Document Directory

22 Nov 99 - GMO - Genetic patenting row looms over WTO talks
22 Nov 99 - GMO - How the mighty fall
19 Nov 99 - GMO - More than 60 per cent of US food has a GM ingredient
18 Nov 99 - GMO - Birdseed is GM peril, say gardeners
12 Nov 99 - GMO - GM crop trials allow for attacks by activists
11 Nov 99 - GMO - GM hens lay eggs containing drugs to treat cancer
10 Nov 99 - GMO - Forests in danger from GM super-tree says WWF
06 Nov 99 - GMO - GM crops could be used in animal feed
06 Nov 99 - GMO - GM crops 'could be sold as food before trials are complete'
05 Nov 99 - GMO - GM Crops 'May Enter Food Chain'
05 Nov 99 - GMO - New curbs on GM crops announced
02 Nov 99 - GMO - Lancet editor threatened by Royal Society food reps
28 Oct 99 - GMO - Blair accused of U-turn on GM crop programme
27 Oct 99 - GMO - GM food 'bias' rejected by BBC
27 Oct 99 - GMO - Government denies U-turn as commercial GM crops are postponed
27 Oct 99 - GMO - GM food trials to be extended for three years
25 Oct 99 - GMO - GM firms are sued for millions
24 Oct 99 - GMO - Rats at centre of GM food furore 'were starving'

22 Nov 99 - GMO - Genetic patenting row looms over WTO talks

John Vidal

Guardian ... Monday 22 November 1999

A major row is threatening to break out at the opening of the World Trade Organisation's talks in Seattle next week over the patenting of the genetic make-up of plants and animals to develop new drugs.

The US and Europe insist that corporations should be allowed to patent all plants and animals despite existing international laws and understandings which provide for protection of natural resources.

India, Malaysia, Zimbabwe and other African and Latin American countries have accused the US and Europe of "bio-piracy". The Indians are particularly worried because US and European corporations have started to patent their traditional herbal medecines .

In heated backroom talks in Geneva designed to iron out differences before the inter-governmental meeting, Mike Moore, the head of the organisation responsible for setting the world's trading laws, is reported to have dismissed developing countries' objections by saying that the WTO overrides all other international treaties.

The US/EU proposals would force all countries to broaden their patenting laws, but the developing countries are resisting strongly. They say that patents on all life forms should be excluded from the negotiations of the Trade Related Intellectual Property (Trips) agreement which is scheduled for renegotiation in the talks.

If that is not possible, they argue that patents should be excluded for products and processes based on traditional knowledge. The gap between the two blocs is now extreme with the US and Europe responding that wider patents will improve health care and stimulate wealth.

More than 500 non-governmental groups from more than 50 countries have written to President Clinton urging the US to temper its patenting demands . They are not likely to succeed because the powerful US biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have long wanted global patenting laws based on the US model.

The problem which the US must overcome is that the patenting proposals clash with other international laws. Another sticking point is agriculture, with the rich countries trying to force a further opening up of markets to their goods. The developing world, say India and others, must be allowed to protect and support their farmers up to the point of self-sufficiency.

Prospects for the Seattle talks setting an agreed agenda are not considered high. "I have never seen such confusion in 21 years of international talks," says trade analyst Chakrabathi Raghavan in Geneva.

Meanwhile a British poll suggests that the public has no idea what the WTO is.

Only 4% of 1,000 people polled by NOP knew that the WTO was responsible for trade rules. One person thought international trade was governed by Fifa, the world football cup organisers.

22 Nov 99 - GMO - How the mighty fall

Julian Borger

Guardian ... Monday 22 November 1999

Three years ago, genetics firm Monsanto was the darling of Wall Street, an all-powerful behemoth poised to transform life itself. Today, its future looks far from rosy. This is the remarkable tale of how Europe's environmental activists humbled the American giant .

The confrontation between the biotechnology industry and the environmental lobby is one of the most surprising and telling cultural struggles of the late 20th century. It is decidedly not over but the first round has gone - against all expectations - to the greens .

The story of how that battle was won says a lot about the state of the earth at the cusp of a new century. The forward drive of technological innovation no longer looks quite so irresistible, and the subversive potential of the internet has emerged as a powerful brake on the advance of globalism.

It all looked very different in 1996, when the European Union first approved the import of genetically modified (GM) foods. The huge US biotechnology companies, Monsanto and Du Pont, had already conquered America. The complaints of the professional ecologists, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, seemed puny and marginal, they were seen as cranky Luddites against the sheer corporate muscle of the industry.

The respected US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had given its approval to the marketing of GM crops, while US environmental groups could only mutter in disapproval, obliged to acknowledge it was unable to prove that genetically engineered food was at all harmful.

US farms were well on the way towards a total swing to biotech agriculture. By last year, over half of all soybean acreage planted was GM, as were a third of all the country's cornfields. Although most of the population was oblivious or indifferent or both, just about every processed food that Americans consumed contained GM ingredients.

This silent revolution made the market leader, Monsanto, the most profitable agro-industrial corporation on the planet, with enough money to hire former senior members of the Clinton administration to smooth its way through Washington. The $8bn company had - so it appeared - realised the dream of its president, Robert Shapiro, of creating a totally new form of industry: life sciences. It was an industry of the future, which would use its mastery of genetics to mould new generations of crops, drugs, chemicals and industrial materials to suit the needs of the world's burgeoning population.

It has not quite worked out like that. Monsanto's fall has been as sudden as Shapiro's dream was lofty. Its stock price has slumped and there were reports last week that the company could be broken up or sold off by the end of the year. European consumers proved far less willing than their American counterparts to trust in the wisdom of the authorities, especially in the wake of the mad cow disease outbreaks and a string of other food scares. Newspaper coverage in Europe has also been far less reverent than in America, where many science correspondents had been converted by industry lobbyists. The European coverage of GM, by contrast, varied from cautious questioning to frenzied panic over "Frankenstein Foods ".

Meanwhile, the guerrilla activism of the radical environmental groups, whose destructive forays into experimental GM plantations became an almost weekly event, received front page treatment, whereas American protesters had been rejected as an insignificant crank minority. The consumer backlash made itself felt in supermarkets in Britain which began voluntarily labelling GM produce and promoting organic lines. But while it dramatically altered the political climate around the issue, all this sound and fury left GM growers in the US and Monsonto's shareholders relatively unperturbed. The really decisive blow would come from France, out of the maelstrom of Parisian politics.

The tide turned on the GM industry in the space of a few months this year - so quickly that its executives did not see it coming. Monsanto's rivals, including Du Pont and Switzerland's Novartis, have begun laying off workers in their agricultural divisions. Meanwhile, at Monsanto headquarters - an imposing ziggurat of greenhouses and tunnels in St Louis, Missouri - the erstwhile king of life sciences was "shattered", according to one of the company's former consultants.

