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Date: Sun, 29 Nov 1998 17:49:17 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson <email@example.com>
Subject: GENews - UK article/info
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INDEPENDENT (London) November 30, 1998
All the facts you need to avoid heartache: Genetically Modified Food
At least 60 per cent of processed foods may contain soya.
15 per cent of soya is genetically modified.
MPs in the House of Commons have banned the use of GM food in their
A Mori survey revealed that 61 per cent of Britons regard GM food as
unacceptable and 77 per cent support a ban on the commercial growing of GM
crops until more is known about health risks and environmental impact.
All new Iceland and Asda own-label products do not contain GM ingredients.
The Vegetarian Society has banned the use of GM ingredients from products
bearing the society's V approved "by the Vegetarian Society" symbol.
Tesco is the first British retailer to label all GM ingredients in its
own-brand products, including soya oil and lecithin, which do not need
labelling under European Union rules.
THE GOOD NEWS
Genetic engineering alters the DNA of crops by transferring genes from one
organism to another. By genetic engineering food, scientists have extended
the shelf life of foods and created crops that are resistant to pesticides
and herbicides. For example, fish have a genetic characteristic that helps
them survive in very cold water. That gene can now be inserted into a
tomato to make it frost-resistant, meaning bigger and better tomato
THE BAD NEWS
No one is sure about the health effects of eating GM food but there are
fears about its safety and its affect on the environment. Though
genetically modifying food can eliminate weaknesses in a crop, sometimes it
can introduce weaknesses into the food chain too.
Seeds genetically engineered to kill bad pests may kill the good pests too,
eg: potatoes which were engineered to kill aphids also killed beneficial
ladybirds. If GM crops fail, then they fail in a spectacular way and they
could threaten the entire food chain.
In the US, thousands of hectares of Monsanto's cotton seeds failed in 1997
and 1 million acres of GM cotton which was supposed to be resistant to
bollworm was destroyed - by bollworm in 1996.
In Nebraska, cattle farmers faced a crisis when their cows stopped grazing
because their corn fields had been growing GM corn and they didn't like the
taste. Non GM crops cannot be prevented from cross-pollinating with GM
crops, meaning that farmers who don't agree with GM have no way of
preventing their crops being contaminated.
Last year Guy Watson, an organic farmer from Devon, took the Government to
court to stop trials of GM maize crops which were being grown next to his
organic sweetcorn. Though the judiciary ruled that the Government acted
unlawfully in allowing the trials, they refused to rule that the GM trials
should be halted. If the suspected health risks associated with GM are
proven, even people who choose to buy organic may unsuspectingly be eating
GM food. There is also the risk that the genes will transfer to soil
bacteria and then to insects, birds, animals and water.
Because GM food has only been around for three years it is difficult to
predict its impact, but the recent experience of BSE shows how a relatively
small change in food production can have a devastating impact on safety
which may take years to show up. Austria and Luxembourg are trying to stop
imports of genetically-engineered maize which contains an antibiotic
resistance gene. Both countries fear that eating the maize will lead to
more resistance to antibiotics in humans and animals. In the US a disease
called EMS was eventually linked to a food supplement derived from
genetically-modified bacteria. But, 36 people had dead and 1,500 were
Consumers should be allowed to choose whether they want to eat GM food but
manufacturers can escape labelling regulations by mixing conventional and
GM ingredients. Though 60 per cent of processed food contains soya, because
US food producers mix GM soya with regular soya, they don't have to say
it's genetically modified on the label. GM soya is found in the following
products but it won't be listed on the label
- Vegetable protein, hydrolysed vegetable protein and protein isolate which
are found in sausages, gravy powder, soups, coffee creamers, frozen
desserts, stock-cubes, bacon and ham brine.
- Lecithin, an emulsifying agent used to make chocolate, margarine, bread,
cakes and biscuits.
- Vegetable oil, vegetable fat, hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in
many foods including cakes, biscuits, crisps, fast food.
- Soya flour, soya flakes, soya milks, soy baby milk and tofu should be
properly labelled as should. textured vegetable protein which is found in
meat products, meat substitutes and vegetarian dishes.
IF YOU ARE CONCERNED
- Contact your local MP to ask why GM foods are being allowed on to the
market without comprehensive testing or proper food labelling.
- Ring the Monsanto Soya Information Centre 0345-023288 to ask them why
they refuse to segregate their soybeans meaning potential contamination of
60 per cent of the foods we buy.
- Write to the manager of your local supermarket and ask them what they
intend to do about labelling all genetically engineered foods and
- Study food labels carefully and buy organic if you can afford it.
- Avoid soya-based foods especially soya baby milk.
