Document Directory

05 Oct 99 - GMO - Relief Across Third World As `Fearful Threat' Recedes
05 Oct 99 - GMO - Monsanto To Face Its Critics As Gm Markets Shrink
05 Oct 99 - GMO - Monsanto rules out 'terminator'
04 Oct 99 - GMO - GM food critic set to reopen safety debate
03 Oct 99 - GMO - GM crop ban to be extended
02 Oct 99 - GMO - Expert on GM danger vindicated
01 Oct 99 - GMO - New controls on genetic crops
30 Sep 99 - GMO - GM plants grow crop of plastic in their seeds
30 Sep 99 - GMO - Gene experts create a half-size fruit fly
27 Sep 99 - GMO - Monsanto in talks with 'greens' over GM crops
20 Sep 99 - GMO - GM brings menu troubles
20 Sep 99 - GMO - EU is warned by America over curbs on GM foods
20 Sep 99 - GMO - Food chains cut out GM to meet label law
19 Sep 99 - GMO - Row over Sainsbury's GM patents
19 Sep 99 - GMO - Confusion Over GM Rules In Restaurants
18 Sep 99 - GMO - Ministers Admit To `Illegal' GM Trials
18 Sep 99 - GMO - We broke law on GM crop trials, minister admits
18 Sep 99 - GMO - Caterers put GM labels on the menu
18 Sep 99 - GMO - GM trials doubt after planting ruled illegal
18 Sep 99 - GMO - GM potato may aid burns victims
18 Sep 99 - GMO - Meacher admits GM crops illegal
17 Sep 99 - GMO - Destroy Unlawful GM Crop Trials - Campaigners
17 Sep 99 - GMO - By Valerie Elliot And Robin Young
16 Sep 99 - GMO - Novartis to rethink its role in GM foods
16 Sep 99 - GMO - Seeds of trouble 'sown before GM'

05 Oct 99 - GMO - Relief Across Third World As `Fearful Threat' Recedes

Staff Reporter

Independent ... Tuesday 5 October 1999

Scientists across the developing world see Monsanto's decision not to exploit commercially "terminator technology" as the removal of a fearful threat to hundreds of millions of poor farmers - despite the industry's assurances that the technology is needed to feed a global population soon to reach 6 billion.

"Terminator technology" would prevent crops from producing fertile seeds and would therefore have been "a disaster for Indian farmers ," said Afsar H Jafri of Delhi's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. "As many as 80 per cent of them save their seeds and plant them the following season and they would face ruin if they had to buy seeds each year," Dr Jafri said.

Pushpa Bhargava, an eminent biologist and founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, said: "In the case of terminator technology, the only one who gains is the company producing it . Farmers would become completely dependent on their seed suppliers."

As in India, the most powerful argument for genetic modification technology in Africa is the potential to develop seeds that are resistant to drought or fungicide and whose products could help to fill the continent's 600 million bellies.

Terry Watson, a British biotechnologist who is working for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, funded by the South African government, said: "Genetic modification offers advantages to the African farmer, who is often short of money for pesticides or whose health is threatened by them. If he can buy seeds which offer a higher yield without the need to use pesticides, he will.''

Monsanto's involvement in India began nearly 20 years ago and, as the country runs out of options for increasing its food yield, the company has identified big potential.

Famines no longer occur in India thanks to the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s but with two million extra tons of rice and of wheat needed each year merely to keep up with the population growth, some experts argue that the biotechnology revolution has more relevance here than in the West.

But it holds just as many terrors, and maybe more. The agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan, who was one of the brains behind the Green Revolution, calls terminator technology unethical and fears that such a development could "endanger the country's food security".

05 Oct 99 - GMO - Monsanto To Face Its Critics As Gm Markets Shrink

Staff Reporter

Independent ... Tuesday 5 October 1999

Farmers count cost as decision to shelve `terminator gene' welcomed around the globe The pledge by the giant biotechnology group Monsanto not to market the so-called "terminator" gene was welcomed yesterday by the Rockefeller Foundation, which had complained that the new technology could place developing countries in thrall to the big agricultural concerns .

Crops grown from seed with such a gene would produce sterile seeds that cannot be replanted, requiring farmers to buy new seed year after year.

While it welcomed the company's decision, the Rock-efeller Foundation again stated its concern about the commercial applications of biotechnology and reissued its call for labelling of genetically modified products "where there is a public demand for it".

The foundation also wants to phase out the use of antibiotic resistance markers , and is seeking more favourable treatment of developing countries in the transfer of biotechnological expertise.

Bob Shapiro, the chief executive of Monsanto, will "face" some of his critics at a meeting in London today organised by Greenpeace - via a satellite telelink to his office in St Louis, Missouri. Mr Shapiro was originally expected to appear in person as Monsanto sought to recast its environmental image to stem its steep and continuing decline in fortunes. The path he has now chosen, for whatever reason, will make questioning more difficult.

Monsanto's public relations machine, concerned about the flood of negative publicity, has been working overtime, and has held conciliatory talks with the Soil Association and other critics. The decision to back-track on the much-hated "terminator gene" technology is the latest move in its effort to restore its image.

While the decision appears to be directed primarily towards its critics in Europe and the developing countries, it also reflects growing disillusionment among already hard-pressed farmers in the United States. After embracing new developments in biotechnology with characteristic American enthusiasm, they are now discovering that GM crops may become an expensive liability .

One of the country's biggest millers, Archer-Daniels- Midland (ADM), caused dismay when it faxed its suppliers throughout the US Midwest, advising them to start separating GM crops from conventional crops, a move aimed at pleasing its foreign customers.

The advice confirmed the worst fears of US farmers - that GM crops produced at higher cost might in future command lower prices than conventionally grown crops. With the European Union banning imports of GM crops, Japan threatening a labelling requirement and Mexico - one of the bigest importers of US crops - also balking at unlabelled produce , it appears that the international market for the new crops is shrinking.

The advice from ADM followed undertakings from the biggest US babyfood company, Gerber, that it would guarantee its products GM-free. Other companies, including Heinz, are following suit, and polls show growing consumer pressure in the United States for all GM food to be labelled .

05 Oct 99 - GMO - Monsanto rules out 'terminator'

By Nigel Hawkes, Science Editor

Times ... Tuesday 5 October 1999

Monsanto, the leading international company involved in genetically modified crops, has said that it will not develop the controversial "terminator technology" .

The technique could make it possible to create GM plants that do not produce viable seeds. This would protect the investment made by the seed company as farmers would have to buy fresh every year.

Farmers in the Third World depend on seed saved from one year's crop to sow the next. If GM crops were equipped with the terminator gene, their usefulness to poorer countries would be greatly reduced, as farmers might not be able to afford new seed every year.

Monsanto has come under strong pressure from many agencies involved in world development to abandon the terminator gene. In a letter to Gordon Conway, chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, Robert Shapiro, chief executive of Monsanto, has undertaken to do so.

The company remains committed to biotechnology "as a safe, sustainable tool for farmers and an important contributor to the future success of agriculture in meeting the world's need for food and fibre", Mr Shapiro writes in the letter, made public by Monsanto. But it will not commercialise "sterile seed technologies , such as the one dubbed terminator", he says. "We are doing this based on input from you and a wide range of other experts and stakeholders, including our very important grower constituency."

