Document Directory

12 Feb 01 - GMO - Unexpected bits and pieces
12 Feb 01 - GMO - Gene code opens new fields of medicine
11 Feb 01 - GMO -EU allows in new flood of GM food
11 Feb 01 - GMO - Britain faces new harvest of GM crops
10 Feb 01 - GMO - GM rice promoters 'have gone too far'
09 Feb 01 - GMO - Go-ahead for GM insect release
09 Feb 01 - GMO - Greenpeace promises not to halt trials of GM vitamin rice
09 Feb 01 - GMO - Top scientists urge more caution over GM crops
08 Feb 01 - GMO - GM crops 'unlikely to become super weeds'
07 Feb 01 - GMO - GM field trials must use wider buffer zones
07 Feb 01 - GMO - GM tests to double this year
07 Feb 01 - GMO - Outrage at lack of GM crop 'safety zones'
07 Feb 01 - GMO - Government doubles number of GM crop trials
06 Feb 01 - GMO - More GM crop trials to begin
06 Feb 01 - GMO - Gene scientists turn leaves into extra flowers
04 Feb 01 - GMO - Monsanto beanfeast as BSE crisis bites
01 Feb 01 - GMO - GM lobby takes root in Bush's cabinet
27 Jan 01 - GMO - Asda farmers banned from using GM feed
27 Jan 01 - GMO - Supermarket giants pave the way for 'GM-free' Britain
27 Jan 01 - GMO - Rice genome falls to science
27 Jan 01 - GMO - Brazilian protesters raid GM farm
26 Jan 01 - GMO - Meat prices may soar in GM food row
26 Jan 01 - GMO - Supermarket aims for GM-free produce
16 Jan 01 - GMO - GM rice 'best hope of feeding world'
15 Jan 01 - GMO - Four fined for destroying crops at GM test site
15 Jan 01 - GMO - Monsanto GM wheat is the best thing for sliced bread
15 Jan 01 - GMO - Conflict over EU plans to label genetically modified foods
14 Jan 01 - GMO - Monsanto to launch the first GM loaf
11 Jan 01 - GMO - First GM primate to aid human disease research
11 Jan 01 - GMO - GM monkey first

12 Feb 01 - GMO - Unexpected bits and pieces

Henry Gee

Guardian- Monday 12 February 2001

This week's triumphant mapping of the genome has revealed a surprise. Humans seem to have been genetically modified by aliens already

The potentially-poisonous Japanese fugu fish has achieved notoriety, at least among scientists who haven't eaten any, because it has a genome that can be best described as "concise". There is no "junk" DNA, no waste, no nonsense. You get exactly what it says on the tin.

This makes its genome very easy to deal with in the laboratory: it is close to being the perfect genetic instruction set. Take all the genes you need to make an animal and no more, stir, and you'd get fugu.

Now, most people would hardly rate the fugu fish as the acme of creation. If it were, it would be eating us, and not the other way round. But here is a paradox. The human genome probably does not contain significantly more genes than the fugu fish. What sets it apart is - and there is no more succinct way to put this - rubbish.

The human genome is more than 95% rubbish. Fewer than 5% of the 3.2bn As, Cs, Gs and Ts that make up the human genome are actually found in genes. It is more litter-strewn than any genome completely sequenced so far. It is believed to contain just under 31,780 genes, only about half as many again as found in the simple roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (19,099 genes): yet in terms of bulk DNA content, the human genome is almost 30 times the size.

A lot is just rubbish, plain and simple. But at least half the genome is rubbish of a special kind - transposable elements. These are small segments of DNA that show signs of having once been the genomes of independent entities. Although rather small, they often contain sequences that signal cellular machinery to transcribe them (that is, to switch them on). They may also contain genetic instructions for enzymes whose function is to make copies and insert the copies elsewhere in the genome. These transposable elements litter the human genome in their hundreds of thousands.

Many contain genes for an enzyme called reverse transcriptase - essential for a transposable element to integrate itself into the host DNA. The chilling part is that reverse transcriptase is a key feature of retroviruses such as HIV-1, the human immunodeficiency virus. Much of the genome itself - at least half its bulk - may have consisted of DNA that started out, perhaps millions of years ago, as independent viruses or virus-like entities.

To make matters worse, hundreds of genes, containing instructions for at least 223 proteins, seem to have been imported directly from bacteria. Some are responsible for features of human metabolism otherwise hard to explain away as quirks of evolution - such as our ability to metabolise psychotropic drugs. Thus, monoamine oxidase is involved in metabolising alcohol. If the import of bacterial genes for novel purposes (such as drug resistance) sounds disturbing and familiar, it should - this is precisely the thrust of much research into the genetic modification of organisms in agriculture or biotechnology.

So natural-born human beings are, indeed, genetically modified. Self-respecting eco-warriors should never let their children marry a human being, in case the population at large gets contaminated with exotic genes!

One of the most common transposable elements in the human genome is called Alu - the genome is riddled with it. What the draft genome now shows quite clearly is that copies of Alu tend to cluster where there are genes. The density of genes in the genome varies, and where there are more genes, there are more copies of Alu. Nobody knows why, yet it is consistent with the idea that Alu has a positive benefit for genomes.

To be extremely speculative, it could be that a host of very similar looking Alu sequences in gene-rich regions could facilitate the kind of gene-shuffling that peps up natural genetic variation, and with that, evolution. This ties in with the fact that human genes are, more than most, fragmented into a series of many exons, separated by small sections of rubbish called introns - rather like segments of a TV programme being punctuated by commercials.

The gene for the protein titin, for example, is divided into a record-breaking 178 exons, all of which must be patched together by the gene-reading machinery before the finished protein can be assembled. This fragmentation allows for alternative versions of proteins to be built from the same information, by shuffling exons around. Genomes with less fragmented genes may have a similar number of overall genes - but a smaller palette of ways to use this information. Transposable elements might have helped unlock the potential in the human genome, and could even have contributed to the fragmentation of genes in the first place (some introns are transposable elements by another name).

This, at root, may explain why human beings are far more complex than roundworms or fruit flies. If it were not for trashy transposable elements such as Alu, it might have been more difficult to shuffle genes and parts of genes, creating alternative ways of reading the "same" genes. It is true that the human genome is mostly rubbish, but it explains what we are, and why we are who we are, and not lying on the slab in a sushi bar.

Deep Time by Henry Gee will be published shortly in paperback by Fourth Estate. He is a senior editor of Nature.

12 Feb 01 - GMO - Gene code opens new fields of medicine

Tim Radford, science editor

Guardian- Monday 12 February 2001

The "book of humankind" - the entire 3bn-letter genetic code of a representative human - is revealed by two competing journals today.

Although it could answer questions about human evolution and promise startling new cures for disease, paradoxically it has also deepened the mystery of life. The genome reveals that the human chromosome carries only about 30,000 genes, twice the number of a fruit fly, 10,000 more than a roundworm, and only a few hundred more than a mouse. Originally scientists expected as many as 140,000, which means the question of how genes actually work is now an even bigger mystery.

The genome also reveals that many human genes originate from microbes which over aeons smuggled their genetic material into human cells and stayed. This raises questions about human evolution.

Scientists who raced to complete a document so long that it may never be printed in full said the human genome could open an era of a new kind of medicine - one tailored to a patient's unique genetic makeup.

"It will be individualised medicine where we'll treat the individual person for the right disease, with the right medicine, at the right dose, at the right time," said Mike Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, the charity which launched the British research.

The effort, by an international consortium of scientists backed by taxpayers and charity, began almost 20 years ago with a search for the genetic cause of muscular dystrophy and other inherited diseases. It accelerated two years ago when a private group, Celera Genomics, joined the hunt for genes.

When the two groups made a truce and announced jointly last June that they had reached their target, the achievement was compared with the invention of the wheel - and one scientist spoke of an end to cancer in his lifetime. Since then, the two teams have fallen out and challenged each other's methods.

The Celera group claims its sequence is complete. The consortium claims it will have a "gold standard" genome in two years.

