19 Jul 99 - GMO - Gm Crops Plea

Staff Reporter

Independent ... Monday July 1999


The Agriculture Ministry has approached the Church Commissioners to lease its land for research into genetically modified crops , Stuart Bell, the MP for Middlesbrough, replying for the commissioners, said. He added that its investment working group would consider the proposal later this month.


19 Jul 99 - GMO - GM crop is destroyed by 500 protesters

By Jim Pride

Telegraph ... Monday July 1999


Up to 500 protesters attacked one of Britain's largest genetically modified crop trial sites yesterday.

The protesters, many dressed in white chemical protection suits, pushed past police into the 25-acre field in Watlington, Oxfordshire, and spent two hours destroying the oilseed rape . Up to half of the plants were trampled, uprooted or hacked down. Thames Valley police said last night that five people were arrested for alleged criminal damage and a sixth for alleged violent disorder.

AgrEvo, the agricultural company at the forefront of GM development which behind the trial, said the crop had been funded by the Government and independent advisers were monitoring it. Clive Rainbird, a biotechnology communications manager for AgrEvo, said the trial was designed solely to satisfy the demands of people against GM crops. The results would either confirm or alleviate their fears.

The firm, which is also involved in trials of modified maize, lost a another GM oilseed rape test crop when Capt Fred Barker was ordered to destroy it by trustees of his Lushill Farm at Hannington, near Swindon, last month.


18 Jul 99 - GMO - M&S sells genetically modified Frankenpants

By Marie Woolf

Telegraph ... Sunday 18 July 1999


Martine McCutcheon wears them. So, at the opposite end of the fashion spectrum, does Lady Thatcher. But Marks & Spencer's knickers , which were roundly condemned last week by the firm's own shareholders for being unsexy, are indeed not what they seem. They are, in fact, "genetically modified" .

The high street store, which proudly boasts it has withdrawn GM ingredients from its own brand food, has not taken the same rigorous approach with its underwear. M&S says that since its clothing is not eaten, as far as it knows, by customers, there is no need to stitch in GM labels.

The store claims it is almost impossible to find out whether clothing is produced from genetically modified plants. "The trouble is we can't test for it. There's absolutely no way we can tell if the cotton is from a GM plant," said Bob Underwood, M&S Cotton specialist. "The material is no different."

Environmentalists want to meet M&S representatives to discuss the fibres used in the knickers. "We have written to ask whether they will ban GM cotton from their shelves," said Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth. "Public concern does not stop with food safety. The public is also worried about the effect of GM crops on the environment."

Consumer groups argue that customers should have the same choice over GM knickers as they do over sandwiches. They want special labels to be put on all clothes whose fibres come from genetically engineered plants. "Given that M&S have reacted positively to consumer concern about GM food the inevitable next step is labelling clothes," said a spokesman for the Consumers Association.

The briefs and bikini range are made from cotton fibres grown all over the world - including the biggest exporting country America, where almost all of the crop is now genetically modified. Like GM soya from the US, which is labelled in Britain, GM cotton is not separated from ordinary plants.


28 Jun 99 - GMO - Warning on 'GM pollution'

Staff Reporter

Times ... Monday 28 June 1999


Genetically modified micro-organisms are being released into the environment every day, according to a report by published today .

The campaign group GeneWatch UK said that the micro-organisms were used for research and to make drugs, and were being released in waste from factories and laboratories into rivers and the atmosphere, unmonitored by the authorities .

GeneWatch said that, according to the Health and Safety Executive's public register, GM bacteria, viruses, yeasts and fungi were being used at 471 sites across the UK for research and industrial purposes, 34 of them on a large scale .

The waste from the sites is treated but the GM opponents claim that not all the micro-organisms are killed.

Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK, said: "The effects of this genetic pollution are unknown and once again with a GM issue we are having to produce our own research to force the Government to acknowledge the problem and take appropriate action."


28 Jun 99 - GMO - Public to advise GM food group

By Paul Waugh Political Correspondent

Independent ... Monday 28 June 1999


The government will launch a fresh attempt to calm fears over genetically modified foods this week when it invites members of the public to sit on a new advisory group. Advertisements will be placed in national newspapers on Wednesday asking for applications for the 15 seats on the Agriculture and Environmental Biotechnology Commission.

Laymen and women will be encouraged to apply, along with doctors, consumer group representatives and environmentalists to give opinions on the wider ethical implications of GM crops and food. "We want applications from all regions of the country and from a wide range of people," a Government source said yesterday.

Together with another new body, the Human Genetics Commission, the group will assess the acceptability of genetic modification and identify gaps in current regulations. Their members will consult scientific experts, the biotechnology industry and the wider public regularly as part of a "stakeholder" approach to GM issues.

The Agriculture and Biotechnology Commission will report directly to Jack Cunningham, the chairman of the Cabinet committee overseeing genetic modification. The commission will be backed up by new guidelines to make current scientific advisory committees more transparent and topical in their deliberations.

Ministers are keen to counter claims that they are unresponsive to public opinion, and believe that the lay members of the commission will help de-mystify the regulatory system currently in operation.

Earlier this month, ministers were also forced to reassess their policy on planting distances for GM trials after a report commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food concluded that there was a real risk of contamination of neighbouring fields .


27 Jun 99 - GMO - Winemakers admit to testing of GM vines

by Graham Duffill and Wayne Bodkin

Times ... Sunday 27 June 1999


French winemakers, for so long boastful of their traditional methods, have been secretly experimenting with genetically modified vines and yeast .

They have been developing vines resistant to diseases and yeast designed to control flavours, despite public fears that "Frankenstein wine" may pose as great a risk to health or the environment as genetically modified food crops.

The research could, however, benefit British growers and lead to vines flourishing in previously unviable climates such as the north of England. The age of Château Doncaster, appellation South Yorks contrôlée, may yet be nigh.

Moët & Chandon , the champagne house, confirmed last week that it had conducted research into GM vines . "Our initial involvement was to try to modify a vine that was resistant to a disease that affects the plant very often during grafting," said Philippe Coulon, Moët's director of oenology. The company has been working with the National Institute for Agronomic Research at Colmar in eastern France.

Dr Alex Sheaffer, from the institute, said: "We have been carrying out experiments, but at the moment we have been told to stop." The research has been put on hold because of public concern.

In another study, scientists at the Genetic Plant Research Institute in Montpellier have succeeded in producing a GM yeast that could be used to control the development of a wine and adjust its flavour.

Wines have been getting stronger as better disease control allows longer growing periods. The riper grapes contain more sugar, giving an alcohol content close to the maximum 15.5% permitted by the European Union.

