Fwd: 2 articles: BusinessWeek, Spiegel
Wed, 28 Jan 1998 20:34:35 -0800
>Thanks to Peter Ligotti for forwarding this Article on
>GE Food in Major U.S. Business Publication
>Seeds of Discontent
>THE PROS AND CONS OF GENE-SPLICED FOOD
> (Large retouched color photo shows three
> protesters hoisting a protest
> sign over the statue of liberty)
>BusinessWeek Feb. 2, 1998 p.62 - 63
>Biotech companies are facing a growing furor
>in Europe Over Genetically Altered Food
>Last fall, protesters in Ireland dug up fields of gene-spliced sugar
>beets. In Iowa, members of the environmental group Greenpeace
>spray-painted rows of genetically-engineered soybeans. British activists
>shivered naked on the rooftops of London to protest what they called a
>genetic coverup, and others carried life-size, inflatable Frankenstein
>monsters through the streets to protest genetically modified foods. In
>Austria, concern about bioengineered foods led the government to ban
>imports of gene-spliced crops.
> All across Europe and in parts of the U.S., environmentalists are
>trying to halt the genetic manipulation of nature's agricultural bounty.
>Using the same kind of biotech wizardry that drug companies employ to
>create new drugs, laboratories at Monsanto, Novartis, Rhone-Poulenc-Rorer,
>and other multinationals have mastered the art of transferring useful genes
>from microbes and other organisms to plants. The techniques they have
>developed allow them to make seemingly magical transformations of
>soybeans, corn, cotton, and other crops, conferring resistance to blights
>and insect pests. Plants have also been developed that are resistant to
>herbicides, allowing farmers to spray plants with chemicals that wipe
>out weeds but don't harm the crops.
>GREEN LIGHT. Such genetically altered crops are already a booming business.
>Last year, U.S. farmers sowed more than 16 million acres with seeds
>modified by a Monsanto technique. In 1998, the acreage will double. By
>2005, Monsanto reckons the global market for plant biotechnology will soar
>to some $6.6 billion. America will be a large part of that. Pierre Hochuli,
>chairman of Monsanto Europe, says his company also looks at the European
>agricultural-biotech market as "a huge opportunity." Indeed, despite the
>recent spate of protests, France recently gave farmers a green light to
>plant gene-altered corn.
> Seed companies say this is progress. But activists have succeeded
>in drawing attention to some compelling scientific and ethical issues.
>In a research area that's so young, how much can science predict about
>the effect of gene-altered crops on the environment or on human health?
>"Biotechnology is a new and very complicated technology," muses Margaret
>G. Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Washington. "There
>could be surprises long term."
> In both Europe and the U.S., the protesters main argument is that the
>safety of the new crops has not been proven. For example, bio-engineered
>corn produced by Swiss life-sciences giant Novartis contains a gene from
>a soil microbe. It causes the corn to produce a protein call Bt that kills
>the corn borer--a pest that causes an estimated $152 million a year in
>losses to European farmers. Farmers raising Bt corn don't need to spray
>their crops with pesticides because the plants, in effect, protect
> The corn has been tested for safety in Novartis labs, although no
>human clinical trials were performed. But human health is not the main
>worry of activist scientists. More problematic, they say, is the risk that
>widespread use of such gene-spliced crops will give rise to bugs that are
>resistant to Bt. Such resistance can arise through chance mutations in
>insects. If that should happen, the Bt pesticide will be rendered useless.
>"The danger is real," says critic Mellon. "The only question is whether
>resistance will happen sooner or later."
> Seed companies have an answer to this. They recommend that farmers
>plant normal, unaltered crops alongside the gene-spliced ones. This will
>guarantee a large, sustained population of insects that never will develop
>resistance to the pesticide. The susceptible bugs will breed with the
>resistant ones--whose numbers will be relatively few--and thus reduce any
> Another worry centers around crops that are genetically altered to
>survive herbicides. Monsanto, for example, makes soybeans containing a gene
>that allows them to grow well even when drenched with the company's potent
>Roundup weed-killer. Last year, U.S. farmers planted nine million acres of
>such Roundup Ready soybeans.
> Last October, however, French scientists raised an ominous flag in the
>scientific journal "Nature." They showed that when oilseed rape plants with
>a herbicide-resistance gene were bred with wild rash weeds, the gene could
>be transferred over to the weeds. To opponents of agricultural biotech, the
>idea that herbicide resistance could spread to weeds raises the specter of
>uncontrollable superweeds spreading across farms.
