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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. 17 November 2003


> GM Crops Can Be Worse For Environment

> NZ Split As GM Freeze Expires

> GE Crop Damages Canadian Exports

> USDA Reports 115 Infractions Of Biotech Rules

> Assembly Will Take Toughest Line On GM

> Wildlife Experts Warn Against GM Damage

> Detection Of GM DNA Fragments And Cry1ab Protein In Gastrointestinal Contents Of Pigs

> Farmers Can Set Up GM Free Zones

> Scientists Uncover Risks In GM Oil Seed Rape

> Ontario Seeks To Intervene In Court Case

> First Evidence That GM Superweeds Exist

> Insurers: Too Little Known For GM Crops Cover

> Swiss To Vote On Five Year GM Ban

> How GM Crop Trials Were Rigged

> US Firms 'Tried To Lie' Over GM Crops: EU

> Crops Giant Monsanto Pulls Out Of Europe

> Co-op Goes GM-free


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Editorial Two key events have been dominating GE headlines over the past month: the results of the UK's farm-scale GE trials and the expiry of New Zealand's moratorium on GE releases. Beneath the headlines there have been several significant research findings, so we've decided to make this Bulletin a four-page special. Recent studies have found the following: GE superweeds are a bigger problem than previously thought and one not prevented by crop isolation distances; bird populations - even species - are at risk from GE crops; bees can carry GE pollen up to 26km; DNA fragments and an insecticidal protein from GE corn can survive undegraded in pig intestines. In the UK the Co-op producer group has responded to overwhelming consumer pressure by going completely GE-free, and a survey of the five main insurance underwriters showed that none will provide cover for GE crops.

Note that on the website we also have copies of some of the original Canadian Government slideshow slides that are the basis of the item about loss of Canadian markets, and we include a link to the full UK Farm Scale trials documents.

GM CROPS CAN BE WORSE FOR ENVIRONMENT New Scientist, October 16, 2003 (UK) The results of the world's largest ever trial of GM crops show that two out of the three tested - oilseed rape and sugar beet - had a worse impact on farmland wildlife than conventional crops. The researchers stress that results measured the impact on wildlife of the herbicide regimes used - either glyphosate or glufosinate ammonium - not of the crops themselves, which are genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant. The negative environmental findings, which now go to the UK government and its official advisers on GM crops for appraisal, could give the government acceptable grounds under world trade rules to ban the commercialisation of the two crops. The third GM crop tested, maize, was better for wildlife than its conventional counterpart. But opponents say this result has been invalidated by the impending European ban on atrazine, the weedkiller used on the conventional maize against which the GM maize was judged. The organisers believe the four-year "farm scale evaluations" on 280 fields throughout Britain have been a resounding success. "It's the first time a novel agricultural technology has been trialled extensively before it's been introduced, rather than after," said Chris Pollock, chairman of the scientific steering committee which oversaw the £6 million trials. The researchers defended their results on maize, despite the impending withdrawal of atrazine against which the GM herbicides were compared. But they acknowledged that results might need to be "recalibrated" and extra field research might need to be done to gather data on whatever regime replaces atrazine in conventional maize. Full item:


NZ SPLIT AS GM FREEZE EXPIRES BBC News Online, October 28, 2003 (UK) New Zealand's debate over Genetic Modification (GM) has returned to centre stage as a moratorium on releasing GM organisms into the environment expires. The New Zealand Government has said the moratorium's ending would not mean a rash of GM releases. But in a nation dependent on agriculture and simultaneously proud of its green credentials, opposition is not fading away. For GM supporters, the rationale for a commodity trading nation such as New Zealand is clear: its economy could suffer if the country did not explore the potential uses of genetic modification. But those on the other side of the divide argue just as ardently that New Zealand should not squander its clean, green image, nor its clean green lifestyle. In parliament, the two members of the Labour-led government's junior coalition member, Progressive, invoked their right to vote against their senior partner and sided with the legislation's opponents. Just after the legislation was passed, a petition with 55,000 signatures, calling for a five-year extension to the moratorium, was presented to Green MPs, the most staunch parliamentary opponents of GM. A recent opinion poll showed that 53% of those polled did not have confidence in ERMA, 34% did have confidence, and 13% were unsure. For those opposing the expiry of the moratorium, the fight is not over. Full item:


GE CROP DAMAGES CANADIAN EXPORTS NZ Herald, October 6, 2003 (NZ/Canada) Official papers show Canada may be losing export markets because of its production of genetically engineered canola. The Sustainability Council said Canada's experience flies in the face of the Government's claims New Zealand's overseas markets will not be affected by the lifting of the moratorium on GM organisms. They say there is no broad market acceptance for GM products. "The production of GE canola is currently adversely affecting the value of non-GE canola, in some markets... The EU is effectively closed to all Canadian commodity canola. "A lawsuit has been launched by the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate against the GE canola developers for the loss of organic canola market due to GE pollen drift." The papers add producers are becoming worried about losing markets, while consumers were worried they could not distinguish between GM and non-GM products. "These concerns could precipitate a loss of confidence in the integrity of the Canadian food system, which could be very disruptive to the domestic system as well as to Canada's ability to export to demanding markets." Full item:


USDA REPORTS 115 INFRACTIONS OF BIOTECH RULES Reuters, October 21, 2003 (USA) US biotech companies and research universities have violated strict federal regulations on planting experimental genetically modified crops more than a hundred times in the last decade. The USDA said none of the 115 infractions resulted in any harm to US agriculture, the food supply, or the environment. "For an industry that has claimed to the public that ... they follow the law and protect the environment, 115 infractions seem large and is disturbing," said Gregory Jaffe, biotech director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Although none of the experimental GM crops made it into commerce, Monsanto said there were some instances where buffer crops surrounding the test field were inadvertently harvested and used. Environmental groups and consumer advocates said they believed many infractions have gone unreported due to the lack of USDA resources and personnel. "I think there is reason to believe there are many, many infractions that go unreported," said Richard Caplan of the US Public Interest Research Group. Full item:


ASSEMBLY WILL TAKE TOUGHEST LINE ON GM Daily Post, October 8, 2003 (Wales) Wales will adopt the most restrictive legal stand against the growing of genetically modified crops, Environment Minister Carwyn Jones declared yesterday. There was unanimous cross-party support for the Plaid motion. The stand recognised the "significant danger they pose to the organic industry and the potential risks to human health, animal health and the environment". Full item:


WILDLIFE EXPERTS WARN AGAINST GM DAMAGE The Observer, Sunday October 19, 2003 (UK) In a damning report, English Nature warns that the use of GM oilseed rape and sugar beet would speed up the loss of farmland birds, [and] that the technology will 'seriously degrade' swaths of countryside. The Government's conservation experts say the crop is Britain's most important for providing feed for birds, producing up to 30 times more sustenance than the average cereal field. Fears are mounting that species such as the skylark could be extinct in 20 years if GM farming goes ahead. Details of English Nature's report - to be submitted as key evidence when the Government decides whether to pursue the commercial growing of GM crops - come days after the most extensive trials ever suggested the technology could destroy populations of butterflies, bees and birds. Results of the trials have hardened already widespread opposition to the technology with The Observer learning that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has begun exploring the prospect of legal action if GM crops are approved. Full item:


DETECTION OF GM DNA FRAGMENTS AND CRY1AB PROTEIN IN GASTROINTESTINAL CONTENTS OF PIGS Journal of Animal Science 81:2546-2551, 2003 GM corn has been approved as an animal feed in several countries, but information about the fate of GM DNA and protein in vivo is insufficient. GM corn Bt11 is developed by inserting a recombinant DNA sequence encoding insecticidal Cry1Ab protein from Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki. We examined the presence of corn intrinsic and recombinant cry1Ab gene by PCR, and the Cry1Ab protein by immunological tests in the gastrointestinal contents of five genetically modified corn Bt11- fed and five nonGM corn-fed pigs. Fragments of recombinant cry1Ab gene (110 bp and 437 bp) were detected in the gastrointestinal contents of the Bt11-fed pigs but not in the control pigs. These results suggest that ingested corn DNA and Cry1Ab protein were not totally degraded in the gastrointestinal tract, as shown by their presence in a form detectable by PCR or immunological tests. Full item:


FARMERS CAN SET UP GM FREE ZONES The Independent on Sunday, October 12, 2003 (UK) Farmers are to be allowed to set up voluntary "GM-free zones" in a major U-turn by the European Commission. Ministers have already hinted that they could use the new power - which comes into force next month - because it would help them to head off intensifying public and political opposition to genetically modified crops. The pressure on ministers is mounting. More than 30 local councils, as well as the Welsh Assembly and the Lake District National Park Authority, have declared themselves GM-free. And a dozen councils are to ask the European Union to ban GM crops from being planted in their areas. Full item:


SCIENTISTS UNCOVER RISKS IN GM OIL SEED RAPE The Guardian, October 14, 2003 (UK) Government scientists have discovered that genetically modified oil seed rape cannot be contained by separating it from fields of conventional crops, after bees carried the pollen up to 16 miles (26km) away. A second piece of research has shown that once GM oil seed rape has been grown in a field, it would be 16 years before a conventional crop could be grown in the same field without fear of contamination of more than 0.9%, the threshold for claiming that the crop was GM free. The amount of gene flow rapidly declines over tens of metres and long distance transfer is "rare". Transfer from one field to the next is around 0.1%, one in 1,000. Long distance transfer was blamed on bees carrying the pollen back to the hive and swapping it with other pollen - fertilising plants thought to be miles out of reach. The scientists concluded: "Complete (100%) purity cannot be maintained by geographical separation." The second study involved the cross-pollination of rape with other wild relatives and spilt seed regrowing in fields the next year. Only rigorous spraying with weedkiller every year for five years would reduce them to less than the 0.9% contamination level for the new crops to be classed as non-GM. If the field was not sprayed, the model predicted that the presence of the original variety in subsequent crops would not fall below 1% for 16 years. Full item:


ONTARIO SEEKS TO INTERVENE IN COURT CASE Globe and Mail, October 9, 2003 (Canada) Fearing that gene-patenting issues could compromise patient care and escalate health-care costs, Ontario is seeking to intervene in a court case involving genetically modified crops. A looming Supreme Court case [of Percy Schmeiser and Monsanto Co] could end up setting ground rules that would extend far beyond agriculture, the province says in a legal brief filed last week. Ontario argues that it has "fresh and different perspective" to bring to the case, which is to be heard by the Supreme Court in January. Doctors and farmers alike are wrestling with corporations that are attempting to lay claim to sequences of DNA and to profit from related technologies. Basically, the province says that gene-patenting laws must be kept from tilting too far in favour of corporations, or else patients in the publicly funded health-care system will suffer. "It's not just a cost issue - we're concerned about the ability of patients to access the best health care and the ability of researchers to develop the best test and treatments," said Sara Blake, a lawyer for the attorney-general of Ontario. The fear is that overly broad gene-patenting laws could handcuff doctors and researchers. Early this year, Ontario got into a war of words with a Utah-based company that lays claim to two genes associated with breast cancer and also to related tests that screen patients for the disease. Full item:


FIRST EVIDENCE THAT GM SUPERWEEDS EXIST Independent, October 10, 2003 (UK) The first national study of how genes pass from crops to weeds reveal[s] that hybridisation is both more widespread and frequent than previously anticipated. The government-funded scientists said the latest findings "contrast" with previous assessments of gene flow between farm crops and weeds suggest[ing] the danger of hybridisation was limited. Mike Wilkinson of Reading University, who led the study published today in the journal Science, said physical barriers such as isolation distances - buffer zones designed to stop pollen spreading from GM crops into the wild - would have only a limited impact on preventing hybridisation. "It depends on what level of hybridisation you deem acceptable but if you want to absolutely prevent hybrids then isolation distances will not do so," Dr Wilkinson said. "Our findings are directly transferable to almost all sorts of genetically modified oilseed rape," he said. "The only exceptions will be ones where there is male sterility introduced into the crop." Full item:


INSURERS: TOO LITTLE KNOWN FOR GM CROPS COVER Yorkshire Post, October 7, 2003 (UK) Farmers seeking insurance cover could encounter problems following the controversy over GM crops, it is claimed. The warning came yesterday after a survey of this country's main insurance underwriters by new campaigning group FARM, set up as an independent voice for farmers. It said its survey found that neither farmers considering growing GM crops, nor non-GM farmers seeking to protect their businesses from GM crop contamination, would be able to find cover from any of the five main firms it questioned. FARM's national coordinator Robin Maynard said: "Time and time again, farmers have borne the brunt of someone else's mistakes or short-cuts - BSE, organophosphates, salmonella etc..." "It's time farmers got out of the firing line and let those seeking to force GM crops into our fields and on to supermarket shelves take the flak... If Government and their friends in the biotech companies dispute the judgment of the professional insurers, perhaps they will offer unlimited cover to the few farmers willing to risk growing GM crops?" "In addition, for both farmers and consumers, they need to guarantee - what the insurers clearly believe isn't possible - that GM crops can be grown without contaminating the crops of the majority of farmers who want to remain GM-free." Full item:


SWISS TO VOTE ON FIVE YEAR GM BAN Reuters, October 21, 2003 (Switzerland) Swiss opponents of GM foods have forced a referendum, which, if successful, will ban GM products from Switzerland for the next five years. A coalition of environmentalists and farmers collected more than 120,000 votes to back a referendum to keep Switzerland GM-free. Full item:


CBCP says Vatican never endorsed GMOs Inquirer News Service, October 2, 2003 (Philippines) "(The) government's claims that the Pope has endorsed GMOs are unsubstantiated and premature," the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), social action arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said. The CBCP was reacting to news reports quoting President Macapagal-Arroyo who, after visiting Pope John Paul II last September, said the Vatican did not consider GMOs as immoral. The outgoing CBCP president, Orlando Quevedo, told anti-GMO advocates that there has been "no official endorsement from the Pope." "Amid escalating opposition, government acknowledges that any pronouncement from the Vatican is pivotal in influencing the opinion of Filipinos on GMOs," Nassa said. But the CBCP-Nassa stressed that it stands by its convictions that "GMOs subvert people's right to food" and this, it said, is "a human rights violation that arises from the patenting of GMOs as mandated by the WTO." Full item:


HOW GM CROP TRIALS WERE RIGGED Indpendent on Sunday, October 12 , 2003 (UK) Ministers knew of the environmental dangers, but the tests were designed not to focus on this. Their establishment, in 1999, was a political act. Michael Meacher, the then environment minister who was already developing doubts about the technology, pulled off a remarkably skilful coup in getting all sides to agree to them and thus postpone the introduction of commercial GM crops until the results were in. In classic Whitehall fashion, the tests - on GM maize, oilseed rape, and sugar beet - were fixed in a way that everyone thought would enable the technology to pass them. Everyone knew, even then, that the main danger to the environment from GM crops was that they would cross-pollinate with nearby plants. So the trials were deliberately designed not to focus on this. Pro-GM ministers asserted that the results of the trials would determine the Government's final decision on GM agriculture. More recently ministers and the industry have begun to be seized by the dread that it might all go horribly wrong, with ministers stressing that the results of the tests would be just one element in the final verdict. And so it seems to have proved. So ministers started preparing plans to approve GM maize, while banning or postponing modified sugar beet and oilseed rape. This strategy has been torpedoed by last week's EU's ban on atrazine, the weedkiller used on conventional maize. It has long been on the danger list, suspected of causing cancer and "gender- bender" effects. Now it will have to be withdrawn within 12 months. This invalidates the tests, because they no longer reflect the real conditions under which crops will be grown. Unless they carry out new trials with an alternative to atrazine, ministers cannot claim that growing GM maize is safe. Full item:


US FIRMS 'TRIED TO LIE' OVER GM CROPS: EU Independent, October 14, 2003 (UK) American biotech companies tried to lie to Europe in an attempt to force GM crops upon them, Margot Wallström, the European environment commissioner, said yesterday. "They tried to lie to people, and they tried to force it upon people. It's the wrong approach. You cannot force it upon Europe. So I hope they have learnt a lesson from this, especially when they now try to argue that this will solve the problems of starvation. But come on ... it was to solve starvation amongst shareholders, not the developing world." Mrs Wallström's unusually outspoken remarks will add to the ill- feeling between Europe and the US over genetic modification, which has led to the US government launching a legal action through the World Trade Organisation. Full item:


CROPS GIANT MONSANTO PULLS OUT OF EUROPE The Daily Telegraph, October 15, 2003 (UK) Monsanto said Wednesday it was pulling out of its European cereal seed business. The move was widely seen as a sign that it has given up hopes of introducing GM cereals in Europe. It announced its decision on the eve of Thursday's publication of results of farm-scale British evaluations of GM crops. Monsanto's announcement that it wants to sell its cereal development stations at Cambridge, England, and in France, Germany and the Czech Republic, followed hardening resistance to GM crops throughout Europe. Jeff Cox, Monsanto's general manager for northern Europe said the company needed to save up to £65 million and would be making one in 11 of its workers redundant worldwide. Full item:


CO-OP GOES GM-FREE BBC News, October 21, 2003 (UK) The Co-op has announced that it is banning genetically modified food and ingredients throughout its entire business after four- fifths of customers surveyed said they would not knowingly buy food containing GM ingredients The company is Britain's biggest farmer and sells 5bn worth of food annually. Animals on its 85,000 acres of farms will not be given GM feed. The Co-op will also refuse to grow GM crops even if the government insists it is safe. The move is likely to put pressure on other supermarket groups to eliminate GM ingredients from their food produce. Martin Beaumont, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, said: "On the strength of current scientific knowledge and the overwhelming opposition of our members, the Co-op is saying no to commercial growing of GM crops in the UK. "And we would urge other consumer-led businesses to follow this precautionary approach. Too little is still understood about this technology and how it would impact on our environment in future generations. "Let the science and research continue, but unless or until the case is convincingly made, the government has a responsibility to keep the lid on commercial growing." Full item:

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