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The GE Information Bulletin

The GE Information Bulletin

An independent digest of widely-sourced information relevant to the GE debate ------------------------------------------------------------ No. 8 January / February 2003 ------------------------------------------------------------


> FDA Policies For GM Foods Faulted

> European Poll Warns Of Backlash If US Takes Case Over Biotech To WTO

> BIO Backs Off Pledge On GM Corn

> Maori To Get More Say In GE Research

> Govt. Should Maintain Stand On GMO's

> Japan Finds StarLink In US Corn Cargo

> US Policy On Aid Is 'wicked' - Meacher

> Washington Bans GE Salmon

> Crop Herbicide Losing Weed Resistance?

> Nestlé Slammed For Unlabelled GM Food

> Swiss Moratorium Initiative Gains Momentum


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------------------------------------------------------------ Editorial

Regulation, contamination, food aid, bans and moratoria - stories on these issues have been published around the world over the last month. In the USA the Food and Drug Administration has been criticised for "obvious errors" in its reviews of GE crops; while the biotechnology industry has revoked its pledge to keep the production of GE drug-crops away from areas where they might contaminate food crops. The UK's environment minister has called the US policy on GE food-aid "wicked" just as Zambian scientists, on their return from a fact-finding tour, were voicing support for their country's rejection of GE food-aid. Meanwhile Nestlé has come under fire for contravening the law in China against selling unlabelled GE food. In New Zealand an official review is considering whether Maori spiritual values should be given more weight in assessments of GE applications.


FDA POLICIES FOR GM FOODS FAULTED Washington Post, January 7, 2003 (USA) The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington group known for a moderate stance on the use of genetic engineering to alter food plants, contends that the Food and Drug Administration, the primary federal agency responsible for food safety, missed "obvious errors" in reviewing some gene-altered crops. "Had FDA conducted thorough reviews, the errors would have been easily detected," the[y] said. The group said the FDA's procedures are so full of holes that continued safety cannot be ensured as companies press to bring many more GE plants to market. "The companies don't provide enough data to prove these foods are safe," said Gregory A. Jaffe, director of biotechnology issues at the center. "And FDA's review process doesn't give you a lot of comfort that they've looked at it closely and challenged the companies." Some gene-altered food plants fall under regulations requiring mandatory approval from the Environmental Protection Agency before going to market. But others fall solely under the FDA's food-safety jurisdiction, and that agency has adopted only voluntary procedures for companies to follow. In many instances the FDA requested information on the nutritional composition of a plant that industry failed to provide. Full item:

------------------------------------------------------------ EUROPEAN POLL WARNS OF BACKLASH IF US TAKES CASE OVER BIOTECH TO WTO The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2003 (USA) David Byrne, the EU commissioner for health and consumer protection, was cited as saying that US food companies face a consumer backlash in Europe if Washington follows through on threats to lodge a formal complaint at the World Trade Organization over the European Union's biotech food. "If the US or another trading bloc sought a regime on how food was put on the market in Europe, I think the public would react extremely badly." Mr. Byrne didn't indicate specifically what form a consumer backlash could take. But trade analysts have warned that Europeans might steer clear of US food products if Washington brought a WTO case to protest what consumers could consider an American attempt to restrict information about the food they find on store shelves. Full item:


BIO BACKS OFF PLEDGE ON GM CORN The Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2002 (USA) The crop biotechnology industry is retreating from its pledge to avoid growing corn genetically modified to make pharmaceuticals in the heart of the Midwest Farm Belt. A voluntary drug-free zone was adopted in October by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the biggest biotech trade group, in hopes of easing concerns that pharmaceuticals from GM corn might contaminate crops intended for humans. But the policy angered powerful Iowa US Sen. Charles Grassley, whose state has high hopes for building a new industry around genetically modifying plants such as corn to make pharmaceuticals. Some food-industry officials have threatened to lobby for a ban on using food crops to make drugs unless the bio-pharming industry convinces them mistakes can't happen. Full item:


MAORI TO GET MORE SAY IN GE RESEARCH NZ Herald, December 27, 2002 (New Zealand) The Environmental Risk Management Authority [ERMA] is looking at giving more weight to Maori spiritual values when it considers genetic research proposals. It suggests, among other things, that Maori spiritual concerns about genetic research - even in the absence of any physical or biological risk - could be enough reason to reject research applications. The suggestion is likely to alarm scientists, who say Erma's rules already hinder basic research. Ngai Tahu spokesman Mark Solomon defended requirements for scientists to consult with Maori. "We look at things in slightly different ways. Maori believe everything has a lifeforce that is a gift from the Creator and if you mix those lifeforces, what happens? That's not natural."


