posted by MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
Sunday March 7, 1999
When is GM-free not GM-free? That is the big problem, reports Terry Slavin
With the backlash against genetically modified (GM) food showing no signs
of abating, more and more food companies are pledging to go GM-free.
This has made for some strange bedfellows. McDonald's and Burger King are
the latest to make common cause with vegetarian and organic food producers
as well as the major food retailers by publicly saying they aim to phase
out these ingredients. But this route is so poorly regulated and perilous
that companies could be excused for wondering if they should bother. Last
weekend United Biscuits and some wholefood firms, which have moved further
than most in going non-GM, were embarrassed when their products tested
positive for GM material in trials commissioned by the Daily Mail. Two
weeks earlier, UB's Linda McCartney brand meals also tested positive on
The company has operated a non-GM policy for all its products, including
McVities, for 18 months. The soya in its products is grown in Denmark,
which does not permit GM organisms, and processed at a mill approved by
Greenpeace. Its own tests had been negative. 'I don't know what more we can
do,' said an exasperated spokesman.
But David Welsby, regional director of Protein Technologies International,
a subsidiary of US chemicals giant Dupont, which has 80 per cent of the
world market for non-GM soya-based ingredients, described EU regulation of
GM food as 'a mess'. The DNA testing required under the EU's Novel Food
Directive is difficult to do, and the results are notoriously erratic.
Welsby said: 'Testing isn't a simple black and white procedure. The
[Newsnight] test may have picked up the tiniest trace of GM material in the
Linda McCartney product - or it could have been a false positive.'
PTI sent the same sample of its own product to several labs: 'One tested
completely negative, another showed 10 per cent [of GM material], one less
than 1 per cent and one between 0.1 and 0.5 per cent.'
The certification of other foods allows for some accidental contamination -
in the case of organic products, it's 5 per cent - but the EU allows none
for GM foods. As Stephen Ridge, quality assurance executive of the
Somerfield supermarket chain, says: 'The birds and the bees have a habit of
spreading seeds, and these can co-mingle in the supply chain. In the
processing chain co-mingling becomes more of a problem. Yet there's no
percentage below which I don't worry now about contamination.'
And uniquely, the EU requires full DNA testing for GM food, rather than the
audit of production processes needed to certify other foods.
'The directive is very ambiguous,' says Welsby. 'It mentions a threshold,
but doesn't say what it should be. It mentions testing, but doesn't define
a test method. It's a mess.'
Since 1996, when the US, the biggest soya producer, first considered mixing
Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM soya with the conventional crop, UK
supermarkets have joined environmental groups such as Greenpeace in
campaigning for GM crops to be segregated from normal ones.
Having lost the US battle to Monsanto, most have quietly sought segregated
supplies of non-GM soya in the US, Canada and Brazil - uncertain until the
past fortnight whether UK consumers would, like US ones, swallow GM
The decision is not taken lightly. 'Identity-preserved' soya is about 10
per cent dearer because farmers are paid a premium not to switch to
high-yielding Ready Roundup. Segregated processing and DNA testing add to
Some companies have different policies in different European markets.
Unilever, for example, is non-GM in Germany, where the backlash came much
earlier, but as yet not in the UK, where its products are slated to be
delisted by the Vegetarian Society.
Firms that have gone non-GM have had in effect to take the law into their
own hands, setting up audit trails of 'identity preserved' crops and fixing
their own permitted levels of accidental contamination.
Labelling is another problem. The EU regulation requires labelling only of
foods that contain genetically modified soya and maize, but excludes
ingredients derived from them such as lecithins, soya oil and maize
starches, which are in 60 per cent of the food we eat - everything from
baby food to beer and chocolate. The EU has promised to clarify the
situation for these foods, but has not yet done so. Welsby points out that
some tests can now detect GM material in lecithins, even though they are
excluded from the regulations because they are classified as an additive.
This means a product may be GM-free from proteins, but still test positive.
'Someone could pick this up in a test and trumpet it in the Daily Mail as
Ridge at Somerfield said: 'The regulators are moving much more slowly than
the media and public. Retailers are facing the complications we predicted.
The more you challenge suppliers about the GM status of products, the more
hedging you get.'
While most stores are not labelling their non-GM products because of the
uncertainty, others are risking it.
Lindsay Keenan of Genetix Food Alert, a group co-ordinating the wholefood
trade's efforts to go GM-free, said: 'We're encouraging our members to say
they are non-GM on their labels. If [Food Minister] Jeff Rooker wants to
take us to court, he can. We'll get this out in the open.'
Frozen food specialist Iceland has gone furthest: it labels all its
products non-GM. But it has been a battle. In a submission to the Commons
Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry on GM food last week,
Iceland chairman Malcolm Walker said the Government advisory committees
were pro-GM and had put up roadblocks.
'We were told we would damage the prosperity of the UK if we raised our
concerns and prevented the progress of this technology,' said Walker.
Bill Wadsworth, Iceland's (brit supermarket chain descended from fish
marketing chain) technical director, said the company could continue its
stance for at least another two years, 'as long as the Government doesn't
allow GM oilseed rape to be grown commercially, and trial crops aren't
dumped in the open market'.
