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US SABOTAGES biosafety protocol (with help from a few friends)
By Jeremy Lennard in Bogota
Guardian (London) Tuesday February 23, 1999
A treaty among 170 countries to ensure safe trade in genetically modified
organisms has been sabotaged by the United States, which believes its
business interests are threatened.
The US has refused to allow commodities like soya bean and corn, which
account for 90 per cent of the world trade in GMOs, to be included in the
negotiations. If they were included they would need to be clearly labelled
when being traded between countries, something the Americans are anxious to
avoid because it could lead to their products being boycotted.
The US action came only 24 hours before a deadline for the biosafety
negotiations in Cartagena to be completed. The US refused to bow to
pressure from the vast majority of the 170 countries present, who called
for a cautious approach to the international trade.
It is likely that a protocol will still be signed, but after working groups
failed last week to produce a consensus on a paper for the final debates,
the treaty is likely to favour free trade concerns over environmental
prudence, and play into the hands of biotech companies such as the US
giants Monsanto and Dow.
'The US is willing to threaten biodiversity in the name of short-term
profits. It wants a biotrade, not a biosafety, protocol,' said Greenpeace's
political adviser, Louise Gale. 'Over the past two years the US has flooded
the world market with unregulated and unlabelled gentically-engineered [GE]
grain. It is clear it wants to continue this practice and will sabotage any
efforts to set international rules for GE crops.'
Although the US has no formal delegation in Cartagena, it sent a powerful
lobby group of biotech company representatives. They have worked with a
handful of other countries to ride roughshod over the concerns of the
European Union and the developing world, which fears it will become a
unwitting testing ground for biotechnology.
Last week the British delegation broke ranks with its EU colleagues when it
helped to write a set of proposals strongly in favour of the US position,
and which will form the watered-down basis of any treaty signed today
The proposals essentially reduce any potential agreement to govern the
trade in genetically engineered seed, and offer few or no restrictions on
the trade in genetically engineered grain to be used in food, and other
commodities containing GMOs. If adopted, the paper will also sideline
liability concerns for another four years while freeing up trade.
Unless the majority of the countries can force their agenda at the
eleventh-hour, the right of countries to say no to the import of
genetically modified organisms will not be subject to global agreement,
except for seeds. Instead it will be reduced to a decision by individual
states, which can be contested before the World Trade Organisation.
At the same time, the rights of individual countries to insist that
genetically engineered grain, for example, be segregated from conventional
grain, and that commodities containing genetically modified organisms be
labelled, has been fudged.
The implications of a weak protocol for importer countries and the vast
majority of the developing world were demonstrated at the weekend with the
arrival of a US grain-carrier at the nearby Caribbean port of Santa Marta.
Its cargo would be unaffected by the current proposed wording of the
The cargo ship Abydos docked on Saturday to unload 17,000 tons of maize,
which even by the biotechnology industry's estimates could contain up to
3,500 tons of genetically engineered grain. Colombian law makes no
provision for the presence of GE grain in the shipment, and the country
becomes a passive recipient without the right of prior consultation.
COMPROMISE IS PROPOSED FOR PACT ON GENETICALLY ALTERED PRODUCTS
NEW RULES COULD EXEMPT SOME FARM COMMODITIES
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Feb 22, 1999
New worldwide rules governing genetically engineered products likely would
exclude corn, soybeans and other crops if the rules can be adopted by a
In negotiations involving 130 countries, a proposed compromise released
Sunday would exempt gene-altered farm commodities and pharmaceuticals
from the treatylike agreement.
The U.S. government and manufacturers argue that strict rules on crops
and drugs would impede international trade. But it remained unclear whether
Europe and developing nations, which want strict rules, would agree to
next two articles posted by email@example.com (jim mcnulty)
Monday February 22, 1999
Key Brazilian state moves to block transgenic soy
SAO PAULO, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Brazil's second-largest soybean-producing
state of Rio Grande do Sul is trying to ban planting of genetically
modified soybeans produced by a local unit of U.S. biotechnology giant
Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MTC - news), the state's agriculture secretary said.
``We have decided that they should be prohibited,'' the state's Agriculture
Secretary Jose Hermeto Hoffamann told Reuters.
``What we are doing now is looking into the ways that this legally can be
done,'' he added.
February 21, 1999
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
NEW DELHI, India - Seeds of hope or seeds of despair?