Last month, a pale and humbled Shapiro went before his arch-foes in Greenpeace to apologise for his vaulting ambitions. "Our confidence in this technology and our enthusiasm for it has, I think, been widely seen - and understandably so - as condescension or indeed arrogance ," he confessed.

Earlier this year, Shapiro had confidently believed Europe was ripe for the picking, and Europe in turn would be the gateway to the British Commonwealth and the rest of the Third World.

It was clear that Europe would prove a tougher nut to crack than the US market. Consumer suspicions had been raised by the British mad-cow fiasco, and the import or cultivation of GM foods without more comprehensive testing was under fire .

The stage was set for a showdown at a meeting of European environment ministers in Brussels in June, amid speculation that the European Union might reverse course and suspend imports of GM foods . But Monsanto was confident that the European gate could be kept open.

In Britain, Tony Blair and Jack Cunningham were seen as staunch supporters, anxious to absorb GM technology to get British industry a place in the vanguard of the revolution. Germany, Austria and Spain were also receptive. Resistance in Greece and Italy was viewed as an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one.

France was the key. Its stubborn farmers were at odds with a general Gallic enthusiasm for technological innovation. Lionel Jospin's cabinet was split, with Dominique Voynet, the Green Party environment minister, fighting against an array of heavyweights. Jospin himself and the agriculture minister, Jean Glavany, were reportedly undecided.

In the run-up to the June meeting, events began to run against the GM industry . A study carried out by Cornell university found that the pollen produced by GM corn was lethal to the caterpillar of the popular Monarch butterfly.

It was the first evidence that GM crops could have a long-term impact on biodiversity , which could not be foreseen in an FDA laboratory, and it had a serious impact on the debate.

But according to Arnaud Apoteker, the bio-diversity expert in the French branch of Greenpeace, the French cabinet had still not made up its mind as the Brussels meeting approached. "There was a lot of internal fighting going on between the ministers," he said.

In a last ditch bid to tilt the balance, Greenpeace appealed to Jospin's advisers to meet Jeremy Rifkin, a prominent US environmental activist and Monsanto's scourge, in early June. They also clinched an appointment with President Chirac's aides, seeking to play the government off against the Elysée palace.

"It was very cleverly played," Apoteker said. "Because both of them wanted to show the French public they cared about the health and environment."

When Rifkin met the Jospin team, he played this card as forcibly as possible. "I asked them: do you want to go down the path of Tony Blair," Rifkin said, pointing out that the prime minister had been outflanked when the Tories found common cause with British environmentalists, scoring a rare political coup against Labour, who came off looking like US corporate stooges . Chirac could do the same thing to you, Rifkin argued.

"I know Jeremy made the point a few times. I made it too. Jospin's people were blinking. And I'm sure it was certainly in people's mind. Blair had a huge failure because he didn't want to acknowledge people's resistance to GMOs [genetically modified organisms]."

It is hard to determine whether such political calculations were really decisive, but France went into the Brussels meeting on June 24 determined to win a moratorium on new GM applications. Britain objected, arguing such a moratorium would be illegal, and succeeded in scuppering the French proposal in a 20-hour negotiating session which only ended at dawn the next day.

But France, Italy, Denmark, Greece and Luxembourg responded by declaring they would block the issue of any further licenses until new regulations were in place - in practice for at least two years. The environment ministers also approved the compulsory labelling of products containing a significant percentage of GM ingredients - a crucial potential barrier given the level of European consumer suspicion.

Rifkin saw the outcome of the June meeting as the decisive engagement with Monsanto. "We had to have the moratorium. If we didn't have those two years, Monsanto would have had a new lease of life."

Instead, the European blockade had immediate knock-on effects around the world. Over the summer, Japanese brewers and the main producer of corn tortillas in Mexico also declared they would not buy non-GM corn . In the US, Cargill Inc, a huge grain trading combine, announced it would pay a premium for corn and soya which could be guaranteed non-GM . Another agro-industrial giant, Archer Daniels Midland, also called for grain silos to be segregated between GM and non-GM crops, a difficult and costly undertaking. American farmers revolted, complaining they had been misled, and vowed to reduce their GM acreage.

On Wall Street, biotech stocks which had been hot only a few months earlier became untouchable . From a peak of $62 , Monsanto stock sank to $38 last month. It rebounded slightly over the past two weeks, but only because of speculation that Monsanto would sell off its pharmaceutical subsidiary, GD Searle & Co.

According to one broker, who did not want to be named, GD Searle now accounts for most of the company's share value. "The rest is worth a few dollars at most. The idea of life sciences is very much on life support."

Most industry observers believe that GM food's time will come again, after a pause for more rigorous testing. Monsanto is currently holding a series of meetings with critics such as Rifkin to ask what it has to do to regain its credibility. Meanwhile, after insisting for years that labelling was unnecessary as GM food was "substantially equivalent" to unmodified produce, the FDA is holding a series of public consultations on whether to reverse that policy.

For the time being, the rush towards a genetically modified diet has been slowed to a more cautious pace. It has been, Rifkin argues, a cultural victory for Europe, where food, cuisine and culture are intertwined, over America, where food is just another commodity.

"This was seen as an attack on cultural diversity," he said. "Cultural and bio-diversity is converging into one issue. Food is the last thing people feel they can control."

19 Nov 99 - GMO - More than 60 per cent of US food has a GM ingredient

By Mary Dejevsky in Chicago

Independent ... Friday 19 November 1999

More than 60 per cent of food on sale in the United States contains a genetically modified component it was disclosed yesterday, as consumer groups flocked to the first public forum on the subject in Chicago. The proportion of processed foods containing some GM ingredients is even higher .

The Chicago meeting, organised by the US food safety watchdog the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was more than five times over-subscribed , drawing more than 1,000 people to the commercial centre of America's farm and cattle belt, many of them consumers anxious to vent their concerns.

The meeting opened amid fierce criticism of the FDA, which kept members of the public at a hotel more than 15 minutes drive away, a decision which fuelled an angry street protest.

But the latest revelations from the biotechnology industry, on the extent to which GM foods have already penetrated the supermarket shelves, will cause further alarm .

One reason for the high penetration of GM foods in the US is the extensive use of soya derivatives in processed food. More than 60 per cent of soya beans grown in the US is now genetically modified. The figures help to explain why US food producers are so reluctant to accept compulsory labelling: not only do they fear it would deter consumers from buying, it could also prompt a severe disruption in the market if consumer resistance approached European levels.