Genetics Forum - 0171-638 0606. The Food Commission - 0171-837 2250. The
Soil Association - 0117-914 2449. The Consumers Association-0171-830 6000
Recommended reading: 'Women Unlimited: The Directory for Life', published
by Penguin at #9.99
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **
Here are some questions and answers on genetic engineering, which orignate
from Luke Anderson in UK:
GE: questions the food companies would prefer to avoid
The biotechnology industry is trying to blind us with science to pass off
genetic engineering as means to produce cheap food, safely. Luke Anderson
answers questions the food companies would prefer to avoid
Q. What is genetic engineering (GE)?
A. Genetic engineering involves taking genes from one species and inserting
them into another, for example, genes from an arctic flounder which has
'antifreeze' properties may be spliced into a tomato.
Q. Isn't GE just an extension of traditional breeding practices?
A. Breeding can only be done within species: you can cross two varieties of
rose to create a new variety, but you can't cross a rose with a mouse. Jaan
Suurkula MD, of Physicians and Scientists Against Genetically Engineered
Food, says: 'The artificial insertion of foreign genes represents a
traumatic disturbance of the close genetic control in normal cells. It is
completely different >From the combination of maternal and paternal
chromosomes in natural mating mechanisms.'
Q. Is genetic engineering precise?
A. It is impossible to guide the insertion of the new gene. This can lead
to unpredictable effects since genes operate in highly complex
relationships which are barely understood. Only about 3 percent of the
function of DNA is known. Any change to the DNA at any point will affect
itthroughout its length in ways scientists cannot predict. The claim by
some that they can is both arrogant and untrue.
Q. Could this be dangerous?
A. In 1989 there was an outbreak of a new disease in the US, contracted by
over 5,000 people and traced back to a batch of food supplement produced
with GE bacteria. Even though it contained less than 0.1 per cent of a
highly toxic compound, 37 people died and 1,500 were left with permanent
disabilities. The government declared that it was not GE that was at fault
but a failure in the purification process, but this new toxin had never
been found in non-GE versions of the product, and the manufacturing company
that the low-level purification process had been used without ill effect
in non-GE batches.
In another case, soya bean with a gene from a brazil nut gave rise to
allergic reactions in people sensitive to the nuts. Most genes being
introduced into GE plants have never been part of the food supply so we
can't know if they are likely to be allergenic.
Q. What will the impact of GE be on the environment?
A. Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists says: 'Biotechnology
is being developed with the same vision that promoted chemicals to meet the
single, short-term goals of enhanced yields and profit margins. his is
based on the view that nature should be dominated, exploited and forced to
yield more. The preference is for simple, immediately profitable
'solutions' to complex ecological problems, using reductionist thinking
that analyses complex systems like farming in terms of their component
parts, rather than as an integrated whole and defining agricultural success
according to short-term
productivity, rather than long-term sustainability.'
Between 1986 and 1992, 57 percent of the research in agricultural
biotechnology was on crops that had been
made resistant to one company's own-brand herbicide. A field can now be
covered with chemicals and everything
will die except for the resistant crop. The sales of Glufosinate, one of
the herbicides being used, are predicted to rise by $200 million as a
Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of
Birds, says: 'The ability to clear fields of all weeds using powerful
herbicides which can be sprayed onto GE herbicide-resistant crops will
result in farmlands devoid of wildlife and will spell disaster for millions
of already declining birds and plants.'
There are also GE virus-resistant crops about which Dr Joseph Cummins,
Professor Emeritus of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario, says:
'Probably the greatest threat from genetically altered crops is the
insertion of modified virus and insect virus genes into crops -- genetic
recombination will create virulent new viruses from such constructions. The
widely used cauliflower mosaic virus is a potentially dangerous gene. It is
very similar to the Hepatitis B virus and related to HIV. Modified viruses
could cause famine by destroying crops or cause human and animal diseases
of tremendous power.'
Q. What is genetic pollution?
A. Genes engineered into plants and animals can be transferred to other
species, for example, genes from GE oilseed rape, salmon or micro-organisms
may move into the gene pools of wild relatives. The introduction of GE
organisms into complex ecosystems may bring knock-on effects that we are
unable to control.
Q. Could GE crops help feed the world ?
A. Even if genetic engineering were able to deliver its promises of high
yielding crops to the Third World, it seems unlikely that this would
benefit starving populations. Indeed, the suggestion that this complex
problem can be solved with the magic bullet of biotechnology allows
governments and industry to distance themselves from their complicity in
the political structures and social inequality that cause hunger.
At the height of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, crops were being grown there
on prime agricultural land to be exported as feed for livestock to the UK.
The UN Development Report in 1997 stated: 'In Africa alone, the money spent
on annual debt repayments could be used to save the
lives of about 21 million children by the year 2000.'
