Date: Sat, 12 Sep 1998 11:56:50 -0400 (EDT)
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From: Richard Wolfson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
GE - Of the top 100 economies 51 are multinational companies, the rest are
This first appeared in the October edition of BBC Tomorrow's World
Magazine. -Danny <email@example.com>
BY DANNY PENMAN
First, some figures. Of the top 100 economies 51 are multinational
companies, the rest are countries. The international trade in bulk
foodstuffs such as soya, corn and wheat is controlled by just seven
In the space of three years, genetically modified foods have come from
nowhere to representing thirty per cent of all the soya grown in the USA
and over a quarter of the maize. Much of these crops are grown from seeds
produced by just one biotechnology company, Monsanto.
Monsanto now controls ten per cent of the global seed supply and its share
is growing rapidly. Now Monsanto is on the verge of winning an even bigger
prize - it's buying the company that jointly holds the patent on the hugely
controversial "Terminator Technology". He who holds the Terminator patent
could gain unprecedented control over global agriculture.
Terminator Technology allows crops to be copyrighted by tricking them into
producing infertile seeds. Farmers planting these crops, in other words,
will not be able to save seeds from their own crop but will be forced to
buy new stock from their dealers every year. Saving seeds is the bedrock of
peasant agriculture and one which costs Western multinationals billions in
"lost" profits every year.
Terminator Technology, or the Technology Protection System as it's
officially known, is as ingenious as it's controversial. Terminator
positive crops are produced by inserting an array of genes which renders
the crop infertile unless it's sprayed with a specific and secret chemical.
This chemical turns off a "blocker" switch which controls fertility. Turn
the switch off by spraying it with the chemical and the plant breeds
normally. Leave the switch on and the plant is infertile. This allows seed
companies to produce fertile seeds for sale whereas peasant farmers,
lacking the technology, can produce only infertile seeds, forcing them to
return to the dealer for next year's supply.
"Terminator Technology hits those least able to defend themselves," says
George Monbiot, a land rights' campaigner. "Many farmers in the developing
world just scrape through year by year. If they have to buy new seeds every
year then this could push them over the precipice. Because most staple
foods are produced by small farmers this will grossly undermine food
security in the developing world. This is not something the genetic
engineers promised us. "
George Monbiot says that Terminator positive crops will be tailored for
the bigger more intensive farms. The small farmers, says Monbiot, will just
have to "tag along as best they can".
"Companies like Cargill, which has a joint venture with Monsanto, have an
effective monopoly in many parts of the Third World. So farmers will have
little choice about growing these crops because they'll be the only seeds
available. This will lessen food security and increase hunger across the
This argument cuts little ice with the biotech industry. Far from harming
third world farmers, they say, Terminator Technology will actually help
them by encouraging seed companies to breed better crops tailored for
developing countries. At present, says Dr Melvin Oliver, lead inventor of
Terminator Technology, Western seed companies not only fail to tailor crops
for the Third World but actively conspire to keep their best seed lines out
of developing countries. This ensures that peasant farmers are forever on
the edge of starvation. Seed companies do this because many peasant farmers
buy seeds only once and then save seeds from their crops in perpetuity.
"Only when seed companies can be sure of a decent return on their
investment," says Dr Oliver, "will they begin selling crops specifically
tailored for the Third World." "We thought through all these concerns
before we invented the technology. None of us would do anything detrimental
to society. We genuinely hope to help farmers drag themselves out of
subsistence farming and allow them to produce surpluses which they can then
sell and make themselves a little wealthier."
It's not only the ethics of Terminator Technology that's worrying
campaigners; some geneticists are concerned that it could also wreck the
environment or even induce a range of debilitating diseases, including
cancer, in people. They are worried that terminator technology in
particular, and genetically modified foods in general, impose new, unknown
and unquantifiable risks on people and the planet.
Dr Mae-Wan Ho, a geneticist from the Open University, says: "The problem
with Terminator Technology and with a lot of the techniques used by genetic
engineers is that virus-like agents are used to get the new genes into the
plants in the first place. These agents could spread to bacteria and then
to people. We already know that virus genes can spread to mice if they eat
food containing those genes. These virus genes can then end up in white
blood cells and in the cells of the liver and spleen. I see no reason why
this couldn't happen in people too.