The company always had mixed feelings about terminator. It did not develop the technique itself, but is in the process of merging with the company that did, Delta and Pine Land. Actual commercialisation of the terminator gene is at least five years away, and Monsanto scientists were uncertain if it would work. Given these uncertainties and the public opposition it aroused, the company has decided it is not worth pursuing.

Mr Shapiro does leave the door open for a more subtle approach. He says that Monsanto needs to protect its gene patents if it is to make a return on investment, and is studying a technique that would not inactivate the whole seed, but only the gene responsible for the introduced trait. That would mean that for the first year, the plants would possess the ability, say, to resist the Monsanto herbicide RoundUp. But seeds taken from those plants and sown the following year would produce normal plants without this trait. Mr Shapiro says that Monsanto is not spending any money developing such seeds, "but we do not rule out their future development".

Jim Thomas, of Greenpeace, the environmental group that campaigns against GM crops, said that the company had stepped back from its most "odious" piece of technology but remained committed to GM agriculture.

04 Oct 99 - GMO - GM food critic set to reopen safety debate

By Aisling Irwin

Telegraph ... Monday 4 October 1999

The row over the safety of genetically modified food is set to enter a new phase as the scientist at the centre of the controversy publishes his results.

Dr Arpad Pusztai ignited the GM row last August when he claimed that GM food might directly harm human health . He is now to publish research on rats fed GM potatoes in The Lancet.

The research is believed to show that rats which ate GM potatoes developed a thickening of their stomach linings, not seen in control rats which received ordinary potatoes. The linings also became inflamed . The results may support the contention that, while a foreign gene inserted into a plant may theoretically be innocuous, the "constructs" used to insert and control it could be harmful .

Publication, if it goes ahead, would represent a milestone for the Aberdeen-based scientist, whose failure to publish his original GM potato research in a peer-reviewed journal left him open to potent criticism. A source in The Lancet said that it was one of the most heavily reviewed papers ever accepted, and it is thought to have passed through three sets of experts.

The controversy over GM food began last February, when scientists connected with environmental groups across Europe claimed that Dr Pusztai's work had been suppressed by his employers at the Rowett Research Institute. He has since retired. His work involved feeding rats raw potato carrying a gene found in snowdrops. It instructed the potato to produce an insecticide, GNA, from the lectin family.

The work caused alarm as the rats appeared to develop problems with growth rate , immune response and organ weight . Others fed potatoes merely spiked with GNA did not develop these problems. This implied that the process of genetic modification could cause health problems.

The research came in for scathing criticism at the Royal Society, where scientists formed a self-appointed committee to review it.

The work now to be published is believed to be based mainly on analysis of the same rats by Dr Stanley Ewen, a pathologist at Aberdeen University. He studied their intestines and claims to have shown that they had thickened because lining cells were multiplying much faster than usual . He found little or no change in rats fed only spiked potatoes.

Dr Ewen presented a summary of his work at a conference in Lund, Sweden, last November. He did not release detailed data because this would jeopardise publication. He has suggested that the blame may lie with a piece of genetic material known as the 35S cauliflower mosaic virus promoter. Promoters are little stretches of genetic material whose function is to switch genes on or off.

The 35S is popular as it can be easily manipulated. It has been used to perform genetic modification on bt-maize, resistant to the corn-borer moth, and Roundup-Ready soya beans, resistant to a common herbicide. The fear is that switches can end up in the wrong place and switch on the wrong genes . This has been ridiculed by scientists who say there are simple explanations for Dr Pusztai's results.

Raw potatoes are full of toxic compounds. The research was thought by critics to lack sufficient quality controls, making the results meaningless. As the new research was performed on the same rats, some of the same criticisms will apply.

Dr Pusztai said of the new paper: "I think it is in the public interest that it should come out."

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "The Government attempt to rubbish Dr Pusztai could be about to backfire . The Lancet is an important scientific magazine which does not publish without a reason."

03 Oct 99 - GMO - GM crop ban to be extended

Stephen Bevan

Sunday Times ... Sunday 3 October 1999

The government is expected to announce a three-year extension to a voluntary ban on the commercial planting of genetically modified crops .

The agreement will extend the biotechnology industry's existing voluntary moratorium on planting, which runs out at the end of this month, to at least 2002 and possibly further. In return the government will support moves within the European Union to extend approval for wide-scale commercial planting of GM crops - although the voluntary ban would prevent planting here. The ban is intended to allay safety fears. The government says it will not allow commercial planting until it has the results of trials into the effect of the crops on the environment.

Even these are controversial. Last week Friends of the Earth revealed that pollen from a field of GM oilseed rape was being carried three miles by bees. Researchers also discovered that pollen had travelled up to 475 metres from the test site - well beyond the standard 50-metre zone separating trials from normal crops.

At last week's Labour party conference, demonstrators dressed as cows halted traffic in Bournemouth as they called for the removal of GM crops from animal feed. The protesters handed in a petition with a claimed 15,000 signatures against "Frankenstein" food.

Trial crops have been attacked. In July, 28 Greenpeace demonstrators were charged for damaging GM maize at Lyng in Norfolk. In the same week in north Norfolk, hundreds of genetically modified sugar beet, part of an experiment funded by Monsanto into the impact of GM crops on insects, were ripped up.

02 Oct 99 - GMO - Expert on GM danger vindicated

By Geoffrey Lean

Independent ... Saturday 2 October 1999

The scientist who suggested that genetically modified foods could damage health - and was comprehensively rubbished by Government ministers and the scientic establishment as a result - is to have his reputation dramatically vindicated .

Britain's top medical journal, The Lancet is shortly to publish Arpad Puzstai's research showing changes in the guts of rats fed with GM potatoes. This will reignite fears that eating GM foods may endanger human health .

The Government has sought to discredit Dr Puzstai's work on the grounds that it has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Other scientists have made similar claims and attacked it as "flawed" and unpublishable.

Publication of the article will encourage other scientists to try to repeat the experiments, kickstarting further scientific investigation into whether GM foods pose a threat to health or not.

Galley proofs of the article have already been sent to Dr Puzstai, and his co-author Dr Stanley Ewen, SeniorLecturer in Pathology at Aberdeen University. Late last week David McNamee, the journal's Executive Editor, said that it will be published "soon."

The research is important because few papers have so far been published on the health effects of GM foods, despite the rapidity with which they spread onto supermarket shelves. Indeed Dr Puzstai - who was travelling in europe last week and unable to comment on the news - began his experiments becuise he could find only one previous peer-reviewed study, led by a scientist from Monsanto, the GM food giant, which had found no ill-effects.

He started three years research - funded by the Scottish Office to the tune of £1.6 million - at Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute as a self-confessed "very enthusiastic supporter" of GM technology, who fully expected his experiments to give it "a clean bill of health."

The 68 year-old scientist, who has published 270 scientific papers and is acknowledged as the leading authority in his field, fed rats on three strains of genetically engineered potatoes and one ordinary one. In his first full interview, after being gagged by his institute, he told the Independent on Sunday last March; " I was absolutely confident I wouldn't find anything. But the longer I spent on the experiments, the more uneasy I became."