Yesterday's meeting constituted a sharp turn in the US government's policy of outright support for the biotechnology industry. But it also reflected official worries about what could happen if European-scale protests erupted in the US. The prevailing mood had little of the sunny optimism that has characterised industry pronouncements so far.

The view that Americans are unconcerned about GM foods was disproved by the turnout in Chicago yesterday. Labelling was the most contentious issue , with the industry insisting it was unnecessary and could be misleading, and opponents calling for "transparency " to increase public confidence.

Until recently, worries about GM foods were voiced only by environmental groups. In the last few months, however, one of the main US consumer groups, the Consumers Union, and a growing number of congress members have joined calls for GM food to be labelled , as the European Union is demanding.

A shift in government policy was heralded in the summer by the US agriculture secretary, Dan Glickman, when he warned industry representatives and farmers that they could not force people to buy their produce if they did not want to.

In a move that surprised producers, he also announced a comprehensive review of the approval procedures for GM crops in the US. The turn in the tide of American opinion was reinforced last week when Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, tabled a bill to require the labelling of genetically modified food.

He said: "If we are what we eat, then consumers must know what they are eating ."

18 Nov 99 - GMO - Birdseed is GM peril, say gardeners

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Thursday 18 November 1999

Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, was warned yesterday that the use of genetically modified seed in wild bird feed sold in shops and garden centres could spread GM plants to every garden in the country .

The fears were raised by a group of independent gardeners who went to see the minister to demand an immediate halt to GM crop trials and the commercial release of GM crops until the full effects to the environment are known. The risk to birdseed was one of the issues raised.

The group also handed a petition to Mr Meacher signed by 25,000 people who visited gardens during the summer. The celebrity gardening experts Beth Chatto, Anna Pavord, Penelope Hobhouse, John Brookes and the Marchioness of Salisbury are also backing the group.

Pam Lewis, 53, a professional gardener who runs Sticky Wicket - one of Alan Titchmarsh's favourite gardens - in Buckland Newton, Dorset, said last night: "We are very concerned that birdseed could be a problem in everyone's backyard. We want to ask the questions and make sure the Government is looking at every potential hazard."

On birdseed, she said that they had asked Mr Meacher to look at whether wild bird feed could act as a "conduit for massive widespread distribution of GM plants resulting from germination of fertile seeds. We are concerned because the wild bird feed on sale is not labelled and there are no guarantees that it is GM-free."

Her concerns arose because she runs a smallholding and grows her own produce. She wants her products to be GM-free. "But at present, only human and animal feed is guaranteed GM-free and even that might include some GM material," she said.

Mrs Lewis also asked Mr Meacher to ensure that the impact on garden wildlife was being assessed by government scientists, and questioned whether hybridisation between GM and non-GM plants would threaten the diversity of garden flora.

Nori Pope and his wife Sandra, who run the internationally renowned garden and nursery at Hadspen House, Somerset, also met Mr Meacher.

Mr Pope said: "We want GM crops to be tested to pharmaceutical standards and their effects on the environment to be properly assessed in the laboratory. Home-grown fruit, vegetables and herbs are under the same threat as organic farmers' produce."

Tests have shown GM pollen in beehives nearly three miles from an official trial site. Airborne pollen was found 475 metres (1,558ft) away. Government guidelines for buffer zones to stop the spread of GM pollen specifiy 50 metres .

Last night Whitehall officials were incensed at what they saw as a small group of gardeners trying to frighten the public without any scientific basis.

A spokeswoman from the GM unit said that, although many brands of birdseed contained maize, the seeds could not survive winter outside.

Gardeners were also reassured that unless they were growing oilseed rape or maize, there was no risk of cross-pollination from farm trials: "These crops cannot pollinate garden plants and flowers."

12 Nov 99 - GMO - GM crop trials allow for attacks by activists

By Nick Nuttall, Environment Correspondent

Times ... Friday 12 November 1999

There are to be more trials of genetically modified crops than is scientifically necessary because of the expectation that some will be lost to activists, it was admitted yesterday.

Professor Chris Pollock, chairman of the Government's scientific steering committee, confirmed that it was planning for the setting up of 75 trial sites every year. The tests, which will last for three years, are intended to establish if there is any impact on wildlife from the planting and growing of herbicidetolerant crops.

The steering committee makes clear in a report, published yesterday, that the decision on the number of necessary trial sites includes "provision for wastage of sites as a result of farmers withdrawing from the experiment or damage from activists".

Professor Pollock, director of the Institute of Environmental and Grassland Research in Aberystwyth, refused to say how many extra sites had been added because this would tell activists how many they needed to damage to ruin the experiments.

The trials would compare how a range of plants and animals at the foot of the food chain fared in fields planted with GM versus non-GM spring oil seed rape, autumn oil seed rape and forage maize, he said. The varying abundance of seeds from a wide range of "weeds", such as field pansy, field forget-me-not, common chickweed and couch grass, would be monitored.

Such seeds are vital food for birds and there has been concern that spraying with a wide-spectrum herbicide, in association with GM crops, might leave them to starve. Numbers of beetles, spiders, weevils, moths and butterflies, slugs and snails, and other insects will also be monitored.

A spokesman for Greenpeace said the trials were going ahead despite the fact that questions of liability, such as if a GM crop contaminates an organic one, remained unresolved .

11 Nov 99 - GMO - GM hens lay eggs containing drugs to treat cancer

By Electronic Telegraph Correspondent

Telegraph ... Thursday 11 November 1999

Scientists have produced hens' eggs containing drugs to treat cancer and other diseases, turning genetically modified chickens into cheap pharmaceutical factories, it was reported yesterday.

One American biotech company, GeneWorks of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has between 50 and 60 genetically engineered birds, New Scientist magazine reports. Some carry a gene that enables them to make a human growth factor in their eggs, while others produce a human antibody.

While refusing to name the products, the company is said to have deals to make 14 therapeutic proteins for six drug companies around the world. Another American company, AviGenics of Athens, Georgia, has a flock of chickens laying eggs containing a human interferon for treating cancer.

With hens producing an average of 200 eggs each a year, all containing 100 milligrams or more of a drug, both companies believe yields could be large and lucrative. The genes to make the drugs are inserted into harmless viruses which "smuggle" them into the birds.

GeneWorks uses a genetic switch that restricts production of the protein to the egg white. Next year the company plans to open a production plant capable of churning out "tons" of drugs. Another aim is to incorporate some of the protein gene into sperm cells, so it will be passed to future generations of chickens. AviGenics has already achieved this.

Steve Sensoli, chief operating officer at GeneWorks, told New Scientist that the work was too commercially sensitive to publish. He said: "It's a shame we can't blow our trumpet a bit more." All but two of the proteins under development are unknown outside the companies that discovered them.

