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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. 13 June/July 2003


> GM Body Debates New Rules

> Ministers Briefed To Back Off GM Crops

> GE Trade Pact Takes Effect In 90 Days

> GM Threatens A Superweed Catastrophe

> GM Crops 'Pose Threat To Property Prices'

> NSW Bill Banning Planting Of GM Crops

> US / Europe Biotech Food Talks Collapse

> Goodbye Dolly Again As PPL Shelves Drug Plan

> Ministers Try To Stop Labels For GM Food

> GM Escape: Seeds More Risky Than Pollen

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Editorial With the commencement this month of the 'National GM Debate' in the UK, several stories in this Bulletin originate from that country. The ex-environment minister Michael Meacher has accused his government of ignoring negative reports from GE safety research and called for independent health studies on GE foods. English Nature, the official conservation agency has raised concerns about the emergence of ge-derived 'superweeds' and the danger that farmers could turn to highly toxic herbicides to tackle them. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has raised potential problems with property prices and warned of "chaos" in the market if full information on plantings is not available. Internationally, the Codex Alimentarius is drafting rules that may include transparent toxicity testing on GE foods. And the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol is set to come into effect this year on the 11th of September.

GM research played down - Meacher BBC Online, June 22, 2003 (UK) Sacked environment minister Michael Meacher has accused the government of deliberately undervaluing negative research findings on the safety of GM foods. He said scientific reports which pointed to possible damaging effects on humans were "widely rubbished in government circles". And the debate on GM foods had been deliberately stifled in the face of pressure from bio-technology companies. "Since the science is still clouded with such deep uncertainty, that means deferring decisions till the science is clear and reliable, not rushing to desired conclusions which cannot be scientifically supported." He said it was "really extraordinary" there had so far been virtually no independent studies of the health effects of GM. It was essential such testing was done before GM products were allowed to go on sale. Full item:

GM BODY DEBATES NEW RULES BBC Online, June 30, 2003 (UK) Currently, companies who want to market GM products have to prove they are "substantially equivalent" to non-GM varieties. But what substantially equivalent really means has never been defined. The draft documents due to be adopted at a Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting, responsible for setting global food safety guidelines, attempt a definition. Several paragraphs are likely to arouse the anger of the pro- biotech lobby. These include, in particular, those which say direct testing of GM foods for toxicity may be necessary, and that procedures for assessing the risk of these foods must be open and transparent to the public. Full item:

MINISTERS BRIEFED TO BACK OFF GM CROPS The Times, June 2, 2003 (UK) Ministers have been warned that they should not be too zealous in their support for GM crops because there are no immediate advantages to the country. This verdict, on the eve of the launch of a national GM debate, is from an interim report by the Cabinet Office strategy unit which has been assessing the strict costs and benefits of GM technology. The unit is understood to have raised specific concerns that organic farming could be seriously damaged [without] strict regulations protecting the organic sector and conventional farming from GM contamination. Full item:

GE TRADE PACT TAKES EFFECT IN 90 DAYS New York Times, June 14, 2003 (USA) The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was agreed upon by more than 130 nations in January 2000 but could not take effect until formally ratified by 50 nations. The 50th, Palau, just gave its endorsement, so the protocol will go into effect in 90 days, on Sept. 11, the United Nations Environment Program said yesterday. The treaty allows countries to bar imports of genetically engineered seeds, microbes, animals or crops that they deem a threat to their environments. It also requires international shipments of genetically engineered grains to be labeled. Full item:

GM THREATENS A SUPERWEED CATASTROPHE The Independent, June 29, 2003 (UK) Genetically modified farming will lead to a new generation of herbicide-resistant crops which could devastate the countryside, says English Nature. The Government's chief conservation agency has warned ministers to prepare for the "worst case" scenario if they press ahead with proposals to grow GM crops. If the worst case becomes reality, the agency fears that farmers could turn to highly toxic and old-fashioned weedkillers such as Paraquat and 2,4-D because they will be faced with "superweeds" that can resist most modern weedkillers. These superweeds will emerge because it is "inevitable" that weedkiller-tolerant genes will escape from GM crops such as sugar beet, maize and oilseed rape into normal plants, English Nature states. [The] warnings - in a detailed report to the official GM science review headed by Professor David King, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser - have been supported by the Royal Society. Writing in The Independent on Sunday, Lord May, the president, says that without proper tests and controls, GM crops could lead to a further intensification of agriculture and harm wildlife. Full item:

GM CROPS 'POSE THREAT TO PROPERTY PRICES' The Daily Telegraph, June 4, 2003 (UK) Property prices could be undermined if land is polluted with traces of genetically modified crops, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said yesterday. Surveyors and land agents warned of "long-term chaos" in the property market unless buyers were provided with information on the farms, allotments and gardens where GM crops were or had been grown. The RICS said accurate information on where GM crops were planted was essential to buyers wishing to purchase or rent land for non- GM or organic production and to financial institutions lending against land and property. Full item:

NSW BILL BANNING PLANTING OF GM CROPS Melbourne Age, June 18, 2003 The planting of commercial genetically modified food crops in NSW will be put on hold for three years after a bill was passed by state's lower house late last night. Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald said the bill's passing was a victory for farmers and consumers. The bill had the support of the NSW Farmers Association. Full item:

US / EUROPE BIOTECH FOOD TALKS COLLAPSE New York Times, June 19, 2003 (USA) American and European officials met in Geneva today for a round of negotiations, known as a consultation, after the United States filed suit at the WTO over the issue last month. Today's announcement means that the trade organization will soon begin selecting a panel of judges to hear the case, although a decision is likely to take months. Full item:

GOODBYE DOLLY AGAIN AS PPL SHELVES DRUG PLAN The Guardian, June 19, 2003 (UK) Dolly the sheep was effectively killed off as a commercial project yesterday after biotech firm PPL Therapeutics failed to convince partner Bayer that there was a viable future for it. Now PPL has shelved plans to develop a lung drug extracted from the milk of genetically-modified sheep. Up to 140 jobs will go at research facilities in Scotland and New Zealand in an attempt to halve its spending of £600,000 a month. A little over a month ago PPL dropped plans for a £42m centre to produce a range of Dolly-type drugs. It had said it was committed to developing AAT, a treatment for genetic lung conditions which uses proteins drawn from genetically-modified sheep. PPL had said it hoped to launch the product in 2007 but there have been fears in the City that the company would run out of money first. Full item:

MINISTERS TRY TO STOP LABELS FOR GM FOOD The Sunday Times, June 1, 2003 (UK) Ministers want to kill off plans by Brussels to bring in a comprehensive regime for labelling genetically modified food. They fear "negative fall-out" from Washington if they back the consumer friendly policy, leaked cabinet papers reveal. The documents, including a memo from Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, show that ministers are desperate not to antagonise America. Straw's memo reveals that the British embassy in Washington is helping in the campaign to "minimise the risks" of alienating the United States. He argues that members of the European parliament should be "strongly" lobbied with the argument "made by Washington" that the plans could have "implications" for Africa, where America promotes much of its GM technology. Full item:

GM ESCAPE: SEEDS MORE RISKY THAN POLLEN New Scientist, June 18, 2003 (UK) Concern about the leakage of genes from GM crops into the environment has previously focused on pollen, which can blow for long distances on the wind. But new research in France reveals that the transport of seeds may present a greater risk. Jean-François Arnaud's team at Lille University used molecular markers to track different types of sugar beet, including the weedy hybrids of commercial and wild sugar beet that commonly form in fields. The team found that the weedy hybrids, which produce more seeds that the commercial sugar beets, had somehow migrated 1500 metres from the fields and were mingling with wild sea beet. The far- flung hybrids must have come from seed because they had maternal genes, rather than the paternal ones carried by pollen. Arnaud says: "Accidental transport of seeds within soils carried on motor vehicles, or by other normal agricultural activities provide the best explanation." Full item:

The items in this Bulletin are excerpts from articles which remain the copyright of the original owners. The material is edited for brevity and published here for educational and public interest use only. Full items and web links to source where available, can be found at along with PDF and Word versions of all Bulletins that can be downloaded free.

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