There is bitter disagreement about who should have access to the information. The public consortium argues that the information is so important it should be available to all, freely. But both concede the final publication has raised a new set of mysteries for science.

11 Feb 01 - GMO -EU allows in new flood of GM food

Jason Burke, chief reporter

Guardian- Sunday 11 February 2001

European laws to be introduced this week will open Britain to a fresh wave of controversial genetically modified crops and foods.

A new directive , which has been backed by the Government , will end a three-year de facto moratorium on granting licences for the commercial development of GM foods. The standstill was imposed by major European nations following concerns about the impact of the new crops on health and the environment.

'The moratorium is dead ,' said David Bowe, the British MEP who liaises between the European Parliament and the Commission on GM issues. He welcomed the new legislation last week.

'This is a significant step in terms of habituating people to GM products (Mad Cow Correspondents note: this statement from a Euro MEP, typifies the arrogance and insensitivity that comes from being completely detached from his constituents) . There will soon be more GM foods in our shops but they will be safe. There is nothing here that will kill the world.'

But anti-GM campaigners have grave concerns.

'The [new directive] is not enough to protect the environment, consumers and farmers from GM crops,' said Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth.

'The British government is ignoring the wishes of the vast bulk of British consumers . The public have made it very clear that they are unhappy about eating GM foods and about GM crops growing in the countryside.'

Fourteen applications from biotech companies for licences to plant GM products for commercial use have been on hold during the moratorium. Dozens of requests to develop GM organisms are now expected from major multinational firms in the wake of the new legislation. The testing of GM crops for environmental impact has been allowed - there will be 96 such trials in the UK this year - but no planting for commercial use has been permitted. This will be changed by the new laws.

All fresh applications will be subject to approval by a majority vote in a committee made up of representatives of EU member states. They will have to pass the requirements of the directive.

'The regulations are so strict that some natural foods wouldn't pass them,' said Bowe.

However from this week it will be illegal under EU law for Britain to ban or stop the commercial planting of a crop cleared at a European level unless serious and justified concerns over environmental or economic impact can be demonstrated. Because of the time needed for trials, and the 'implementation period' allowed, the effect of the new laws is not likely to be felt for up to two years.

GM products which have commercial licences pending include tomatoes with extra-thick skins that make them less likely to bruise during transport and harvesting. Pressure from the public has previously forced supermarkets to withdraw paste made from the modified tomatoes.

The long-term effects of GM foods are not yet known. Campaigners now fear that supermarkets will be encouraged to 'have another go' at accustoming the British consumer to GM food. The Government has supported the new laws .

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which is responsible for the current UK non-commercial GM crop trials, said the reform 'put in place new safeguards rather than opening any floodgates.'

However there are clear signs that British consumer is not yet happy to accept the new foods. Last month supermarket chains Tesco and Asda announced they would no longer sell the meat or milk of any animal fed with genetically modified soya or maize.

The two companies, which between them control 42 per cent of the grocery market, said they will switch their imports from North America to Brazil where commercial GM plantings are illegal . Iceland, Marks & Spencer, McDonald's and Burger King have already acted to remove GM in animal products.

Tony Blair appeared to be an early supporter of GM foods, hoping that Britain could be a world leader in biotechnology if 'the tyranny of pressure groups' was resisted. However, recently he was more cautious: 'There's no doubt that there is potential for harm both in terms of human safety and in the diversity of our environment from GM foods or crops.'

The new laws face strong opposition from other European nations and could lead to a major row . The French have said that they will try to block all new licences for commercial growing of GM crops. They say that the question of the legal liability of biotech companies for any damage done by the new crops has not been satisfactorily resolved and are concerned about 'traceability' - provisions to ensure that consumers know what they are eating. Italy, Greece and Luxembourg are likely to back the French position.

11 Feb 01 - GMO - Britain faces new harvest of GM crops

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

Sunday Times- Sunday 11 February 2001

Britain could face pressure to allow a new wave of genetically modified crops to be planted around the country and grown for commercial sale and consumption.

This week the European parliament is likely to end a three-year moratorium which has blocked all new attempts by manufacturers to get licences. Fourteen applications for new GM crops are already pending and manufacturers are thought to be planning to submit many more.

The move coincides with revelations from scientists involved in trials of GM crops in Britain that they appear to be having a damaging impact on wildlife. The full results will not be published until the trials conclude in 2003.

Among the new crops for which licences are being sought are tomatoes modified to have a thicker skin - so they do not burst during transport - and potatoes that produce extra starch.

There are different types of maize, some with two genetic modifications enabling them to resist herbicide and also to produce their own insecticide to kill pests trying to eat them. Others include beet, oil-seed rape and cotton that all resist herbicides and chicory that is engineered not to produce flowers.

Environmentalists say such crops promote the use of toxic chemicals, destroy the weed plants and insects on which much wildlife feeds, and risk spreading artificial genes into wild plant populations with unforeseeable consequences.

The moratorium was put in place while the European parliament considered amendments to strengthen outdated laws controlling new crops.

The proposals will be voted upon on Wednesday and, whether they are accepted or rejected, the moratorium will then come to an end. This will lead to pressure from the companies behind the applications who have spent billions of pounds creating GM crops that they cannot yet use in Europe.

David Bowe, the Labour MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber who has piloted the amendments through parliament, believes that widespread use of GM crops is inevitable and wants a tough new regulatory regime.

His proposals include forcing companies to assess the environmental impact of GM crops, make them renew their licences every 10 years, label all products containing GM ingredients and establish public registers showing what GM work they are carrying out and where.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said manufacturers and farmers could theoretically start planting GM seeds next year.

One ecologist involved in assessing the trials said that destroying all the weeds and insects that normally live alongside crops would damage wildlife. "The early results confirm it is not a question of whether there is an impact, it is how big it is," he said.

10 Feb 01 - GMO - GM rice promoters 'have gone too far'

Paul Brown, environment correspondent

Guardian- Saturday 10 February 2001

Claims by the biotech industry and some US politicians that genetically engineered "golden rice" would save the sight of 500,000 children a year are exaggerated, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, which is funding the rice's development.

The project, which has been used worldwide by supporters of genetically modified crops as a justification for the technology, appears likely to generate only a fraction of the additional vitamin A intake it once promised. Vitamin A helps prevent eye disease.

If consumers were on a diet of 300g (11oz) of the GM rice a day - the average consumption of an Asian adult - it would provide only 8% of the required daily intake of the vitamin, according to independent scientists.

An adult would, in effect, have to eat 9kg of cooked rice (the equivalent of 3.75kg of uncooked rice) a day to satisfy the required intake and a pregnant woman would need twice that amount.

The Rockefeller Foundation says that the public relations campaign based on golden rice has "gone too far".

Syngenta, the agribusiness company which owns many of the patents on the rice, has in the past claimed that a single month of marketing delay would cause 50,000 children to go blind.

The main deficiency problem is found in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines where the lack of vitamin A in a rice diet causes childhood blindness and up to 1m deaths a year. Adding beta-carotene to rice, which the body turns into vitamin A, turns it yellow, hence the name golden rice.

The rice's development has provided a powerful propaganda tool for the GM industry. The then US president Bill Clinton said last year: "If we could get more of this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of rice especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could save 4,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying."

A number of bio-tech firms, including Syngenta and Monsanto, were credited with licensing patents on golden rice which would allow the technology to "be made available free of charge for humanitarian uses in any developing nation".

Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said: "It is clear that the GM industry has been making false claims about golden rice. It is nonsense to think anyone would or could eat this much rice, and there is still no proof that it can provide any significant vitamin benefits anyway.

"Our view is that the billions of pounds that has been spent developing this rice and the false hopes it has raised has diverted valuable resources away from more sensible ways of tackling VAD deficiency.

"Far from saving children's sight, 'golden rice' is preventing other more certain methods being developed."