His findings sparked public concern, and ignited a furious row about GM foods, after he briefly mentioned them, with the Institute's permission, on a television programme last year. They contradicted repaeted assurances from the Prime Minister down, that GM food is safe, and undermined the assumption behind the regulation of genetically altered crops that there is no substantial difference between them and their conventional equivalents .

Despite his eminence, Dr Puztai - who came to Britain after the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian rising beacuse of the country's "tolerance" - underwent one of the most extraodinary treatments ever meted out to a reputable scientist.

He was suspended from his work on the experiments, his computers were sealed , his data confiscated and he found himself "sent to Coventry" by his colleagues. He was forced into retirement and forbidden to talk about his work.

He came under comprehensive attack from ministers and the scientific establishment. Sir Robert May, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, accused him of violating "every canon of scientific rectitude". The Royal Society claimed that his work was "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis" and said that "no conclusions could be drawn from it." And Professor Tom Sanders, of Kings College, London. said that none of the major scientific journals would publish the research.

Ministers enthusiastically joined in. Cabinet enforcer Dr Jack Cunningham, who is in charge of the Government's GM strategy, said Dr Pusztai's work had been "comprehensively discredited", and top Downing Street advisers consistently stressed it should be disregarded because it had not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr Pusztai retorted that he was eager to publish, and pointed out that the scientific criticism was based on incomplete information that he had put on the internet at the Institute's request, while being denied full access to his data, which was only released to him this spring.

01 Oct 99 - GMO - New controls on genetic crops

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Friday 1 October 1999

New minimum distances between genetically modified crops and other fields are being examined by the Government. The new rules could be in force before the start of next year's programme of trials on 75 sites.

At present there is a 50-metre separation distance between GM and conventional crop fields and 200 metres between GM and organic crops. But organic farmers are calling for a minimum six-mile distance .

Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, confirmed yesterday that the issue was on the agenda. "I do accept that we should look further at this again and we may well have to extend those distances in order to minimise still further the proportion of any possible cross pollination."

He was speaking after Friends of the Earth disclosed that scientists had found GM pollen 4.5km from an official trial site in Oxfordshire.

Mr Meacher made clear, however, that the purpose of the trials and the work of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment was to monitor the escape of pollen.

"We have an independent committee of scientific experts who are overseeing the farmscale trials, who are certainly concerned about the isolation distances.

They are now examining what are the consequences of growing GM crops as opposed to non-GM crops in neighbouring fields."

The first published monitoring results of the trial at Model Farm, Watlington, which has been the scene of numerous anti-GM protests, showed that the pollen had travelled further than previously detected .

Friends of the Earth claimed immediately that the discovery underlined the scale of the threat the trials posed to conventional and organic farmers, bee-keepers and the wider environment.

30 Sep 99 - GMO - GM plants grow crop of plastic in their seeds

By Aisling Irwin

Telegraph ... Thursday 30 September 1999

Plants that grow plastic in their seeds could sprout in farms across Britain after a breakthrough in genetic engineering.

Oil seed rape and cress plants have been engineered to convert air into biodegradable plastic suitable for goods ranging from credit cards to carrier bags. The genetic engineering, reported in Nature Biotechnology, could lead to one crop that produces oils, plastics and animal feed.

Scientists have been seeking ways to make plastics without using petroleum products . These either do not break down or release harmful substances if they do. Researchers have tried taking starch from plants and feeding it to genetically engineered bacteria which convert it into plastic, but this is five times more costly than plastic from petroleum.

Plants are far more efficient at converting carbon into plastic because they take their raw material from the atmosphere. Scientists from Monsanto have inserted four genes from bacteria into plants, which convert carbon into PHBV - a degradable plastic - at three per cent of their weight. However, this yield must be improved if it is to be a commercial crop.

Prof Yves Poirier of Lausanne University, said: "This experiment represents one of the most complex feats of metabolic engineering yet performed in plants." It could prove "an excellent method of increasing the value of crops by adding novel characteristics to plants. A crop like soya bean could be used to produce oils, protein-rich meals for animals and bioplastics".

30 Sep 99 - GMO - Gene experts create a half-size fruit fly

Staff Reporter

Telegraph ... Thursday 30 September 1999

The first miniaturised version of a living organism has been created by geneticists. By manipulating a single gene they created a half-size replica of a drosophila fruit fly.

The breakthrough could lead to new treatments for cancer and aid organ transplants in the long term. The bonsai fruit fly is the same as its full-size brethren in every way but size, said Prof George Thomas, an American scientist who created the fly at the Friedrich-Miescher Institute, in Basel, Switzerland, with Prof Ernst Hafen, of Zürich University.

"What is amazing is that the half-size fruit fly has exactly the same number of cells as a full-size fruit fly," Prof Thomas said. "Size is usually determined by the number of cells that make up an organism. In this case, there are as many cells as a full-size fly, but each is only half the usual size."

Prof Thomas said he was surprised to find that a single fruit fly gene which controls the signalling molecule drosophila S6 kinase, or DS6K, was responsible for controlling the speed at which all cells developed. In fruit flies and mammals, DS6K is part of a complex pathway linked with insulin in regulating growth rate.

Writing in Science, the scientists say that removing any other molecule from the pathway affects cell numbers and size, but removing DS6K seems only to slow growth and limit maximum cell size. It did not affect the ability of cells to reproduce by division. Prof Thomas compared the physiology of the shrunken and full-sized flies' wings, eyes and dorsal bristles under the microscope. Both had the same number of cells.

The breakthrough has implications for cancer treatments and organ transplants in humans because by slowing the growth of targeted cells, scientists could retard the development of malignant tumours. Slowing cell growth in mice or humans will be much more complicated, they warn.

Prof Thomas said that manipulating the DS6K gene worked in fewer than two per cent of fruit flies, but they expected to improve the technique. In mammals, where the time taken to reach maturity is much longer than a fruit fly, many more redundant genes would have to be manipulated to control cell size and growth rates.

27 Sep 99 - GMO - Monsanto in talks with 'greens' over GM crops

Staff Reporter

Telegraph ... Monday 27 September 1999

The American bio-technology company Monsanto is in talks with environmental groups over genetic modification , it confirmed yesterday.

The firm was in discussions with organisations such as the Soil Association and hoped further talks would take place, it said. Monsanto issued a statement as it was reported that it was looking at ways to meet the concerns of environmentalists over GM food.

It is said to have offered its vast databases to help plant breeders to create new varieties of crops using traditional methods. The company hopes that by combining traditional techniques with its knowledge of plant DNA it can reverse the opposition to biotechnology that is sweeping Britain and Europe.

Monsanto's president, Hendrik Verfaillie, is said to have presented the plan to Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, asking if it would meet environmental and consumer concerns. Mr Holden described the meeting as "hugely significant" and said it represented a change in policy for the Missouri-based company.

20 Sep 99 - GMO - GM brings menu troubles

By Alex O'connell

Times ... Monday 20 September 1999

The latest delicacy on the British menu is giving restaurateurs an upset stomach. Starting today, caterers whose dishes contain, for example, genetically modified soya or maize will be breaking the law if they do not label menus accordingly.

Some larger restaurant chains said last night that they had made plans, but many smaller restaurants were not prepared. Some said it would be impossible to conform.