The GM yeast can turn some of the sugar into glycerol , a sweet liquid, rather than alcohol. This gives the wine a better balance and stops the alcohol from overwhelming the delicate flavours.

Jean-Marie Sableyrolles, who heads the team at Montpellier, said: "At the moment it will reduce a wine's alcohol level by 1% but we believe we could take it down by 2%."

Scientists have also managed to produce a GM yeast with a killer factor, according to John Worontschak, a London-based wine consultant. "Normally up to six types of yeast species will interact," he said. "This one produces tiny amounts of toxin that do not let the other yeasts grow, making fermentation less volatile." It, too, could reduce alcohol content.

Winemakers claim that no GM vines have yet been planted outside laboratories, but some producers are deeply worried and 20 of the largest in Burgundy are demanding that appellation contrôlée authorities take a stand against GM wine and declare a moratorium on any further studies . "We must take a strong position quickly. It's not for us to take risks for future generations ," said a spokesman for the region's growers.

Others foresee great vintages being reduced to little more than superplonk. Dr Tony Jordan, an Australian biochemist and winemaker, believes GM vines could herald the "beginning of the end of the wine industry". He predicted they could lead to wines such as Château Margaux being mass-produced from disease-resistant, climate-adapted vines with a standardised flavour.

Anthony Hanson, chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, sees no advantage in the French research. "Where is the need? We are not trying to feed the world," he said. "We already have reliable, cheap supplies of wine."

Joanna Simon, the Sunday Times wine correspondent, is also concerned. "My fear is that you end up with three companies producing a standardised wine for the whole world. I want to preserve the choice."

However, British vineyard owners, who at present produce a modest 3.5m bottles a year, are likely to take a different view. Stephen Skelton, chairman of the UK Vineyards Association, believes GM research could expand the areas open to vine cultivation in Britain.

"The line for wine growth is currently reckoned to be from the Wash to Bristol, but is already changing [because of climate changes], as there are vineyards in Cheshire and South Yorkshire," he said. "There is no reason why in 20 years that should not reach as far north as the Tay.

"I see GM vines as being very useful. We could create wine that would require fewer chemicals to grow, produce higher yields and allow the vine to ripen longer, allowing us to expand into areas with shorter growing seasons."


27 Jun 99 - GMO - Pupils develop test kit for GM foods

By Greg Neale, Environment Correspondent

Telegraph ... Sunday 27 June 1999


A group of A-level pupils have developed a simple device to detect genetically modified material in foods - but may have lost the chance to make millions from their discovery.

The students at Hazelwood Integrated College, Belfast, developed their test kit - which resembles a pregnancy-test device - as part of their biology studies. The project is now in the running for a prize in a competition to find the province's top young scientists.

But yesterday it emerged that the pupils and their school may have lost their chance to patent their device after they revealed details of their work to leading food companies. Dr Seamus Quinn, the pupils' teacher, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Unfortunately, what happened is we contacted some of the large companies and said, 'This is our idea'.

"They sort of scratched their heads and said, 'That's a pretty good idea - but you can't get a patent on it because you've told us about it'. That is the rule for patenting in the UK. So the idea is out there and we just hope now that someone takes it up and runs with it."

The pupils - Connor Higgins, Angela Wilson and Elizabeth Crawford - developed a test for one of the components used by scientists to modify crops. They said: "Presently, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are detected by using the process of gene amplification or polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

"This is a sensitive process... which requires strict quality control... expert staff, expensive chemicals and apparatus, and above all, time. We have made a test kit, which looks like a pregnancy test, that will allow retailers and consumers to find out quickly if the food they are eating contains GMO products."

Dr Quinn said: "It is still in an early stage of development. We have a working prototype."


25 Jun 99 - GMO - EU agrees tougher limits on GM crops

By Charles Clover Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 25 June 1999


Tougher controls on the commercial release of genetically modified crops were agreed by European Union environment ministers in Luxembourg yesterday.

After nearly 20 hours of continuous talks to finalise proposals, they rejected those by France and Greece for a moratorium on new releases until the rules come into force. Among measures agreed, however, are tougher risk assessments for all releases of GM crops, including direct and indirect effects on wildlife.

A monitoring regime will be introduced to ensure that crops are behaving as expected, and if not they can be withdrawn. An EU ethical committee will be created to consider wider issues, such as whether animal genes should be used in plants. All consents to market genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be time-limited to 10 years, after which companies must apply again. There was agreement that antibiotic marker genes, which might contribute to making some of the most commonly-used medicines ineffective, should be phased out.

There will be a more comprehensive labelling system and a working party of the European Commission is to draw up proposals on who is liable if a GMO release goes wrong. Michael Meacher, the environment minister, who was present throughout the talks, said: "The regulatory procedures have been substantially strengthened. This is a thorough, comprehensive, balanced regulatory framework which I am sure will be very effective."

The European Parliament must approve the measures, backed by ministers from the 15 member states at 5am yesterday. This could take between six and eight months, depending on whether there are disputes, which could end up in conciliation procedures with the Council of Ministers. Mr Meacher said the directive could take up to two years to come into force. There was no legal basis for declaring the moratorium proposed by France and Greece, he added.


22 Jun 99 - GMO - Scientists create a GM super tree

By Roger Highfield Science Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 22 June 1999


Genetic modification technology that makes trees and plants grow up to 50 per cent faster than usual has been developed by Israeli scientists.

The technique could be used to create fast-growing hardwood trees to help to restore depleted rain forests, according to the company which owns the rights to the research, CBD Technologies of Rehovot . However, because of opposition in Britain, there are no plans to introduce plants modified with this technique.

The Israeli scientists have inserted a bacterial gene, called the cellulose-binding domain (CBD) gene, into trees and crops. The gene affects the way that cellulose is manufactured, so that trees sprout faster and fatter. The precise amount depends on conditions and the type of CBD gene. Cell walls are also thickened, possibly resulting in increased structural strength.

CBD Technologies expects the technique to be in commercial use within five years. Limited field trials of poplar trees , used for pulp and paper, have already been set up in Virginia in the United States to see if the growth cycle can be accelerated, while crops such as tomatoes, corn and potatoes are still being laboratory tested. Stanley Hirsch, chief executive of CBD Technologies Inc, believes the technique could help fend off a potential worldwide food crisis.


20 Jun 99 - GMO - Cancer scare over cattle drugs

Antony Barnett, Public Affairs Editor

Guardian ... Sunday 20 June 1999


Dairy products at risk after Ministers let Monsanto carry out secret trials to raise milk yields

Thousands of British consumers were exposed to an experimental cancer-causing chemical during the late 1980s after the Tory Government gave permission for its use.

