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GE Information Bulletin - No. 18 December 2003


An independent digest of widely-sourced information relevant to the GE debate
No. 18 December 2003



> Green Groups Sue USDA

> Wales Joins Crop Purity Campaign

> Supermarket Giants Keen To Claim GE-free

> GM Crop Resists Poison, Breaks Fence

> Banished Biotech Corn Not Gone Yet

> Biowarfare Threat Of Genetic Technologies

> Food Biotech Is Risky Business

> California Blocks First Genetically Altered Pet

> African Priests Criticize Vatican GM Foods Conference


Stories in previous Bulletins have highlighted the wariness among UK, Australian and New Zealand insurance companies over providing cover for GE crops. Now the insurance industry in the USA is also inclining to the view that GE food is a bad risk. The GE corn StarLink is still showing up in the USA’s corn supply three years after it was banned. Meanwhile the US Agriculture Department is being sued over GE pharmaceutical crops and California has banned the first GE pet fish from sale. In Europe a block of 10 GE-free regions has been formed, including Wales, while in Australia a GE canola trial has breached its conditions by contaminating a nearby field. And The Sunshine Project, which investigates bio-weapons development, has published a study on the potential for weapons abuse of GE technology calling for limits on research.



Reuters, November 13, 2003 (USA)

A coalition of environmental groups and consumer advocates sued the US Agriculture Department in federal court Wednesday to try to halt the experimental planting of biotech crops engineered to make medicine. Environmentalists, consumer advocates, and food industry groups have urged the USDA to impose stricter regulations on pharmaceutical crops, fearing the unapproved plants could accidentally slip into the food supply. The lawsuit was filed in a federal district court in Hawaii, one of the top producing states of pharmaceutical crops. "The existing regulatory system merely assumes that growing these crops is harmless, even in places where they can contaminate the environment and get into the food supply," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for Center for Food Safety. In March, the USDA imposed tougher rules on planting industrial and pharmaceutical crops after a Texas biotech firm was accused of accidentally contaminating other crops. ProdiGene Inc. agreed to pay about $3 million to settle the matter. A Monsanto spokesman said the company has decided to shut down its plant- made pharmaceuticals program to cut costs and focus its resources on its seeds and biotechnology businesses. It expects to complete the process by the end of the year.

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The Western Mail, November 10, 2003 (Wales)

In a battle to keep Europe free of GM crops, 10 European regions declared themselves the Network of GMO Free Regions. Wales has joined nine other European regions to press for the tightest possible standards to guarantee purity for organic and conventional crops, alongside consumer choice, in the event of the introduction of GM varieties. Led by Upper Austria and Tuscany the agriculture ministers of the 10 regions signed a document asserting their right to forbid GMOs within their territories. The other regions are Aquitaine, Basque Country, Limousin, Marche, Salzburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Thrace-Rodopi.

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Royal Society News, November 6, 2003 (New Zealand)

A week after the moratorium on the commercial release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms was lifted, New Zealand's heavy-hitter supermarket chains are falling over themselves to claim the most anti-GE stance. Yesterday Foodstuffs - the power behind New World, Pak 'N Save, Four Square and Write Price supermarkets - announced it was "going GM free". However, Progressive Enterprises - which owns Foodtown, Woolworths, Countdown and Price Chopper, and the franchise for FreshChoice and SuperValue - today set out to "remind" customers of its long-time GE-free stance on its own brands. "Quite frankly we are well ahead of the game on this score," [said] managing director Ted van Arkel. "It's good for consumers to see other supermarkets following suit."

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Australian Associated Press, November 6, 2003 (Australia)

Trials of the nation's first commercial GM food crop have been found to be in breach of their licence conditions. The Network of Concerned Farmers today released internal NSW Agriculture documents showing concerns over the trials of GM canola near the city of Wagga Wagga. The documents show the canola, resistant to a new type of herbicide, had spread from its small trial plot into a neighbouring wheat field. Despite efforts to poison and then slash the plants they survived to the stage that they flowered, putting them in breach of their growing licence conditions. Network national spokeswoman Julie Newman said the failure of the Wagga trial cast doubt over the plans for a 5000 hectare trial. "The obvious difficulty that BayerCropscience have had in managing this trial does not inspire confidence within the farming community."

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Mercury News, December 1, 2003 (USA)

Three years after StarLink corn, banned from human consumption, turned up in taco shells and was pulled from the market, contaminated grain is still showing up in the nation's corn supply. A federal testing program found traces of the grain in more than 1 percent of samples submitted by growers and grain handlers in the past 12 months, government records show. The corn variety, engineered to produce its own pesticide, was supposed to be limited to animal feed and industrial use out of fear it might cause severe allergic reactions. While the health effects of StarLink are still unsettled, many worry that the government remains unprepared to deal with unexpected health problems from genetically engineered crops, especially those now being field- tested to mass-produce medicines, vaccines or industrial chemicals. Neil E. Harl, a professor of economics at Iowa State University, estimates that the company has paid out more than $500 million to farmers, food processors and grain handlers.

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News Release, The Sunshine Project, November 5 2003 (USA)

In a new study The Sunshine Project details the potential for weapons abuse of new biotechnologies and calls for the imposition of new limits on biomedical research, while rejecting moves to control publication of scientific information. Genetic engineering can contribute to offensive biowarfare programs in a variety of ways. With genetic manipulation, classical biowarfare agents such as anthrax or plague may be made more efficient weapons. Completely new types of bioweapons are becoming possible, including the manipulation of food crops into tools for biological warfare. Even ethnically specific weapons, hitherto thought to be impossible, have become a real possibility.

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Wired News, December 1, 2003 (USA)

The GM industry faces a hurdle with long-range, dire consequences: It may be uninsurable. The reason, industry representatives say, is that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate GMO products. The FDA decided in 1992 that genetically modified foods are "substantially equivalent" to regular food, and therefore do not require pre-market approval. Without government regulation, no one knows the rules, and that troubles insurers. "Genetically modified foods are among the riskiest of all possible insurance exposures that we have today," said Robert Hartwig, the chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade association in New York. "And there's a good reason. No one company knows where this path of GM foods is ultimately going to take us in terms of either human health or environmental contamination." "Some insurers view it as potentially one of the biggest long-term problems this industry might face," said Hartwig. A company the size of Monsanto would likely buy insurance with coverage for $200 - $300 million in assets. But lawsuits could result in settlements in the billions, experts said.

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Associated Press, December 3, 2003 (USA)

California regulators blocked sales of the first bio-engineered household pet, closing the door to glowing zebra fish in a state that buys a quarter of the nation's ornamental fish. "For me it's a question of values, it's not a question of science," said commissioner Sam Schuchat. " Here we are, playing around with the genetic bases of life... To me, this seems like an abuse of the power we have over life, and I'm not prepared to go there today." The 3-1 vote came moments after commissioners approved the state's 14th license for research into genetically modified fish. But commissioners drew the line on permitting widespread sales of a biotech fish that was developed by Singapore researchers but which would be sold for pure visual pleasure.

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Reuters, November 12, 2003 (Rome)

Organizers of an international Vatican seminar on GM foods came under fire from their own when African priests said it should have included more church members critical of the crops. "We are concerned that several voices of church leaders around the world are not represented on these panels," two Jesuit priests said in a joint written presentation. The priests were Roland Lesseps, senior scientist at the Kasisi Agricultural Training Center in Lusaka, Zambia, and Peter Henriot, director of Lusaka's Jesuit Center of Theological Reflection. They cited statements by church leaders in the Philippines, Brazil, and South Africa, which they said had expressed "deep concerns based on practical experiences" and were not reflected at the seminar.

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