10 Nov 99 - GMO - Forests in danger from GM super-tree says WWF

Paul Brown, Environment Correspondent

Guardian ... Wednesday 10 November 1999

Field trials, including five in UK, 'not properly controlled'

Environmentalists yesterday warned of the dangers of genetically modified super-trees which can cross pollinate with native trees over a distance of 400 miles and which are being grown in field trials without knowledge of the consequences.

Other GM modifications under trial raise the prospect of silent forests, devoid of insects, flowers and birds. The idea is to create super-trees that grow rapidly, resist rot, and defy insect attack. The trees would be sprayed from planes to kill all life around them.

In a report published yesterday, the World Wide Fund for Nature said 116 trials on GM trees had taken place since 1988 without proper controls or research into the effects on the wider environment. Seventy of the trials are being carried out in the United States and five are in Britain .

Francis Sullivan, director of programmes for WWF-UK, said there was the prospect of large blocks of land in Britain and North America being given over to one super species of tree, creating sterile environments. "The genie of genetically modified super-trees is already out of the bottle. We must make sure it does not get out of control otherwise such trees could run riot through the forests of the world without us knowing what are the consequences."

The report, which was written by Rachel Owusu for WWF, says that commercial planting of GM trees is likely to happen soon in Chile, China and Indonesia, despite the inadequate research into environmental impact. The report points out that pine pollen can travel up to 400 miles to reach another tree, making it impossible to monitor the effects of cross fertilisation on native stock. The organisation is calling for female only trees to be grown to avoid this risk.

Scientists are also trying to grow trees with salt tolerance and drought and frost resistance, which could thrive in more places. One of the experiments in Britain involves growing poplars with less lignin, the woody substance that makes trees strong. Removing some of this would make the trees softer and easier to pulp, which would in turn make paper cheaper to produce.

But environmental scientists believe that unintended side-effects pose risks, partly because trees live so long and are known to adapt to changing circumstances. For example, poplar trees bred in Germany not to flower - so as to avoid cross contamination - did so years earlier than they were programmed to do so, baffling the scientists.

GM trees that do cross fertilise with each other or with native species could create super "weed" tree species which would displace slower growing normal trees and at the same time destroy the habitat of many creatures. Trees provide food and shelter to many interdependent organisms including insects, birds and mammals. Their root systems are often vast and closely interact with soil organisms like bacteria and nematode worms.

Mr Sullivan said: "We are not against genetically modified trees in principle, but we want more research and above all openness about what is being planned. We need to know the pros and cons, about the dangers of cross fertilisation of native species, and of sterilising large areas of the landscape. Does this mean greater profits for a few timber companies, or more wood for all mankind? And are silent forests a price worth paying for these advantages?"

WWF is contacting its network of 100 companies, which are already committed to using timber from sustainable sources, to urge them to ban GM wood products. Sainsbury is among the companies which have already pledged a ban.

Among the 30 tree species that so far have been genetically modified are apple, banana, birch, chestnut, elm, peach, pear, pine, plum and walnut. In Britain, Shell has been carrying out two trials of eucalyptus in Kent to improve growth rates and examine herbicide tolerance. Derby university has modified the paradise apple to examine resistance to pests and diseases, and Astra Zeneca has had two trials in Bracknell, Berkshire, with low-lignin poplars - those trees were cut down by GM protesters in July.

06 Nov 99 - GMO - GM crops could be used in animal feed

By Nick Nuttall, Environment Correspondent

Times ... Saturday 6 November 1999

Genetically modified crops under test in controversial farm trials in Britain could enter the human food chain as animal fodder, it emerged yesterday.

The disclosure came as the Government announced that the biotechnology industry was extending its voluntary moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops for a further three years.

Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment, had to concede the possibility that the crops could be used as animal fodder before that date and enter the human food chain, either as meat or in animal products such as milk.

The suggestion that any of the test crops may enter the food chain has astonished environmentalists. The minister made the admission as he announced a deal postponing the commercial growing of GM crops until 2003, and possibly for ever. He said that if the farm trials of GM crops, which end in 2002, show "significant damage to biodiversity", the Government would not allow commercialisation.

Such trials were vital, the minister said, to resolve whether wildlife can be damaged by the GM crops, in this case two types of herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape and a forage maize. Mr Meacher refused to define what he meant by "significant" or how much damage they needed to cause to be blacklisted. About ten preliminary farm-scale trials were approved this year. The number will be increased to 75 a year over the next three years.

The present test crops have been destroyed because none has secured national and European approval.

Mr Meacher conceded yesterday that, within the environmental trial period, there was the remote possibility that the crops could secure European Commission food safety, pesticide and other approvals. He agreed that if that happened, farmers would no longer be bound to destroy the produce and so it might then be used in animal feed and so enter the food chain. He said that, under trade rules, it would be illegal not to allow that.

Stephen Smith, chief executive of Novartis Seeds and a spokesman for the industry's Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops, said that any of the crops used in that way would be labelled and subject to "identity preservation" throughout the supply and food chain.

Many environmental experts believe that activists bent on destroying such crops will intensify their actions, claiming that the trials are commercial in all but name.

Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The Government have merely announced that it is business as usual for GM crops."

He said that suggesting even the remote possibility of produce from the trials entering the food chain meant that ministers had "not shot themselves in the foot, but had actually taken careful aim".

Mr Riley said it would be impossible to trace the produce: "If it is fed to dairy cows, are they going to follow the herd, the milk tanker and all the bottles to people's front doors?"

06 Nov 99 - GMO - GM crops 'could be sold as food before trials are complete'

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 6 November 1999

Food grown in farm trials of genetically modified crops could be sold for human or animal consumption within two years, the Government said yesterday.

Until now, the crops grown in the field trials have been destroyed but Michael Meacher, Environment Minister, said this could end if Europe and national regulatory bodies approved the crops for human or animal consumption.

Mr Meacher was announcing a voluntary agreement between the Government and industry that there will be no general unrestricted cultivation of GM crops until after an evaluation of their environmental effects has been conducted at the end of the 2002 growing season. The agreement has taken more than six months to negotiate and represents a personal triumph for Mr Meacher.

He conceded that small quantities of sugar beet, oil seed rape and maize grown under government field trials could be sold as food before the trials were complete. However, he thought that the likelihood of food consents being given before then was unlikely.

In an attempt to calm fears that the Government was allowing the commercialisation of GM foods by stealth , he said none of the produce from GM crop planting "will be used in a way which is of direct commercial benefit to the consent-holders during the farm-scale evaluation period". He conceded that the material could be used to feed cattle.

Mr Meacher stressed that the trials were to assess the impact of GM crops on biodiversity, not their safety as food. He promised that if any of the GM crops being grown in the tests were shown "significantly" to damage the insect, mammal and bird life of fields the crops would not be approved for widespread use.