The Observer has learned that the chemical - made by Monsanto, the US biotech firm behind genetically modified crops - was given to cattle on 38 farms in a clandestine experiment conducted over a three-year period . The farms are thought to have been in southern England.

At the time the Government admitted that some trials were taking place but disclosed only scant details. Now it is known that hundreds of animals were injected with Monsanto's genetically modified hormone known as BST , designed to increase milk yields by 10-15 per cent. The Government allowed this milk - and dairy products derived from it - to be sold to the public without any warning .

Earlier this year, the European Union's scientific committee concluded that the hormone increased the risk of breast and prostate cancer . It is also feared that BST milk could lead to cancer of the colon .

Labour Ministers are refusing to give full details about the secret trials . Last week's revelations of the number of farms involved and that the milk was consumed by humans have shocked experts .

But The Observer has established that officials at the Ministry of Agriculture do have a list of the farms used for the experiments and that each farm was given permission to use BST for two years.

In 1985 Monsanto and another US company, Eli Lilley, were given licenses by the Government to test BST. The hormone was banned in the EU in 1990 after causing udder infections, mastitis and reproductive problems . At the time Britain was the only country to vote against the moratorium.

Earlier this year Canada also banned the genetically engineered chemical.

Monsanto is now threatening a trade war unless the EU lifts the ban. Like genetically modified food, BST milk is widely used in the US and Monsanto claims it is safe.

But Donald Broom, a professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University who helped carry out the study for the EU, has no doubts of the hazards posed by BST . He told The Observer that Monsanto's research was flawed.

Monsanto claimed that BST milk did not have increased level of IGF, a hormone linked to some cancers. EU scientists have now demonstrated that BST contains up to five times more IGF than normal milk. The biotech firm also wrongly claimed that the hormone would be broken down before it reached the gut.

Broom said: 'They told us there was no risk to health. They were wrong. Many people would have drunk milk or eaten dairy products which increased their risk of developing cancer .'

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP who raised the issue in the House of Commons, said: 'First the Tories gave us BSE. Now it appears they gave us BST É These secret trials show Monsanto conniving with the Government of the day to protect the interests of big business .'

A Monsanto spokesman denied there was any risk to human health from BST milk. He said BST had been subject to one of the most intensive monitoring programmes ever conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration.

A Department of Health spokeswoman denied the Government has used British consumers as guinea pigs . She said: 'Independent expert committees in Britain and Europe concluded that the applications to test BST met all the statutory requirements of safety, quality and efficacy.'


20 Jun 99 - GMO - World's top sweetener is made with GM bacteria

By Marie Woolf, political correspondent

Independent ... Sunday 20 June 1999


The most widely used sweetener in the world , found in fizzy drinks and sweets, is being made using a secret genetic engineering process , which some scientists claim needs further testing for toxic side-effects .

The use of genetic engineering to make aspartame has stayed secret until now because there is no modified DNA in the finished product. Monsanto, the pioneering GM food giant, which makes aspartame, insists that it is completely safe. But some scientists fear that not enough is known about the process of making it . One of the two elements that make up the sweetener can be produced by genetically engineering bacteria, and scientists say that they cannot rule out toxic side-effects .

The Independent on Sunday has found that Monsanto often uses genetically engineered bacteria to produce the sweetener at its US production plants. "We have two strains of bacteria - one is traditionally modified and one is genetically modified," said one Monsanto source. "It's got a modified enzyme. It has one amino acid different."

A Monsanto spokeswoman confirmed that aspartame for the US market is made using genetic engineering. But sweetener supplied to British food producers is not. However, consumer groups say it is likely that some low-calorie products containing genetically engineered aspartame have been imported into Britain.

"Increasingly, chemical companies are using genetically engineered bacteria in their manufacturing process without telling the public," said Dr Erik Millstone, of the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University, and a member of the National Food Alliance.

MPs want the Government to launch an inquiry to see how much US aspartame is coming into the UK. Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, will this week write to Jeff Rooker, the Food Safety Minister, to ask him to ensure that US aspartame is labelled as genetically modified . "Monsanto's sweetener," he said, "has turned sour."

Aspartame is made by combining phenylalanine, which is naturally produced by bacteria, with another amino acid. To make the bacteria produce more phenylalanine, Monsanto has genetically engineered them.

"Whether such a contaminating compound will be toxic, or not is completely unknowable until empirical studies are done to test toxicity," said Dr John Fagan, a former genetic engineer who now heads Genetic ID, the world's leading GM test centre. No such studies have been done , or at least they have not been placed in the public domain.


20 Jun 99 - GMO - Meacher flouts Blair by backing GM food critics

by Richard Brooks and Eben Black

Times ... Sunday 20 June 1999


A senior minister who publicly supports the government's policy on genetically modified (GM) foods has privately applauded the BBC for having "pointed out the dangers" .

Michael Meacher, the environment minister who has defended the test-planting of GM crops in Britain, has told senior executives of the Radio 4 Today programme that it has "led the way" in highlighting the potential hazards of the new crops. Meacher's comments will alarm the prime minister , who has made no secret of his enthusiasm for GM foods, and Jack Cunningham, the cabinet enforcer, who has been in charge of public presentation of the issue.

Although Meacher has taken a cautious position on GM products - he has said there are "very great uncertainties" about the technology - the government is anxious to present a united front and defuse what Blair has called "media hysteria". It is so concerned about media coverage of GM foods that it is appointing a No 10 spin doctor, Peter Wilkinson, to head a new unit in the Cabinet Office to ensure its views are better explained.

Meacher's support for Today will most annoy Cunningham, who has accused the programme of "espousing the Friends of the Earth line". He has taken particular issue with the presenter John Humphrys.

Humphrys has been criticised by GM food companies, such as Monsanto. It has emerged that Dave Hill, former Labour party spin doctor and now public relations consultant to Monsanto , recently wrote to Humphrys complaining about his views.

Humphrys said yesterday that he was concerned about GM foods, but denied that it had affected his work. He denied suggestions that he owned an organic farm and was a member of the Soil Association.

Cunningham's failure to contain the media's scepticism on GM foods has prompted speculation that he may be replaced in a forthcoming government reshuffle.

Jeff Rooker, an agriculture minister who has impressed Blair with his assured television performances on the GM issue, is being touted as frontrunner to replace Cunningham.

"Rooker is excellent at explaining any difficult issue in a simple and sympathetic way," said one insider.

The growing crisis of confidence in GM food was underlined this weekend when Blair was forced to accept a major international inquiry into the products after an ambush by fellow world leaders at the G8 summit in Cologne.