In response to a report by Vandana Shiva, an Indian campaigner against GM foods, Rockefeller Foundation spokesman Gordon Conway said: "First it should be stated that we do not consider golden rice to be the solution to the vitamin A deficiency problem. Rather it provides an excellent complement to fruits, vegetables and animal products in diets, and to various fortified foods and vitamin supplements."

He said that for poor families lacking, for example, 10%, 20% or 50% of the required daily intake of vitamin A, golden rice could be useful, although even the best lines of rice produced by the bio-tech companies, reported in the journal Science, could contribute only 15% to 20% of the daily requirement.

He added: "I agree with Dr Shiva that the public relations uses of golden rice have gone too far.

"The industry's advertisements and the media in general seem to forget that it is a research product that needs considerable further development before it will be available to farmers and consumers."

Mr Conway added, however, that he still thought that golden rice has the potential to make an important contribution to reducing vitamin A deficiency.

09 Feb 01 - GMO - Go-ahead for GM insect release

By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

BBC- Friday 9 February 2001

The first release of a genetically modified insect is expected to take place in the United States this summer.

A moth has been engineered to contain a gene from a jellyfish in the first stage of a genetic experiment designed to eradicate the cotton-destroying pest from the wild.

A total of 3,600 of the moths will be set free under a cage within a one-hectare (three-acre) cotton field in Arizona.

The experiment is likely to raise concern among environmental groups.

But the researchers behind it say there is "minimal" risk of the genetically modified insects escaping. As an added precaution, the insects have been sterilised.

Pink pest

Thomas Miller of the Department of Entomology, University of California, told BBC News Online: "It is very important for us that the public understands what we're doing and why. We are not trying to create something that causes more trouble than we already have.

"We have plenty of trouble with pink bollworm. It's an absolute nightmare and it's caused a lot of people to go bankrupt.

"There's two things about this release. Number one, we're only going to use sterilised insects in the first go around. Even if they get out, there's no chance of them breeding.

"Second of all, they are going to be in field cages. The people who are going to do this work have years of experience working with these field cages.

"They know what is involved in maintaining them and the only way an enclosed population is going to get loose is if a hurricane comes through and rips the field cages to shreds. There hasn't been a hurricane in Arizona in these areas in living memory.

"One thing we do know: the native population is a champion at survival. It has so far resisted any attempts to eradicate it except in central California.

"Our ultimate plans are to insert conditional lethal genes that will fight against this enormously successful tendency to survive and infest cotton."

Approval pending

US regulators have yet to give the greenlight to the release but Professor Miller says he is optimistic the field trials, planned for the summer, will be given the go-ahead in the next few weeks.

The pink bollworm, a major pest of commercial cotton in the southwest, is not native to the US but hitched a ride there in the 1920s, probably in cotton shipments from India.

The larvae are tiny white caterpillars with dark brown heads that burrow into cotton bolls causing devastation to the crop. They grow into greyish-brown moths.

The engineered moths contain a genetic marker, a green fluorescent protein (GFP) derived from the jellyfish, which makes caterpillars inheriting the gene glow green under fluorescent light.

In the first stage of the experiment, the scientists plan to release the moths under a seven-metre (24-foot) long cage in a small test site remote from commercial cotton fields.

Insect control

The field trials could pave the way for the first attempt to eradicate insects from the wild by releasing genetically modified laboratory strains. By inserting an inherited lethal trait into the moth the scientists believe they might be able to "get rid of the pink bollworm" from the US altogether.

Similar research is focusing on the disease-carrying mosquito. Researchers from the US and Taiwan have modified the yellow fever mosquito to make it produce a powerful antibacterial protein, limiting its ability to transmit disease.

If such insects were ever released in the wild, they might supplant infected natural populations, helping in the fight against human disease.

Besides insects, a number of other transgenic animals are on the way. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently deciding whether to allow a fast-growing genetically modified salmon on to American dinner plates. Scientists believe genetically modified carp may already be in commercial use in China while genetically modified tilapia may be in use in Cuba.

Other examples of aquatic GMOs include transgenic channel catfish, modified Pacific oysters and hybrid striped bass.

09 Feb 01 - GMO - Greenpeace promises not to halt trials of GM vitamin rice

By Steve Connor in Lyon

Independent- Friday 9 February 2001

Greenpeace has promised not to sabotage a forthcoming trial on genetically modified (GM) rice, because of the strong moral arguments in favour of producing a staple crop that could alleviate childhood blindness.

It is believed to be the first time that the environmental activists, who have spearheaded attempts to sabotage and disrupt GM crop trials in Britain, have accepted the questionable morality of destroying something aimed at preventing children from going blind. Benedikt Haerlin, a senior figure in Greenpeace International, said that although he opposes the release of all GM crops into the environment, he believes that "golden rice" enriched with vitamin A, is an exception to the Greenpeace rule of search and destroy.

"The trials of GM 'golden rice' will not be the target of Greenpeace action, I'm quite sure about that," Mr Haerlin told the World Life Science Forum in Lyon.

"I feel that 'golden rice' is a moral challenge to our position. It is true there is a different moral context, whether you have an insecticidal or pesticide-resistant GM, or whether you have a GM product that serves a good purpose."

"Golden rice" is being developed at the Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, with charitable funding from the Rockefeller Foundation in the US. Laboratory research will be followed by the first field trials, according to Ingo Potrykus, the former head of the project. Rice is the staple crop for more than half the world's population, but it lacks vitamin A in high enough levels to prevent blindness in an estimated 50,000 children a month.

"Golden rice" has extra genes inserted, which artificially boost vitamin-A production in the plant. Scientists also hope to engineer the plant still further to boost levels of iron, another vital element largely missing from rice.

However, Greenpeace claimed yesterday that children would have to eat a 9kg bucketful of the rice each day, to satisfy all their daily dietary requirements. "It is a fool's gold", it claimed.

"It is inconceivable that a single technological fix could solve this problem," Mr Haerlin said.

"If we made a concerted effort to use the anti-vitamin A deficiency measures we have at the moment, we could be in the position of finding that vitamin A deficiency is under control by the time this 'golden rice' is ready," he said.

Claims by the biotechnology industry that "golden rice" will save the sight of 50,000 children a month, and that attempts to oppose the GM rice are tantamount to condemning these children to a life of blindness is reprehensible, Mr Haerlin said.

"It is important not to poison an important debate about environmental impact, by using the misery of millions of people of this world. This is deplorable. It will not lead us to an educated and unbiased discussion about this rice," he said.

Dr Potrykus said that the efficiency of the GM technique could improve with further research. "What matters is that we have something extra to prevent vitamin deficiency," he said.

"My motivation is to help those 50,000 children blinded every month, and to help those mothers who die because of iron deficiency. That was the reason that I did the work."

09 Feb 01 - GMO - Top scientists urge more caution over GM crops

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent

Independent- Friday 9 February 2001

A distinguished panel of scientists has warned that international standards for the testing of genetically modified food are "scientifically unjustifiable" and called for a far more cautious attitude to approving GM crops.

An extensive investigation by the Royal Society of Canada, the country's foremost scientific body, has concluded that "the mere absence of evidence" that genetic modification can damage human health or the environment does not justify allowing GM products to reach the food chain.

The report says there has been insufficient research into potential allergic effects or toxicity. GM foods could pose "serious risks to human health, of extensive, irremediable disruption for the natural ecosystems or of serious diminution of biodiversity".

Chief among the 53 recommendations is that a fundamental testing standard, also used in Britain to assess whether to license GM food, should be abandoned immediately because it offers inadequate protection to health.

The panel calls for a far more "conservative" approach to approving GM food and warns that approval of GM products "with these potentially serious risks" should not be given unless scientists are absolutely sure that they can rule out such "potentially catastrophic risks" through testing.

Its damning report is likely to put pressure on the Government urgently to reassess the British testing standards.

Professor Conrad Brunk, chairman of the panel of scientists, said: "When it comes to human and environmental safety there should be clear evidence of the absence of risks - the mere absence of evidence is not enough."

Ministers and British scientists have been closely observing developments in North America, where GM crops have been widely grown commercially for years.

