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Date: Mon, 15 Feb 1999 17:14:06 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson <email@example.com>
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Blair rules out block on new genetically modified crops
Guardian evidence reveals full extent of scientific research as Cabinet
tries to play down fears
By Tim Radford Science Editor
Guardian Saturday February 13, 1999
Tony Blair yesterday ruled out a moratorium on the introduction of new
genetically modified foods after the Guardian revealed evidence of danger
from laboratory experiments with staple crops. Research showing that rats
fed genetically modified (GM) potatoes suffered damage to their vital
organs and a weakened immune system was endorsed by an international group
of scientists, who yesterday warned of a potential doomsday scenario if
more independent research was not undertaken.
But the Government yesterday tried to play down mounting concern from
scientists, MPs and consumer groups as it committed Britain to a pro-GM
policy at an international conference in Colombia beginning tomorrow.
Cabinet minister Jack Cunningham repeatedly insisted that GM food was
safe. But today the Guardian publishes for the first time the evidence
showing that his reassurances are premature - photographs of the enlarged
stomach wall of a rat fed GM potatoes.
At a press conference in Westminster, Ronald Finn, a former president of
the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, gave warning
that the research by Arpad Pusztai last year had shown that GM potatoes
fed to rats had interfered with their immune systems. If they did the same
to humans, cancer cases could be expected to rise, and the nation could be
at prey from epidemic infection, in the way that BSE had posed a threat to
humans after cattle were fed animal carcases.
FOOD GROUPS URGE HALT ON USE OF GENETIC CROPS PA 10.02.99 13:44
Copyright 1999 PA News.
By Helen William, PA News
The Government was today urged to stop the sale, import and manufacture of
genetically- engineered foods amid widespread concern over food safety.
Delegates from the Genetix Food Alert campaign, which represents more than
100 health food companies, presented a petition to Downing Street calling
for a moratorium on genetically- modified (GM) foods.
They are calling for a five-year ban on the use of GM soya, GM maize and on
the commercial growing of GM crops in the UK so that safety testing can be
carried out. Campaigner Lindsay Keenan of the Glasgow-based GreenCity
Wholefoods company said that allowing GM products into the food chain was
making the public part of a "dangerous genetic food experiment".
"The government must take action now to halt the use of genetic crops and
to ensure that we all have the freedom of choice to avoid eating food that
is inherently dangerous to us and our environment," he said.
Products containing GM soya and maize should be clearly labelled under
current legislation but many foods do not carry GM labels if these are
minor ingredients, campaigners warn. Mr Keenan added: "There is a strong
market for GM-free products. Customers are asking for information on the
next 2 articles posted by MichaelP <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sunday, February 14, 1999
Shops warning ordered on gene food
By Patrick Wintour, Antony Barnett and Robin McKie
Mandatory labelling of all genetically modified food sold in shops,
takeaways and restaurants is to be introduced next month in an attempt to
quell growing fear of the 'Frankenstein foods'. Firms breaking regulations
-- to be policed by local authorities and government scientists -- will
face tough fines. 'We are going to be ruthless in enforcing this,' Food
Minister Jeff Rooker told The Observer yesterday.
But attempts to clean up the reputation of genetically modified (GM) foods
are likely to be undermined this week. Monsanto, the American firm
spearheading their production, is to admit illegally releasing modified
oil-seed rape into the environment. Campaigners fear such breaches could
lead to the creation of 'superweeds' resistant to herbicides.
They say the crop could pollinate nearby unmodified crops which might end
up in human food without the public knowing. A Monsanto spokesman said it
intended to plead guilty in a Lincolnshire court on Wednesday to breaking
environmental law. The company faces a fine of up to #20,000. The case
could not have come at worse moment for the GM food industry. Last week a
furore erupted over a controversial, unpublished study which, it was
claimed, links gene engineering practices to the development of immune
system problems in rats. Government scientists were accused of suppressing
the study, and the Government came under renewed pressure to introduce a
moratorium on the commercial growing of gene crops. Supermarkets attacked
Ministers for failing to create a system for labelling GM foods as fears of
a consumer boycott intensified. Apart from mandatory labelling, the Cabinet
Office -- under 'enforcer' Jack Cunningham -- will launch an urgent
Whitehall review of the biotechnology sector.