20 Jun 99 - GMO - GM food 'threatens the planet'

Andy McSmith and Denis Staunton, Cologne and Antony Barnett

Guardian ... Sunday 20 June 1999


The world's most powerful leaders yesterday labelled genetically modified food, alongside Aids and the millennium bug, as one of the greatest threats facing the planet.

In a significant blow to Tony Blair and President Bill Clinton, both men were bounced into agreeing a new global inquiry into the safety of GM foods at the G8 summit in Cologne. Blair and the US President have been two of the strongest supporters of the GM industry.

Environmentalists welcomed the development as 'significant', but they warned that the public would not be 'duped by international committees interested in rubber-stamping products of biotechnology firms'.

Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth, said: 'It shows just how far the thinking in the US and British Governments is from those in other leading nations. If this G8 initiative is to have any credibility, there must now be a five-year freeze on all GM food used commercially .'

Monsanto, the US firm behind GM crops, also welcomed the move, saying it hoped it would speed up international approval of their products. Washington and Brussels are at loggerheads over GM technology, with the US threatening an all-out trade war if Europe tries to ban GM food.

Yesterday the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder - supporting an initiative of French President Jacques Chirac - used his position as head of the host nation to put GM foods on the agenda of the G8 summit. The matter was included under 'global threats' along with Aids and the millennium bug. This Franco-German alliance symbolises the growing opposition on the Continent to the new technology.

Two technical committees of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development will now begin to collate information from around the world to ensure that every country has access to the best research on the effects of genetic modification. Afterwards British officials defended the decision, saying that Britain also believes that 'food standards and food safety are vital to communities'.

Ministers argue they will not give permission for commercial release of such crops until the trial results show these are safe. But environmental campaigners still believe that potential risks to human health have not been properly evaluated and are concerned that GM seeds can cross-pollinate into the countryside, destroying wild habitats.

Opposition to genetically modified food is also beginning to grow in the US , where some 70 million acres of modified soya beans, tomatos, wheat and cotton are now grown across the country.

This unexpected setback at the G8 summit took some of the shine off a personal success for Tony Blair, who persuaded the other G8 leaders to agree measures to improve teacher training worldwide.

It was the first time that G8 had included education as a topic at any of their summits.


19 Jun 99 - GMO - The seeds of wrath

By John Vidal

Guardian ... Saturday 19 June 1999


Thousands will demonstrate today at a meeting of the leading economic powers. The target is the new corporate colonialism. The frontline is India, where farmers are taking on the GM giants.

On January 18 last year, Nagarikanti Yellaiah went to his one-acre cotton field with a plastic bottle of insecticide. He was a young farmer from the Warangal district of Andrah Pradesh state in central India. He lay down and drank the organophosphate poison. It would have worked fast on the nervous system. Blurred vision would be followed by profuse sweating and vomiting. Death would have come painfully. His body was found in his failed crop, which was still being attacked by worms and caterpillars.

Twelve hours later, villagers found Bennala Venkateswarlu with a bottle of insecticide lying beside him. By April, 350 farmers had hanged themselves or drunk the poisons that had failed to save their crops. In the past 18 months, more than 500 farmers, more than half of them from the Warangal area, have killed themselves.

Warangal is cotton country, a dry, antique, semi-feudal landscape tilled for centuries by subsistence farmers. What is happening there is a life- and-death story being repeated all over India and the developing world, where the global economy is crashing against the local, and corporate ambitions are coming face to face with those of some of the poorest people in the world.

The Warangal farmers were growing conventional cotton, but in the next year or two they and millions of other Indian farmers will come under pressure to grow the latest genetically-modified crops. If they go down this route, it will, depending on whom you believe, either make them richer and help them farm better, or consign them to a life of debt. Multiply that across India and the stakes get enormous: political stability, wealth and food for all, or increasing malnutrition, a new colonisation and social chaos.

You'd never know Warangal has been in the thick of the battle over agrarian ideologies for more than a decade. It looks prosperous enough at harvest-time: fields full of people, convoys of oxen sedately hauling great stacks of cotton to the gins, colourful festivals. But any notion of a pre-lapsarian age of innocence is illusory. The work is grinding, the financial rewards small and the pressures great.

Ten years ago, barely anyone in the state grew cotton exclusively. Most farmers collected their millet, pulse and oil seeds, and grew enough for themselves with a bit over for the local market. Seed has a powerful significance for most of India's 500 million farmers, representing inexhaustible continuity and renewal, the essence and means of life itself. Almost 80% of Indian seed, the best of each year's crop, is collected and replanted. Every stage of its development from germination to harvest is prayed for and celebrated. Saving seed, re-using and sharing it are fundamental freedoms.

That changed in the late 80s and early 90s, when pressure from the International Monetary Fund and its sister, the World Bank, encouraged India to open its heavily protected economy. In return for up to £90 billion in loans, it was made to dismantle its immense state-owned seed supply system, run down subsidies and public agriculture institutions, and give incentives for the growing of "cash crops" to earn foreign exchange.

The "Green Revolution" in the 70s turned India from the world's largest importer of food grains to a self-sufficient country by turning over a few large regions to industrial-scale farming. The revolution reached Warangal late. In came the companies with high-yielding cotton seeds, the pesticide makers and, because modern cotton farming need pricey fertilisers and new hybrid seeds each year, the "arthies" or moneylenders. Several million farmers have in the past decade been persuaded by incentives, advertising and corporate promises to turn from traditional crops to cotton. Up to 60% of the state's cultivable land is now planted with "white gold".

For a few years, the Warangal farmers did well, but they had little warning that the world price of cotton could fall, that pests could build up resistance to the chemicals, and that the "hybrid" seeds they were sold were notoriously unreliable and needed more water than traditional kinds. In one of the worst outbreaks of pests and disease in years, farmers were beset by all these disasters. All at the same time.

"Death was the final solution," says Rameka, whose husband drank insecticide after his seeds failed. He owed £50 to a moneylender. His gold-framed, fading portrait sits on a shelf next to the insecticide that he drank. She speaks softly, surrounded by her family and 20 other young farmers. "We had two acres and were growing cotton for four years. The first year was good, but he lost money since then. He borrowed to invest in a well," she says. She is now dependent on others for the rest of her life. Her brother-in-law struggles on. "The same will happen again. Everyone in every village is in bad debt."

"Almost all the suicides were because of debt following seed failure in one of the worst years for pests. Most were small farmers trapped by the pesticide- and seed-dealers, who are also the money-lenders, who get credit from the companies," says Vasuki Berlavadi, who works for a group representing 50,000 farmers. "The seeds can be bad. And the pesticides are often diluted by the people who sell them. Cotton is get-rich-quick farming, like gambling. Once people are in debt, they must go on growing it. If they don't pay their debts, they will commit suicide, too. It happens in a weak moment." India has one in four of the world's two billion farmers. For Mahatma Gandhi they were "the mother of the nation", and freedom from British cotton colonisation was a central argument for independence 50 years ago. Wearing "khadi", or hand-woven cotton cloth, was the resistance movement's symbol of opposition to British rule.