Tim Yeo, the Conservative agriculture spokesman, said: "If they are coming to these conclusions about the risks of GM food it raises disturbing questions for Britain and Europe. This puts the whole GM debate in a new light."

The Royal Society report also raises serious concerns about the scientific community's close links to the biotechnology industry.

It expresses concerns about "the undermining of the scientific basis of risk regulation" because of the "increasing domination of the research agenda by private corporate interest".

08 Feb 01 - GMO - GM crops 'unlikely to become super weeds'

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent- Thursday 8 February 2001

A long-term study of GM crops has failed to find any evidence that they are more likely than conventional plants to become "super weeds" that can harm the environment.

The findings provide a strong argument against the fears of environmentalists who have argued that GM crops could run amok in the countryside in the same manner as newly introduced pest species, such as the grey squirrel.

The research will also be welcomed by the Government, which announced on Tuesday that it intends to double the number of sites in Britain where companies can carry out GM crop trials.

The experiments demonstrated that in all the species of crops studied, the GM varieties were almost invariably worse off than their conventionally bred cousins in being able to compete with wild plants and flowers.

Scientists from the Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Population Biology at Imperial College in London say in the journal Nature that their work addresses the hypothetical fears of GM crops "escaping" into the wild.

"In no case were the genetically modified plants found to be more invasive or more persistent than their conventional counterparts," the scientists conclude.

07 Feb 01 - GMO - GM field trials must use wider buffer zones

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph- Wednesday 7 February 2001

Tighter controls for trial fields of genetically-modified crops were announced by the Government yesterday.

Under the new measures, to help prevent genetically modified varieties cross-pollinating with normal commercial crops, GM varieties must be planted no less than 100 yards away from other crops this spring - double the existing margin.

The separation distance for GM forage maize has been increased from 50 to 80 yards. These distances will apply to varieties which have a close relationship with normal commercial varieties and are deemed to pose a higher risk of contaminating ordinary crops with GM pollen.

Although welcomed by the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales, the new distances upset environmentalists who have been demanding buffer zones several miles wide. The Government said 96 trial GM crops would be planted from late March.

07 Feb 01 - GMO - GM tests to double this year

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times- Wednesday 7 February 2001

The Government announced a huge expansion yesterday in genetic modification tests this year and approved minimal changes to separation distances between GM and conventional crops.

Campaigners against GM crops reacted angrily when they learnt that ministers are to approve 96 GM farm-scale trials this year, double the number approved last year.

They were no happier with the announcement that there would not be large buffer zones between GM and non-GM crops, which environmentalists claim would protect crops from possible contamination.

Researchers have claimed that cross-pollination of GM and non-GM crops can occur when planted 4,000 metres apart. Yet ministers have decided to limit an extension of separation distances to certain varieties of oil-seed rape and forage maize.

Some oil-seed rape seeds will now be planted 100 metres from conventional crops instead of the present 50 metres. Forage maize will be planted 80 metres from conventional crops instead of the present 50 metres.

Joyce Quin, junior Agriculture Minister, slipped out the news in a written answer to MPs. She promised, however, that the new distances applied only to this spring's trials and distances in future would be reviewed on the basis of new scientific advice.

The Friends of the Earth pressure group was disappointed. Adrian Bebb, its GM campaigner, described the move as a fudge. "It really is pathetic; it won't protect farmers and it will not protect consumer choice," he said.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, which promotes organic farming, was also angered by the news and believed it would do nothing to protect the livelihoods of conventional or organic farmers.

He will continue to press the Government to allow organic farmers a buffer zone of six kilometres from any GM oil-seed rape trials and three kilometres from GM maize and sugar-beet trials.

He was pleased that ministers were urging greater consultation by GM companies and farmers with the organic sector before they chose the site of any new trials.

He said last night that he hoped it would still be possible to protect organic crops this year.

Mr Holden is concerned, however, that the Ministry of Agriculture is willing to lay down only informal arrangements and consultations with the GM companies.

Ministers have also said that special arrangements would have to be made between the main bio-technology companies, GM farmers and the country's beekeepers.

Friends of the Earth published research last year which claimed that GM pollen had travelled more than three miles into beehives.

Many beekeepers have moved their hives in an attempt to ensure that their products remain free of GM contamination.

07 Feb 01 - GMO - Outrage at lack of GM crop 'safety zones'

Paul Brown, environment correspondent

Guardian- Wednesday 7 February 2001

The government decided last night to press ahead with 96 new trials of genetically modified crops this spring but unexpectedly refused to segregate them from conventional crops, leaving farmers and environmentalists outraged.

However, ministers accepted the trials will contaminate conventional crops nearby, leaving themselves open to damage claims from farmers whose crops may be unsaleable as a result.

Pleas by the organic and environmental lobby to leave 3km exclusion zones around GM crops in order to protect conventional varieties were rejected. The ministry of agriculture has increased the maximum margin from 50 to 100 metres. Agriculture minister Baroness Hayman accepted this would contaminate conventional crops but only up to 1%.

This could still render many farmers' crops unsaleable since all major British supermarkets now refuse to take GM contaminated food - or even produce from animals fed on GM crops.

Organic farmers have warned Michael Meacher, the environment minister, and Baroness Hayman that they could be put out of business unless the field margins were increased to 3km. They reject the ministry's claims that the contamination would be 1% or less - the Scottish Crop Research Institute, in Dundee, says it could easily reach 5%

The Soil Association, which polices organic farming, had asked for the exclusion zone to avoid members' crops being cross-pollinated by bees or wind-blown pollen.

John Holden, head of the association, said: "Contamination is inevitable."

The govenment hopes that GM oil seed rape plantings will begin in mid-March, sugar beet from the end of March, and maize from April. The purpose of the research is to check on cross-contamination of crops and the effect of GM crops on weeds and wildlife, including bees.

07 Feb 01 - GMO - Government doubles number of GM crop trials

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent

Independent- Wednesday 7 February 2001

The Government was accused last night of giving the biotechnology industry "a licence to pollute" after it was announced that the size of the trial programme for genetically modified crops is to be doubled.

A total of 96 new trial sites of genetically modified maize, oilseed rape and beet - up from the current 48 - will be sown throughout Britain this spring, the Ministry of Agriculture said, with buffer distances between the trial fields and conventional crops increased from 50 to 100 metres.

Organic farmers and environmental groups described the new separation distance as "pathetic" and said it would do nothing to reassure consumers or protect farmers' crops from contamination. Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said: "This makes a mockery of all the arguments for bigger buffer zones between genetically modified crops and conventional food. What it amounts to is a licence to pollute for the trial crops. It is not good enough for consumers who do not want their food to be contaminated."

Organic farmers had asked ministers to guarantee that genetically modified field trials will not be allowed within six kilometres (3.75 miles) of organic farms to guarantee the foods' purity. GM pollen has been found up to 4 kms away and has been known to cross-pollinate with conventional varieties of crops, rendering them unsaleable in Britain.

The Department of Agriculture said the buffer zones it was putting in place would mean that "the resulting GM presence in neighbouringcrops would be extremely low."

Friends of the Earth said such guarantees showed that ministers had ignored the "overwhelming public rejection" of GM crops. Germany had scrapped plans for GM trials and had launched an entire rethink of policy because of BSE.

Adrian Bebb, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "It ignores reality. It ignores common sense and it leaves consumers with no choice. This is the biggest extension of GMtrials Britain has ever seen. These separation distances will do nothing to allay the fears of consumers. Genetically modified pollen has been found three miles away."

Tim Yeo, Tory agriculture spokesman, said the 100-metre separation distances were "inadequate in the light of what happened last year" when GM pollen was found in conventional crops. "To couple this with an announcement of 96 new trial sites is a kick in the teeth for organic farmers and consumers," he said. "The Government has simply ignored the evidence that cross-pollination can take place. The Government should be trying to rebuild confidence in this process, not further erode it."