The review will be completed in three months and may lead to a new body to
advise on the environmental implications of GM foods. Ministers are also to
promote a list of 59 US and Canadian firms that produce unmodified soya and
maize to help shoppers make informed choices about the food they buy.
Rooker warned Monsanto and the other big GM firms that they were provoking
a consumer backlash by mixing the production of GM and non-GM products.
Ministers say they are determined not to bow to pressure from environmental
groups and some newspapers, but they are worried that the unrest could
undermine Britain's growing biotechnology industry. 'The Government is not
going to be forced into a complete volte-face because of this panic. We
just have to get our message across.'
Monsanto's alleged breach of the existing controls arose last June at a
Government-licensed trial site in Lincolnshire. A routine inspection
revealed that control measures, required to prevent pollen from
herbicide-resistant oil seed rape spreading to nearby crops, had been
partly removed. As a result the entire site had to be destroyed, and any
seeds harvested over the next two years within a 50-yard radius of the site
will be destroyed.
'It was found that the pollen barrier surrounding the trial . . . was only
two yards wide on the trial site, rather than the required six yards,' say
minutes of the Government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the
Environment. A Monsanto spokesman said: 'We don't have direct control over
these trials. A third party conducts them.'
Sunday, February 14, 1999
MIRACLE FOODS THAT THE PUBLIC WON'T SWALLOW Doubts about GM food are
tainting our dinner tables with fear. Science Editor Robin McKie asks how a
once tasty concept turned so sour?
It was supposed to be the food of tomorrow: a genetically engineered
ambrosia to feed Earth's hordes next century. But it has turned into a
Last week unprecedentedly ferocious criticism fell upon the heads of those
responsible for making genetically modified (GM) foods in Britain - an
onslaught so fierce it is hard to see how their products can survive
Far from being nutritional saviours, GM foods now look like the pariahs of
the European food industry.
But how did this PR calamity occur? How could such a wonder-food fail so
spectacularly in the eyes of the public? The answers have much to do with
misunderstanding the public's fear of science and failing to realise that
consumers become suspicious and vulnerable to fear when they are starved of
In particular, people worry that (GM) crops are dangerous to eat, that they
threaten the environment, and that they will allow a few big pharmaceutical
companies to monopolise agriculture.
In the first instance, there was little to upset consumers until the
Pusztai affair erupted last year. Dr Arpad Pusztai, of Aberdeen's Rowett
Research Institute, claimed that rats fed on GM food suffered immune
An external investigation subsequently criticised his experimental
procedures. He retired, and the matter seemed closed - until last week,
when a group of scientists (none of whom, it must be said, were noted
genetic engineers) signed a letter condemning Pusztai's employers for
They claimed that his studies revealed possible dangers in genetic
engineering techniques. That is crucial. The group claims to have found a
danger so far unrecognised.
Pusztai was working with lectins - a group of chemicals which include
poisons found in some varieties of beans. He fed potatoes - some injected
with lectins and some modified to make their own - to rats, and they
suffered atrophy in various organs, including their livers.
The results caused a furore and the external inquiry was set up. Pusztai's
results were blamed on the simple fact that he was working with lectins,
which, it was argued, were the real cause of the atrophy.
But follow-up studies by one of Pusztai's colleagues, Dr Stanley Ewen of
Aberdeen University, suggests that these reassurances are misplaced. More
damage was done when the pototoes were modified than when they had simply
been spiked with lectins: in other words, there was something in the
process of genetic modification that was causing damage. 'We think we were
showing up something that nobody has spotted,' said Ewen.