All the information gathered by the scientific steering committee would be made available to the public before the crops were approved for use. "There will be an open, transparent public debate," he said. Mr Meacher's announcement was welcomed by English Nature, which has been calling for assurances from the industry that commercial growing would not take place before tests to establish whether GM crops harmed the environment.

Dr Keith Duff, chief scientist, said: "We are delighted that we now have a firm commitment that there will be an extension of the voluntary agreement for three years." Mr Meacher said he believSCIMAC (Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops)ed the voluntary agreement with , the body which represents plant breeders, seed producers and the biotech industry, "would go a long way to addressing many of the concerns surrounding these farm-scale evaluations of GM crops".

He said: "Moving forward in a cautious and rigorous manner will help us to make a judgment not only whether there is a downside to the introduction of this new technology, but also about any potential benefits it may bring."

05 Nov 99 - GMO - GM Crops 'May Enter Food Chain'

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Friday 5 November 1999

Genetically modified crops currently under test in controversial farm-scale trials could enter the human food chain as animal fodder, it has emerged.

The disclosure came as the Government announced that the biotechnology industry was extending its voluntary moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops for another three years.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher was forced to concede the possibility that the crops could be used as animal fodder ahead of that date and enter the human food chain, either as meat or in animal products such as milk .

He insisted that any such products would be properly labelled to make clear that they came from animals which had been fed on GM crops, saying: "We have a secure agreement with the industry that the produce will be identity-preserved throughout the chain.

"So there is no question that we have other than a full public undertaking that there will be labelling for the consumer. No-one need eat any of this produce if they do not wish to."

However, his assurances were dismissed by anti-GM campaigners who questioned whether consumers would really be told that milk or other dairy products had come from cattle fed on crops from the trials.

"The fact that the Government was unable to guarantee that none of the crops from the trials would be able to enter the food chain has further undermined the credibility of their position," said Friends of the Earth food campaigner Pete Riley.

Officials said it was "highly unlikely" that the crops would be given the necessary European Union-level clearance to be used as fodder before the end of the current trial period in 2002.

They said Scimac, the biotechnology industry body, had agreed to the "field to fork" labelling, even though it was not strictly necessary either legally or scientifically, in order to prevent the issue being sidetracked by food safety concerns when the trials were about the environmental impact of GM crops.

It was pointed out that meat from animals fed on GM soya or maize imported from the United States was already routinely sold in Britain without any specific labelling.

05 Nov 99 - GMO - New curbs on GM crops announced

Press Association

Independent ... Friday 5 November 1999

Unrestricted cultivation of GM crops will remain banned until 2002 at the earliest, the Government announced today.

The ban will remain in place until controversial farm-scale tests have been completed and evaluated, Environment Minister Michael Meacher said.

The trials programme is designed to assess the environmental impact of GM crops. Opponents fear pollen from the GM plants could spread from test sites and threaten the future of naturally occurring plants.

Mr Meacher made the announcement with the biotech industry umbrella group Scimac - the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops.

The move effectively extends the trials for a further three years and the ban on widescale commercial cultivation.

Mr Meacher has always maintained that commercial cultivation of GM crops would not be allowed until the Government was satisfied that there would be no unacceptable impact on the environment.

To date, all the farm-scale trials have been conducted in England, mostly in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. The locations of the new sites are expected to be announced in February .

Mr Meacher's announcement today included:

the renewal of the voluntary agreement between Government and industry on the conduct of the farm-scale trials through until the end of the evaluation following harvest of crops planted in 2002.

no general unrestricted cultivation of GM crops in the UK until the farm-scale evaluations are complete.

a limit on plantings for the farm-scale evaluations to 20-25 fields per crop per year.

a ban on use of produce from GM crop trials for direct commercial benefit.

Mr Meacher said: "The Government has said all along that there will be no general cultivation of GM crops until we are satisfied there will be no unacceptable effects on the environment.

"This agreement is in line with our primary role which is to protect human health and the environment."

He said the agreement was not a ban or moratorium on GM crops as there were no legal, scientific or safety reasons for such action.

The minister said the tests "will help inform public debate on GM crops by moving forward on the basis of sound science".

He added: "Moving forward in a cautious and rigorous manner will help us to make a judgment not only whether there is a downside to the introduction of this new technology, but also about any potential benefits it may bring."

02 Nov 99 - GMO - Lancet editor threatened by Royal Society food reps

Laurie Flynn and Michael Sean Gillard

Guardian ... Tuesday 2 November 1999

Comment (webmaster): Here is some absolutely disgusting behavior on the part the "Royal" Society. We would not have to look to hard to establish that members of the "Rebuttal Unit" have long been on the take from the food industry.

The same type of interference goes on in BSE research of course -- proofs of the PNAS paper of Noelle Bons (100% transmission of BSE to primates) were floated around in England and the editor was pressured not to publish it, or at least put in an unreviewed slasher comment piece in the same issue (following issue). This has been a banner year, with the editors of the NEJM and JAMA being forced out for refusing to buckle to commerce-minded doctors and now the editor of Lancet.

The editor of one of Britain's leading medical journals, the Lancet, says he was threatened by a senior member of the Royal Society , the voice of the British science establishment, that his job would be at risk if he published controversial research questioning the safety of genetically modified foods.

Richard Horton declined to name the man who telephoned him. But the Guardian has identified him as Peter Lachmann , the former vice-president and biological secretary of the Royal Society and president of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

The Guardian has been told that an influential group within the Royal Society has set up what appears to be a "rebuttal unit" to push a pro-biotech line and counter opposing scientists and environmental groups.

Dr Horton said he was called at his office in central London on the morning of Wednesday October 13, two days before the Lancet published a research paper by Arpad Pusztai, the scientist at the centre of the GM controversy. Dr Horton, editor of the Lancet since 1995, said the phone call began in a "very aggressive manner" . He said he was called "immoral" and accused of publishing Dr Pusztai's paper which he "knew to be untrue".

Towards the end of the call Dr Horton said the caller told him that if he published the Pusztai paper it would "have implications for his personal position" as editor. The Lancet is owned by Reed Elsevier, one of Europe's largest scientific publishing houses. At the end of the call Dr Horton, 37, said he immediately informed his colleagues and named the caller.

Prof Lachmann, a professor of immunology at Cambridge and a Royal Society fellow for 17 years, confirmed that he rang Dr Horton on October 13 to discuss his "error of judgment" in deciding to publish the paper. He said he called Dr Horton after he had been emailed, "probably by the Royal Society", a proof of the paper. [Just look at the header on the email. Why is a copyrighted article being emailed around and who furnished an article under review to non-reviewers? -- webmaster]

However, Prof Lachmann, 67, "categorically denies" making any threat to Dr Horton during the call. "This is absolute rubbish, it would never have crossed my mind," he said. "I didn't accuse him of being immoral. I said there were moral difficulties about publishing bad science. I think I probably suggested to him that he knew the science was very bad. They [the Lancet] knew it was bad science, whether you call that untrue or not, I don't think I used the word untrue."