"There are all kinds of uncertainties associated with this technology and
it troubles me deeply. I'm especially concerned about the Terminator
Technology because it works by scrambling genes. It's like randomly
splicing heavy metal music into a Mozart symphony. It starts out as a
balanced and coherent whole but when you scramble it you end up with a
completely unknown end product. This can cause cancer."
Genetic engineering is generally a hit and miss affair. The genes may be
inserted the wrong way round or multiple copies may be scattered throughout
a plant's genome. They may be inserted inside other genes - destroying
their activity or massively increasing it. More worryingly, a plant's
genetic make-up may become unstable - again with unpredictable results.
Genes may switch on or off unexpectedly with possible knock-on, unexpected
or unknowable effects. Genes can hop around the genome for no obvious rhyme
or reason. Rogue toxins may be produced or existing ones amplified
massively. Such problems may only arise hundreds of generations after the
crop's are originally modified.
Dr Oliver dismisses these worries: "This technology won't cause cancer.
It's impossible. In the case of our Technology Protection System
[Terminator Technology] we are using a ribonuclease which means when its
switched on it attacks the RNA not the DNA where the genetic information is
stored. It does not affect the genome at all. It cannot have any cancer
causing effect. In addition, there's absolutely no evidence that bacteria
will pick up plant genes. It does not happen because it has no evolutionary
advantage. But even if it did happen, the chances of any gene even getting
inside the body's cells are so remote that it just does not happen."
Biotechnology companies claim that there will be numerous advantages to
genetically modified foods. Agriculture could in principle become more
sustainable with a reduction in the need for fertilisers and pesticides.
Crops could be engineered to make their own fertiliser or to fight off
pests and disease. Yields could be boosted and entirely new multipurpose
crops produced. Fuels and plastics could be grown rather than extracted
from increasingly rare fossil fuels. Plants could be engineered to produce
new drugs and vaccines or even to clean-up toxic or contaminated land.
The reaches of agriculture could also be extended with, for example, crops
being engineered for greater tolerance to arid or salty conditions. It may
also be possible to grow crops beyond the Arctic circle. All these
advances, claim the biotech companies, could be used to feed a burgeoning
global population and to fuel an increasingly industrialised world.
Environmentalists, however, tend to worry about the two main categories of
risk posed by genetically modified crops. The first - but probably least
likely - are the potential health risks posed directly by the new foods.
These could range from triggering allergies through to the full scale
poisoning of the population. Poisoning could result from the creation of
entirely new toxins or the unexpected build-up of existing ones.
The second main area of risk is the unintended creation of new weeds,
pests or diseases, which could wreck the environment. "Super weeds" could
arise if existing weeds pick up herbicide resistance from engineered crops
through cross-pollination. New pests and diseases could be created if
existing bacterial or viral pathogens pick up new or useful genes from
modified plants or animals. Entirely new viruses could also be created by
The biotechnology industry dismisses these concerns as alarmist. They say
that their new crops and foods pose no greater risk than the stuff we've
been growing and eating for thousands of years.
So just how risky are they?
"We just don't know," says Dr Ian Taylor of Greenpeace. "That's the
fundamental problem with this technology.
"Genetic engineering crosses a fundamental threshold in the human
manipulation of the planet - changing the nature of life itself. Because
genetic engineering deals with living organisms, which can reproduce, any
mistakes cannot be reversed."
"In addition," he says: "Certain risks are statistically small but the
consequences, if things go wrong, are catastrophic. But one thing is
certain, the Government and policy makers often have the wrong mind-set for
"They believe that these sorts of risks can be managed and contained. But
there's a whole category of risks which cannot be managed. The BSE fiasco
shows this clearly. You cannot just release these things into the
environment and hope for the best."
Colin Merritt, of Monsanto, says that the rigorous screening performed
before the crops are released into the environment ensures that they are
safe. The screening, he claims, will identify all known risk factors.
"What it comes down to is this: do you cease to approve all new
technologies until every last thing that you could conceivably imagine as a
risk has been evaluated to the Nth degree? Or, do you press on when you
have sufficient information to make a rational decision?