American agribusiness giant [ Monsanto ] says it has a new plant that will
be a boon for India's poor cotton farmers, one bred with a naturally
occurring substance known as "Bt" that keeps away insects.
But the sales campaign has run into a maelstrom of criticism born of
Indians' fears about the mysteries of science and their suspicions about
the motives of multinational corporations.
In recent months, farmers raided small fields in southern India where
Monsanto is testing its genetically modified Bt cotton. The Andhra Pradesh
state government had its officials yank out the plants, even though the
government approved the tests.
The tests are a step in a long certification process that Monsanto must
fulfill before it can sell Bt cotton seeds in India, the world's
Despite the anti-Monsanto protests, the head of the federal biotechnology
department, Manju Sharma, said the government is satisfied with the tests
so far. Sharma, a plant physiologist, said government scientists are
carefully monitoring field trials.
Seven years ago, India opened its economy to foreign companies, but a
bitter debate continues over how much foreign participation should be
allowed. Leftists often portray foreign companies as monsters bent on
destroying India's industry and slashing jobs; rightists say India has the
strength to go it alone.
Suspicion about the motives of foreign giants wasn't helped last year when
the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a private seed company, Pineland and
Delta, patented a way to make plants produce sterile seeds.
Environmentalists in India joined worldwide fears that multinational
companies could control food supplies by denying farmers the centuries-old
practice of saving seeds from each harvest for planting.
Critics say that with big companies controlling a growing portion of the
seed market, farmers would be forced to buy so-called terminator seeds when
a bad crop left them short of seeds. Some scientists also worry that pollen
from "terminator" plants could alter other crops and make them sterile.
ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE (ENS)
INDIA'S HIGH COURT STOPS FIELD TRIALS OF BIOTECH COTTON
By Frederick Noronha
NEW DELHI, India, February 23, 1999 (ENS) - India's highest court, the
Supreme Court, today intervened on the issue of allowing trials of
genetically-engineered Bt cotton by companies linked to biotechnology giant
Monsanto. The cotton has been altered by biotechnology to incorporate the
bacterium bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring insecticide.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 1999
For Full Text and Graphics Visit:
Thanks to Bradford Duplisea <firstname.lastname@example.org> for posting this:
The Toronto Star
Wed 24 Feb 1999 Page A17
DEAL UNLIKELY ON BIOTECH CROPS:
U.S. under fire for bid to `torpedo' negotiations
CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP-Reuters) - The United States came under intense
criticism yesterday as negotiators from dozens of countries made a
last-ditch effort to approve a treaty regulating international shipments of
Even if delegates from more than 130 countries agreed to a Biosafety
Protocol by the midnight deadline last night, its scope is expected to be
``I would say it's more unlikely than likely that we will reach a
protocol,'' said Rafe Pomerance, of the U.S. delegation.
Many nations will leave this Caribbean port angered at what they considered
bullying tactics by Washington and other major exporters of biotech
products such as insect-resistant crops and vaccines produced by spli-cing
genes - a hugely profitable growth industry.
``The United States came here to torpedo the negotiations and are happy to
go home without a protocol,'' said Greenpeace spokesperson Mika Railo.
``I don't think that it's fair that we come here and negotiate for two
weeks to make sure that U.S. business has a free market in Africa,'' said
Joseph Gopo, of Zimbabwe's biotech research institute.
As he spoke, Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr made an 11th-hour
attempt to find consensus among a polarized group at the U.N.-initiated
talks, an outgrowth of the 1992 Earth Summit.
Opposed by most of the developing world, the United States and its allies -
Australia, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile - insisted on a narrowly
focused treaty with a minimum impact on a multi-billion-dollar industry.
`It's an ecological roulette'
Thanks to Bradford Duplisea <email@example.com> for posting this:
Monday February 22 3:32 AM ET
Pigs Grown With Human Genes By PAT EATON-ROBB Associated Press Writer
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - At a top-secret farm hidden in the Northeast,
scientists are growing pigs whose DNA has been altered with human genes.
It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, yet officials at Alexion
Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq:ALXN - news) say they are close to figuring
out how these pigs can figure in the treatment of human organ failures,
spinal cord injuries and illnesses such as Parkinson's disease.
The idea of transplanting animal parts to humans, called
xenotransplantation, isn't new. But, until recently, nobody knew how to
keep the human body from rejecting the organs.