Prof Lachmann's call to Dr Horton was preceded by a series of controversial interventions by the Society on the Pusztai affair. While vice-president of the society, Prof Lachmann chaired a special working group on GM plants for food use last year which endorsed their "potential for real benefits " but recognised the need for further research and monitoring. The Royal Society says that its report is now being used as a "source document" by the government.

The Lachmann group report was published in September 1998, a month after Dr Pusztai first expressed his concerns on British TV about their safety, questioning government regulatory procedures. Dr Pusztai's employer, the Rowett Institute, had authorised the interview, but it seized his data, forced him to retire and banned him from speaking out .

In February, Prof Lachmann was one of the 19 Royal Society fellows who attacked Dr Pusztai's work in an open letter. He and other key Royal Society fellows have since been at the forefront of defending GM technology and extolling its ability to solve world hunger and provide safer food and medicines.

Lachmann's extensive CV includes a recent consultancy to Geron Biomed, which markets the animal cloning technology behind Dolly the sheep, and a non-executive directorship for the biotech company Adprotech. Prof Lachmann is also on the scientific advisory board of the pharmaceutical giant SmithKline Beecham, which invests heavily in biotechnology. He denies any conflict of interest, arguing that his expertise in the area qualifies him to comment. [This is ludicrous. Comments are fine; conflicts must be disclosed. -- webmaster.]

The first intervention came in March when the Royal Society, which does not normally conduct peer reviews, took the unusual decision to scrutinise Dr Pusztai's work. [No data or article was ever submitted to the Royal Society. Who gave them the remit? -- webmaster]

A group of reviewers, whom the society refuses to name , concluded after examining incomplete data that it appeared to be "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis".

Dr Horton wrote a Lancet editorial that month accusing the Royal Society of "breathtaking impertinence" . Prof Lachmann, who was not involved in this peer review, nevertheless countered with a letter attacking the journal's position as "absurd". Dr Horton published the letter in July. At the same time, the Lancet was considering whether to peer review and publish the now famous paper by Dr Pusztai and Stanley Ewen on the effect on the gut of rats fed GM potatoes.

Dr Horton was also considering publishing a second research paper by another team of scientists. They had looked at the same GM protein used in Dr Pusztai's potatoes and found that it binds to human white blood cells. The health implications must be further researched before the GM protein is allowed into the food chain, the paper recommended.

Dr Horton said he never expected what would follow from his decision to promote scientific debate by publishing both papers. He said there was intense pressure on the Lancet from all quarters, including the Royal Society, to suppress publication . The campaign, he said, was "worthy of Peter Mandelson".

The Guardian has learned that these interventions are taking place in an unusual context. According to a source, the Royal Society science policy division is being run as what appears to be a rebuttal unit . The senior manager of the division is Rebecca Bowden, who coordinated the highly critical peer review of Dr Pusztai's work. She joined the society in 1998, from the government biotechnology unit at the department of the environment, which controls the release of genetically modified organisms.

The rebuttal unit is said by the source to operate a database of like-minded Royal Society fellows who are updated by email on a daily basis about GM issues. The aim of the unit, according to the source, is to mould scientific and public opinion with a pro-biotech line. Dr Bowden confirmed that her main role is to coordinate biotech policy for the society, reporting to the president, Sir Aaron Klug. However, she and Sir Aaron denied it was a spin-doctoring operation. [Klug, a former protein crystallographer with no expertise in genetics or living organisms, has also been writing numerous opinion pieces. -- webmaster]

In May a leaked government memo outlined how its office of science and technology was compiling a list of eminent scientists who were on message to rebut criticism and underwrite the government's unequivocal pro-biotech line. The Guardian has established that the Royal Society was involved in trying to prevent publication of the Pusztai paper. This intervention intensified when it learnt the paper had been peer reviewed for the Lancet by six scientists, Dr Horton told the Guardian.

The only reviewer arguing against publication was John Pickett of the government-funded Institute of Arable Crops Research. Prof Pickett said that when he realised that Dr Pusztai's paper had been accepted for publication, he took his concerns to the Royal Society' s biological secretary who told him the society was already preparing a press release. [This is completely inappropriate behavior for someone involved in peer review.]

Five days before the Lancet published, an article appeared in a national newspaper in which Prof Pickett broke the protocols of peer review and publicly attacked the Lancet for agreeing to publish the Pusztai paper. Two days after the spoiler article appeared, Prof Lachmann made his phone call to the editor of the Lancet.

Dr Horton said the society had acted like a star chamber throughout the Pusztai affair. "The Royal Society has absolutely no remit to conduct that sort of inquiry."

Sir Aaron said he knew nothing about the phone call to Dr Horton and whoever spoke to the Lancet editor was not doing so on the society's behalf. However, he confirmed that the society had a proof of the Pusztai paper before the Lancet published it. [Klug's behavior has been disgraceful throughout -- his resignation is in order. -- webmaster]

28 Oct 99 - GMO - Blair accused of U-turn on GM crop programme

By Paul Waugh, Political Correspondent

Independent ... Thursday 28 October 1999

The Government was accused of a U-turn over genetically modified crops yesterday because ministers are expected to ban their release for the next three years.

Under a deal with the biotechnology industry, none of the crops will be planted commercially until current farm-scale trials are completed in 2002. Downing Street revealed that the deal for a voluntary moratorium is close to completion and is likely to be announced by Michael Meacher, an Environment minister, next month. The scheme, which follows widespread public concern over the safety of GM crops, will extend the current one-year ban, due to expire this week.

The Government denied there had been a change in policy, but environmentalists and the Opposition seized on the move as evidence of a U-turn .

The new agreement follows the departure of Jack Cunningham, who was seen as a staunch advocate of GM technology, from the Cabinet last month. Mr Cunningham claimed that a moratorium would hinder British companies attempting to lead the field in the new technology.

Environmental groups, which have demanded a total freeze on all GM planting, gave the deal a cautious welcome, but warned that the detail of the scheme would need close analysis. Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said: "This is a great victory for public pressure. It's good news. There is no question that it's a change of policy."

Friends of the Earth called for a minimum five-year moratorium to allow a public debate on GM food and crops and for the scrapping of the farm-scale trials because of the risk of cross pollination.