> Austrian activists are worried about a different example of gene
>manipulation. For reasons having to do with the way gene splicing was
>carried out years ago, Novartis' corn contains a leftover piece of DNA that
>conveys resistance to common antibiotics. Critics such as Alexander
>Haslberger, the scientific adviser to the government's Committee on Gene
>Technology, fear that the gene could pass from the plants to bacteria,
>creating microbes that the antibiotics can't kill.
> Seed company execs retort that either kind of gene transfer is
>unlikely. Moreover, scientists say that the gene in Novartis' corn is
>already widely found in bacteria and poses no risk. "I think it's silly of
>the company not to remove it, but it doesn't do any harm," says
>Stuart B. Levy, director of the Center for Adaptive Genetics and
>Drug Resistance at the Tufts University School of Medicine. And in fact,
>Novartis says that its newer corn varieties no longer have the gene.
> Protests in Europe are more strident than in the U.S. But recent
>events may raise the level of awareness in America. One involves Monsanto's
>Roundup Ready cotton. For the first time, in the spring of 1997, U.S.
>farmers planted cotton from seeds into which Monsanto engineers had
>inserted a gene that makes the plants resistant to Monsanto's Roundup
>herbicide. When the fields are sprayed with Roundup, the weeds die
>while the cotton plants--at least theoretically--remain unaffected.
> But last July, 30 to 40 farmers growing Roundup Ready cotton in
>Mississippi found that the plants dropped their bolls of cotton prematurely,
>reducing yields. Some farmers are threatening lawsuits. Monsanto, which says
>it is still studying the problem, suggests it may be the result of last
>spring's unusually cold and wet weather in the Mississippi Delta. Barely
>1% of total Roundup Ready cotton crops were affected, the company says.
> In December, agricultural biotech received another public relations
>blow. The Environmental Protection Agency decided not to grant a petition
>from Rhone-Poulenc to allow the spraying of Bromoxynil, a potent herbicide,
>on cotton that has been genetically engineered to withstand the poison.
>The decision was promoted by fears that the chemical poses risks to humans.
>But environmentalists say the case illustrates another problem: Agricultural
>giants may care more about promoting their own chemicals than about safer,
>more productive agriculture. Says Jane Rissler, senior scientist with the
>UCS: "The sole purpose of this cotton is to expand the use of a very
> The picture is not black and white. Even greens admit that
>biotechnology can dramatically cut down on the amount of pesticides that
>farmers use, while simultaneously improving crop yields. This counts for
>a lot in Europe, where farmers rely far more heavily on pesticides than
>their U.S. counterparts do. Andre Goig, European director of Novartis Seeds,
>says that field trials show that French farmers could boost revenue about
>8% by using pest-resistant corn seed. And there are other huge potential
>benefits of biotech. For example the technology could help farmers grow
>crops that will flourish in deserts or very salty soil.
>TASTE TEST. In Europe, many farmers understand the benefits of biotech.
>So do some consumers. Last year, Britain's Zeneca Group PLC quietly
>introduced one of the first gene-altered foods into the European market--
>a paste made from tomatoes modified to create a beefier texture. Labeled
>as a product of biotechnology, the paste also was priced 10% below its
>natural counterparts and was an instant success. It was a "test of our
>hypothesis that Europeans are not necessarily anti-biotech" says Nigel
>Paul, Zeneca's external regulatory affairs director.
> Few protesters are swayed by such examples, however. They have lobbied
>relentlessly for Europewide rules that would place labels on all foods
>from genetically modified soybeans and corn. But seed companies complain
>that the requirements as contemplated, are vague. Potentially, anything
>exposed to genetically engineered crops--including milk could be labeled.
>That alarms U.S. government officials. "Strict adherence to labeling
>requirements would do damage to our trade," warns Timothy J. Galvin,
>associate administrator of the Agricultural Dept.'s Foreign Agricultural
>Service. U.S. shipments of corn to Europe exceed $200 million a year.
> Ultimately, food fights won't get Europe very far. "Our genes are
>incorporated into approximately 19 million acres around the world--
>covering an area larger than Switzerland and the Netherlands combined,"
>says Tom McDermott, Monsanto's European public affairs head. "Can Europe
>at this point really resist?" That's a question many concerned consumers
>are asking--on both sides of the Atlantic.
> THE PROS AND CONS OF GENE-SPLICED FOOD
> The Good
%A0>News: The Bad News
>--Genetically modified seeds --Some scientists fear that pesti-
> promise higher yields, lower cide resistant genes engineered
> pesticide costs to farmers, and into seed crops could leak to
> crops that tolerate droughts or other plants.
> salty soil.
>--Gene-spliced foods may offer --Over time, pests will almost
> retailers and consumers lower- certainly build up resistance
> cost products that taste good to anti-pest toxins in gene-
> and are easy to transport. altered plants.