About 18,000 organ transplants are performed in the United States each year
and more than 40,000 patients are waiting for donor organs, according to
the United Network for Organ Sharing. About 10 Americans die each day
waiting for transplants, network officials say.
Alexion's first altered pigs, created with the help of researchers at
Virginia Tech in the early 1990s, contained a human gene called CD-59.
Scientists hoped the grafted gene would trick the human body's immune
system into believing that the pig parts were human.
While transplanted organs from those pigs were able to survive for a
couple of days in their new host, the body eventually rejected the parts.
A major breakthrough came last year when the small biotechnology firm,
working with scientists in Australia, figured out a way to alter a sugar-like
molecule in pig cells so that human antibodies would not recognize it as
The molecule had been acting as a magnet for human antibodies, betraying
the fact that the transplanted tissue was not human. Alexion quickly
patented the process.
``If you now take cells from those animals and challenge them with human
serum, they are almost indestructible in the lab,'' said Stephen P.
Squinto, the chief technology officer at Alexion.
Scientists at Alexion have already transplanted brain cells from their
transgenic pigs into rodents with a syndrome similar to Parkinson's, a
degenerative nerve condition that affects motor function.
The transplanted cells not only survived, they became neurotransmitters in
the animals' brains and helped correct the tremors, Squinto said.
The same experiments are now being conducted in baboons. If those
experiments work, Alexion hopes to begin human trials by the end of the
year. Researchers hope that within 15 years humans will be able to receive
permanent organ transplants from swine.
The company also has seen remarkable results by transplanting cells from a
pig's snout into the damaged spinal columns of rodents, Squinto said. The
cells replace the damaged protective sheath around the spine and allow
nerve cells to regenerate.
``Would we expect that we will be able to take a person who is a paraplegic
and have them walking or running in the Olympics?'' Squinto said. ``No, I
don't think that's the case. But restoring some function to that person is
certainly a goal.''
Xenotransplantation faces stiff opposition from some in the medical
community and from animal-rights activists. Alexion was unwilling to allow a
reporter or photographer to visit their facilities, in part because they
targeted by animal rights protesters.
Among the medical concerns: the fear that transplanted organs could bring
with them new diseases caused by viruses now living only in pigs. A virus
originally transmitted from chimpanzees to humans is believed to have
Because a transplant patient's immune system is suppressed with drugs,
xenotransplantation provides an ideal environment for pig viruses to
mutate, said Dr. Thomas Murray, director of the Center for Biomedical
Ethics at Case Western Reserve University.
``There are risks to third parties here,'' he said. ``If you get an organ
from a cadaver, you decide whether to accept that risk for yourself. But if
you get an organ from a pig, many more people are put at an unknown risk.''
The FDA had temporarily banned animal-to-human transplant experiments
because of pig viruses, but dropped the ban late in 1997. Scientists now
believe they have identified all the so-called retroviruses that are unique
to pigs and can screen for them, Squinto said.
Dr. David Hull, director of the clinical transplant program at Hartford
Hospital, is excited by the idea of farms filled with transplantable organs.
The technology could dramatically improve the lives of thousands of people,
many of whom can no longer even get out of bed because their own hearts or
livers are failing, he said.
``You'd be able to meet the needs of everybody,'' he said. ``You would save
a tremendous amount of money and lives.''
But animal rights activists say they whole process is unnecessary. Rather
than killing animals for organs, they suggest everyone be considered an organ
donor unless they specifically request an exemption, the opposite of the
``That is the way to save a lot of money, and it would save a lot of
suffering,'' said Sandra Larson, with the New England Anti-Vivisection
The real facts of genetically modified food
Sunday Times - London Publication Date: February 21, 1999
Have I eaten GM food?
Almost certainly. So far, only GM tomato puree and soya are being marketed
in Britain but soya is an ingredient in about 60% of processed foods,
everything from biscuits to ready-meals. The GM variety is being mixed with
conventional soya before it is exported from America. Most stores have
opted to label foods made with GM products, but there is no obligation on
anyone to label GM "derivatives" such as oil and lecithin, an emulsifier
made with soya and starch from GM maize.
Is babyfood safe?
The government says so, but then its line is that all GM food on the market
is safe. GM products are certainly present in baby milk and also bread,
soup and pasta, all staples of the early years.
Why do we need GM food?
We don't: GM alternatives are no more nutritious than existing food. But
they are good for the food industry. In theory, at least, they are easier
to grow, more reliable and therefore cheaper. Food that stays fresher
longer will cut down wastage and crops that are pest-resistant need less
spraying and will be cheaper to grow.