Greenpeace said the Government's true attitude to GM crops would be demonstrated tomorrow, when a committee of EU member states' civil servants will vote on whether to allow planting of new varieties of GM oilseed rape. The group's food campaigner, Jim Thomas, said: "This voluntary moratorium is simply a political holding operation while Mr Blair's Government hopes to turn around public opinion."

The shadow Agriculture Minister, Tim Yeo, welcomed the extension of the ban but described the move as a "humiliating climbdown" for the Government. "It's a step in the right direction, albeit one prompted by political expediency , rather than responsibility or principle," he said.

Mr Meacher has been negotiating with companies such as Agr-Evo and Monsanto to allow the Government to complete its programme of farm-scale trials before commercial planting starts. Some firms have been reluctant to back a three-year moratorium for fear of losing the commercial edge, but ministers have now persuaded them that consumers must be reassured first.

A spokeswoman for the Government's GM unit said Mr Meacher had always maintained that commercial cultivation of GM crops would not be allowed until he was satisfied there would be no unacceptable impact on the environment. "We have not undergone any kind of U-turn . We are hoping to get a three-year moratorium in place and we are pretty close to an agreement," she said.

Tony Blair told the House of Commons yesterday that no products would be placed on the market without rigorous trials, but warned that the Government did not want to send out "an anti-science or anti-biotechnology" message.

27 Oct 99 - GMO - GM food 'bias' rejected by BBC

Staff Reporter

Times ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

BBC governors have jumped to the defence of John Humphrys over complaints of bias against genetically modified foods.

Humphrys, the presenter of the Today programme on Radio 4, is a former organic farmer who has expressed his views in print, but his stance did not compromise his impartiality in interviews, the Governors' Complaints Appeals Committee ruled.

The complainant had taken issue with Humphrys's interview with Dr Jack Cunningham, then the minister responsible for co-ordinating government policy on genetically modified foods, and one with Joanna Blythman, a food journalist. The governors said the Cunningham interview earlier this year had been "characteristically rigorous and persistent - but not biased".

Humphrys sold his small organic dairy farm in Wales some years ago. He now has a smallholding, but the governors decided he did not stand to gain from it commercially.

27 Oct 99 - GMO - Government denies U-turn as commercial GM crops are postponed

News Unlimited staff and agencies

Guardian ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

The government is about to postpone the commercial introduction of genetically-modified crops for at least three years, it emerged today. A spokesman insisted that the move does not represent a U-turn in policy and revealed that the number of trials will be stepped up.

According to the government's GM communications unit, it is on the verge of clinching a deal which will extend trials to discover whether GM crops pose any threat to the environment for a further three years.

The deal with the biochemical industry will see a significant expansion in the number of farm-scale trials - but will effectively postpone any commercial growing of GM crops until well into the new millennium.

A spokesman for the communications unit insisted it had long been the intention that the trials programme should stretch over four years. Environment minister Michael Meacher would make a formal announcement on the issue "fairly shortly".

The spokesman said Mr Meacher had always maintained that commercial cultivation of GM crops would not be allowed until the government was satisfied that there would be no unacceptable impact on the environment.

An extended programme of farm-scale trials was needed to clarify whether GM crops pose any threat to biodiversity. "You can't do this kind of work in a laboratory. We need a proper picture of what is going on in the countryside," the spokesman said.

He denied that the government was preparing an about-turn on the issue. "It is not a U-turn . We have been saying all along that this is a four-year programme," he insisted.

Under the extended trials programme, there will be about 75 farm-scale trials , a significant increase on the 10 trials involved in the first year. Each will be around 25 acres in size . Planting is unlikely to start before next spring.

Until now all the farm-scale trials have been conducted in England, mostly in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. The locations of the new sites will be announced in February . It will be up to the devolved authorities to decide whether they want any of the trials to take place in other parts of the UK.

Policing the development of GM crops has been a thorn in the government's side. The public has proved wary of the new technology. Many major supermarkets and food manufacturers have now banned GM ingredients and one of the leading companies, Monsanto, is facing pressure to pull out of GM food because of the public relations damage it is causing.

Campaigners opposed to the cultivation of GM crops were unimpressed by the plans to extend the trials. Harry Hadaway, campaigns officer for the Soil Association, said the effective moratorium on commercial cultivation was no more than "a step in the right direction". It would be better to abandon the farm-scale trials altogether, he argued.

"There must be no release of GM pollen into the environment," said Mr Hadaway. "Caution is essential if we are to protect the environment and the right of farmers , organic and conventional, to continue to produce GM-free crops .

Greenpeace took a similar line. "We object on principle to the release of GM strains into the environment ," a spokesman said. "An extended trial system is still perpetuating that genetic pollution , though perhaps not as rapidly as would have been the case if full-scale commercialisation had been allowed now."

27 Oct 99 - GMO - GM food trials to be extended for three years

By John Deane, Press Association

Independent ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

The Government is on the verge of clinching a deal which will extend trials to discover whether genetically modified crops pose any threat to the environment for a further three years, it emerged today.

The deal with the biochemical industry will see a significant expansion in the number of farm-scale trials - but will effectively postpone any commercial growing of GM crops until well into the new millennium.

A spokesman for the Government's GM communications unit said it had long been the intention that the trials programme should stretch over four years.

The first year's trials had been completed, and a deal with industry representatives to extend testing for three more years was now close, the spokesman indicated.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher would make a formal announcement on the issue "fairly shortly".

The spokesman said Mr Meacher had always maintained that commercial cultivation of GM crops would not be allowed until the Government was satisfied that there would be no unacceptable impact on the environment.

An extended programme of farm-scale trials was needed to clarify whether GM crops do pose any threat to biodiversity.

"You can't do this kind of work in a laboratory. We need a proper picture of what is going on in the countryside," the spokesman said.

25 Oct 99 - GMO - GM firms are sued for millions

By Oliver Tickell

Independent ... Monday 24 October 1999

Top laws firms in the United States and Britain are to launch a series of class actions next month in which they will demand "hundreds of millions of dollars" in damages from the principal companies involved in the production of genetically modified (GM) seeds and food crops .

Targets of the actions, which are to be taken on behalf of farmers in the United States, the European Union, Central America and India, are likely to include Monsanto, Du Pont, AstraZeneca, Novartis and Agr-Evo.

In a private meeting in London this week, American lawyers and senior partners at the British law firm Mishcon de Reya discussed the action with representatives of the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Christian Aid, the Confederation of European Small Farmers (CPE), individual farmers and farmers' organisations from the US, Panama, and India.

The first of the actions will be launched in US courts in mid-November. They will allege "anti-competitive behaviour" in the seed market , which is dominated by a small number of companies, in violation of "anti-trust" or monopoly laws. They will also cite "questionable corporate behaviour" in pushing forward the rapid introduction of GM foods in the absence of clear data to prove their safety.

