This is a separate, smaller, edition of the News than the one broken into
three parts. They just both happened to hit my In Box on the same day.
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Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1998 00:05:56 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson <email@example.com>
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October 30, 1998
World ag researchers spurn crops with 'terminator genes'
Charles urges total boycott of GM foods
The Independent - London 29th Oct 98
THE PRINCE of Wales suggested consumers should boycott genetically-
modified food imported into Britain in a renewed attack yesterday on
Following his public assault in June on genetically-modified food, which
he said he would neither eat nor give to his family or guests, Prince
Charles called on British consumers to take action themselves.
"We have to recognise that genetically-modified food is already coming
into this country in large quantities from elsewhere. The only effective
restraint will be strong and sustained pressure from consumers demanding
choice in the matter," he said, presenting the 1998 Organic Food Awards at
London's Savoy Hotel.
"Many will be asking, as I continue to do, whether we need genetically
modified food at all." The Prince said he did not think it was right to
"tamper with the building blocks of life".
"I also regard the technology as unproven, with the potential to cause
serious and possibly irreversible damage to wildlife and the environment.
And I know from a very large number of letters that I am not alone in not
wanting to eat any genetically modified produce," he said.
National Post Thursday, October 29, 1998 (Canada)
Final Financial Post C13
Monsanto facing backlash over bio-engineered food
BY John Greenwood Monsanto Co.,
One of the world's leading biotechnology companies, has become the target
of a consumer backlash against bio-engineered food crops. The British
government is reportedly considering legal action against Monsanto after an
experimental crop of rapeseed bio-engineered to resist herbicides had to be
destroyed after it pollinated plants in a nearby field. Experts told
London's Mail on Sunday that such experiments could result in the creation
of a new breed of superweed, immune to normal chemical herbicides.
But this is just the latest episode in the controversy, and Monsanto claims
it's being made to shoulder the blame for an entire industry.
``We certainly didn't intend to drop other companies in it,'' said Dan
Verakis, a spokesman for the company. ``If people think we started the
controversy, we are certainly trying to clarify it.'' In the past, Monsanto
and other agricultural biotech companies presented a united front to public
criticism, but the alliance is showing signs of strain.
Willy de Greef, head of regulatory and government affairs at Novartis Seeds
in Basel, Switzerland, blames Monsanto for recent hostile public reaction
to his industry.
``We have a PR mountain to climb,'' Mr. de Greef is quoted as saying in
today's edition of the highly regarded New Scientist magazine.
``You have a problem if the market leader has firmly set ideas about how to
do things, which others might not agree with. Monsanto still has some
learning to do.'' Observers say the current furor was sparked last year by
news reports that a shipment of ordinary soy beans had been mixed with the
company's genetically engineered Roundup Ready soybeans. In Europe, where
the question of whether to label bio-engineered food products is a
white-hot issue, it set off a wave of protest.
North American consumers have traditionally taken a much more positive
attitude toward bio-engineered food products. Advocates argue it would be
impractical -- and maybe impossible -- to identify all genetically modified
ingredients in food products sitting on supermarket shelves.
Most genetic engineering of food crops is done for one of two reasons:
either to breed plants that will be resistant to insect pests and diseases,
or to develop varieties that can stand up to popular herbicides.
But many fear the unintended consequences of this technology. For instance,
some scientists say superweeds could become a serious problem if the
resistant genes get out into the environment. The result would be an
extremely hardy plant, immune to normal chemicals.
There is also fear that bug-resistant crops, which are genetically modified
to contain insecticides, could end up harming other species as well as the
pests at which they're targeted.
At the centre of the controversy are reports a Monsanto subsidiary is
developing something called a Terminator gene, a piece of DNA that would
ensure the sterility of plants carrying it.
Delta & Pine Land Co., the Monsanto subsidiary behind the technology, says
the gene is a safe way for companies to protect products they've spent
billions of dollars to create.
But a growing chorus of critics fear the Terminator gene could wreak havoc
if it does somehow escape into the environment.
Genetic alterations under fire
3rd of three parts
Genetic engineering debate shifting to US
By Stan Grossfeld, Globe Staff, 09/23/98
Inside Monsanto's research farm, where the first genetically engineered
tomato was grown in 1987. "Biotechnology is something beneficial to
mankind," says entomologist Dennis Edwards. (Globe Staff Photo / Stan
Grossfeld) C HESTERFIELD, Mo.