06 Feb 01 - GMO - More GM crop trials to begin


PA News- Tuesday 6 February 2001

The Government has announced that 96 new farm-scale GM crop trials are set to be sown this spring.

The independent Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) has recommended that up to 32 maize, 32 oilseed rape and 32 beet sites should be planted in the next round of the controversial three-year programme.

It was also revealed in a parliamentary written reply that separation distances for oilseed rape will be increased from 50 to 100 metres and for forage maize from 50 to 80 metres.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Joyce Quin said this would help ensure "any possible cross-pollination with nearby compatible crops is minimised".

The Government's farm-scale evaluations allow researchers to study the possible effects of management practices of GM crops on farmland wildlife.

Researchers are studying differences in the number and types of weeds and insects, including bees and butterflies, in GM and non-GM halves of the trial sites. The Government insists its top priority is to protect the environment and human health.

06 Feb 01 - GMO - Gene scientists turn leaves into extra flowers

By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent

Times- Tuesday 6 February 2001

Genetic scientists have unlocked the secret of transforming a plant's leaves into petals. The breakthrough will allow nurseries to produce roses, camellias and geraniums that bear flowers where nature intended only leaves.

Breeders will find it easier to grow colourful double flowers, in which stamens and leaves grow into petals to striking effect, and to enhance the fragrances of their favourite blooms. The technique could allow the drug industry to grow larger quantities of petals that include therapeutic chemicals.

The prospect of such a horticultural revolution stems from a discovery by American and Mexican scientists, who have pinpointed five genes that can be manipulated, either by traditional breeding techniques or by genetic engineering, to induce the leaves of a model plant to grow into petals.

Though the technique has been pioneered on Arabidopsis thaliana, a weedy form of mustard, it should prove readily adaptable to more valuable plants, according to the researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and the National Autonomous University in Mexico City. "It means that we should be able to convert leaves of essentially any plant into petals," Martin Yanofsky, Professor of Biology at San Diego, who led the research, said.

"Imagine," he added, "a long-stemmed rose in which the many leaves along the stem are each converted into colourful petals."

In a study published today in the scientific journal Current Biology, Professor Yanofsky's team managed to grow leaves into petals in Arabidopsis. While mapping the weed's entire genome, the researchers discovered that five genes work together to govern the development of petals, which are grown from the same basic components as leaves - sepals (the green leaf-like structures at the edge of flower buds), and the reproductive stamens and carpels at the centre of flowers.

In leaves, these genes are present, but switched off. The San Diego team has bred a plant in which all five genes are switched on in some leaves, causing them to develop into petals. Professor Yanofsky said: "We've known for a decade how to convert the flower organs into leaves, but we haven't been able to convert leaves into flower organs. We knew we were missing a piece of the puzzle, and now we know exactly what we were missing."

Chris Prior, of the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley, Surrey, said that the technique could bring many benefits to plant breeders. "One benefit could be developing plants that flower earlier in the season. We could create double flowers with greater ease, and there is also the possibility for the creation of quite new structures, some of which could be very attractive," he said.

Simple flowers such as helleborus would probably be the first targets for research, Dr Prior said, to be followed by more commercially valuable plants, such as roses and clematis. Plants that are valued for their scents, such as lavender, would also be attractive prospects for modification.

04 Feb 01 - GMO - Monsanto beanfeast as BSE crisis bites

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Independent- Sunday 4 February 2001

It is an ill wind, as they say. For the BSE crisis sweeping through Europe is transforming the hitherto gloomy prospects for Monsanto, the controversial GM giant.

The Europe-wide ban on feeding meat-and-bone meal to animals is leading to a huge increase in imported GM soya to take its place. The beleaguered company's share price is soaring, and analysts who once shunned its stock are advising investors to buy.

The ban on feeding animals to each other, imposed at the beginning of this year, has left farmers across Europe scrambling to find alternatives. Fish meal is also banned for cattle and other ruminants, because of fears that it may be contaminated by meat-and-bone meal. This leaves soya, and imports of the beans are expected to jump by about 3.5 million tons this year.

Virtually all of this will be genetically modified, says the UK Agricultural Trade Supply Association, because almost all unmodified soya has been bought up to meet demand following campaigns by environmental groups.

Prices of GM soya have jumped, and the future of Monsanto has been transformed. Its share price, which fell during the past two years when the stock market was booming, has leapt by 50 per cent over the past three-and-a-half months.

Eight of the ten leading analysts of its stock are advising investors to buy. The most bullish include Deutsche Bank, which 18 months ago advised selling, saying that GMO stock would be "perceived as a pariah" and that GM soya could become an "earnings nightmare" for Monsanto.

01 Feb 01 - GMO - GM lobby takes root in Bush's cabinet

John Vidal

Guardian- Thursday 1 February 2001

Biotech firms could have undue influence, say critics When Bill Clinton was president, it was an open secret that his government favoured agricultural biotechnology and actively promoted it as a potential US global money-spinner.

But the strength of the genetically modified food lobby in George Bush's new cabinet, and its links with the GM global leader, Monsanto, are greater than anything that came before, it has emerged.

The secretaries of defence, health and agriculture, the attorney general and the chairman of the House agriculture committee all have links with the firm or the wider industry.

The most active GM advocate is expected to be John Ashcroft, the proposed attorney general, who received $10,000 (6,800) from Monsanto in the recent elections, the most the company gave to any congressional candidate. Mr Ashcroft led calls to the Clinton administration to promote GM crops in developing countries and to persuade Europe to accept them.

If the appointment of Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin, as secretary of health and human services is confirmed, he will be given overall responsibility for food safety, pharmaceuticals and the Food and Drug Administration, which licenses biotechnology in the US.

Mr Thompson is a GM supporter and has accepted money for his campaigns from Monsanto. He used state funds to set up a 200m biotech zone and was one of 13 state governors to launch a campaign, partly funded by Monsanto, to persuade Americans of the benefits of GM crops.

Ann Veneman, the new agriculture secretary, was a director of the GM company Calgene, now owned by Monsanto, and has been active in world trade talks which would favour US companies exporting GM crops to developing countries.

Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, was president of Searle Pharmaceuticals when it was bought by Monsanto.

Larry Combest, a Texas Republican who will chair the powerful House of Representatives agriculture committee, received $2,000 from Monsanto in last year's elections. He is known as a strong supporter of GM food.

Clarence Thomas, the judge whose vote for Mr Bush in the supreme court helped decide the election, was a Monsanto lawyer from 1977 to 1979. His views on GM are not known.

Charles Lewis, director of the Centre for Public Integrity, said: "It looks like Monsanto and the biotechnology industry has the potential to bring undue influence on the new government."

A spokesman for the charity Christian Aid said: "This does not bode well. We should be proceeding cautiously with GM. We fear even greater pressure on poor countries to introduce the technology, to the detriment of poor farmers and consumers who may further lose control of their food security."

Loren Wassel, Monsanto's director of public relations, declined to comment yesterday.

27 Jan 01 - GMO - Asda farmers banned from using GM feed

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph- Saturday 27 January 2001

ASDA ordered all its suppliers of pork, chicken and eggs yesterday to stop feeding genetically modified soya to their livestock and said it would absorb the extra 6.5 million-a-year costs.

Non-GM soya is harder to come by and costs more but the company said: "We will not pass on the extra costs to our customers. We will not expect our suppliers to pay additional feed costs."

The chain, which removed all GM ingredients and derivatives from its own-label brands 15 months ago, went one step further by extending its ban to all other pork, chicken and eggs of whatever brand and whatever source from this summer.

The move followed an announcement by Marks & Spencer that all its meat and eggs now came from livestock on non-GM rations.

27 Jan 01 - GMO - Supermarket giants pave the way for 'GM-free' Britain

John Vidal

Guardian- Saturday 27 January 2001

Britain moved significantly closer to becoming GM-free yesterday after supermarket chains Tesco and Asda announced they would no longer sell the meat or milk of any animal fed with genetically modified soya or maize.

The two companies, who between them control 42% of the grocery market and import more than 1m tons a year of GM animal feed, will switch their imports from the US to Brazil where commercial GM plantings are illegal.