GOVT. SHOULD MAINTAIN STAND ON GMO'S The Post (Lusaka), January 4, 2003 (Zambia) Government should maintain the current stand not to accept Genetically Modified foods by employing the precautionary principle, Zambian scientists who recently went on a fact finding mission on GMOs have recommended. According to the report, even the safety aspects of GM foods were not conclusive. The report stated that the importation of genetically modified organisms to Zambia could destroy both organic and non-GM maize export market.


JAPAN FINDS STARLINK IN US CORN CARGO Reuters, December 27, 2002 (Japan) US exporters said Friday Japan has found trace amounts of unapproved StarLink corn in an American shipment bound for Tokyo's food supply, renewing fears that major trading partners may once again turn their backs on US crops. The return of StarLink corn comes as the United States tries to convince reluctant trading partners like the European Union and southern Africa that genetically modified crops are safe for consumers. USDA officials said they were surprised by the news since they believed all remaining StarLink corn was destroyed last year.


US POLICY ON AID IS 'WICKED' - MEACHER Independent on Sunday, December 1, 2002 (UK) Forcing starving countries to accept GM food in aid is "wicked", Michael Meacher, the [UK] environment minister, said last week. He called for "anger to be harnessed" against the policy, being vigorously pushed by the US government. The US refused to supply the non-GM grain requested. Top US officials claim that Americans were eating GM food without ill-effects. One said: "Beggars can't be choosers." Mr Meacher has been told by experts that plenty of non-GM food is available. He told a meeting last week: "It is wicked, when there is such an excess of non-GM food aid available, for GM to be forced on countries for reasons of GM politics. If there is an area where anger needs to be harnessed, it is here."


WASHINGTON BANS GE SALMON ENS, December 16, 2002 (USA) Washington has adopted the nation's toughest restrictions on genetically engineered salmon. On December 7, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted sweeping new regulations banning genetically engineered salmon from fish farms in all its marine waters. The move came in the wake of repeated, large scale escapes of farmed fish, and heavy media coverage of recent biotech industry blunders including food crop contamination incidents.


CROP HERBICIDE LOSING WEED RESISTANCE? The New York Times, January 14, 2003 (USA) Roundup is beginning to lose its effectiveness in controlling weeds. The problem is the very success of genetically engineered crops. Farmers like the GE crops because they can spray Roundup herbicide directly over those fields, killing the weeds while leaving the crops intact. Eventually, experts say, farmers will need to reduce their applications on the GE soybeans and other crops to preserve the long-term usefulness. [But] "There aren't a lot of new herbicides coming down the road that will bail us out," said Christy Sprague, a weed specialist at the University of Illinois. The use of glyphosate, both Monsanto's Roundup and generic products, has grown two and a half times since the introduction of the first Roundup Ready crops in 1996. The resistance issue is surfacing at a tough time for Monsanto. The company lost $1.75 billion in the first nine months of 2002 as sales plunged more than 18 percent. Its chief executive, Hendrik A. Verfaillie, was forced to resign last month. With its stock price low, Monsanto is considered a takeover target.


NESTLE SLAMMED FOR UNLABELLED GM FOOD, December 2, 2002 (Online/China) Swiss food giant Nestlé has come under fire in China. Six products from Nestlé, including snacks, chocolate confectionery and milk powder, were found by environmental campaign group Greenpeace to contain unlabelled GM organisms. This is in direct contravention of domestic law, reported the Shanghai Daily.


SWISS MORATORIUM INITIATIVE GAINS MOMENTUM Checkbiotech, January 15, 2003 (Online/Switzerland) After heavy debate, the Swiss Chamber of Agriculture voted 46 to 36 with the intent of maintaining Switzerland's agriculture as GM-free. As a result of the vote, the Swiss Chamber of Agriculture, responsible for giving farmers a voice in Swiss politics, effectively backed a new initiative for a five year moratorium on genetically modified organisms. Simonetta Sommaruga, the President of the Swiss Consumer Protection Agency, interpreted the Chamber's decision as a clear signal of a re-alignment towards the consumers' choice. She noted that according to the most recent surveys, 70% of Swiss consumers desire GM-free food.

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