- Behind a door marked ''closed'' to the thousands of visitors who tour the
Monsanto Life Sciences Research Center here each year, Cindy Clasen fires a
DNA-loaded .22-caliber shell into corn tissue, changing its genetic makeup.
The process, called genetic engineering, allows scientists to transfer a
single gene from any organism - plant, animal, or microbe - into a food
crop so it can withstand insects and herbicides, as well as last longer
''What we do is the same as Mother Nature,'' says Clasen, a Monsanto Co.
research technician. Genetically engineered, or transgenic, crops look and
taste the same as conventional crops, and are not required to be labeled in
the United States, unless they contain known allergens.
But some people think it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature.
The genetic engineering of plants has triggered a major food-safety
controversy in Europe, where Monsanto's transgenic crops have been
destroyed by activists in Britain, France, and Ireland and banned by
governments in Austria and Luxembourg. Protesters call the rapidly
expanding list of genetically engineered foods ''Frankenfood.''
But slowly, like ketchup creeping from a bottle, the genetic engineering
debate is shifting to America.
''There's two extremes and the truth is somewhere in between,'' said
Sheldon Krimsky, a professor of Urban and Environmental Policy at Tufts
University. ''The big question is, are we being adequately protected? Years
ago they decided air bags saved lives. But now they know air bags also kill
In 1996, scientists at the University of Nebraska proved that soybeans
modified with a gene from Brazil nuts to increase proteins also caused a
strong and potentially fatal reaction to people sensitive to Brazil nuts.
The transgenic soybean was never marketed.
Mississippi Delta farmers were paid an estimated $5 million in damages when
some of Monsanto's genetically engineered Roundup Ready cotton was found to
have been deformed in 1997. And the company had to recall Roundup Ready
canola seeds in Canada after an unapproved gene was found.
In July, 250 activists from around the world gathered in St. Louis,
Monsanto's corporate headquarters, for what was billed as this country's
''first grass-roots gathering on bio-devastation.'' Then 150 demonstrators
picketed Monsanto, demanding it stop exporting genetically engineered corn
Demonstrator - NYC DIANE BEENY, a member of Pure Foods Campaign, an
advocacy group, demonstrating last month against genetic engineering at a
farmer's market in New York. (Globe Staff Photo / Stan Grossfeld)
The protests have spread to other parts of the country. Shoppers in western
Massachusetts have been startled by moon-suited activists storming through
local supermarkets, labeling genetically engineered products. And in early
August, Diane Beeny, a member of Pure Foods Campaign, an organic advocacy
group, stood at a farmer's market in New York City collecting signatures
against genetic engineering, wearing a monster mask on her head and a
T-shirt proclaiming ''Keep your genes out of our greens.''
''We are on a reckless course,'' Beeny said, citing technology that allows
genes from an Arctic flounder to be implanted in a tomato to keep it from
freezing. ''Entirely new life forms are being created. This is an
aberration of nature and a recipe for disaster.''
In May, a lawsuit was filed in Washington charging the FDA with ignoring
health risks by allowing genetically engineered food to be sold without
mandatory labeling. The suit, coordinated by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity
- a coalition of scientists, religious leaders, health professionals,
consumers, and chefs - also demands safe testing.
''This suit sends a clear message that government policy on genetically
engineered food poses a real risk to the public,'' said Steven Drucker,
president of the alliance.
The FDA says it sees no distinction between genetically altered foods and
conventional foods. But the lawsuit alleges that with each gene insertion
''there is a possibility that a non-toxic element in the food could become
toxic and create a human health hazard.'' Some religious groups are also
concerned that by unknowingly eating genetically altered food, people may
be violating religious strictures on what they can eat.
The lawsuit also warns of health risks to people with allergies. ''We're
running something of a roulette wheel as far as people that could have
allergic reactions,'' said Margaret Mellon, director of the agriculture and
biotechnology program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Allergists
estimate that between 2.5 million and 5 million Americans have food
allergies, including up to 8 percent of children.
Critics charge that genetically engineered foods get to market far too
easily because the FDA allows companies to test the product themselves.
''Right now companies don't even have to tell the FDA before they put
something on the market,'' said Mellon. ''If they decide they don't have to
do studies, they don't. It's a voluntary system. They do their own
The FDA said it relies on data provided by companies in a ''consultation''
process. It added that while the process is voluntary, the company is still
responsible for making sure the product is safe.
Gene transfer gun
When a gene is identified for transfer, it is muzzle-loaded into a
.22-caliber shell and fired with this device into plant tissue in a petri
dish. (Globe Staff Photo / Stan Grossfeld)
In 1996, Monsanto genetically engineered its Roundup Ready soybeans to
withstand treatment from its weed-killing herbicide Roundup (glyphosate).