In West London, Stefano Magni, the manager of Biagio Café at Piccadilly, had heard about the law on the radio, but said it would be unrealistic to think they could label everything. "Maybe this coffee is modified," Mr Magni, pointing to a large urn of dark-roasted grains, said. "But if it is, they do not say so on the box." Next week the restaurant takes delivery of a fresh pastamaker. Mr Magni has no idea if a batch of fine Italian flour ordered specially will be genetically modified. "Our melons come from Chile, our strawberries from England, our peppers from Spain and our artichokes, well, nobody knows."

The ruling applies to all genetically modified crops - believed to be an additive in up to 90 per cent of processed food. The labelling amendment regulations were announced in March, giving businesses six months to investigate their sources and make changes. Local authorities say that the law will be difficult to enforce.

In nearby Burger King, Sam Siddig, the acting manager, knew nothing of menu alterations, adding: "We didn't get memos from head office." George, a Regent Street hotdog seller, thought that his sausages, rolls and onions were GM-free because he trusted his supplier.

Garfunkel's, owned by City Centre, produced a written statement saying: "No items for sale on any of our menus contain either GM soya or GM maize as an ingredient."

20 Sep 99 - GMO - EU is warned by America over curbs on GM foods

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor, in Geneva

Telegraph ... Monday 20 September 1999

America will challenge EU curbs on genetically modified food if they are "unscientific" under world trade rules.

The food labelling scheme for restaurants , introduced by Britain, is one of the likely targets for complaint. Frank Loy, deputy to Madeleine Albright and United States under secretary for global affairs, said at a high-level private forum at the weekend that America had been "relatively patient" in waiting for EU approval of new GM crops.

However, it would not wait forever and was not prepared to see further restrictions on imports, such as GM soya, that had already been approved. Mr Loy said: "We have two problems: a failure to approve importation of certain new products and a number of products which have been approved under a process the Europeans set up themselves with, so far as I know, no ill-effects whatsoever. If that [process] were tampered with, we would have a much, much more serious situation."

The US has sent papers to the World Trade Organisation saying that the mandatory labelling of food, such as that now imposed unilaterally by Britain at restaurants, can amount to a barrier to trade. Trade experts believe that labelling of GM products by the EU is now the most likely issue to form the subject of a complaint to the WTO dispute panel - the most powerful sanction any country can resort to short of war.

Mr Loy, a former conservationist and one of the most sensitive in the administration to the charge that free trade can be harmful to the environment, warned nevertheless that the United States was concerned about the EU's effective two-year moratorium on the approval of GM crops while an EU directive on the release of GM crops is updated.

"The EU needs to look at its regulatory mechanisms," he said. "In the past it has approved a lot of products. It has more lately not approved anything, just sat on them. I think that a sound, science-based transparent process of looking at these questions and coming to conclusions about them would be a step forward." Mr Loy said that the different attitude to GM crops in Europe and America "might be a cultural thing" but it "doesn't seem to be consistent with any of the rules we have".

If countries were unable to find scientific reasons to justify banning products on environmental or health grounds, they should admit that they could not comply with the rules and pay compensation or face up to trade sanctions, he said.

Mr Loy was talking at a one-day forum in Geneva attended by Michael Meacher, the environment minister, senior EU officials and Klaus Töpfer, head of the United Nations Environment Programme. The forum was set up in an attempt to head off a major row over the use of environmental standards as barriers to trade which threatens to overwhelm the World Trade Organisation's meeting in Seattle in December.

Michael Meacher said: "There are certain issues which are clearly potential or actual conflicts. This probably is the best opportunity that we have to try to resolve them." He defended the testing procedures Britain had set up, saying that they were scientific but would take time and were not imposed as blocking measures, unlike those introduced by some other European countries.

Ministers and trade experts spent the weekend exploring a number of "win-win" measures likely to appeal to the three power blocks that will need to be appeased at the Seattle talks - the North Americans, the EU and the developing world.

They decided that fisheries subsidies, agriculture subsidies and subsidies on fossil fuels should all be reduced.

20 Sep 99 - GMO - Food chains cut out GM to meet label law

Julia Hartley-Brewer

Guardian ... Monday 20 September 1999

McDonald's and Burger King are among the fast food chains that have removed genetically modified ingredients from their menus in time for labelling laws that came into force yesterday. However, many smaller food establishments may be unaware of the requirement to label any GM soya or maize used in dishes. The environmental group Friends of the Earth has questioned 11 leading chains and all said they did not use GM soya or maize and therefore would not have to label any of their food. Restaurants, pubs, and canteens must henceforth clearly identify dishes that contain GM ingredients. Alternatively, Britain's 500,000 catering premises can choose to indicate simply that some dishes on the menu contain GM soya or maize, in which case staff when asked must be able to inform customers which dishes are affected. However, Friends of the Earth highlighted what it said was a loophole in the legislation: outlets can supply meals that contained GM derivatives, such as lecithin and soya oil, without having to tell their customers, as derivatives are not covered by the new rules. Two of the companies questioned by FoE - Pret a Manger and Domino's Pizza - said they had removed GM derivatives from their food , while a further six chains said they were in the process of removing them . Whitbread said it was actively reducing derivatives. Pete Riley, a food campaigner at FoE, said: "This survey shows that restaurants recognise that customers do not want to eat food containing GM ingredients or derivatives, and that most are now removing them as fast as they can. "However, restaurants might well ask why they have to go to all the trouble and expense to ensure that their meals don't contain ingredients that neither they nor their customers want. Surely the bill should be picked up by the big biotech companies who stand to make vast sums of money from this new technology." Mr Riley added: "Once again the government is failing the public. Despite the introduction of these new food regulations, people will still unknowingly be buying and eating food containing GM ingredients and derivatives." He said that, rather than introducing labelling schemes that were unlikely to be enforced, the government should listen to consumers and back calls for a five-year freeze on GM food and crops . McDonald's, Perfect Pizza, KFC, Pizza Hut and City Centre Restaurants - which includes Caffe Uno and Deep Pan Pizza - said they were removing GM derivatives. Wimpy said it would be free of the derivatives by the end of the year , while Burger King and Granada said they were monitoring and reviewing the situation. A government spokeswoman said it was a "commercial decision" for restaurants and other food outlets whether to label their dishes containing GM ingredients or to remove them from the menu. She added: "It's important that consumers have choices about the food they eat, and they need adequate information so they can make informed choices. She said ministers were already pressing for additional European legislation to require the labelling of GM ingredients to be extended to additives and flavourings as well as GM soya and maize. The new regulations will be enforced by local authorities as part of their routine enforcement of food laws, with a maximum fine of £5,000 for outlets failing to comply.

19 Sep 99 - GMO - Row over Sainsbury's GM patents

Antony Barnett, Public Affairs Editor

Guardian ... Sunday 19 September 1999

Campaigners attack Science Minister as US documents reveal Labour peer's biotech 'goldmine'

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury stands to make substantial profits from a company which now owns the rights for three biotech products integral to the future of GM food technology, The Observer can reveal.

Sainsbury indirectly owns a firm, Diatech, that controls the patents based around a collection of genes taken from the tobacco plant, known as the Omega sequence. The process makes genetic modification more than 100 times more effective and scientists claim it has the potential to make millions of pounds in royalties .

Documents filed at the US patent office, which have been seen by The Observer, show Diatech was granted three patents for its GM products in February 1996, March 1997 and April this year. Diatech was transferred to Sainsbury's blind trust last July after he became a Minister. This month he donated £2m to the Labour Party.

