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The GE Information Bulletin - No. 32 April 2005

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An independent digest of widely-sourced information relevant to the GE debate No. 32 April 2005


> Probe Into Sales Of Unapproved GM Corn

> Seeds Had Antibiotic-Resistance Genes

> GMOs Found Bad For Birds And Bees

> US Fret Over Sth. Korea Response To GM Mix-up

> Japan To Monitor US Corn Cargoes

> Food Watchdog 'Biased Against Organic Food'

> Conservatives Attack Blair Over Biotech Crops

> Nine US States Limit Local GM Regs

> EU Seeks Advice On Effects Of GM Crop

> Firms Drop GMO, Seek To Boost Regular Seeds

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This month we cover the news that Syngenta distributed an unapproved GE corn seed - Bt10 - for 4 years. Syngenta, US regulators and the White House sat on the information for 4 months, during which a safety assessment was done and release of the story managed. Initial stories quoted Syngenta's line that Bt10 was essentially the same as the approved variety - Bt11. But it was later reported in Nature that Bt10 contains an extra marker gene that confers resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin. Further fallout appears likely, with both Japan and South Korea raising trade concerns. In UK news, the British opposition has, for the first time, indicated they would ban GE crops until environmental safety can be proved. Meanwhile, the EU is to fund a study into the "potential long term effects" of GE crops - eight years after the subject became heated there.

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Nature, March 22, 2005 (USA)

Syngenta revealed th[at] a strain of GM corn that does not have regulatory approval has been distributed by accident over the past four years. Although believed to be safe, the fact that it was sold for years by accident raises serious questions about how carefully biotechnology firms are controlling their activities, critics say. Syngenta has approval to sell a variety of the transgenic crop called Bt11. But between 2001 and 2004, [it] inadvertently produced and distributed several hundred tonnes of Bt10 corn - a different modification that has not been approved. Since the release was discovered in late 2004, US government scientists have assessed the Bt10 corn - which differs from Bt11 by only a handful of nucleotides on a section of the gene that does not code for the protein toxin - and have concluded that it is safe to eat and poses no environmental threat. Regulators and the company have since been involved in months of discussions over what should be done about the error, and how and when information should be released to the public. White House officials have also been involved in these sensitive talks, partly because the US and the EU are locked in a fierce trade dispute. Syngenta officials declined to list the countries that accidentally received the Bt10 seed.

Full item: HERE

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Nature, March 29, 2005 (USA)

Officials at Syngenta last week argued that Bt10 is basically identical to Bt11 corn. But this week a spokeswoman confirmed that a marker gene that confers resistance to ampicillin, a commonly used antibiotic, was present. Critics expressed surprise that neither Syngenta nor the [regulators] announced the presence of the marker when they admitted the release of Bt10 had taken place. The release of such genes into the environment is sometimes considered inadvisable, as there is a small chance that they could spread problems of antibiotic resistance. The European Food Safety Authority, which advises European Union governments on food issues, said that marker genes conferring resistance to ampicillin "should be restricted to field trials and not be present in GM plants placed on the market". And the Codex Alimentarius Commission has urged the agricultural biotechnology industry to use alternative methods to refine GM strains.

Full item: HERE

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Reuters, March 21, 2005 (UK)

The world's biggest study to date on the impact of GMO crops on wildlife has found birds and bees are more likely to thrive in fields of natural rapeseed than GMO seed, scientists say. The trial was the last in a four-part 5.5 million-pound test of controversial technology - the largest experiment of its kind in the world. Researchers said that while fields planted with the biotech version were found to have fewer butterflies and bees, differences arose not because the crop was genetically-changed but because of the way they were sprayed.