"It is the beginning of the end of GM in Britain," said Greenpeace yesterday. Other retailers were sure to follow, it added. "Widespread rejection of GM animal feed will spell disaster for US importers who supply the bulk of the GM soya and maize to the UK."

US soya exports to Europe have already fallen from 9.85m to 6.75m tonnes between 1995 -1999, following concern about GM crops. Brazilian soya exports to the EU have risen from 2.99m tonnes in 1996 to 6.87m in 1999.

The first stage of the Asda phase-out of GM-fed products covers fish, poultry and eggs by the summer and pork by the autumn. Tesco plans to do the same by the summer.

Iceland, Marks & Spencer, McDonald's and Burger King have already acted to remove GM in animal products. The only major supermarket which has not yet made a commitment to phase out GM-fed animal products is Somerfield.

27 Jan 01 - GMO - Rice genome falls to science

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

BBC- Saturday 27 January 2001

Two companies say they have decoded the genome of rice, one of the most important of all food crops.

Syngenta and Myriad Genetics Inc say that knowing the complete set of biochemical instructions required to build the plant will enable the development of new strains with greater yields and better tolerance of harsh conditions.

The completed DNA sequence, of the variety Nippon-Bare, will not be published in a scientific journal or on the internet but will be made freely available to scientists who want to use it.

Dr Steve Briggs, of the Torrey Mesa Research Institute in California, US, where much of the decoding work was carried out, said: "We expect plant breeders who use this information to have an impact on new varieties in the next five years."

But the international development agency ActionAid expressed concern that the move threatened to leave poor farmers in the developing world in the grip of big business.

"Syngenta must commit to sharing this work with developing countries' researchers and should not patent genes and DNA from this or any other plant genome" ActionAid campaigner Alex Wijertana said.

Major merger

Syngenta was formed last year by merging the agribusiness activities of Novartis and AstraZeneca. It is now the world's largest crop protection company and number three in the market for developing important commercial seeds.

Its rice genome programme began in 1999 and was an initiative that ran in parallel with academic efforts.

Rice has 12 chromosomes and a total of 50,000 genes. "The rice genome is full of surprises and possibilities," Dr Steve Briggs told BBC News Online. "We still do not know what 20% of the genes do. Some of the rice genes are shared with other plants, some are unique.

"But the biggest surprise is that the overall gene architecture and sequence is nearly identical to that of cereals. This means we truly have a plant genetic blueprint."

The decoding of the genome is expected to provide the basic information required to engineer new types of rice with novel traits. It will also lead to the development of new pesticides aimed at specific pests.

'Golden rice'

Genetics has already produced a "golden rice" variety which has been engineered to produce beta-carotene, a precursor our bodies need to make vitamin-A.

Normal rice has no beta-carotene and this has led to health problems in millions of people who rely on the plant as a staple food.

Dr David Evans, head of Syngenta's research and technology division, said: "Because of the similarity between different cereal crop plants, the information derived from rice will contribute to the study of other important cereals such as wheat and corn." The first plant to be decoded was a small weed, Arabidopsis thaliana. It has a much smaller genome with just 26,000 genes.

27 Jan 01 - GMO - Brazilian protesters raid GM farm

Staff Reporter

BBC- Saturday 27 January 2001

Activists at an international forum against globalisation in Brazil occupied an experimental farm run by the United States-based biotechnology company Monsanto.

The farm occupation was organised by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) to demonstrate against genetically modified (GM) food.

The protesters uprooted plants and tore up documents on the farm at Nao Me Toques, in southern Brazil.

Thousands of landless peasants, environmentalists and activists are meeting in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to discuss ways to confront economic globalisation, in an alternative gathering to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.


GM crops are not allowed in Brazil, except on what are known as research stations, although campaigners say some of the country's grain is grown from genetically altered seeds.

The estimated 1,300 protesters encountered no resistance from security guards at Monsanto's 400 hectare (988 acre) farm.

They uprooted corn and soya bean plants, burned seed and destroyed documents from the company's offices, reports say.

"This is a warning," said MST leader Joao Pedro Stedile.

"If Monsanto continues its research in Rio Grande do Sul into GM corn and soya beans, we will have to come back and we will only be satisfied when we put the company's directors in a plane and send them back to the United States."

New economic model

The governor of Porto Alegre, Olivio Dutra, told delegates that they must transform their indignation into an organised global movement, working towards a different economic model.

During the five-day summit, ideas for imposing taxes on international speculation will be debated, as well as debt relief and reforms to the main international financial institutions.

'Not utopian'

Among those attending event are Jose Bove, the French farmer who became a folk hero after attacking a McDonald's restaurant in 1999, President Mitterrand's widow, Danielle, Indonesian student activist Dita Sari, Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman and former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella.

"Our work is not a utopia," said Mr Bove.

"Popular movements are prevailing more and more in the world."

Delegates from over 100 countries are expected to debate child labour, feminism, racism, GM foods and debt relief for the developing world.

Writing in the local newspaper, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso compared the forum delegates to the Luddites, who smashed factory machinery in an attempt to stop the Industrial Revolution in 19th century England.

26 Jan 01 - GMO - Meat prices may soar in GM food row

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph- Friday 26 January 2001

Consumers could face shortages of British meat if supermarkets insist that livestock must be fed on rations free of genetically modified ingredients, farmers' leaders said yesterday.

The National Farmers' Union of England and Wales said: "We are deeply concerned that the current intentions of several supermarkets will disrupt the supply of British meat, not just to those stores but to all retailers and caterers." It called on Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, to hold a meeting of producers, processors and retailers to discuss the problem.

The union warned that the price of meat could soar, due to the expense of GM-free rations, and challenged supermarkets to make legally binding agreements with farmers that they would absorb the "substantial" extra costs. The move came after Marks & Spencer said that none of the food sold in its stores came from animals fed on GM rations. This included beef, lamb, pork, chicken and salmon.

David Gregory, head of technology at Marks & Spencer, said: "We've worked in partnership with our farmers, feed suppliers and processors to achieve this." The NFU dismissed fears over GM ingredients and said there was no evidence to suggest any risks to consumers. All GM material was broken down naturally when eaten by farm animals, it claimed.

In a statement the union said: "It is one thing for the retailers to offer consumers choice by developing lines of meat and meat products produced from animals fed without any use of GM feeds. It is quite another for them to require all meat products to come from animals not fed with GM feeds. This will be expensive if it is possible. Supplies of guaranteed GM-free feed ingredients are limited and a sudden increase in demand can only lead to higher costs for farmers."

Other supermarkets, including Tesco, have been persuading suppliers to phase out GM ingredients in animal rations.

26 Jan 01 - GMO - Supermarket aims for GM-free produce

By Andrea Babbington

Independent- Friday 26 January 2001

Supermarket chain Asda today announced plans to ensure that its fresh chicken, pork and eggs will soon come from animals reared on GM-free diets.

The chain said it will be asking suppliers to use soya meal that is free of all genetically modified ingredients.

Asda, which removed all GM ingredients and derivatives from its own-label foods 15 months ago, said it was reacting to customer demand with the new products, which will hit shelves from the summer. It also plans to eventually introduce GM-free beef and lamb.

Asda was the second major British retailer to announce new GM-free lines of fresh meat and eggs today.

Earlier, ailing high street retailer Marks & Spencer announced a push on meat, fish and poultry from animals reared on GM-free diets. It said that no food containing any genetically modified ingredients would have been fed to fresh beef, lamb, chicken, and salmon sold in its stores.

Eggs would also be sourced from chickens fed only on natural products, said a Marks & Spencer spokesman.

Asda said it would not be passing extra costs on to customers and claimed it had received hundreds of letters from customers calling for the removal of GM animal feed from the food chain.

Lorenz Petersen, Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace, said: "This is fantastic news, not only for UK consumers."