But Gandhi's vision of a decentralised, self-sufficient India is a folk memory now in the capital, New Delhi. The population has almost doubled since independence, the middle classes have burgeoned, and the mood in a politically-rudderless central government is for globalisation and for the state to leave food supply to the free market. The needs of business and the cities dominate the social and political debate, and the young professionals want to reap a western harvest of cars, videos and mobile phones. There is no nostalgia for the closed economy their parents knew, and the once-revered Indian peasant farmer is now a shadow in the land.

But feeding India is vital for political stability. It is getting perilously difficult as the Green Revolution yellows at the edges, and ecological and social problems surface. Half India's cultivable land is now ecologically degraded, grain production is declining and farmers are turning to cash crops and away from the traditional ones that make up the bulk of the food eaten by the poorest. In the next 40 years, India may have to feed up to 400 million more people. Most will be desperately poor.

You see the hungry everywhere; up to 300 million people are below the official poverty line. Football-sized crowds gather for food handouts in Bombay. Destitute children beg for scraps. India may be officially "self-sufficient" in staple foods, have reserves, and even export food, yet there are reliable reports of pockets of starvation and severe malnutrition, even in major food-growing areas.

Food, says leading development economist Devinder Sharma, is about poverty. "India has more than enough to feed itself, but if its agriculture fails, everything fails. The small farmers are being forgotten."

Not altogether. The Metropolitan, in the Bombay suburbs, is a tall, dark office block housing the Indian HQs of some of the world's largest companies. Near the top, in guarded offices, is Monsanto. The $12 billion US "life sciences" cor- poration declares it is working in the interests of all of India's farmers by introducing GM crops. Monsanto has been in India for 30 years, making herbicides like Machete and Roundup. But since it moved into genetic engineering and seeds under the slogan "Food, Health, Hope", it has expanded rapidly and is now set to become the most powerful force in Indian agriculture, moving into water supply and growth hormones for cattle.

In place of the publicly-controlled Green Revolution, Monsanto heralds the onset of a privately-led genetic revolution. And, in the aftermath of colonisation by the East India Company and the British empire, it and others are being accused of neo-colonisation. Monsanto's ambition for India is vast. Apart from paying $20 million for the country's most-advanced genetic-engineering research centre, it has spent an estimated $4 billion buying up some of its leading seed companies, or companies that have access to the Indian market - for instance, it acquired the foreign interests of giant US agribusiness Cargill, which in turn owned Rallis, a leading Indian seed supplier.

The acquistions and joint ventures that have been set up, says Monsanto's president, Robert Shapiro, are part of its strategy of building "a global seed company" to deliver a wide variety of GM crops on all continents, many only growable with their own-brand pesticides. "We are aiming to consolidate the whole food chain," a Monsanto director told the Indian press last year.

You can walk into The Metropolitan and get an immediate audience with Monsanto. We meet Mark Wells, a young, relaxed Australian, one of three westerners in a 350-strong workforce. Wells is head of marketing, in daily contact with HQ chiefs in St Louis, Missouri. He says Monsanto is concerned about India, which is growing fast but running out of land to grow food. It will need new technologies and ecologically-sound "sustainable development" to survive, he says. "We are working in the interests of all India's farmers and consumers.

We have the technologies to reduce farmers' costs, increase their yields and reduce their need for pesticides," he says. He knows about the suicides in Warangal and argues that the tragedies would not have happened had they been growing GM crops that do not depend so much on pesticides and provide better yields. Monsanto, like other companies and the extensive but under-financed Indian public research institutions, is developing GM wheat, corn, sunflower, fruit and vegetables, rice and grain. But its bridgehead into the vast Indian seed market is cotton. India is the largest world producer, cultivating more than nine million hectares; cotton earns almost a third of the nation's foreign exchange, employing more than a million farmers.

Monsanto's great white hope is "Bt cotton" (bacillus thuringiensis), which is genetically engineered to resist bollworms, the worldwide bane of cotton farmers. Its patented "Bollgard" seeds have been growing in China and the US for several years, and the company says they reduce pesticide use by up to 60%, and increase yields up to 8% with a 30% net gain. You can see the attractions for farmers.

Monsanto wanted to introduce Bollgard to India this year in a blaze of publicity, jingles, posters, ads and leaflets printed in many languages. It was pretty confident of success. It uses an international PR company and has heavily lobbied the policy-makers. It also sponsors leading sports competitions and links its name to religious celebrations such as Diwali, the Hindu new year, and the 300th anniversary of the Sikhs.

But with several hundred "field assistants" ready to demonstrate and sell the GM seeds, Monsanto was stopped late last year by Indian environmentalists who accused it of planting 40 GM cotton trial sites in five Indian states without the correct permissions or safety procedures. The company and the government maintain that everything was in order, but the commercial growing of Bt cotton was delayed for months pending a government hearing. At least one state has banned further trials.

All might be well in Monsanto's Bombay HQ, had not the corporation, in May last year, bought for $1.2 billion Delta and Pine, a giant US seed company that dominated the US cotton market and that owned US patent No 5,723,765. Developed with the US government and military, this technology allows any seed to be genetically doctored to grow into a healthy plant but then to produce infertile seeds.

It was immediately dubbed "Terminator", or "suicide-technology". Whatever the original purpose of Delta and Pine, the attraction of the technology to Monsanto was obvious. Instead of the corporation having to police farmers at great cost to make sure they did not collect their patented GM seeds and sow them for next year's harvest, the plants would do the work themselves.

But in India, the very idea was dynamite. That farmers should not be able to replant seeds was inconceivable and offensive. Monsanto claimed it hadn't applied the technology to a single seed, that it was years away from commercial use, and that people had muddled their science. But the fact that it owned the patent - and that technology was to be developed in their Indian laboratories - outraged the nationalists, alarmed the Gandhians and Marxists, and boosted the grassroot farmers' and environmental movements. Amid widespread calls for the company to be thrown out, the government banned the technology (though there is doubt whether it will be allowed to under global trade rules). Meanwhile, farmers burned down five of Monsanto's GM cotton trial sites.

Wells of Monsanto blames the "hysteria" over Terminator on foreign environmentalists. "We would never do anything to upset India," he says. "We are working with the government to bring in products which are consistent with what India wants and its laws approve. We are doing nothing illegal or immoral. If we were, I wouldn't work here." He urges us to go to Madras to talk to Professor MS Swaminathan, the world's leading agricultural scientist and the "father of the Green Revolution". "He's balanced about GM", says Wells.