This process allows farmers to spray weeds instead of plowing over fields
and spraying a variety of herbicides. The company says that Roundup, the
world's best-selling herbicide, has low toxicity and reduces the amount of
pesticides and soil erosion.
The United States has gone from having virtually no genetically engineered
crops three years ago to having more than 50 million acres today, according
to industry estimates. There are more than 20 varieties of genetically
altered foods already on the market, including one-third of all US
soybeans. In 1996, the first year Roundup Ready soybeans were introduced, 1
million acres were planted. This year an estimated 25 million acres will be
harvested. Because 60 percent of processed consumer food products contain
soybean material, chances are most Americans have already eaten a
genetically engineered food.
Monsanto contends that its product is essentially the same as regular
soybeans in nutrition, composition, and taste.
''We could label, but it would be at a premium price,'' said Monsanto
spokesman Gary Barton. ''Soybeans are a commodity and they get all stored
The biotechnology race is on
Chemical giants like Monsanto and DuPont are betting the farm that
biotechnology will change the face of American agriculture. They are
gobbling up smaller seed companies, racing to file patents, and investing
billions in research.
''It's like Bill Gates in his garage with a microchip,'' says said Dennis
Edwards, an entomologist who manages Monsanto's 240-acre research farm in
Jerseyville, Ill., where the first genetically engineered tomato plant was
grown in 1987. ''Biotechnology is something beneficial to mankind,'' said
Monsanto now calls itself a ''life sciences'' company. ''The goals are to
help people around the world lead longer, healthier lives, at costs that
they and their nations can afford, and without environmental degradation,''
according to a letter to shareholders by Monsanto chairman Bob Shapiro.
But activists say that behind Monsanto's green mask is the same company
that sold the now-banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and which
developed and produced Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
''You have chemical companies making tremendous profits from selling toxic
chemicals that you pour on weeds,'' said Wendy McGoodwin, executive
director of the Council for Responsible Genetics, a nonprofit advocacy
group based in Cambridge. ''They can make greater profits if they develop
seeds genetically engineered to withstand even higher doses of chemicals.''
Greenpeace says that Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans are ''a massive
genetic experiment in which human beings and the environment are the guinea
pigs.'' It says long-term effects are unknown.
But Monsanto says the product is ''safer than table salt'' and part of a
natural progression of farming that has evolved since mankind started
planting and selecting crops thousands of years ago.
''We go through the toughest regulatory process in the world,'' said
Barton, the company's spokesman. ''It's all done on our dime and it costs
billions. As for the labeling, we are following FDA regulations. There's
nothing to label. There is no substantial difference.''
Monsanto says that transgenic plants are tested for years before they come
to market. ''We've done 25,000 field tests on transgenic plants,'' said Roy
Fuchs, Monsanto's director of regulatory science. ''We've done 1,400 tests
on Roundup Ready soybeans. The food is as safe to eat as corresponding
products. Nothing is absolutely safe. The way the FDA and the regulatory
process is set up, we have the responsibility to test. They review our
data. If there is a problem, we have the liability.''
But critics question the basic need for the product.
Greenpeace says that Roundup Ready soybeans bring no benefit to the
consumer. ''They are not cheaper, tastier, or healthier.''
Adds McGoodwin, of the Council for Responsible Genetics, ''Why do we need
genetically engineered foods? The producers and shippers want the longer
shelf life and crops that can tolerate herbicides. The consumers don't need
these things. The biotech companies are depriving us of the ability to eat
natural foods and forcing on us a product we don't need.''
Organic food is not the answer, according to Monsanto, whose goals include
sustainable development for the world's population, now 5.8 billion, but
projected to double by the year 2050.
''You can't feed the world with organics,'' said Barton. ''Organics are a
niche market, and not necessarily better. These people call themselves
environmentalists, but they are really antis. They are against everything
that's not organic. We are trying to feed the world ... to produce double
the food with no more land or new water, we have to be more productive.''
Last spring the Department of Agriculture was embarrassed when it tried to
lump genetically engineered foods into the organic category along with
irradiation and fertilizer containing sewage sludge. Officials were swamped
with more than 275,000, mostly negative comments and reconsidered.
A new technique, nicknamed Terminator Technology, that renders seeds
sterile after one planting season is further infuriating environmentalists
who claim it would end the age-old practice of saving seeds.