16 Jan 01 - GMO - GM rice 'best hope of feeding world'

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph- Tuesday 16 January 2001

The best hope of feeding the world lies in genetically modified crops because organic and other "sustainable" farming methods would not be able to do the job, a conference at St James's Palace was told yesterday.

Professor Jules Pretty, of Essex University, an expert on organic farming and "sustainable" agricultural methods, said it would be difficult to tackle the malnutrition facing 800 million people without using developments such as genetically modified rice with added vitamin A.

Professor Pretty, organiser of the conference on reducing poverty through sustainable farming, said it was difficult to see how UN targets of reducing world malnutrition by 2015 could be achieved without embracing such technology.

He said: "Vitamin A rice will make a hell of a difference because these people are suffering today and we can make a difference right away. It's all very well to call for nice diverse diets but it will take us 20 years to get there."

Dr Per Pinstrup-Andersen, of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, said a way of dealing most immediately with the malnutrition facing the world's poor was to breed vitamin A and iron into the foods they ate anyway.

15 Jan 01 - GMO - Four fined for destroying crops at GM test site


PA News- Monday 15 January 2001

Four people have been fined after being found guilty of destroying crops at a GM test site near Edinburgh.

Alan Tolmie was fined 250 and the other protesters - Mark Ballard, Matthew Herbert and James Mackenzie - were all fined 125 each at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

They were found guilty of wilfully and recklessly destroying conventional oil seed rape plants during a protest at Boghall farm in March last year. The damaged plants - estimated as being worth just 1.50 - were being grown near to the GM crops as a decoy.

All the accused maintained not guilty pleas, asserting that what they did was reasonable given the testing of GM crops posed dangers to the Scottish environment.

The Scottish case follows the acquittal at Norwich Crown Court last September of 28 Greenpeace protesters for taking similar action against a GM maize crop.

Reacting to the verdict outside the court, Mr Mackenzie, 28, vowed to continue campaigning against the testing of GM crops.

The four men, together with two other people also arrested on Boghall Farm, near Dalkeith in Midlothian, were earlier found not guilty of obstructing the police by refusing to leave the field when asked. Mr Tolmie, 33, is also from Edinburgh and Mr Herbert, 28, is from Fife.

15 Jan 01 - GMO - Monsanto GM wheat is the best thing for sliced bread

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent- Monday 15 January 2001

As genetically modified bread heads for American shelves, trade negotiators in Europe prepare for a battle over labelling

It could be the next best thing for sliced bread. Or it could become the consumer's worst nightmare . The attempt to sell American-grown GM wheat in Britain is likely to light the blue touchpaper in a simmering trade row between the United States and Europe over gene technology.

Monsanto, the world's leading agricultural biotechnology company, has begun field trials of a genetically modified breed of wheat, which it hopes to start marketing - initially in America - in 2003. It would herald the dawn of the GM loaf. If the wheat becomes widely grown by North American farmers, as Monsanto expects, GM might inevitably end up in British bread, whether consumers like it or not .

Field trials of GM spring wheat have begun on experimental farms in the American prairies, where the crop is being tested for yield, herbicide resistance and other important characteristics that could affect mass production.

The company says it is also looking at potential environmental impacts of the new strain of wheat, a genetically complex plant that is the result of cross-breeding experiments by Neolithic farmers many thousands of years ago.

Monsanto conducts much of the research on wheat in room 4161 at its state-of-the-art life sciences centre in St Louis, Missouri, where the difficulties of manipulating wheat genes were tackled.

One problem is that the gene-carrying chromosomes of wheat are a collection of genomes from three different species of wild grass, from which the cereal was bred by the first farmers.

Monsanto has to ensure that the herbicide-resistance genes it inserts into the wheat are only incorporated into the genome that the crop does not share with a common wild relative, the jointed goat grass.

"Wheat is pretty much self- fertilised but on the rare occasions when it does outcross, it will not transfer the trait," said Mark Buckingham, a British-born spokesman for Monsanto working at its headquarters in St Louis.

"Wheat is an old combination of three different species of grass. This is one of the reasons why it has been slow to be developed by biotechnology because it is very complex and very difficult to work on," Mr Buckingham said.

"You've got to make sure that the insertion occurs in the genome of wheat that does not occur in jointed goat grassso then they won't be crossfertilised in respect of this inserted trait," he said

Initially the wheat is being modified to include theherbicide-resistance gene for glyphosate, the active ingredient of Monsanto's all-purpose weedkiller, Roundup. Like other herbicide-resistance crops, the wheat will survive being sprayed with glyphosate, which destroys all weeds in a field.

Environmentalists have questioned whether it is possible to ensure that herbicide resistance genes can be made to stay in the intended crop and not be transferred to nearby weeds, making them resistant "super pests" .

Another concern is whether such GM crops are safe to eat . The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already conducted extensive assessments on food-safety testsperformed on other herbicide-resistant crops and have so far given them a clean bill of health.

One of the tests includes a measurement of a product's allergenicity - whether the genetic modification makes a food more likely to cause an allergic reaction in sensitive consumers. This is especially important with wheat because a substantial minority of people suffer from coeliac disease, an intolerance to the gluten protein present in wheat.

However, James Astwood, director of product safety at Monsanto, said that future genetic modification of wheat might focus on how to make gluten safer by identifying and reducing, or even eliminating, the allergic component. Simply getting rid of gluten completely would not work because it was an important ingredient that imparted texture to bread.

Attempts at genetically modifying the gluten content of bread were being made at Monsanto's British research facility in Cambridge, Dr Astwood said.

Another research idea was to incorporate a substance called thyrodoxin into wheat, to make the bread proteins more digestible. Early experiments by American researchers suggested that wheat could be made 100 times less allergenic by such genetic modification.

However, these visions of the GM loaf of the future will rest on whether American trade negotiators can convince the EU to amend its insistance on the mandatory labelling of GM products.

American government officials, and the biotechnology industry, are nervous that consumers will shy away from products clearly labelled as containing GM ingredients. One senior American trade negotiator likened the labelling to saying that a cereals product was "rat faeces-free", which at the moment was impossible to guarantee because all cereals contained minute traces of rodent droppings, he said.

The FDA's view is that labelling is only necessary if a product is materially different from a non-GM equivalent. It is the argument of "substantial equivalence" that European greens have rejected in favour of the "precautionary principle", which Americans see as a way of restricting trade under the guise of scientific safety.

The European Union - and Britain's Food Standards Agency - takes the view that consumers should have the choice and be allowed to make up their own minds about GM . It is an attitude that evolved out of the BSE crisis, which has hardly had an impact in America where one in three consumers is to this day totally unaware he or she has been eating GM food for years.

Mr Buckingham of Monsanto said the impasse with Europe over mandatory labelling was having a serious impact on the other side of the Atlantic.

"It is a huge issue for Monsanto that the regulatory system is completely stalled. It impacts farmers' perception of the market for their products. US farmers value the European market for all their products," he said.

"But we are not going to not launch a new product because of lack of European approval... because that would mean that European politicians have a veto on what technology we should make available to north American farmers."

The crunch could come over GM wheat.

15 Jan 01 - GMO - Conflict over EU plans to label genetically modified foods

By Stephen Castle in Brussels

Independent- Monday 15 January 2001

In a climate of growing concern over food safety, the European Union is preparing to toughen its rules on genetically modified foods.

And unless the American food biotechnology company Monsanto goes through a stringent EU process of licensing,labelling and traceability, Brussels will prevent its GM wheat being imported.

Few subjects are more sensitive than food safety in Europe, where recent scares over mad cow disease and dioxin have panicked consumers.

For at least two years there has, in effect, been a moratorium on the licensing of any new genetically modified organisms (GMO) for release into the environment, leaving some 18 applications in the pending tray. In theory this will change by Easter when the revised directive 90/220 should be in place, imposing tougher conditions and a new regime to continue monitoring GM foods once they come on to the market. Under this system new "risk assessment" rules will be introduced to monitor scientific evidence.