Does it live up to its promises?
The companies say so but the Flavr Savr, the first genetically modified
tomato to be launched in America, turned out to be a flop: it tasted odd
and rotted faster than its traditional equivalents. And in the US several
legal claims have been brought by farmers over crop failures.
How many GM crops are being grown in Britain?
There are about 500 test sites, some 717 acres, with a variety of
transgenic crops from sugar beet to oil seed rape. Permission for
commercial crops has not been granted yet.
What safeguards are there?
All the products being tested in Britain have already been tested abroad
and are grown commercially in America, Canada and Australia. Before they
can be grown commercially in Europe they first have to be certified by the
European Union, the National List of Seed and the Novel Foods Test as well
as the government's own advisory committee. A seed will only be approved if
the risk of cross-pollination is close to zero.
Can we stop GM foods coming to Britain?
Only temporarily. As it is an issue affecting the single market, decisions
about GM food are ultimately made by an EU committee to which all the
member states belong. Individual companies can delay the introduction of a
GM product. France has imposed a three-year ban on the marketing and import
of a type of rape seed and maize but it must produce scientific evidence to
back up its decision. Otherwise, when the agreed time runs out, the country
concerned must accept the food.
Is there any firm evidence that GM foods could be harmful?
Not even Dr Pusztai's supporters claim his research does anything more than
pose questions over safety. Nobody knows if the GM food eaten by the public
has had any health impact; government advisers have not even decided how
this could be monitored. The worrying thing is that we are eating GM foods
every day without knowing what the long-term effects could be.
How concerned are scientists?
Most experts in the field believe there is nothing to suggest that genetic
modification is in itself dangerous. But some want the testing of each new
GM plant to be improved to make sure a specific gene does not behave in an
unforseen manner and cause a health or environmental problem.
What are the supermarkets doing?
[ Safeway ] says it will no longer sell genetically modified tomato paste
after stocks run out in two weeks' time. Jointly developed by Safeway,
Sainsbury and Zeneca, the GM tomato paste was the first GM food to go on
sale here in 1996. But after a post-launch flurry, sales at Sainsbury
dropped from its initial launch to around one- third of the ordinary tomato
Is GM material getting into the food chain in any other way?
Yes. Most animal feed now contains GM maize but it is not labelled - one of
the big loopholes in the regulatory regime. The animal feed industry met
agriculture ministry officials last week to discuss the feasibility of a
voluntary labelling scheme ahead of Brussels legislation. Animal feed is
said to be too cheap to make it worth segregating GM from non-GM (the
organic food industry disagrees).
Does the introduction of GM crops mean fewer herbicides?
The companies say yes. If crops can be designed to be resistant to a
certain weedkiller, the field can be sprayed with impunity, knowing only
the weeds and not the crop itself will be damaged. But if, like [ Monsanto
] , the company manufactures both the weedkiller and crops, it is all the
better for its profits. The creation of pest-resistant GM plants is not
necessarily good for the environment. If pesticide is present in every
plant cell - stalk, leaf and root - instead of sprayed, there could
ultimately be more toxins in the earth.
Has the biotech revolution gone too far to stop?
While it would be possible to ban GM crops from being grown in Britain, it
would be difficult to stop imports of GM food, particularly soya. Britain
might suffer if it stood alone against the global GM food market. Our
farmers would lose out to those using more efficient crops and our
scientists, who rank second in biotechnology behind America, would be
overtaken by those of other nations.
Can GM pesticides affect the environment?
Nobody knows, but the government's scientific adviser, Sir Robert May, has
warned that "the more successful we get (at growing crops) the worse the
news for the wild flowers, the insects, the birds and the countryside". New
research suggests that ladybirds were damaged by eating aphids taken from
genetically modified potato plants, similar to those Pusztai believes were
responsible for the harm suffered by his laboratory rats. Scientists found
the lifespan of female ladybirds halved to 36 days and that they laid
significantly fewer eggs than before.
Scientists are working on a range of transgenic animals destined for the
dinner plate. Pigs, cattle, chickens and fish are all being produced with
genes that speed growth and improve the quality of their meat. Closest to
reaching the market are transgenic salmon, which grow faster than
conventional varieties and cut down the time a farmer has to look after
them before they can be sold.
(Copyright Times Newspapers Ltd, 1999)
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
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