But first stop is Hyderabad. The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology is one of India's leading public science institutions, run by Professor Pushpa Bhatrgava. He has been at the front of Indian biotech research since the 50s. Thanks largely to him, India has some of the best biotechnologists in the developing world, and many of its public agricultural institutes are working on applications for India. He thinks GM will change society, dramatically improving drugs, vaccines, plastics, food preservation, alcohol energy and agriculture.

Where Europeans are concerned about the safety, environmental and consumer implications of GM foods, the debate in India mostly centres on neo-colonialism - who owns and controls the technology - economic dependency and "food security". The best reason for India developing biotech, he says, is that, if it doesn't, "the country will be exploited by others in a way that history has not known before". He has warned for years of the consequences of India becoming "dependent on other countries for ideas, know-how and products".

And that, he believes, is happening now. "How do you dominate a country where 700 million people are directly dependent on farming? You infiltrate its agriculture. Who controls a country's food security controls that country. Monsanto is doing this. It only wants to make money. To do this, it wants to control the seed business. The days of direct colonisation are over; the days of indirect colonisation are not."

"If Monsanto sells its products in India, the price [of seeds] will go up, farmers will grow dependent. I am worried that Terminator technology will be introduced. It is a fiendish system in the hands of a company that manufactured Agent Orange, has been one of the US's most persistent polluters and is notoriously aggressive in its business dealings." Biotech in the lab or for medical research is one thing, he says. "There it can be contained. When it is in the open environment, it is very different."

He has written to government saying he believes that the failure of the seeds in Warangal has prepared the way for GM crops. He accuses the government of not being equipped to protect its citizens or its environment. "India is being taken for a ride," he concludes. There is ample evidence of India's resources being exploited by the west. Even as its natural wealth is eroded by development, deforestation and pesticides, so pharmaceutical and biotech companies have been scouting for genetic material. The genetic codes for basmati rice, turmeric, black pepper, even cotton and the "sacred" neem tree, have now been patented by US companies. "Biopiracy is rife and international companies are receiving private ownership rights over Indian organisms and plants. It is offensive," says former nuclear physicist, environmentalist and chief thorn in Monsanto's side, Vandana Shiva.

She argues that GM crops threaten natural diversity, are culturally destructive, and that the benefits will go exclusively to the companies while the ecological and social costs will land on farmers. Genetic pollution, she considers, is inevitable: "They [GM crops] are the extension of the Green Revolution. If they are introduced by the large companies, the farmers will go further into debt, like the Warangal farmers. For Monsanto the bottom line is profit. For the farmers it is life or death." Like Monsanto, she, too, suggests we see Professor Swaminathan in Madras: "Yes, he's balanced. Go."

Monsanto and other GM companies have a vision for feeding India using "efficient", hi-tech seeds that produce high yields. It involves fewer people farming, is necessarily privately financed, centralised, corporate-controlled and ecologically monocultural. They argue that this is ecologically sound and socially responsible, because it increases farmers' wealth, makes farming less laborious and polluting, and gives people "choice".

Shiva and growing numbers of agriculturalists propose the diametric opposite - a system that is culturally suitable for India, proven, accessible, publicly-owned. They want investment in people, education and ecology, and the marriage of traditional farming with the best new research.

Could this "sustainable agriculture" be a real alternative, able to feed India? What Shiva and many researchers are recording, she says, is that traditional/ecological farming is far more efficient than anything the western GM companies are offering. Just giving people ownership of the land can immediately improve production. This is confirmed by Professor Jules Pretty, a leading British agricultural academic. New research on 45 large African projects, he says, has found that ecological farming working with traditional knowledge has helped 750,000 farmers increase crop yields by an astonishing 50-100%.

One hundred miles from Bangalore, the Deccan Development Society is working in 40 villages with 8,000 of the poorest women, farming unforgiving, eroded land. The women have set up seed banks, introduced permaculture, learned about composting, inter-cropping, saving water, manuring and soil fertility. Many are learning the traditional Indian system of planting nine or more crops simultaneously, with each one protecting the others from pests and providing security in case some fail.

In a decade, they have doubled the number of crops they grow, made degraded lands productive, increased yields by 50% or more, and become self-reliant. Farms that barely earned £5 a season now earn £24, and pesticide use is declining. "There's more work in the villages, and there are health and nutrition benefits. The model can be copied anywhere," says one of the women who helps run the ecological school. She and everyone involved in the project are overwhelmingly against GM crops.

Sustainable farming is not perfect and not free. "Many people are still landless, the youth is idle," complain the older women. And the weather, which governs all farming, is unpredictable. "But life is better," says old Pedda. "We had forgotten much of what we knew. We were totally accountable to the landlords. Now we are independent." Governments, farming groups and western charities are knocking at their door. New movements of farmers and villagers, all virulently opposed to GM crops, are emerging on most continents. In India, many communities are setting up seed banks or gene pools. In March, hundreds of organisations declared a "Bija Satyagraha", a new movement against the patenting of seeds.

"Operation Cremate Monsanto" is the idea of Professor Najundasmamy, a self-described "heretic Gandhian" who leads the Karnataka State Farmers (KRRS), which claims 10 million members. The professor, based in Bangalore, and the farmers have descended on two of Monsanto's Bt cotton test sites, cut them down and torched them, after paying the farmer compensation. Monsanto dismisses the professor as an "opportunist", a "rabble rouser", and a man with no political support who wants only fame and money, but is worried by his promises to extend the campaign across India and has legal injunctions against him.

Now in his 60s, Profesor Najundasmamy trained as a lawyer in Holland and was later elected a Karnataka state MP. He has a long history of opposing corporations, and promotes decentralisation of farming and politics. In the past six years, he has organised massive rallies against the Gatt (now the World Trade Organisation), and demonstrations against the Miss World competition and KFC and Pepsico for "perverting Indian culture". Famously, he got 6,000 farmers to laugh all day at the massive town hall in Bangalore for "subverting" democracy. The next week the government fell.

But his main focus is on seeds. In 1994, KRRS farmers occupied and pulled down a Cargill seed factory. Najundasmamy intends to take to court the Indian branch of the company for last year selling 10 tons of sorghum seed which mostly failed, leaving, he claims, thousands of people destitute. Cargill denies liability but has offered to pay the farmers £25 per acre sown.