All new GM plants and seeds approved for sale will have to apply for reapproval after 10 years, scrapping the permanent consent currently available. Any company wanting to export to the EU will need to comply, even if they are based in the United States. The new directive will not be the end of the regulations that Monsanto will have to match to sell genetically modified wheat. One of these is a directive to ensure "traceability" - ensuring that any product deemed to be out of step with European rules could be withdrawn. It will also ensure that food made from GM products can be identified.

More measures will enshrine rules on labelling, in effect ensuring that any product containing more than 1 per cent of GM materials will have to be labelled. This has already proved controversial in America,where producers of soya argue that crops inevitably get mixed up.

But a Brussels official said: "Food is not supposed to come into Europe unless it is labelled. If you send in soya which is conventionally grown, and it is partially contaminated, it is breaking the current legislation. It is possible to test for GM contamination and we have checks."

Groups such as Greenpeace are pressing for limits lower than 1 per cent , including zero tolerance of any trace of GMO substances that have not been licensed in the EU. A spokesman for the Greenpeace European unit said: "For American farmers it is better economic and market choice, if they want to export to Europe, not to produce GM food. European consumers do not even want meat produced from animals fed on GM feed."

Officials in Brussels say that if production of GM wheat goes ahead in America it could provoke a bitter transatlantic dispute. "It has been looming for years," said one.

14 Jan 01 - GMO - Monsanto to launch the first GM loaf

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent- Sunday 14 January 2001

Farm trials have begun for the world's first genetically modified wheat, which means the first GM loaf of bread could be on supermarket shelves within three years.

The GM wheat is under development by the American agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto, which intends to market it aggressively in the face of stiff opposition from environmentalists and the organic food industry. However, any attempt to sell American-grown GM wheat in Europe could reignite the simmering trade war between the Europeans and Americans over biotechnology and food.

The advent of GM wheat is likely to become one of the most controversial issues in global agricultural. It is almost certain to generate intense protests from consumer groups opposed to what they see as unwarranted interference in farming and food production.

Bread is a staple item in Europe and, unlike maize or soya, the advent of the GM loaf will have a resonance with consumers who may not otherwise worry about GM cereals destined for animal feed or specialised products such as tortilla chips.

Monsanto says that the technology it has developed for wheat - a genetically complex plant - is more or less complete and that it is now awaiting the necessary regulatory approval from authorities in the US so that American farmers can begin to grow their first GM wheat crop as early as 2003.

Mark Buckingham, a spokesman for Monsanto's headquarters in St Louis, Missouri, said: "Trials are taking place in North and South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. We're working with existing US wheat breeders, particularly the universities in those states. "We need a certain number of trials to achieve registration from the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We are looking at yield, disease susceptibility and weed control. We are also looking at environmental impact, which is an important part of getting registration."

The US Food and Drug Administration is also following the farm trials closely, sensitive to the potential ramifications of any problems in a crop used for making a staple food item. A senior official in the US Department of Agriculture said the ubiquity of wheat was "one of the reasons why the industry is being very careful of this technology".

The first GM wheat will be a spring-sown variety engineered to include a gene for conferring resistance to Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller. It hopes to sell the wheat alongside the herbicide so that farmers can control weeds more efficiently.

Mr Buckingham said Monsanto would initially market the wheat in America and last month applied for the first part of the necessary product registration. Attempts to sell the wheat in Europe could, however, be blocked by European demands for GM products to be clearly labelled , which the US government is opposing.

American wheat exporters might find it difficult to convince Europe that its cereal crop is "GM free" if a GM wheat variety is widely grown on American soil.

Mr Buckingham said Monsanto was setting up a plan where wheat growers in America could ensure the grain harvested from GM varieties was kept separate from conventional breeds. "Our proposal is to launch it initially with a controlled marketing programme, with some form of traceability in place to ensure that buyers who express a preference for a minimum GM content can get that," he said.

(Mad Cow correspondent's note : it would seem that Monsanto have no intention of allowing consumers to have access to GM FREE grain)

However, similar plans to keep GM maize separate from conventionally bred maize have failed . Environmentalists demonstrated last year that a GM variety called Starlink, which was supposed to be used only for animal feed, ended up in tortilla chips sold in American supermarkets.

11 Jan 01 - GMO - First GM primate to aid human disease research

Staff and agencies

Guardian- Thursday 11 January 2001

Researchers at America's Oregon Health Sciences University have created the world's first genetically modified primate .

The male baby rhesus monkey, whose name ANDi stands for 'inserted DNA' spelled backward, was born in October last year.

ANDi carries a tiny extra bit of DNA in a gene introduced as a marker that can be seen under a microscope because it actually glows green. ANDi's creation is described in the current issue of the journal Science.

Researchers hope they now can introduce other genes in rhesus monkeys that could trigger a host of human diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, breast cancer or HIV in order to find a way to block them at the genetic level.

The technique for inserting the gene has been used for more than a quarter century in mice, but comparing a mouse to a human being has limits, said Dr Gerald Schatten. He is leading the research at the university's Oregon Regional Primate Center.

Because monkeys are close cousins to humans in terms of DNA, they may give scientists a better picture of how human disease develops.

"We're at an extraordinary moment in the history of humans," Dr Schatten said.

A year ago, Dr Schatten reported the first monkey successfully cloned by embryo splitting. That monkey is named Tetra. ANDi and his surrogate mother, as well as Tetra, remain healthy, according to Dr Schatten.

ANDi received an extra gene while he was still an unfertilized egg. Dr Schatten, lead author Anthony W.S. Chan and other researchers modified and then fertilized more than 200 rhesus monkey eggs.

Forty embryos were produced, and resulted in five pregnancies and three live births. Of the three baby monkeys, only ANDi proved to have the modified genes.

11 Jan 01 - GMO - GM monkey first

Staff Reporter

BBC- Thursday 11 January 2001

The scientists who produced the animal at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center say their experiments may suggest a way to speed new treatments for a host of disabling human conditions.

The rhesus monkey was made from an egg that had been modified to include a simple marker gene that makes a particular molecule in cells glow when viewed under a special microscope. But the researchers say the same technology could be used to introduce more significant changes, such as those that would make primates mimic closely human diseases like breast cancer or HIV.

Such animals might make better models of disease than the altered mice and flies already used in labs. This could hasten understanding of disease processes and the development of new therapies.

'Accelerated discovery'

"We could just as easily introduce, for example, an Alzheimer's gene, to accelerate the development of a vaccine for that disease," said co-researcher Professor Gerald Schatten.

"In this way, we hope to bridge the scientific gap between transgenic mice and humans. We could also get better answers from fewer animals, while accelerating the discovery of cures through molecular medicine."

The first GM monkey is called Andi, which is backwards for "inserted DNA".

Many organisms have been genetically engineered. Flocks of GM sheep produce human proteins for use in the drug industry and engineered bacteria and yeast routinely provide human proteins such as insulin. But until now no-one had managed to put a new gene into a primate, the class of mammals that includes humans.

'Morally abhorrent'

Last year, Professor Schatten's team produced Tetra, a female monkey clone created by splitting an embryo in half, as occurs naturally when twins are formed.

Both Andi and Tetra remain fit and healthy at the research centre, says Professor Schatten. But the news that science has developed the technology to turn monkeys into models of human disease has outraged animal welfare groups.

In the UK, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), said the Oregon research would inevitably mean more death and suffering for primates. Wendy Higgins, the group's spokeswoman, said: "This is just the start. Now we're talking about small numbers of animals and gene markers, but what will happen in the future is that scientists will either add or knock out genes in primates to see what happens to them.

"The end result is terrible suffering. It's bad enough using rodents, but for scientists to play God with primate genes is morally abhorrent."

Project aims

Professor Schatten counters such comment by saying modified primates would only be used in clearly defined circumstances.

He said the aim of the project was not to breed hundreds and hundreds of monkeys for medical research.

"We wouldn't want to make a monkey that carries a disease unless we knew there was a cure right in front of us. Our goal isn't to make sick monkeys. Our goal is to eradicate diseases," he said.

The Oregon research is published in the journal Science.