Earlier this year The Observer revealed how Diatech was helping to pay contractors to refurbish Sainsbury's £3 million country home . The revelations piled further pressure on Tony Blair to sack the Science Minister after MPs and environmental campaigners claimed his financial links to the GM industry made it impossible for him to act impartially and accused him of a significant conflict of interest.

Adrian Bebb, director of Friends of the Earth, said: 'It is now clear that if GM technology takes off in Britain Lord Sainsbury will make so much money that even he will notice. This huge potential goldmine makes the idea of avoiding conflicts of interest through a blind trust completely ridiculous .'

Sainsbury has not declared ownership of the patents in the House of Lords' register of interests because they are technically owned by his blind trust. Before he became a Minister he simply listed in the register that he owned a 'licence on a biotechnology product'.

Shadow Environment Secretary John Redwood said: 'Lord Sainsbury must give a clear and full statement of his past and present interests in the GM industry. He cannot hide behind his blind trust because if you own assets and investments that are not easily tradeable the blind trust does not offer protection. It also appears he only declared one patent in the past when he may have owned more .'

Sainsbury funded the research that led to the Omega sequence being discovered during the 1980s. His chief scientific adviser, Dr Roger Freedman, approved the payment for the work through Diatech which sponsored the research that was carried out at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

Dr Michael Wilson, chief executive of Horticultural Research International and the scientist who discovered the sequence, said: 'The unique thing is that it can be used in virtually all GM processes. Put simply, it dramatically boosts the levels of protein produced in GM plants which is necessary to make the gene function. This could be very useful in GM foods as well as in developing medicines.'

A researcher at the Scottish Crop Research Institute who worked with Wilson said: 'The view was that the Omega sequence could be a huge commercial success in the future with companies like Monsanto licensing it for use in their products.'

The Observer has also established that under Sainsbury's ownership Diatech struck a deal with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US to jointly market the patent of another translational enhancer taken from the alfalfa plant.

Diatech refused to reveal who was paying for its products, although it is understood that genetically modified papayas being grown in Hawaii are paying royalties to the firm. Earlier this year the Japanese signed a deal with Hawaiian papaya growers to import GM fruit. Such a deal could be highly profitable for Diatech and Sainsbury.

In February, Sainsbury angrily dismissed claims he owned the patent to the cauliflower mosaic virus. He refused to comment, but a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said the Minister had no idea what he did or did not own in his blind trust and that, in any case, he was not involved in policy decisions relating to GM foods.

However, earlier this year Sainsbury travelled to the US with members of the the Bio-Industry Association to investigate biotechnology clusters. The association is viewed by campaigners as a lobby group for the GM industry and Diatech is a member. The DTI helped fund the trip.

19 Sep 99 - GMO - Confusion Over GM Rules In Restaurants

Staff Reporter

Observer ... Sunday 19 September 1999

Restaurateurs across the country have expressed bemusement at labelling laws on genetically modified ingredients that came into force yesterday.

Out of the 20 restaurants surveyed by The Independent, one-third were not aware of the government regulations that require them to identify dishes containing GM soya or maize . All but two said they did not plan to modify their menus. Judith Wakeham, proprietor of the White House restaurant in Prestbury, Cheshire, said: "Could you imagine the state of the menus? Reading them would be impossible. It was simply not practical."

Most owners said they would not go as far as advertising their cuisine as GM free. While 16 said they did not use any genetically modified ingredients, four admitted they could not guarantee their dishes did not contain biotech foods.

Raffaele De Martino, manager of Casa Mamma in central London, echoed the view of many when he said: "To be honest, we don't know if we use any. All the ingredients we buy don't have labels. You can only take the suppliers' word for it."

And Roberto Cimelli, owner of Sasses Restaurant in Norwich, added: "We have to rely on what the suppliers say but we are the ones at the end of the line. This new regulation is a complete mess."

While most owners said they understood people's concerns over GM foods, some questioned the necessity of such a law which, they said, would penalise them and could prove as difficult to enforce as the beef on the bone ban.

Angela Davies, owner of Quay 35 in Newcastle, said: "If we have to label everything, it is going to be a huge exercise. At the moment it's only soya and maize but soon there could be more. That means we will have to check each ingredient. And we don't even know if there is a danger to the public."

Britain's biggest fast-food chains, including McDonald's and Burger King, had removed genetically modified ingredients from their menus in time for yesterday's deadline, according to Friends of the Earth.

The environmental group surveyed 11 leading chains and found that all said that they did not use GM soya or maize and would not have to label any of their food to comply with the new regulations.

However, the group highlighted a loophole in the legislation, which meant food outlets could supply meals that contained GM derivatives such as GM lecithin and GM soya oil without having to tell customers, as derivatives are not covered by the new rules.

18 Sep 99 - GMO - Ministers Admit To `Illegal' GM Trials

Staff Reporter

Independent ... Saturday 18 September 1999

Government trials of genetically modified crops were plunged into chaos yesterday when the Environment Minister Michael Meacher had to admit the latest series of plantings were illegal .

Government lawyers, in a highly embarrassing climbdown, conceded the claim by the Friends of the Earth, in a judicial review case in the High Court, that this autumn's large-scale trials programme on four farms had been wrongly licensed .

Environment Department officials had allowed the company involved, AgrEvo, to obtain a variation of an old licence when they should have insisted it seek a new one, which would have been more expensive and time-consuming for the company.

Although the case is based on a technicality, it is a big embarrassment for the Government, as it gives an impression of incompetence in the management of a hot political issue, and of special treatment for the agribusiness companies promoting GM technology. "It is a bad day for us," a government source admitted.

Mr Meacher, insisting that it was a "narrow, technical matter" with no health, safety or environmental issues involved, said that the Government still wished the environmental trials of winter oilseed rape to continue on the three sites already planted.

He accepted, however, that if Friends of the Earth returned to court and won an order for the trial sites to be destroyed, they would have to be dug up.

Friends of the Earth said it would seek such an order, accusing the Government of hypocrisy . "How can they admit they have broken the law over these trials and then do nothing about stopping them?" said the group's campaigns director, Liana Stupples.

"How can the Government expect people to trust them if this is their attitude? We are calling for these crops to be dug up immediately . The trials are completely discredited."

Mr Meacher said he was concerned at the possibility that green activists might in the meantime attack the three remaining sites, the locations of which, in Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire, are well known. Crops on a similar site in Norfolk were destroyed by members of Greenpeace last month.

"We are concerned about their protection and the police are obviously concerned that they should not be damaged or destroyed or violated in any way," he said.

But he claimed that the majority of members of the public had reacted adversely to Greenpeace's attack and he hoped that this would "give others due cause to think very carefully." He added: "I am sure the courts will act vigorously with those who behave in this way."

However, Mr Meacher said he still believed that in the cause of open government the location of the sites should continue to be published.

Jack Cunningham, overseer of the Government's GM policy, hinted last week that if attacks continued, the sites might be kept secret .

The dispute concerns the four-year series of farm-scale trials, begun under government supervision this year, to test the effects of growing GM crops on the local environment, the first such trials in the world .

The GM plants involved, oilseed rape and maize, are genetically engineered to be tolerant of a new generation of powerful weedkillers and there are fears that these may have a devastating effect on wild flowers, insects and birds.