The professor wants punitive damages. Given the chance, he'd try the whole empire of western capitalism. "It is rotten, corrupt and is plundering the poor.". Who does he mean? "The World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the European Round Table of Industrialists, the World Economic Forum, the International Chamber of Commerce, the IMF, the G8, the Bretton Woods organisationsÉ" This month, he is in Europe with his latest brainchild, the Intercontinental Caravan: 500 farmers, many from Karnataka, are demonstrating against GM crops and the global financial system. This weekend, he will be leading protests at the G8 meeting in Cologne.

Not all farmers are so radical. Monsanto introduces us to vegetable-growers and pesticide-dealers who claim not to have heard of the professor and who trust the company and its herbicides implicitly.

And so to Madras and Professor Swaminathan. The professor's Centre for Research on Sustainable Agriculture is an ecological haven on the edge of a vilely polluted city. His office overflows with cups and citations to "a living legend". Swaminathan got his doctorate in genetics at Cambridge and, as a government research scientist in the 60s, showed that India could triple its production of wheat using different varieties, chemical fertilisers and pesticides. It did, and in a time of drought and famine, Swaminathan became a state hero.

There followed a career in pure biotech research. Now he's a semi-official sage, working with the poorest, courted by the UN and global foundations, and respected by everyone. "Agriculture is the only hope for India," he says. "We have 100 million farming families and most are in debt. In the next century we must produce more from less land. If nothing is done, India will move into chaos. We are already moving into social disintegration. The corporations are buying off peasant farmers who are becoming landless. People are moving to the slums."

Yet India's food capacity could increase dramatically with simple measures. Huge amounts are being lost because crops can't be stored properly or are being rejected for export because they are too polluted. Indian farming's greatest problems, he says, derive from the world trading system. "The World Trade Organisation is killing off the small producers, and accelerating greater inequality between the rich and poor within and between countries. How can Indian farmers compete when for every dollar of incentives it gives its farmers, the US gives $100,000?" The rich countries must come to grips with this "technological and economic apartheid".

The world has changed, he says, since the Green Revolution that he launched. "What is needed now isÉ" and he conjures a vision embracing the ideas of Vandana Shiva, Professor Najundaswamy and the people of the Deccan Development Society - to help the poorest realise their potential. He argues for a total rethink of India's farming policies to create more work and skills rather than concentrate on production, which throws farmers off the land. "The future must start with the small farmer and the women. We must go back to the Gandhian concept of production by the masses, though not of mass production." On reflection, he regrets the Green Revolution was not more ecologically or socially thought through.

So what about Monsanto and its green vision? It tried to enlist his support, and helps fund a chair in biodiversity at his institute. The professor pauses. "Ah, Monsanto. It has so much money... They came to me but the damage had been done. I told them to give information, not PR. When they buy the big seed companies, it creates the suspicion that agriculture is becoming proprietory, that science is not in the public good. We are afraid of these large companies. Ethics is important. They must have a commitment to poverty alleviation, not profit alone."

So are GM foods suitable for India. "Yes," he says. His institute is working on salt- tolerant GM rice varieties and other GM varieties. If developed, they will be available to everyone, for free. But his support for the technology is qualified and depends on strict control. "We mustn't throw the whole lot out," he says. "But we must give the poorest risk-free, affordable technology. It all depends on public science, and availability." We return to Bangalore, drop in on Cargill's to ask them about the seeds that failed. It is a short meeting, with a nervous executive trying to reach Mark Wells of Monsanto. It ends with us being thrown out by security guards after trying to photograph Cargill's mission statement, engraved in black marble and hung on a wall.

But Wells is on his way from Delhi to Bangalore. He arrives after 11pm, speedy, wants to meet, has 15 minutes. "How did the trip go, John?"

"Fine, Mark."

"Great."

"What about those seeds? Are you trying to make Indian farmers destitute so you can sell GM crops?"

"That's crazy. It was a fuck-up. There was no reason for us to pay anything. It was an entirely normal agricultural situation. You're dealing with an unpredictable biological system. Crop failures are very common in India. Farmers have to reseed a lot." "Are you are trying to monopolise Indian agriculture?"

"There's no way one company could have anything near that influence."

"Will farmers become dependent on you?"

"They can choose what to grow."

"Will GM be good for the small farmer?"

"It works in America."

"What do you think the social effects of introducing GM foods in India will be?"

"We can't predict anything, but I don't think it will have a great effect at all."

"Could it lead to more hunger?"

"I've heard the arguments. It's populist publicity. Think about what we're trying to do: reduce costs, increase yields."

"In whose interests are you working?" "That's for people to make their own judgment."


19 Jun 99 - GMO - Avebury stones daubed in GM protest

Maev Kennedy, Heritage Correspondent

Guardian ... Saturday 19 June 1999


Two of the famous Avebury stones were covered in paint yesterday, in an apparent protest against genetically modified crops.

The attack was immediately denounced by Friends of the Earth.

A passerby spotted the luridly painted stones at dawn and contacted Wiltshire police, who were at the site by 5am. The stones were among eight which were daubed with paint symbols three years ago, and painstakingly cleaned by the National Trust at a cost of £15,000.

A caller to the Guardian yesterday claimed to be a member of the group which attacked the stones, and said the daubing was a work of art. He also claimed responsibility for the previous attack.

The vandalised stones were those nearest the road on the Avenue, which leads to the enormous 5,000-year-old earth ramparts and stone circles, part of the Stonehenge world heritage site.

One was painted red and green to resemble a tomato, the other with confused words and symbols including what appear to be the words "genetically modified", and the word "cuckoo".

The National Trust's head of security was discussing the situation yesterday with senior staff at the site. Unlike Stonehenge with its fences and security gates, Avebury, which has a thriving village inside the circle, has open access.

The NT reviewed its security policy after the previous vandalism, but concluded that any intrusive measures would damage the tranquil setting of the stones.

Patrols will be stepped up over this summer solstice weekend, for fear of copycat vandalism.

"We are all terribly saddened by this. It is a horrendously difficult site to protect," Ros Cleal, an archaeologist and curator at the Avebury museum, said.

Tony Juniper, campaigns manager of Friends of the Earth, said the apparent protest was no help to the campaign against genetically modified foods and crops.


18 Jun 99 - GMO - Organic farmers 'sell GM produce'

Staff Reporter

Times ... Friday 18 June 1999


Organic farmers in Britain are unwittingly growing and selling genetically modified crops because the seeds they are using have already been contaminated , ministers were told yesterday.

Phil Dale, an author of a report into the future of organic agriculture, said that it was impossible to guarantee the purity of imported seeds . He said that up to 1 per cent of "organic" seeds could be genetically modified, either because they had been pollinated by GM plants or because GM seeds had been inadvertently mixed into shipments by machinery and vehicles used with both kinds of crops.