'The issue's increasing profile helps us,' he added. 'But it's not easy.
The politics could change overnight.'
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next article posted by: email@example.com (Christoph Reuss)
Subject: Industrial Enzymes are Top Allergens
(Summary of an article in the Swiss health magazine "PulsTip")
Industrial enzymes are top triggers of allergies and asthma, according to a
new dissertation from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). A
study with 110 participants showed that for 90% of asthma patients and 80%
of neurodermitis patients, the symptoms either disappeared or were strongly
reduced by eleminating industrial enzymes from their diet and from laundry
detergents. Neurodermititis and food allergies have boomed since the
1960ies when the industry started to artificially add enzymes to foods and
Industrial enzymes are used in a wide range of foods, to improve gains,
processability, shelf-life, taste and other properties in flour, starches,
pop drinks, fruit juices, oils, beer, whine, cheese and meat. These
artificially-added enzymes don't have to be declared on the labels, and it
is hard to avoid them. Many of these enzymes are produced by genetically
modified organisms (GMOs), usually molds and bacteria. Since the produced
enzymes are subsequently separated from the GMOs, the use of GMOs doesn't
have to be declared. However, the separation is often incomplete, and
residuals of the molds and bacteria are the main culprits of allergies.
Industrial enzymes are a vast business. Novo Nordisk, the Danish market
leader, makes about $500 million per year with industrial enzymes. The
gains in the food industry by using these enzymes and the market of
anti-allergy drugs are even bigger (billion$). It's not surprising that
the industry and allergy research establishment refused to comment or
cooperate on the new ETH research.
The following article is reprinted with permission from the March 1999
issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park
Drive, Burnaby, BC V5J 5B9
Biotech News, by Richard Wolfson, PhD
Canada Sparks Hormone Controversy in USA
At the end of 1998 in Washington, DC, a coalition of consumer groups led by
the Center for Food Safety began legal action to pull bovine growth hormone
off the American market. CFS is charging that the US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) ignored evidence of potential health hazards.
This evidence, which surfaced in Canada, showed that animals injected with
the hormone developed serious health problems. "If it wasn't for the
Canadian government researchers, we probably never would have known the
full results of this 90-day rat feeding study," says Dr. Michael Hansen of
Consumers Union (USA). "It should have triggered long-term toxicity
testing, but the FDA did not require that testing."
Both Republican and Democratic Senators from Vermont are pressuring for a
formal investigation of the administration's approval of the hormone.
Chefs Join Effort to Label Engineered Food
Chefs Collaborative 2000, composed of over 1,000 chefs, has joined the
fight for the labelling of genetically engineered food. The collaborative
includes New York chefs at Le Bernardin, Daniel, Chanterelle, Union Square
Cafe, Aureole, March and Savoy. Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin said: "I don't
want a cow gene in my cabbage. It's like Frankenstein. I don't know exactly
what they are doing but at least everyone has the right to know and then
they can decide if they want to eat the food."
Asian Safe Food Campaign
At the Asia Pacific People's Assembly in Kuala Lumpur, the Pesticide Action
Network recently launched a Safe Food Campaign to safeguard against the
hazards of genetically engineered crops. Indian activist Dr. Vandana Shiva
said the biotech companies were "forcing hazardous food" on countries,
using "tremendous pressure and misleading promotional campaigns" to prevent
people from choosing the food they want, and refusing to segregate and
label genetically engineered foods and crops.
Australia and New Zealand Vote for Labelling.
At the end of 1998, the Australian and New Zealand Governments were
outvoted by a group of Australian states favouring mandatory labelling of
genetically modified foods. The vote was six to four, in favour of
labelling. The decision was make by the Australia New Zealand Food
Standards Council, which clearly supports the consensus of the public who
While labelling activists are rejoicing at the outcome of the decision, the
details of implementation have yet to be worked out. There is also some
concern on how industry lobbying might affect the decision.
Japanese Consumers call for Mandatory Labelling
The Consumers Union and other non-governmental organizations in Japan
continue to call for mandatory labeling. The Japanese government has
received petitions with signatures from several million Japanese calling
for mandatory labelling. In a national survey in 1997, 91% of Japanese
consumers stated their desire for safety information on GE foods.
Global Organic Groups Urge Biotech Crop Ban
At the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)
international congress in Argentina at the end of 1998, delegates from more
than 60 countries, representing more than 740 IFOAM member organizations,
called for the immediate ban of genetic modification in all forms of
agriculture and food production.
Helen Browning of the UK's Soil Association said the declaration was
"highly significant for debate in Europe, where the widespread application
of Genetically Modified Organism's (GMO's) in agriculture is now far from
inevitable and can still be stopped."
Indian Peasant Farmers Resist Biotech
Peasant farmers in India are actively resisting genetically engineered
crops. The farmers say that corporate biotechnology will destroy their
livelihoods. The movement is led by Professor Nanjundaswamy, who leads the
Karnataka State Farmers' Association and claims the support of 10 million
people. Farmers are refusing to grow biotech crops.
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
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