"I have never known risk evaluation procedures like those concerning
genetically modified crops. I am confident that they are safe."
One example of the possible dangers, highlighted by Greenpeace, may
already have killed 36 people and disabled thousands of others.
The deaths were linked to contaminated batches of tryptophan, an essential
amino acid used in food supplements, produced by the Japanese company Showa
These batches were presumed to contain an unknown and undetectable toxin
produced either by a new strain of genetically engineered bacteria or
introduced during a newly modified production process. Investigators were
unable to find out exactly how the toxin was produced; partly because the
factory burnt down before the they could complete their work.
Interestingly, the deadly batches of tryptophan would have sailed through
Europe's food safety legislation. These allow a genetically modified food
to pass easily through the screening procedures if it is "substantially
equivalent" to an existing variety. It would only be when people began
dropping like flies that the problem would become apparent.
Dr Taylor says: "In these situations it's helpful to take a step back and
ask 'Who benefits?' Is it society. Is it the environment? The only ones who
will benefit from this technology is a small group of very large
Hotlinks Monsanto's GE web site:
<http://www.monsanto.co.uk/>www.monsanto.co.uk Greenpeace's home page
(follow the genetic engineering link):
Further Reading: "Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare - The Brave New
World of Bad Science and Big Business" By Dr Mae-Wan Ho.
Thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty) for forwarding this:
Sept 2, 1998
New Trait Surfaces in Altered Plant Associated Press
Associated Press Writer
Heightening environmentalists' fears about the dangers of genetic
engineering, a weed that was altered by scientists to resist a herbicide
also developed far greater ability to pollinate other plants and pass its
The findings raise the possibility of the emergence of "superweeds"
impervious to weedkillers.
The weed's enhanced ability to pollinate other plants was an unintended
consequence of experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana, a species commonly
used in genetic research.
Joy Bergelson, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of
Chicago, said the findings show that genetic engineering can substantially
increase the chances of "transgene escape," or the spread of certain traits
from one plant to another.
Her study was published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. ...
Ms. Bergelson compared the fertilization rate of plants that were mutated
to make them resistant to the herbicide chlorsulphuron, and plants that
were genetically altered for the same trait.
The genetically altered plants were able to fertilize other plants at a
rate 20 times greater than that of the mutants.
Why this was so is not clear. Ms. Bergelson speculated that the pollen from
the genetically altered plants might have a longer lifespan than normal
pollen or have some other competitive advantage.
Date: Thu, 10 Sep 1998 23:02:32 +0000
thanks to email@example.com (jim mcnulty) for posting this:
Subject: School's ban on genetic food.
The Express (UK). Wed September 9, 98
Exclusive John Ingham Enviroment Correspodent.
Schools across the country are banning genetically modified foods from
their canteens in a dramatic vote of no confidence in the new agricultural
Councils from North Tyneside to Southampton have ordered suppliers of
school meals to shun the new foods. The latest to take action is Stockport
Council in Cheshire which has banned GM foods from 120 schools because of
It is also planning to ban GM foods from staff canteens and meals on wheels
for the elderly.
The move follows a House of Commons ban genetically modified foods from the
canteens, restaurants, bars and kioks that feed the nations MP's. Details
of the councils' stance emerged as a top government adviser cast fresh
doubt on the claim that genetically modified crops posed no threat to the
GM crops are created in the laboratory by adding genes from species with
which they cannot naturally breed to give the properties - such as pest
Professor Alan Gray, of the Institute of Teresstrial Ecology in Dorset,
said it was difficult to be sure if the new genes that were being put into
plants were safe. He told the annual British Association Festival of
Science at Cardiff that defects from in GM plants could have been
overlooked and ignored because the plants died before they could be
Professor Gray, who is a member of Acre - the Advisory Committee on
Releases into the Enviroment. - also backed enviromentalists' fears that
herbicide resistant or virus proof GM crops could breed with their wild
relatives and create 'superweeds'.
His comments came just weeks after the government's own advisers, English
Nature, called for a moratorium on the introduction of commercial GM crops.
At Stockport Council, the councillorwho proposed the move against GM foods
in schools and staff canteens said that she hoped it would force the
Biotech industry to reassure the public.