>--To date, there have been no --Adding genes to plants may
> clear-cut health or safety cause unexpected results. In
> problems from genetically Mississippi, some genetically
> engineered crops. altered cotton plants have
> dropped their bolls early.
>By Julia Flynn in London and John Carey in Washington, with
>William Echikson in Brussels and Bureau reports
>This article appeared in the largest German magazine "Der Spiegel" (similar
>to Newsweek or Time Magazine in the US.)
>GENTECHNOLOGY Spiegel 2/88
> 2) Arms race on the fields
> New observations proof: the biotechnologists have underestimated
>the problems in controlling gentechnological plants. Inserted genes jump
>more easily onto other species than thought. Some of the manipulated crops
>develop unexpected characteristics.
> Mr. Friedrich Magge fears for his cabbage. Two kilometers away from
>the vegetabel fields of the organic farmer, in the village Gehrden (state
>of Niedersachsen), the Hoechst-Schering partner AgrEvo is experimenting
>with rapeseed, that was made immune agaisnt the plant herbicide "Basta" by
>means of gene that doesn't come from the same species. Maage fears that his
>crops could be polluted by these foreign genes.
> Also his clients are afraid. When the experiments in open air
>started in April 1995, Maage's sales dropped by 20%. In case of the worst
>the farmer has to abandon his seal of organic growing - the European Union
>law for organic agriculture only permits products that are guuaranteed free
> That's why Maage took, together with 3 other farmers, the
>Robert-Koch- Institut Berlin, the agency responsible for having given
>permission, to court. "We have to protect ourselves against this gen-smog."
> That his fear from gentech seeds is not completely off, show now
>research results by the Institute of Ecology of the Government of the state
>of Niedersachsen: 200 m from the experimental field in Gehrden were
>discovered anti-Basta genes in normal rapeseed. The researchers drew the
>conclusion: "We have to conclude that with future large scale planting of
>gentechnologically manipulated rapeseed transgenic seeds will spread on
>large scale as well." One cannot exclude that farmer Maage's cabbage,
>belonging to the same family Brassica like rapeseed, will be fertilized.
> The spreading of genes in Gehrden is only one of the cases that
>gives new ammunition to the enemies of gentechnology. The consumers are
>still fearing mainly health damages through gene soja or tomatoes. More and
>more becomes clear, that the main danger is not on the eating plates but on
>the fields - thru spreading of manipulated genes into the environment.
> The gentechnologists' belief that they could control the
>consequencies of their doing, seems to be damaged. Much easier than
>expected do inserted genes escape from the field into the environment and
>not too seldom do creations from the laboraties surprise with unexpected
> Not only in Gehrden, but also in the states of Schleswig-Holstein,
>Bavaria, Sachsen and Rheinland-Pfalz managed the artificially inserted
>genes to escape into non-manipulated rapeseed in its neighbourhood.
> French researchers proved that transgenic rapeseed carries its
>characteristics onto related weeds, like "Hederich". The crossing is partly
>fertile, that's why the foreign genes will be passed onto several
> Potatoes, with a smuggled-in gene of the "Schneegloeckchen" reduced
>the lady birds in a not-calculated way. The plants produce a egg white that
>kills plant lousese. But also the useful lady birds suffered: after eating
>poisoned plant louses, female lady birds had upto 30% less eggs and died
>with a longevity reduced by 50%.
> A Canadian researcher has proven that virus' are stealing gene
>sequencies from virus resistent plants and thus acquire new abilities.
> Farmers in the US state of Mississippi had to watch last summer how
>their poison-resistent gentech cotton lost its seeds.
> "In the last time we had a whole flood of bad news" admits David
>Bennett of the European Biotechnology Association. But inspite of all bad
>news are crops from the gen labs conquering the fields world wide.
> Already 12% of the american soja harvest contains the poison
>resistent gene. Spraying the pesticide means it only stays a very short
>time in the environment, but manipulated plants can prouuceit during the
>whole season. But with this the world of insects also has more time to
>develop anti-strategies. With this the only pesticideenvironmentally
>friendly pesticide would loose its effectiveness.
> The chemistry multis include this effect already in their
>calculations, fears Beatrix Tappeser: "They are acting with the policy:
>after us a deluge". For companies like Novartis the investment was already
>worth doing, if the Bt- plants can stay on the market for only a few years.
> With this several promising creations from gen laboratories could
>soon proof to not sell anymore, like the famous anti-deteriorating-tomato
>of the company Calgene. This long lasting fruit disappeared in april last
>year from the shelves of the american supermarkets. The customers didn't
>like its metallic taste.
>Richard Wolfson, PhD
>Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
>for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
>Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
>500 Wilbrod Street
>Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
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