Delegates to the United Nations from 24 African
states backed by 30 development, farmer and environmental organisations
made the following statement: '(We object) strongly that the image of the
poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational
corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally
friendly, nor economically beneficial to us. We do not believe that such
companies or gene technol- ogies will help our farmers to produce the food
that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will
destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural
systems that our farmers have developed for millennia and that it will thus
undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.'
Q. Why are genes being patented?
A. Patents give a huge incentive to the biotech- nology industry to create
new GE organisms. Since most patents last for 20 years, the companies are
keen to recoup any investment quickly, often at the expense of safety and
ethics. There are currently patents approved or pending for over 190 GE
animals, including fish, cows, mice and pigs. There are also patents on
varieties of seeds and plants, as well as unusual genes and cell lines from
indig- enous peoples. Scouts are sent around the world to discover genes
that may have commercial applications. Over half the world's plant and
animal species live in the rainforests of the south and the industry has
been quick to draw upon these resources.
The Neem tree, for instance, has been used for thousands of years in India
for its antiseptic and insecticidal properties. Following in the
well-trodden footsteps of Christopher Columbus, western corporations have
filed a number of patents on these attributes.
Q. Are GE crops being grown in the UK?
A. There are no commercial licences yet, but there are over 300 'deliberate
release sites' where crops are being tested and awaiting approval. If
commercial planting goes ahead, it will be extremely difficult, if not
impossible, for organic farming to stay free of contamination due to
cross-pollination from GE crops.
Q. Are we eating GE food?
A. GE soya is in about 60 percent of all
processed food as vegetable oil, soya flour, lecithin and oya protein. GE
maize is in about 50 percent of processed foods as corn, cornstarch,
cornflour and corn syrup. GE tomato puree is sold in some supermarkets and
GE enzymes are used
throughout the food processing industry. New government regulations on
labelling exclude 95-98 percent of the products containing GE ingredients
because they ignore derivatives.
Q. How is food tested?
A. Selected characteristics are compared between GE products and another
variety within the same species. If the two are grossly similar, the GE
product is not rigorously tested or labelled, on the assumption that it is
no more dangerous than the non-GE equivalent. The use of this principle
(called 'substantial equivalence') neglects the potential presence in these
products of unexpected new molecules. A product could not only be
'substantially equivalent', but even be identical with its natural
counterpart in all respects bar the presence of a single harmful compound.
The GE food supplement implicated in the deaths of 37 people (see above)
would be'substantially equivalent' and passed as safe for human
consumption. No long term trials have been done on GE food. (The soya beans
were tested on animals for just 10 weeks.)
Professor Philip James, Director of the Rowett Research Institute, said:
'The perception that everything is totally safe is utterly naive. I don't
think we fully understand the dimensions of what we're getting into.'
Q. Who is regulating the industry?
A. The will to scrutinise the industry is clear in this statement from
Douglas Hogg: 'Some estimates have predicted a £9 billion market by the
year 2000. We cannot jeopardise this by over-regulating initiative and
US trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky, recently told EU leaders to
expect punitive action through the World Trade Organisation if they allow
domestic concerns over biotechnology to interfere with US trade.
Most of the people sitting on supposedly independent government advisory
bodies have direct links to biotechnology companies. Should people whose
careers are tied to the development of the technology be trusted to carry
out impartial risk assessments?
When she was asked whether she felt that people should be given the choice
of whether they eat GE food or not, Janet Bainbridge, chair of the Advisory
Committee on Novel Foods and
Processes, replied that we should not because 'most people don't even know
what a gene is'. She added: 'sometimes my young son wants to cross the road
when it's dangerous. Sometimes you just have to tell people what's best for
The European Commission has set up the
'European Federation of Biotechnology Task Group on Public Perceptions on
Biotechnology' to promote the 'public understanding of biotechnology'.
EuropaBio, a consortium of all the biotechnology companies with interests
in Europe, was taken by surprise at the resistance in Europe and sought the
advice of Burson Marsteller, past masters in crisis management. (Previous
clients included Exxon after the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Union Carbide
after the explosion of their chemical plant in Bhopal.) EuropaBio was
advised that 'Public issues of environmental and human health risk are
communications killing fields for bioindustries in Europe -- all the
research evidence confirms that the perception of the profit motive fatally
undermines industry's credibility on these questions -- (use) symbols
eliciting hope, satisfaction, caring and self.' Marsteller told them to
refrain from participating in anypublic debate and leave it to 'those
charged with public trust, politicians and regulators, to assure the public
that biotech products are safe.'
Once released, genetically engineered organisms become part of our
ecosystem. Unlike some other forms of pollution which can be contained or
which may decrease over time, any mistakes we make now will be passed on to
all future enerations of life. With governments capitulating to commercial
interests, it is up to citizens to respond.
Luke Anderson researches and gives talks on issues related to genetic
engineering. For details of campaign groups in Britain and elsewhere,
him on 01803 867951.
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.
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