Councillor Ann Walker said: "These products are finding their way into all
areas of the food chain without clear labelling, We don't want to be
alarmist but it is our responsibility to respond to health concerns."
"If big customers like local authorities give a lead to this matter, then
this may eventually work it's way back to the USA through market forces and
make the American government and their big food producers think again.
Liberal Democrat leader Fred Ridley said the jury was still out on GM foods
with concerns with parents and public alike.
But yesterday food giant Monsanto which is at the cutting edge of the
revolution in genetically modified crops, criticised the councils for their
bans and dismissed fears that the plants were a threat to the enviroment.
A spokesperson for the company said all it had produced had been throughly
He said "The decisions of these councils are very regrett. Today's products
have been proven to reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in food
production and they have passed a very strict regulatory process designed
to prove them safe."
Local authorites whcih have banned known GM foods from their schools
include Kent, Surrey and Oxfordshire, North Tyneside, Southampton and
Lodon's Lambeth. A North Tyneside spokesperson said "We carry out regular
spot checks to ensure they are not used."
Several other councils have effectively banned the new foods without
formally introducing a an anti-gmo policy by asking sub-contractors not to
use or supply them.
These include Dorset and Nottinhamshire County Council says it's suppliers
have a policy of not using gm foods, while Leicstershire says it's supplier
does not use the foods in school dinners and has no plns to do so.
In London, Lewisham asks contractors to avoid GM foods where they can
identify them, while Torbay in Devon wants labelling to be improved and for
children to be given more information about the foods being served.
Perhaps the most radical policy is being persued by Somerset Council which
plans to give all of it's 68,000, primary, middle and secondary school
pupils a choice over genetically modified food - just as they were with
beef following the BSE crisis. It means children as young as four will
decide whether to eat meals with geneticaly modified ingredients.
Council spokesman Roger Smith said "WE are not saying it is dangerous - and
we are not saying it is dangerous. But while there are question marks we
feel the way forward is to give people a choice.
FOOD KEY TO DEMOCRATS' ENVIRONMENT POLICY BYLINE: By Valkerie Mangnall
ADELAIDE, Sept 9 AAP -
Genetically engineered food would be clearly labelled and store owners
would pay a two cent levy for every plastic bag they used under the
Australian Democrats' environment policy launched today. The Democrats
also vowed to push for a referendum on constitutional changes to force
parliament to take the environment into account when making laws, and a 10
per cent tax on woodchip exports.
And in their policy, welcomed by green groups, they called for all
existing uranium mines to be closed and a ban on development of any new
uranium mines. On the issue of genetically engineered food, Democrats
Deputy Leader Natasha Stott Despoja said people had the right to know what
was put in foods for ethical, religious and health reasons.
"We're not happy with the government's work on this issue so far, they've
failed to ensure that there's a mandatory code or mandatory labelling or
some kind of minimum standard to ensure that consumer rights are
protected," Senator Stott Despoja said. "We're not suggesting that this
should be banned, what we're saying is it's just about effective consumer
protection and the right to know for all Australians."
Democrats Leader Meg Lees dismissed suggestions the anti- uranium measures
would increase dependence on fossil fuels, saying wind power was
economical and money currently spent on uranium could be used for solar
power research. "Looking around the world now people have learnt the
lesson about uranium, surely we don't need another Chernobyl to know that
this material should be left in the ground," Senator Lees said. Other
policy measures include:
* tax incentives or user pays levies to help the environment and a strict
permit system for land clearing; * a pollution audit of the Great Barrier
Reef, and; * research into alternative fuels for cars and trucks. The
Australian Conservation Foundation, Humane Society International, World
Wide Fund for Nature and Friends of the Earth all welcomed the policy,
describing it as a benchmark for other parties.
Representative of the Mirrar people, who are opposed to the Jabiluka
uranium mine, Jacqui Katona, also welcomed the policy. "We've seen here
today the Democrats releasing a policy which is really absolutely logical
and takes into consideration steps that have been taken everywhere around
the world," Ms Katona said.
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
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
previous genetic engineering news items
Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months
See website for details.
--Dan in Sunny Puerto Rico--
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