Dr Dale, of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, said that the "buffer zones" around GM crops in the US and Europe were not totally secure .

Dr Dale, whose team was asked by ministers to assess the risk to organic agriculture from GM crops, said organic farmers will find it increasingly difficult to guarantee that their seed is GM-free .

New laws could be pushed through Parliament to ensure that rules governing GM crop trials are enacted. Last night ministers were considering how to react to the threat to farmers, but it was clear that they have no intention of backing down from their commitment to GM trials and that they believe organic farmers must accept some contamination .


18 Jun 99 - GMO - Buffer zones 'no GM safeguard'

James Meikle

Guardian ... Friday 18 June 1999


The government yesterday appeared to abandon any hope of preventing crops being contaminated by genetically modified organisms after researchers concluded there was no way of guaranteeing their purity

Their study left ministers to tough out the rising storm of protests as consumers were effectively told they could have no GM-free choice if the technology took hold in Britain .

Jeff Rooker, the agriculture minister, appealed to GM opponents to start discussions with the biotech industry, as scientists commissioned by his department said doubling or trebling existing buffer zones between trial GM crops and others "would certainly not eliminate the chance of contamination" .

The report from the John Innes centre in Norwich said that "easy and reliable methods of identifying and quantifying GM contamination...may be very difficult to achieve".

But the conclusion angered organic farmer representatives and environmental groups. The Soil Association, which refuses to accept any contamination when it grants organic status to farmers, accused ministers of operating a "pollute now and pay later" policy.

Friends of the Earth said that the government would have to go "back to the drawing board and ask if GM technology is appropriate for the UK at all. "

Catherine Moyes and Philip Dale, of the Norwich centre, who investigated the risks of gene transfer from GM crops to organic neighbours, said there was no system even with traditional seeds that could guarantee absolute genetic purity . Organic crops grown in fields previously used for GM crops might also be contaminated.

There are at present six large-scale field trials of oilseed rape and maize being conducted under government licences as well as about 140 other smaller GM tests .

The first seeds could go on sale to farmers as early as next year and ministers have accepted industry guidelines that would only insist on buffer zones of 200 metres for maize and rape and 600 metres for sugar beet.

Mr Rooker said his department would use the report "to ensure the guidelines we use for trials are practical and work as well as possible".

The Soil Association last night warned farmers under its organic licences to notify the organisation if their fields were within six miles of a GM site so they could monitor their status.

A spokeswoman said the government was refusing to defend "the right of consumers to eat GM-free food or farmers to grow GM-free crops . They seem to be using the environment as an open-air laboratory".

Friends of the Earth said 92 organic farms were already within six miles of a GM test site.

The Consumers' Association urged the government "not to give up" on developing controls or measurements of GM contamination. "After all, food retailers and manufacturers are claiming they can get contamination down to levels of 0.001%."

Scimac, the industry body for biotech crops, said its guidelines were already based on a system that minimised cross-pollination.


16 Jun 99 - GMO - We don't need GM food, Meacher tells Commons

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent ... Wednesday 15 June 1999


Genetically modified (GM) foods benefit producers rather than consumers , the Environment minister Michael Meacher conceded in the Commons yesterday. But he said that in the long run, consumers could gain from food with a longer shelf life, or which could be grown in otherwise hostile conditions.

"We do not need GM foods at present ," he told MPs. "But the fact is this is a technology which has some potential benefits. It mainly has producer benefits at the present time, though it could have some significant consumer benefits in the long run." But he added: "We should not be stampeded by industrial or commercial interests to take a decision in favour of this type of technology until we know and can produce the evidence for everyone to look at that it is wholly safe."

Organic producers have seen demand rocket since anxieties over GM products - particularly soya imported from the US - became widespread. Now European ministers have agreed a standard for organic farming that would allow produce from different countries to have an organic stamp. Mr Meacher said the Soil Association, which regulates UK organic farming, wanted the "buffer zone" between organic farming and test plantings of GM crops should be extended from 200 metres to six miles .

Organic farmers were "quite rightly concerned" that every effort should be made to prevent cross-contamination of their products. "The Government also wishes to see an increase in organic products here, because consumer demand is considerably in excess of domestic supply, with balance of payments problems," he added. The Labour ex-minister Joan Ruddock, who two weeks ago called for a moratorium on GM crops in Britain , asked whether the Government had commissioned research into the effects of GM plants on butterflies, after an American study that suggested they could be harmed by pollen from GM maize.

Mr Meacher said that variety of GM maize was not being grown in Britain, and added: "We are looking at serious scientific results, which I think may have a major effect."

He told MPs the Government was determined to be open with the public on the subject of GM technology.


15 Jun 99 - GMO - No need for GM food, says Minister

Staff Reporter

Evening Standard ... Tuesday 15 June 1999


There is no need for genetically modified foods , Environment Minister Michael Meacher conceded today.

GM products currently benefited their producers rather than consumers , Mr Meacher told the Commons at question time. But he stressed in the future the development of GM technology could bring benefits to the consumer.

"We do not need GM foods - the fact is this is a technology which has some potential benefits.

"It does enable products to have a longer shelf life, to be able to withstand saline or very dry conditions in developing countries and there may very well be additional benefits which are not at this time known."

Mr Meacher stressed: "It mainly has producer benefits at the present time , it could have some significant consumer benefits in the long run.

"But we should not be stampeded by industrial or commercial interests to take a decision in favour of this type of technology until we know and can produce the evidence for everyone to look at that it is wholly safe."

The Minister added the Soil Association had decided the buffer zone between organic crops and test plantings of oilseed rape should be increased from 200 metres to six miles to prevent cross-contamination.

Organic farmers were "quite rightly concerned" that every effort should be made to prevent cross-contamination of their products, Mr Meacher said.

He acknowledged the issue had caused "very considerable public controversy" but insisted ministers wanted to protect the interests of organic farmers.

"The Government also wishes to see an increase in organic products in this country because consumer demand is considerably in excess of domestic supply, with balance of payments problems."

Labour ex-minister Joan Ruddock urged the Government to take account of American research which showed the Monarch butterfly's immune system could be damaged by pollen from a GM maize variety.

She asked: "Has the Government commissioned its own laboratory research into such indirect effects?"

Mr Meacher assured her the Government was aware of all research into such issues and said the variety of GM maize featured in that study was not being grown in Britain, either commercially or on a test basis.

But he added: "We are certainly looking at what are serious scientific results which I think may well have a major effect for the future."

He told MPs the Government was determined to be open with the public on the subject of GM technology. The Cabinet sub-committee responsible had "published openly almost all the evidence which has been before us", he said.