"There is the question of whether there is a collusive aspect of the behaviour of the companies to co-ordinate a joint control of over the entirety of food production ," said Michael Hausfeld of the Washington DC-based lawyers Cohen, Millstein, Hausfeld and Toll (CMHT), who was at the meeting.

"And there is the question of whether or not there was a concerted effort to knowingly but prematurely force the commercialisation of GM foods when there was information that the companies knew, or should have known, that the safety of the foods was inconclusive. This would include charges of possible undue influence on legislators and regulators," Mr Hausfeld said.

As well as seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation, Mr Hausfeld indicated, his clients also wished to put the deployment of GM foods on hold until their safety was scientifically proven , and to establish legal liability where farmers were burdened with unmarketable crops that were either grown from GM seed or contaminated with GM material from neighbouring fields.

One key issue will be the principle, backed by the US government, that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to non-GM foods and consequently do not need to be tested for their safety. The idea has now been challenged by numerous scientists who say that experiments that would justify the "substantial equivalence" of GM foods have not been done.

CMHT has participated in recent anti-trust actions that have won damages exceeding $1bn. These include a case brought against market makers on the Nasdaq stock exchange which won a record $1,027m (£622m) in damages. Another action, over price-fixing, is underway against the chemical companies Hoffman La Roche, Rhone Poulenc and BASF,.

Following the launch of the US cases, further actions are planned under competition law, Mishcon de Reya said. Michael Cover, one of the firm's partners, said: "Our main focus will be to seek damages under UK and EU competition law. We will specifically be looking at agreements to conduct anti-competitive practices and abuse of dominant positions in the market place, forbidden under articles 81 and 82 of the Amsterdam Treaty [which came into force this year]."

The news comes at an increasingly difficult time for GM companies, which have suffered in the public relations war between corporations and environmental groups. Last week, it was reported that Monsanto was coming under intense pressure to shed parts of its organisation in the wake of the campaign against GM foods, following a drop in share prices.

Mishcon de Reya and the 10 US law firms involved will be taking the actions forward on a "no-win, no-fee" basis on behalf of both citizens' organisations and individuals. The names of the plaintiffs in the actions have not been revealed.

Adrian Bebb, representing the campaign group Friends of the Earth at the meeting, said: "We are looking very closely at the prospect of becoming involved in this legal action at a European level and we will be helping the American lawyers with any information they require for their actions in the US and other countries."

Andrew Simms, agriculture campaigner for the charity Christian Aid, said: "These legal actions are very exciting and interesting... they are refocusing the GM debate on the core questions of corporate power and control. We want to give power and control back to the people who are going hungry."

24 Oct 99 - GMO - Rats at centre of GM food furore 'were starving'

By Roger Highfield

Telegraph ... Sunday 24 October 1999

The controversial research that triggered the GM food furore was published last week by The Lancet and suggests that starvation, not genetic modification, may have caused the adverse health effects in rats fed GM potatoes by Dr Arpad Pusztai.

The Royal Society said yesterday that the paper was not worthy of publication and the journal was questioned for suggesting that a second paper, also in last week's issue, reveals "possible effects of GM foods on human blood cells" when the main author denies that this is the case. Dr Caroline Bolton-Smith of Dundee University said: "It [my paper] does not link directly with GM food," although she said it did raise concerns about the use of that particular gene, one of many under consideration for use in GM foods.

The long-awaited GM paper by Dr Pusztai and Dr Stanley Ewen still claims to show that the process of genetic modification itself, rather than a toxin gene introduced by GM, could have harmful effects in experiments on rats . Dr Pusztai was unavailable for comment. Dr Ewen of Aberdeen University said that starvation had the opposite effect to the changes he had observed in the rats. The raw GM diet reversed the atrophy that was usually caused by malnourishment.

But Prof Brian Heap, foreign secretary of the Royal Society, said last week's paper confirmed the view of the society that the work was flawed and inconclusive. He disputed the claim of The Lancet that publication would help public debate on GM food.

Prof Heap pointed out that one particularly significant change to the paper, made in the wake of criticisms from reviewers, was that it now revealed that the diet of the rats was so low in protein - six per cent - that they were being starved. Starvation may account for the adverse effects that the authors blamed on GM, a point echoed by Prof Chris Potten, a gut toxicologist at the Christie Hospital in Manchester.

In the same issue of The Lancet, Dr Harry Kuiper, of Wageningen University, Holland, said: "There is convincing evidence that short-term protein stress and starvation impair the growth rate, development, hepatic metabolism and immune function of rats." Commenting with colleagues, he added that the results "do not allow" the conclusion that GM was harmful and that current safety tests on GM foods were adequate, although he called for a broader spectrum of tests .

Others have pointed out that the gut changes seen by Dr Pusztai might have been caused by toxins made by potatoes called glycoalkaloids, a problem familiar to conventional breeders. The Lancet paper did not refer to glycoalkaloid levels.

Six scientists reviewed the paper: three supported publication; one called for changes in the statistical analysis; one said it was flawed but should be published on grounds of public interest; and one was opposed. The latter, Prof John Pickett of the Institute of Arable Crops Research at Rothamsted, Herts, said of the paper: "I wouldn't have expected any journal to publish it."

The president of the Royal Society, the Nobel laureate Sir Aaron Klug, said yesterday that the paper was unworthy of publication. He said: "It is not possible to conclude, as Dr Ewen and Dr Pusztai do, that the process of genetic modification of plants, or even the particular genes inserted into these GM potatoes, raise concerns for human health."

He said that too few animals were used to give statistically significant results for the complex phenomena being examined; the diets used were incompletely controlled; no control group of rats was fed a reduced protein diet.

The Lancet defended its decision to publish Dr Pusztai's paper in an editorial by Dr Richard Horton. He pointed out that the paper did not vindicate earlier claims made by Dr Pusztai and that its conclusions were "preliminary and non-generalisable".

The paper had been substantially revised, on three occasions, notably to the way they interpreted data. But he decided to publish, citing one reviewer who said, although the research was flawed, the paper should be in the public domain so "fellow scientists can judge for themselves".

Dr Bolton-Smith's paper does not examine the effects of GM food but concentrates on the effects of a protein insecticide, called a lectin, one of the many genes that scientists are considering for introduction into crops. Dr Bolton-Smith said that it had been thought that the lectin did not interact with human cells. But her study had shown that it did bind to blood cells. She said it underlined the need to investigate the consequences on human health of using this particular gene in crops.

She said: "If we can do such a simple experiment which has never been done, it shows what an enormous amount of basic work has to be done if lectins are ever going to be put into things." She said that, although Dr Pusztai's results were inconclusive, there had not been enough studies of the knock-on effects of GM on plants and of the effects of GM food on humans .