Developed by Delta and Pine Land Co., a firm Monsanto is in the process of
acquiring, the technique's patent is jointly held with the USDA, which
partially funded intitial research. Opponents of genetically engineered
foods say sterile seeds are inconsistent with Monsanto's ''feed the world''
philosophy and would unfairly burden Third World farmers.
Biotechnology still in its infancy
At Monsanto's Life Sciences Research Center outside St. Louis, 1,900
scientists are doubling their ability to decode and identify genetic
information every 12 to 24 months. Prince Addae, one of the scientists and
a native of Ghana, grows genetically engineered corn in a greenhouse at the
facility. ''Our farmers would like to use their own seeds over and over,''
says Addae. ''If there is a trait we want - let's say insect-resistant so
that the yield would be better - then we can produce that in one plant. We
are not creating something new. We are using existing genes and
transferring them. Every gene has a job.''
''The biggest plant loss in the Third World is viruses,'' added Barton.
''Think of the possibilities if you could end that.''
But biotechnology is still in its infancy. ''Mother Nature was very
inventive,'' said Harry Harlow, Monsanto's director of bioinformatics.
''There's 4 billion lines of code, but no manual. Each plant has a genetic
code of 50,000 genes. We are using science to reduce the need for
The Life Sciences complex includes 26 rooftop greenhouses and 176
laboratories. Each hallway has ropes dangling from emergency showerheads in
the ceiling in case of an accident, but no drains on the floor.
Gene transfer is invisible. When the desired gene is identified, it is
placed in a solution and muzzle-loaded into a .22-caliber shell. The shell
is fired into a screen covering the plant tissue in a petri dish,
dispersing DNA. To the eye, it looks like a splash of water. Through a
microscope, it looks like needles being fired into a basketball. The
transgenic plant is then grown in the traditional way.
But opponents worry about the possibility of something going very wrong.
As an example, the Alliance for Bio-Integrity lawsuit charges that the
genetically engineered food supplement L-tryptophan is ''the most probable
explanation'' for dozens of deaths and thousands of serious illnesses in
1988 in the United States and Canada. The food supplement was manufactured
by a Japanese company, Showa Denko K.K.
The company paid $1 billion to victims and their survivors, while saying
the cause of the accident is still unknown.
Some advocacy groups have raised scenarios that are particularly
distasteful, like the possibility of lamb chops going to market with human
genes originally introduced for pharmaceutical reasons and then slaughtered
with USDA approval.
''It's pretty horrifying,'' said Joseph Mendelson III, legal director of
the International Center for Technology Assesement, a Washington-based
group that opposes genetic engineering. ''When are we the cannibals, when
we eat one human gene or two human genes?''
Monsanto acknowledges using human genes in its pharmaceutical products, but
says it has no plans to use human genes in plants used for foods. It
dismissed critics' claims of genetically engineered ''super weeds'' growing
uncontrollably as ''science fiction.''
But researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that a
virus-resistant gene inserted into a plant has the potential to recombine
into a new, possibly more potent, virus.
''You do run that risk,'' said researcher Rebecca Grumet, who worked on the
Michigan State study, and still believes that the benefits of genetic
engineering far outweigh the risks. ''It's not like in a laboratory. Once
it's out, it's out.''
Monsanto's Fuchs acknowledged that ''some of the virus can recombine.''
During a lunch and media tour of the research farm, entomologist Dennis
Edwards ate Monsanto's NewLeaf Plus potato that is genetically engineered
to be protected against the leaf roll virus and the Colorado potato beetle.
''I'm a scientist, and I've got kids,'' said Edwards. ''I have no problem
letting them eat genetically engineered food.''
But Mellon, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, argues it's not worth the
risk. ''The benefits are miniscule,'' she said. ''The biotech companies and
the government have taken away the reasonable choice people have not to
End of series
This series is available on the Globe Online at http:// www.boston.com. Use
the keyword: Food.
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 09/23/98. © Copyright
1998 Globe Newspaper Company.
World ag researchers spurn crops with 'terminator genes'
WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Scientists at the world's largest
agricultural research network, who focus on feeding the poor, will not
develop crops with "terminator genes" that produce sterile seeds, the
network's leaders decided on Friday.
Crops with such "suicidal tendencies" would be a nightmare in the
developing world, where farmers, as a matter of course, retain part of each
harvest as seed for next year, said Ismail Serageldin, chairman of the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
"If you didn't know (about the seeds), you would be wiped out," Serageldin
said at a news conference.
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
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