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The GE Information Bulletin

The GE Information Bulletin

An independent digest of widely-sourced information relevant to the GE debate


> Monsanto Suspends Wheat Program

> GM Canola Program To Close

> Paper: Ecological Society Of America

> Spain To Ban EU's Biggest Biotech Crop

> Europe: Allow[s] GM Corn; May Open Floodgates

> Farmers Hit Out At GM Seeds Bungle

> Hunting Down Seeds Of GM Maize

> 'Junk' DNA Reveals Vital Role

> Scientists Fear Weed Epidemic From GM Grass

> Monsanto's Gain Is Everyone Else's Pain

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Editorial Monsanto features strongly in the news this month. Its push to introduce wheat and its canola programme in Australia have both been suspended, while its new bentgrass product is raising scientific concerns. Monsanto also won its patent suit against Percy Schmeiser and there may be worrying implications for patent law. Both Australia and New Zealand have recently had to deal with illegal releases of GE crops - canola in Australia and maize in New Zealand. Meanwhile the Ecological Society of America's thorough scientific review of environmental concerns across the whole range of GE organisms should be a useful resource for both GE scientists and critics. And Nature reports on investigations into the possible functions of what has been termed 'junk DNA'.

MONSANTO SUSPENDS WHEAT PROGRAM Reuters, May 10, 2004 (USA) Biotech crop pioneer Monsanto Co. [has] suspended plans to introduce what would be the world's first biotech wheat, bowing to a storm of protest from around the world over the company's scientific tinkering with a key food crop. Monsanto said it had reached the decision after "extensive consultation" with customers in the wheat industry and would continue to monitor the industry to determine "if and when" it might be practical to move forward. Monsanto has been field testing Roundup Ready wheat for six years and spent millions of dollars on the project. Full item:

GM CANOLA PROGRAM TO CLOSE ABC News, May 12, 2004 (Australia) The Grains Council of Australia says the biotechnology company Monsanto will shut down its program to introduce genetically modified canola to Australia. Its Roundup Ready canola is approved in Australia, but Grains Council president Keith Perrett says moratoriums on commercial crops in most states have ended the biotechnology company's investment. The company is continuing research in corn, cotton, and oilseeds. Full item:

PAPER: ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA ISB News Report, May 2004 (USA) A new position paper [is available] from the Ecological Society of America (ESA) entitled "Genetically modified organisms and the environment: current status and recommendations." This paper was authored by a team of well respected ecologists, each of whom has expertise in some aspect of the environmental risk assessment of GEO's. The manuscript underwent extensive peer-review. The paper is both a position statement, complete with direct recommendations regarding the development, risk assessment, and regulation of GEOs, and a thorough review that will help readers navigate fast-paced developments in this area. By reviewing both current status and future prospects of all GEOs (plant, animal, virus, bacteria, etc.), the authors provide the most comprehensive review to date. The ESA position statement does an excellent job of reminding us of the salient concerns. The literature cited section alone, with over 170 cited references, is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in the environmental consequences of GEOs. Full item:

SPAIN TO BAN EU'S BIGGEST BIOTECH CROP Bloomberg, April 29, 2004 (Spain) Spain, the only European Union country where genetically modified crops are commercially grown, banned the planting of a Syngenta AG corn variety as of January, saying it may boost resistance to antibiotics. The Bt176 variety of feed corn from Syngenta, the world's biggest maker of agricultural chemicals, "will no longer be allowed to be sown or cultivated," Spain's food-safety agency said. Full item:

EUROPE: ALLOW[S] GM CORN; MAY OPEN FLOODGATES The Independent, April 24, 2004 (UK) Supermarkets are to get the go-ahead to stock GM sweetcorn from the United States and Canada next week, ending Europe's five-year moratorium on new licences for GM food. Britain is backing the move to bring in the new corn, but critics say that such a decision could open the floodgates with at least 30 more GM applications in the pipeline. The French Food Safety Authority, the Belgian Bio-safety Council and the Austrian Federal Environment Agency have all raised concerns about its assessment, Greenpeace said. Nevertheless, the looming approval marks a symbolic step, bringing to an end a long, de facto moratorium. Full item:

FARMERS HIT OUT AT GM SEEDS BUNGLE The Age, May 9, 2004 (Australia) One thousand genetically engineered canola seeds were planted in western Victoria after being sent by mistake to the Department of Primary Industries by a Canadian seed producer, Cargill, State Government documents show. By the time the bungle was discovered, the seeds had sprouted to the three-leaf stage. They were immediately pulled from the ground and destroyed amid concerns that they might contaminate surrounding crops. Cargill admitted it had no written protocols for overseas shipments of seed. The mistake had occurred when a breeding manager who normally sent the seeds passed the responsibility to his assistants. Victoria's protocols for importing seed were tightened after the incident, but critics say it demonstrates how easily accidents involving genetically modified seeds can occur. The regulator's incident report recommends long-term strategies including monitoring the site over three years. Full item:

HUNTING DOWN SEEDS OF GM MAIZE Dominion Post, May 13, 2004 (New Zealand) The whereabouts of 22,000 GM maize seeds will be known within days, says the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry. But the Government refused to say yesterday whether farmers would be compensated if their crops or seeds are destroyed when the contaminated maize is found. Under biosecurity and new organism laws, which specify zero tolerance for contamination, affected crops will have to be destroyed and any remaining seeds also destroyed or exported back overseas. The seed, about enough to produce half a football field of crops, slipped in to New Zealand after United States laboratory Biogenetic Services was found to have dodgy systems for testing for contamination. Biogenetic had its ministry-accreditation suspended when a routine audit discovered the bad practices in March. Asked if the ministry, Biogenetics, or the company that owns the seeds would compensate farmers, Ms Hobbs replied she did not want to "speculate in hypothetical terms about people's liability or costs". Full item:

'JUNK' DNA REVEALS VITAL ROLE Nature Science Update, May 7, 2004 (online) If you thought we had explored all the important parts of our genome, think again. Scientists are puzzling over a collection of mystery DNA segments that seem to be essential to the survival of virtually all vertebrates. But their function is completely unknown. The segments, dubbed 'ultraconserved elements', lie in the large parts of the genome that do not code for any protein. Their presence adds to growing evidence that the importance of these areas, often dismissed as junk DNA, could be much more fundamental than anyone suspected. Full item:

SCIENTISTS FEAR WEED EPIDEMIC FROM GM GRASS St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 2004 (USA) Thousands of greenskeepers are eager to buy [a] new turf, made by multinational companies Scotts and Monsanto, called Roundup Ready Creeping Bentgrass. [They] want to use the grass to win the war against a weed called annual bluegrass that plagues golf courses around the country. The Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service both fear the bentgrass could lead to the spread of resistant weeds, marking the first time that federal scientists [from] government agencies have weighed in publicly against a genetically modified crop. In addition, Forest Service national botanist Wayne Owen said, "We're concerned about the GM grass escaping from where it's growing, moving into the wild and then establishing adjacent to those rare grasses." Full item:


E. Richard Gold, Director, Centre for Intellectual Property Policy, McGill University in The Globe and Mail, May 24, 2004 (Canada) On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled (5 to 4, in a patent suit against Percy Schmeiser) that biotechnology giant Monsanto can prevent farmers from growing plants containing its patented modified genes. The Court broke with tradition by reworking one of patent law's fundamental concepts: When does someone "use" an invention? The court's answer is: when that someone is furthering a "business interest" or is engaged in "commercial exploitation" of the invention. The impact of the reworking is that it is now difficult to know when a person will be considered to have violated a patent. That will have repercussions for years to come. Under the test proposed by the court, it is uncertain whether a university, government or not-for-profit agency conducting scientific research or providing health-care services will be considered to violate a patent if its use of the patented invention has no business or commercial interest. The minority opinion followed standard patent law and held that "use" had its traditional meaning of actually putting into practice the invention. Uncertainty in patent law means only one thing: more litigation, more costs and more delays. Full item:

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