The plantings this year are a dry run to establish the methodology for the full series of 75 trials to run from 2000 until the end of 2002. Six plantings of spring-sown rape and maize are now coming to an end, and are being followed by four sites of autumn-sown rape.

It is these four which are the subject of Friends of the Earth's successful High Court challenge. They were authorised by a variation of the licence for the spring sowings, but the Government now accepts that under EU law and the Environment Protection Act it should have been the subject of an entirely new licence application. Mr Meacher said that the Government would no longer be contesting the judicial review proceedings. "We are accepting that we acted illegally ," he said.

"We acted in good faith, but we made a mistake and as soon as that became clear, we have sought to put it right." The testing programme would continue. "It is absolutely vital that we have these trials."

18 Sep 99 - GMO - We broke law on GM crop trials, minister admits

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 18 September 1999

The Government is to press ahead with trials of genetically modified crops despite being forced to admit yesterday that it had wrongly given permission for a series of tests.

Michael Meacher, the environment minister, said that permission for the trials of GM oilseed rape on three fields in Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire was "technically unlawful ". He said there were "no health, safety or environmental issues involved".

Friends of the Earth had been granted leave for a judicial review after the Government allowed AgrEvo UK Ltd to change the GM crop being tested from spring-sown to autumn-sown GM oilseed rape without submitting a new application.

The move enabled the crop to be grown for 12 months rather than six and quadrupled the area of the trials from about 3,000 acres to 12,000 acres . The "narrow, technical" matter that caught out the Department of Environment concerned whether it had the power to allow the GM trial by varying an existing consent rather than seeking a new one.

Even though the crops are effectively the same, the Government found that the "variation order" was insufficient and a fresh application was required under the EU Deliberate Release Directive. Mr Meacher said he would not contest the judicial review over the trials of the herbicide-tolerant GM oilseed rape.

He said: "We are accepting that on this point we acted illegally ." But he stressed that it was a mistake made in good faith and that it "would not be right" to pull up the crop. He said: "The Government's programme of farm-scale crop trials will continue."

The impact of GM crops on the environment needed to be assessed and, until then, the GM crop industry "fully understands that it is not possible to achieve full-scale commercialisation in this country, given the current state of public opinion".

Tony Juniper, policy director for Friends of the Earth, described Mr Meacher's announcement as a "humiliating climb-down " and said that the pressure group would seek legal advice on how to take further action to ensure that the offending crop was dug up.

He said: "We caught the Government fiddling the law. They have admitted their responsibility and will not contest our legal challenge. But they will let the farm-scale trials go ahead anyway. It is nonsense to pretend that this is a technical matter."

AgrEvo said the issue was a matter for the Government and Friends of the Earth although it remained committed to research and development.

Mr Meacher said the practical effect of the admission "will be very little, if anything. It does mean that AgrEvo will not proceed with the planting of a fourth field on Sunday as they had planned to do. Otherwise there will be no practical effect and the farm-scale trials will continue next year as planned."

Mr Meacher said: "It is absolutely vital that we have these trials. They will tell us what effect, if any, growing GM crops may, or may not have, on Britain's wildlife." Tim Yeo, shadow agriculture spokesman, said: "There has been a collapse in public confidence in the Government's handing of GM crop trials and this will make things worse."

18 Sep 99 - GMO - Caterers put GM labels on the menu

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 18 September 1999

Pubs, restaurants and other catering establishments face fines up to £5,000 from tomorrow if they fail to identify genetically modified ingredients on their menus.

Even the owners of hot-dog stands will have to comply with new GM labelling regulations, announced by the Government in March, which come into force at midnight. The Food Labelling (Amendment) Regulations 1999 will force an estimated 500,000 catering premises in Britain to show which dishes on their menus contain GM soya and maize.

The declarations, which can be either on menus or on notices displayed where customers can see them, are designed partly to ensure that staff can inform customers accurately which dishes are affected. It will be the responsibility of owners and managers to find out whether they are using GM products.

Baroness Hayman, the food minister, said yesterday: "The Government is committed to ensuring that consumers are able to make an informed choice about the food they eat. We have led the way in Europe by extending the labelling regulations."

The Government was now pressing for extra European legislation to require the labelling of GM additives and flavourings, she said.

18 Sep 99 - GMO - GM trials doubt after planting ruled illegal

Audrey Gillan

Guardian ... Saturday 18 September 1999

Three fields of genetically modified crops in Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire could be ploughed up and any further trials postponed for at least a year after the government admitted yesterday that their planting last month had been illegal.

Caving in to pressure from environmental campaigners, the department of the environment conceded that it had been wrong to allow changes to rules governing the trials of GM crops. It said the concession was not on grounds of the safety of the trials but simply over a technical mistake.

The climbdown by the environment minister, Michael Meacher, was none the less hailed as a victory by Friends of the Earth and led to opposition calls for his resignation.

The announcement could result in a costly delay to the trials . Tomorrow's proposed planting of a field of oilseed rape in Lincolnshire will now not go ahead .

Mr Meacher said he would not contest judicial review proceedings recently brought by FoE, but he was adamant that the trials - 75 fields are proposed for next year - would continue. FoE will seek legal advice on whether it should ask a court that the fields be dug up because they were unlawfully planted.

FoE had claimed that the government was wrong to allow AgrEvo UK Ltd to make changes to the crop being tested without seeking new permission from the department of the environment. AgrEvo changed its application, quadrupled the area of land used, doubled the length of the trial from six months to one year and switched one of the tests from spring to autumn planting.

Mr Meacher said he was conceding defeat on only one point - whether the government had the power to vary a consent to allow for the planting of oilseed rape in the autumn - and there were "no health, safety or environmental issues involved".

"As soon as we were satisfied that we should not contest this point, we acted swiftly and told the court," he said. "We will not require AgrEvo to end the trials concerned because at the time of sowing AgrEvo acted in good faith on the strength of the consent which they had."

Mr Meacher conceded that the trial programme could, however, be hampered by further legal moves by FoE.

FoE had originally hoped to delay the planting of the new trials beyond September 25 but the sowing went ahead after Mr Meacher said he saw no legal reason why there should be any delay.

The group condemned the decision to allow the trials to continue as "scandalous ". FoE policy and campaigns director Tony Juniper said: "This humiliating climb-down puts the whole GM trials programme into complete chaos. We caught the government fiddling the law. They have admitted their responsibility and will not contest our legal chal lenge. But they will let the farm-scale trials go ahead anyway. It is nonsense to pretend that this is a technical matter. The trials should of course be stopped at once."

Tim Yeo, the Conservative spokesman for agriculture, called for Mr Meacher to resign . "His reaction to this shocking case - to call it a technicality - is an insult to the public's intelligence. To say that a trial that involved a different crop for twice the time and on four times the area of land was legally flawed because of a technicality shows that he is no longer a responsible guardian of Britain's environment," Mr Yeo said.

Mr Meacher took back threats made last week that the trials might have to be conducted in secret because of the threat of sabotage. He said he now believed openness was the best policy.

• Regulations requiring all restaurants to identify dishes containing GM ingredients come into force tomorrow. The regulations, which also apply to pubs and canteens, require some 500,000 catering premises to show which dishes on their menus contain GM soya or maize. Alternatively, the restaurants must indicate that some meals contain GM ingredients and staff must be able to inform customers which dishes are affected when asked.