Full item: HERE

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Nikkei English News, March 31, 2005 (USA)

US Department of Agriculture officials said since Syngenta's announcement last week [that] it inadvertently sold a limited amount of the unapproved Bt10 corn seed., South Korea has brought up testing as a possible regulatory response. Industry and government officials say they are concerned South Korea may disrupt corn trade by requiring testing for [the] unapproved strain. A senior USDA official, when asked about trade implications from Bt10 corn, said: "This could be a problem."

Full item: HERE

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Illinois Farm Bureau, March 23, 2005 (Japan)

The Washington Insider reported that Japan said it would start monitoring US corn cargoes to check if they contain an unapproved strain of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. If the Japanese inspection offices discover contaminated cargoes, the ministry will order importers to destroy them or ship them back to the US, in line with Japan's food safety law.

Full item: HERE

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The Independent, April 3, 2005 (UK)

Britain's official food safety watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, must review its controversial policies on GM and organic goods, a[n] official review of its performance concluded. The review makes it clear that its support for GM and its attacks on organic produce has caused a widespread loss of confidence in its judgement and independence. This conclusion is all the more striking because the review - conducted at the agency's invitation - is otherwise sympathetic to the watchdog. The FSA has been one of the most vigorous proponents of GM food while concentrating its fire on organic foods, whose sales are booming. Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said: "Finally, the bias of the agency has been exposed - and by its own inquiry."

Full item: HERE

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Reuters News Service, March 23, 2005 (UK)

Launching the party's rural affairs manifesto ahead of an expected May 5 election, shadow environment secretary Tim Yeo said a Conservative government would ban outright the gene-spliced varieties until it can be proved they pose no threat to the environment. The move comes just a day after a four-year 5.5 million-pound government-sponsored trial of GMO crops showed they could have detrimental effects on the environment. "I think the signs show that we still do not fully understand what the effect of commercial plantings of GM crops would be, although I don't share the same concerns that some people stress about human health," Yeo told reporters.

Full item: HERE

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Truth About Trade and Technology, March 31, 2005 (USA)

At least nine US states have either passed or introduced legislation that would preempt local cities and counties from restricting the sale of genetically modified seeds. The bills are viewed as a nationally coordinated attempt to block GMO- free ordinances similar to those approved in Mendocino and Marin counties in California in 2004. In March, Iowa's House of Representative passed a bill, House File 642, that would preempt "a local governmental entity from adopting or enforcing legislation which relates to the production, use, advertising, sale, distribution, storage, transportation, formulation, packaging, labeling, certification, or registration of agricultural seed." A similar bill was introduced into the Iowa Senate.

Full item: HERE

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Reuters News Service, March 30, 2005 (EU)

The European Commission wants to know how GMO crops might affect human and animal health in the longer term, eight years after the EU first allowed biotech crops. In a tender published on its website, the Commission's environment unit has advertised for interested parties to study the "potential cumulative long-term effects" of individual groups of GMO crops, and say where more research is required. "This study is partly about finding out where the gaps are. There are still some things about GMOs that we don't know. But we know more about them now than we did at the time (in 1997 and 1998)," [said] a Commission official. But green groups said the tender demonstrated how little EU research had been conducted on the long-term effects of GMOs on human and animal health, as well as on the environment. "We've a huge debate for eight years and in that time there have been no long-term studies," said Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner at environment group Friends of the Earth."

Full item: HERE

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Reuters, March 10, 2005 (UK)

Consumer fears of GMO food have dealt a heavy blow to Britain's biotech industry, with many scientists leaving and firms refocusing on conventional research, analysts said. "For most arable crops, conventional plant breeding is still, and will be, the mainstay...for the near future," said John Snape, head of the Crop Genetics department at the independent John Innes plant research centre. The British Society of Plant Breeders, which has nearly 50 company members, said conventional plant breeding contributed to around half of the threefold increase in UK wheat yields recorded between 1947 and 1992 and that yields were still rising. Brussels has made no approvals since 1998 of any new gene-spliced crop varieties for planting and growing in the EU. Analysts say GMO research has been hit hard.

Full item: HERE

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