Neither Pusztai's nor Ewen's research has been published or subjected to
peer review. 'This is the only study ever to claim there is something
damaging about the business of genetic modification, but we cannot evaluate
it because we cannot get access to their data,' said Professor Ray Baker,
head of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
That was because the Government has not asked for information, the group
retorted. Regardless of who is right, the Aberdeen work was seized upon
last week as a 'food scandal': a lone voice trying to raise a matter of
vital public concern was being silenced. In vain scientists tried to point
out there was no scandal: no food for human consumption was involved.
'This was a safety trial,' said Dr Bernard Dixon of the European
Biotechnology Forum. 'We have them all the time. New antibiotics are
constantly being found to have adverse effects, and as a result are never
marketed. No one suggests the fundamentals of antibiotics manufacture is
It was also claimed that Pusztai's work was the first to use GM food in
feeding trials, and that scientists were failing to carry out basic safety
tests: feeding GM food to rats to study the impact.
'But that is exactly what we do do,' said Professor Nigel Poole of Zeneca,
the manufacturers of one of the few modified foods on sale in supermarkets.
When we created puree made out of genetically modified tomatoes, the first
thing we did was to feed it to rats and then study the effects on their
bodies. It is utterly untrue to say we don't do such studies. People are
making up facts as they go along.'
Then there were the pictures of healthy rat stomachs and those damaged
because of GM food. 'Of course, they were damaged,' Poole said. 'They had
been eating lectins, which are poisonous. It's got nothing to do with
Unfortunately, the British public - distrustful of official assurances
after the mishandling of the BSE crisis - is in no mood to listen to
scientific 'reason'. Nor is the media. As far as most people are concerned,
Pusztai has been vindicated, all GM products are 'Frankenstein foods', and
there should be a moratorium on the growing of gene crops - as demanded by
the '20 international scientists' who have backed Pusztai.
In making this last claim, the group is, in a sense, wasting its breath.
Given the hysteria unleashed, there is absolutely no chance that modified
crops will be grown commercially in this country for many years - though
some small, experimental trials have begun.
'There is only one application currently in the pipeline - from AgrEvo,
which would like to grow oilseed rape that can resist the use of the
herbicide glufosinate,' said Dr Phil Dale of the John Innes Centre in
'It will take years before they satisfy the regulatory process and pass
safety trials - if the company decides it is worthwhile proceeding, that
This leads us to the public's second major fear: that GM crops fitted with
genes to resist pesticides and herbicides will devastate our countryside.
The insertion of such genes is supposed to benefit the environment by
making it easier to control weeds.
'So far, all studies show modified crops need less chemicals than standard
crops,' Dale said. But many people fear that pollen from these crops will
drift and be picked up by nearby weeds, which will then become resistant to
herbicides. Britain will be invaded by superweeds that will strangle our
'People forget that only weeds of species that are botanically similar to a
particular crop will pick up its pollen and form a hybrid,' said Dale, who
was one of the Government's advisers on the release of GM organisms. 'In
the case of modified oilseed rape, the principal candidate for commercial
planting in this country, there are no weeds with which it can hybridise in
Britain.' Critics of GM foods are unabashed. They point to the fact that
the industry refuses to release data from the trials of modified crops. The
public wants reassurance, and is simply not getting it. And the Green
movement - which has long disliked the intensive agricultural practices of
modern farming - has seized on these fields of crops, genetically modified
in some sinister way, as the battleground it has been lacking.
This takes us to the third great fear: that one or two GM companies are
attempting to monopolise crop production. In the case of Monsanto, the
world's biggest GM company, they have good grounds for concern. Much of the
present crisis can be blamed on its persistence in exporting mixed
consignments of modified and unmodified soya oil to Europe. Consumers could
not tell the difference. Europe objected and was threatened with a trade
war, and many GM foods appeared unmarked in supermarkets. Two years later,
we are reaping the harvest.
** 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. **
End part 1
--Dan in Sunny Puerto Rico--
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