18 Sep 99 - GMO - GM potato may aid burns victims

Tim Radford

Guardian ... Saturday 18 September 1999

Potatoes genetically engineered to produce a natural chemical found in pineapples could soon be helping burns victims, James Dunwell, a plant biotechnologist at the university of Reading, told the British Association festival of science.

Pineapples, like papaya, could "digest" flesh: both were used for tenderising tough meat. Researchers had identified the enzyme in pineapple juice that did the work, and the gene that produced it.

A product was already being extracted from pineapple stems and used in hospitals to "clean up" damaged skin before grafts. But the action was too acidic; the Reading team proposed to modify the gene so that its action was not too powerful, and then get plants such as potatoes to produce huge quantities of a better pharmaceutical product.

"This is linking an understanding of genetics, proteins and plants for the benefit of human health," Prof Dunwell said. He was speaking at a meeting on public concern over biotechnology in general and genetically modified crops in particular.

Bill Fullagar, UK chief of Novartis, commissioned a Mori survey of 1,000 adults who were asked about scientific advances: 90% approved of the transplant of human organs; 86% wanted a permanent cure or vaccine for Alzheimer's disease; 82% wanted medicines which would work without side effects, and 62% wanted new agricultural methods which would benefit the environment.

Only 31% approved of experiments on live animals, but when the same question was linked with medical advances, approval went up to 48%. Only 16% approved of cloning animals; once again, when the question was linked to Alzheimer's disease treatment, approval rates doubled. Scientists argued that better information about benefits might alter public attitudes to genetically-modified crops.

Novartis is testing genetically-modified sugar beet in Britain , and has produced an insect-resistant maize. Both meant less pesticide use, Mr Fullagar said.

"With this technology comes the obligation for responsibility and we accept willingly that the technology raises great questions," he said. The Mori survey was one small step towards a wider public debate on the risks and benefits.

"Biotechnology has this great potential impact on our lives, but what we do with it should depend upon the debate we should all be engaging in," he added.

18 Sep 99 - GMO - Meacher admits GM crops illegal

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Saturday 18 September 1999

The future of genetically modified crop trials was in chaos last night after the Government admitted that the planting of this autumn's three test sites was unlawful .

Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, admitted that the Government may be forced to dig up illegally planted fields of GM winter oilseed rape if a legal challenge to be mounted in the High Court by Friends of the Earth, possibly as early as next week, is successful.

Ministers have already told AgrEvo, the giant biotechnology company responsible for these trials, that it must now cancel plans for the planting of a fourth site in Lincolnshire tomorrow. Despite its admission, the Government infuriated anti-GM campaigners by insisting that the three other trials - two near Lincoln and one near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire - should continue.

The confusion immediately prompted a Tory call for Mr Meacher's resignation . Tim Yeo, Shadow Agriculture Minister, said: "Michael Meacher has now lost all credibility and should step down ." The Government was clearly embarrassed by the bungle but a defiant Mr Meacher took pains to emphasise that the Government had acted at all times "in good faith", but he accepted there was a possibility they would be forced to dig up the crops. He said that if the court told them to pull up the crops they would obey the order and added that it would not be a serious consequence for the farm-scale trials. The embarrassment followed a decision to bow to the legal challenge from Friends of the Earth which claimed this autumn's crop planting was illegal. The High Court had already given the campaign group permission to bring a judicial review on the issue.

But Mr Meacher sought to play down the incident and said the Government had made a mistake on just one narrow, technical issue. He insisted there were no health, safety or environmental issues at stake and the Government was taking steps to ensure that the error was not repeated. But he admitted that he was worried about the security of the three remaining trials and said: "They should not be damage or destroyed or violated in any way."

A Whitehall spokeswoman also emphasised that anyone damaging the seed or land would be at risk of prosecution for illegal trespass and criminal damage. The Government's mistake was uncovered by lawyers at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions who realised that AgrEvo's application for planting this winter's oilseed rape trials had been unlawful.

The company had applied for a £700 variation order of an existing approval for the planting of spring oilseed rape. But the lawyers discovered the use of such an order was wrong under EU law and could only be made in limited circumstances.

The application for the autumn planting also differed from the spring one because it quadrupled the land being used from 1,250 hectares to 5,000 hectares , and doubled the length of trials from six to 12 months . The proper course would have been for AgrEvo to make a new £3,000 application for consent to plant from the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.

Mr Meacher said: "We will not require AgrEvo to end the trials concerned, because at the time of sowing AgrEvo acted in good faith on the strength of the consent which they had. This error is on a purely technical point." He also said that if the company had applied for the full consent it would have received it.

Tony Juniper, Friends of the Earth director, claimed the climbdown had thrown the GM trials programme into complete chaos and the trials should be stopped at once . He said: "We caught the Government fiddling the law . They have admitted their responsibility and will not contest our legal challenge. But they will let the farm-scale trials go ahead anyway. We know that the law will be bent to suit the big biotech companies. "We also know that the Government will do nothing to put matters right even when they are caught red-handed. The public can no longer have any confidence that the Government is neutral on the GM issue, or even vaguely competent."

AgrEvo said the issue was a matter of interpretation of the law between the Government and Friends of the Earth. The firm reiterated its commitment to the research and development of GM technology and said it believed "it has many benefits for the consumers, growers and the environment".

The unlawful GM crop sites are at Home Farm, near Glentham; The Old Rectory, Croxby, Market Rasen, both in Lincolnshire; and Wood Farm, Dodds Lane, Piccotts End, Hemel Hempstead.

17 Sep 99 - GMO - Destroy Unlawful GM Crop Trials - Campaigners

Staff Reporter

Evening Standard ... Friday 17 September 1999

Jubilant green campaigners are to ask a judge to order the latest wave of genetically modified crop trials to be dug up , following a Government legal climbdown .

Environment minister Michael Meacher has admitted his officials acted unlawfully in extending permission for trials after initial approval had been given.

Friends of the Earth, which brought a court challenge to the decision, said the Government's admission meant there was no legal authority for the planting, on two sites in Lincolnshire and one in Hertfordshire, and they should be pulled up .

17 Sep 99 - GMO - By Valerie Elliot And Robin Young

Restaurants face law on GM dishes

Times ... Friday 17 September 1999

New laws to force the labelling of all genetically modified additives and flavourings contained in food in restaurants, canteens, schools, hospitals or railway buffets are being planned by ministers.

The move would apply to many common foods containing chocolate or vegetable oils which are derived from GM soya, maize and other crops. Up to 90 per cent of processed food is believed to have GM additives and flavourings .

The new laws could also extend to products containing enzymes produced by a GM process, such as chymosin, the rennet used in vegetarian cheese. Lecithin, an emulsifier derived from soya, is used in nearly all chocolate products, including cakes and puddings.

Baroness Hayman, the Food Minister, confirmed that she was urging the EU to introduce new regulations to cover these items. She told The Times: "The key issue now for consumers is whether there is GM material in food . There is a real issue about additives and flavourings which are not covered at the moment."

She believed that some supermarket chains were already planning to label the products. "I think a lot of this is going to be consumer-driven. There is definite evidence that people do not want food to contain GM ingredients . People welcome labelling and can make their own choices." The minister pledged to consult widely with the food and retail industry before the new laws were introduced.

