June 23, 1997
Monsanto: Genetic Engineering Error in Canada
In mid-April, Monsanto announced that it was recalling
genetically engineered canola seed containing an unapproved
gene that had gotten into the product by mistake. Canola is a
crop grown for livestock feed and for oil consumed by humans.
Canola oil is used in low-fat foods, pharmaceuticals,
nutritional supplements, confectionery products, margarine
and shortening, personal care products, lubricants, soaps and
The recall was reportedly initiated by Monsanto Canada Ltd.,
and by Limagrain Canada Seeds, Inc., of Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan, which was selling the seed under license from
Monsanto. The canola seed had been genetically engineered to
be resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide marketed by Monsanto
under the brand name Roundup.
According to "The Ram's Horn," a Canadian newsletter devoted
to analysis of the food system, Monsanto reported to the
Evaluation Branch of the Biotechnology Strategies and
Coordination Office of the Canadian government that it was
recalling 60,000 bag units (enough seed to plant 600,000 to
750,000 acres) of two types of canola seeds because one or
both types contained the wrong gene. Under Canadian law,
there are three levels of approval for genetically engineered
crops: environmental (meaning the crop can be planted),
livestock (the resulting crop can be fed to livestock), and
human (the resulting crop can be fed to humans). Two Roundup-
resistant canola genes, RT-73 and RT-200, had been approved
for planting, but only RT-73 was approved for livestock and
humans. It was the unapproved RT-200 that somehow ended up in
the seed that had to be recalled.
Limagrain's Gary Bauman said his company will try to discover
how the mistake occurred. However, he said it will be
difficult to trace exactly where in the process it happened
because the seeds available for testing now are progeny of
the original seeds. "We may never know how it happened," he
"Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly," the weekly
publication of the Environmental Research Foundation, states
"The presence of the unapproved canola gene in a commercial
product reveals, at a minimum, that Monsanto's quality-
assurance programs failed in this instance, and that the
biotechnology regulatory system in Canada is ineffective."
Monsanto stated that only two farms had planted the withdrawn
varieties on approximately 150 acres. Last year Monsanto made
a limited introduction of Roundup Ready canola in Canada on
about 50,000 acres. The company would not state the amount of
acreage that had been targeted for the 1997 season.
Recently, Monsanto reported that the company's agrochemical
sales had increased by over 29% during the first quarter of
1997 to US$1,067 million -- due in large part to increased
sales of Roundup worldwide. Roundup is Monsanto's best-
selling and most profitable product, bringing Monsanto about
US$1.5 billion per year. "Roundup is the engine that's
driving Monsanto," said Paul Raman, a chemical industry
analyst for the investment banking firm S.G. Warburg & Co.
"In five to 10 years Roundup could be a US$4 billion
product," Raman said. That extra money would come chiefly
from expanding sales of crops that are genetically engineered
to resist the weed killer.
AgrEvo also markets herbicide-tolerant canola in Canada, but
stated that it does not expect to profit from the withdrawal
of Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola. AgrEvo's seed suppliers
had already sold out of glufosinate-tolerant "Liberty Link"
canola before the recall occurred. AgrEvo will not disclose
how much Liberty Link canola was planted this season. Two
open-pollinated varieties and two hybrids of Liberty Link
canola were sold in Canada this year. During the first two
years that the crop was planted, only one variety was sold
and seed was crushed for domestic use only; this year there
will be no restrictions on subsequent sales. AgrEvo's
glufosinate canola was the first transgenic herbicide-
tolerant crop to be grown commercially.
In related news, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on May
17, 1997, that Monsanto's vice-president, Virginia Weldon, is
a "top candidate" for the job of chief of the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA).
Sources: Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly #549, June 5,
1997. The Rams Horn: A Monthly Newsletter of Food System
Analysis, April 1997. Agrow: World Crop Protection News, May
2, May 16 and May 30, 1997.
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