Her views on GM emerged as hotels, restaurants, take-aways and catering firms appeared to be in disarray over new rules governing the labelling of all food containing GM soya and maize. Some establishments have said they will ignore the rules; others say that they do not know about them or claim that the laws are "unenforceable".

Lady Hayman is to meet environmental health and trading standards officers next week to discuss how they should enforce the new laws, which come into force on Sunday. A fine of up to £5,000 could be imposed on anyone failing to label food.

Prue Leith , a leading authority on the catering industry, yesterday believed the rules were unworkable . "There is no chance that overworked restaurateurs will check the prov-enance of up to 30 ingredients for every recipe. Most will ignore the directive and the rest will say they are GM-free without checking."

Ian McKerracher, chief executive of the Restaurant Association, said that the new regulations were "absurd and a nonsense" .

16 Sep 99 - GMO - Novartis to rethink its role in GM foods

David Teather and Julia Finch

Guardian ... Thursday 16 September 1999

Agribusiness division's fate hangs in balance

Drugs firm Novartis last night said it was considering spinning off its ailing agribusiness division which includes the company's controversial research into genetically modified foods.

Novartis, which is the world's number two pharmaceuticals company and the biggest maker of crop protection products, is considering "a number of options" for the troubled agribusiness division including separating it from the main company or seeking an alliance.

The Swiss company's decision to rethink its involvement in GM foods comes just one month after Britain's AstraZeneca warned that it too might sell its agrichemicals business.

AstraZeneca is a high profile GM company which has already put genetically engineered products on British supermarket shelves. It has also been the target of high profile demonstrations by environmental campaigners.

At the same time Monsanto, the large US company has seen its share price fall from $62 (£38) to $40 in the past 12 months.

Analysts increasingly believe the GM foods research has the potential to inflict serious damage on the lucrative global pharmaceuticals business and are keen to see the controversial division put at arms length.

"The market would like to see the life sciences business separate from the agribusiness," one analyst said. "There is little synergy."

But they also believe that agribusinesses are unlikely to attract buyers in the current climate.

The business has been hit by a slump in the price of commodities, decreasing subsidies for farmers and a drop in the number of acres under crop production worldwide. It is also suffering from the growing backlash against so-called "frankenfood ".

Agribusiness chief Heinz Imhof also called called on European authorities to set up a body similar to the US food and drug administration to reassure consumers that genetically modified products are safe. He also suggested that clearer labelling laws would help quell the growing controversy around the products such as modified seeds, which some critics say may be unsafe or may damage the environment.

"We are convinced that GM crops in the future will bring tangible benefits to the consumer," Mr Imhof said.

Earlier this year Novartis announced that 1,100 jobs were to be axed in its agricultural division after the drop in sales which make up 25% of the company's revenue.

Half of the sales come from North and South America.

Yesterday Mr Imhof said that the job losses would now exceed the previous estimate.

GM foods have become a battleground for British supermarket companies, with each struggling to establish their GM-free credentials.

Iceland and Waitrose have recently reported Sainsbury to the Advertising Standards Authority over its claims to be the first major supermarket to have eradicated all GM products from its own-label products.

Marks & Spencer has become the latest to join the skirmish with its own advertising campaign. Food giants like Unilever and Nestle have now also pledged to remove GM ingredients from their products.

A spokeswoman for Novartis admitted that GM foods had failed to win widespread public acceptance but insisted the decision to review the future of the agribusiness division was not connected.

16 Sep 99 - GMO - Seeds of trouble 'sown before GM'

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 16 September 1999

The ecologist occupying the hottest seat in science - chairing a revamped committee that oversees trials of genetically modified crops - admitted yesterday that more than 120 species of "superweeds" had emerged worldwide , though as a result of conventional agriculture.

Prof Alan Gray heads the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, which meets for the first time in London today to discuss environmental safety of pilot trials of GM strawberries and oilseed rape. Its aim was to "defend the science" and not GM crops, he said.

He highlighted the problem of "superweeds" to illustrate how the GM furore had distracted attention from the key environmental issue of how to halt the decline in Britain's biodiversity - the number and range of countryside species - caused by intensive agriculture. Dozens of "superweeds" had emerged from the use of herbicides over the past three decades.

As susceptible weeds were wiped out by chemicals, only strains with natural herbicide resistant genes remained to multiply. Yet the impact of these weeds on the environment was unknown because conventional agriculture was under nothing like the same scrutiny as GM crops.

Prof Gray said: "We are treating GM crops in a way we have never treated any other. We are looking at the safety of them in a way that we have never looked at other types of agriculture." As one example, a former committee member voiced concerns that using a GM herbicide-resistant oilseed rape could allow a bacterial gene to "contaminate" wild habitats.

The committee agreed that there were weeds, notably wild turnip, capable of crossing with GM oilseed rape to spread the pesticide resistance gene. Studies suggested that it happened infrequently. But Prof Gray's committee believed that the theoretical risk could be dealt with by farmers because they already had to deal with "superweeds" resulting from conventional agriculture.

Traditional methods had drastic effects on bird diversity, notably the declining populations of turtle dove, reed bunting, sparrows and skylarks. Reasons were likely to be different for different birds but one factor was the planting of winter crops, instead of spring crops, that removed weeds and insects from the food chain of some birds.

He said: "No one sat down in a committee and said, 'What would be the impact of winter crops?' Maybe we should have." Environmentalists have voiced fears that bees could spread GM pollen and genes to other plants. Prof Gray said the problem was faced by conventional agriculture.

Plant breeders separated crops by a given distance to reduce "gene flow" to ensure 99.9 per cent pure varieties and there was no reason for GM crops to be treated differently. An oilseed rape containing herbicide resistance genes had been developed by alternative methods to GM.

If the non-GM herbicide resistant crop were introduced, "it would be possible to introduce a lot of these herbicide resistance genes into the market without any fuss, providing safe use of the herbicide was approved". Prof Gray would not be drawn on the question of whether all conventional crops passed the same regulatory process as GM varieties.

But he quoted Prof Derek Burke, former head of a food advisory committee, who said that the potato would have been banned if his committee had been present when Sir Walter Raleigh imported the first one. Prof Gray said: "It is a nasty, poisonous plant you have to prepare carefully that is full of glycoalkaloids, horrible substances which can make you very unwell."

Although GM crops were better regulated than the rest of agriculture, they had become a target to unify a range of concerns: "multi-nationals, profits, government, white-coated scientists doing unpleasant things and so on".

GM crops were being blamed for a malaise already present in modern agriculture. The revamp of his committee will shift the emphasis from molecular biology to ecology, wildlife/biodiversity and farming practice to a more strategic view of environmental impact.

He said: "What we are focusing on is science-based risk assessment." A sub-group was studying the effects of the farm scale trials of GM crops on biodiversity. Prof Gray believed that British GM crop regulation was the toughest in the world. The regime "is incredibly thorough". He said: "It is the most regulated aspect of our agriculture and is admired by many other countries."

There were expectations that a herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape had been due for commercial release in 1994. Prof Gray said: "Five years later and the Government's own advisers are still saying hang on." A pressing issue would be how to restore public confidence in GM crops against hostility and environmentalists' attempts to vandalise trials.