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Genetic Engineering Newsletter Nr. 16, November 2000

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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 16
November 2000

supported by
Gerling-Foundation, Triodos-Stichting, Mahle-Foundation &
Gemeinnuetzige Treuhandstelle e.V. / GLS Gemeinschaftsbank eG
in co-operation with Heinrich-Boell-Foundation

Legal and political developments
USA and Canada
Science News
Business News
News from the Life Science Industry
Special Tip

Legal and political developments


EU postpones decision on Italian GM maize ban

A European Union committee delayed a decision whether Italy was right to ban
four types of GM maize which have approval for use throughout the EU. The
committee was due to form an opinion on the issue which could have led to
the EU forcing Italy to lift its ban. But they agreed to wait until the EU's
executive Commission comes forward with new proposals on how GM products
should be marketed before they take their decision (Reuters News,
20.10.2000, cited from GENET 3-Food, 29.10.2000).

European Parliament takes position to White Book on Food Safety

The European Parliament gave its opinion on the White Book of the Commission
for Food Safety. The Members of Parliament expressed their agreement for the
creation of an authority responsible for the evaluation of health risks
posed by food and animal feed. Though it should remain to the EU Commission
to decide whether the risk assessment needs to be followed by a ban.
Furthermore the Parliament supports to extend the Institute for Health and
Consumer Protection to deal with these topics (AgroOnline, 26.10.2000,

Not approved GM maize found on food in Austria

In Austria, the environmental organisations Friends of the Earth and Global
2000 found in 30 random samples of foods eight products with genetically
modified maize-varieties not approved within the EU. They identified the
maize variety GA 21 of Monsanto, which is still under review for approval by
the EU member states. Furthermore they detected DBT418 of DeKalb, a variety
which has not even been applied for approval in the EU ( Aktuell,

GM maize planted in Germany starting in 2001?

According to newspaper articles, the German Life Science Industry raised
warnings that they could start commercial sowing of GM crops on German
farmland starting from 2001. A spokesperson of the Federal Office of Plant
Varieties confirmed the possible approval of three GM maize varieties before
the spring sowing. Taking this step, the Industry would break the "alliance
for maize", which foresees a three year research program on chances and
risks of genetic engineering by the federal government starting 2001 aiming
to reduce the scepticism of the people. In return, the industry committed
itself not to grow and market GM maize outside the research programme. Now
the industry blames the government taking only hesitant actions
(LifeScience, 16.10.2000,

German seed producers against safety distances

The Association of German Plant Breeders turned their voice against a
proposal of safety distances between fields planted with GM- and
Non-GM-crops. The association favours regulations which tolerate a
cross-pollination of 3 percent (LifeScience, 02.11.2000,

British hearing on approval of Charon LL on seed list postponed

The British government requested that the public hearing into GM crops be
postponed indefinitely. The hearing was called to hear objections to a
government proposal to list Charon LL to the national seed list. The
postponement call follows revelations that official basic tests on the GM
maize had only been conducted for 1 year by the French authorities rather
than the 2 required under EU law. The UK government is now waiting for
guidance from the EU Commission, as the defects in the French testing regime
have serious EU-wide implications (Friends of the Earth Press Release,
09.11.2000, cited from AGNET 12.11.2000).


USA and Canada

300 US products contaminated with StarLink

The American Food and Drug Administration published a list of 300 products
which were found being contaminated with the GM maize variety StarLink. All
those products were recalled by the producers (LifeScience, 06.11.2000,

Terminator chickens developed in the USA

The US Biotech firm AviGenics is genetically engineering a chicken to yield
more meat. In addition, the company plans to insert a DNA copyright tag
among its genes to stop anyone from breeding it without permission.
AviGenics is one of several US companies that are also adding human genes to
chickens, in the hope of turning the poultry into drug factories -
transgenic birds that produce pharmaceuticals that they can extract and
for profit (Patnews, 25.10.2000, cited from GENET 5-Animals, 31.10.2000).

Canadian Parliament votes against mandatory labelling

The Canadian Members of Parliament voted decisively against mandatory
labelling of food containing GM ingredients. They voted against a motion to
require labelling and extensive government research into the effects of GM
foods. Now the Canadian General Standards Board is considering how and
whether to write rules for voluntary GMO labelling while the Royal Society
of Canada has been asked to study future developments and to recommend
policies to the federal government (The Western Producer, 26.10.2000, cited
from GENET 6-Regulation 31.10.2000).


StarLink also found in Japan - agreement on control measures with the US

Food in Japan has been tested positive for StarLink contamination. Therefore
the Japanese government has asked the USDA for assurance that the corn would
not be in any further shipments to the country. The US now begins testing
corn being shipped to Japan for the presence of StarLink grain as Japan
accepted the testing plans which foresee that corn bound for Japan will be
tested for StarLink residues when it is loaded on barges and railcars and
which will then be sealed until the grain is moved onto ships (IFT Food
Science and Daily News, 06.11.2000, cited from AGNET 06.11.2000 II).

Korea recalls StarLink contaminated food

The Korea Food and Drug Administration recalled 14 tons of tortillas
contaminated by StarLink corn. KFDA has also asked the US embassy in Seoul
to ensure no more exports of corn and processed food contaminated by
StarLink were made to Korea from now (Reuters News, 10.11.2000, cited from
AGNET, 10.11.2000).

Taiwan will require labelling for GM foods

Health authorities in Taiwan announced they will require mandatory labelling
of food with GM ingredients. According to officials, the government will act
quickly and develop the necessary regulations by the end of this year.
Labels are to be required in 2001 (CropChoice  #185, 19.10.2000,


Australian States entitled to decide on approval for GM plants

Australian States won the right to decide for themselves whether to grow
genetically modified organisms. This means that states have the power to ban
individual GM crops on marketing grounds, and it opens up the prospect of
GM-free regions or even an entire GM-free state. An amendment to the new
Gene Technology bill will also enshrine a state's right to appeal on
environmental grounds against a federal decision to allow a GMO release (The
Age, 07.11.2000, cited from AGNET 06.11.2000 II).

Greenpeace labels GM foods in Mexican supermarket

Environmental activists entered an upscale Mexico City supermarket and
boldly labelled mainstream corn flour products that contain genetically
modified corn with stickers bearing a giant "X" for "X-perimental". Corn
flour processors targeted by Greenpeace included Maseca and Grupo Minsa,
Mexico's two main corn producers (Reuters News, 12.10.2000, cited from GENET
2-Plants, 16.10.2000).

Ukraine consumers want GM foods labelled

A recent poll done by the Ukrainian Consumer Institute showed 82% of people
want labelling on GM food. At the moment, Ukraine has neither legal
provision for identifying GM-components nor the tools to oblige importers to
label their products. The GM debate is quite new to Ukraine and no official
or public monitoring of potentially GM foods has been initiated yet (GENET
3-Food, 20.10.2000).


Thailand brings first GMO complaint to WTO

The government of Thailand filed a complaint against Egypt in the first case
to become before the WTO involving GMOs. Egypt has banned imports of canned
tuna from Thailand in January 2000, believing them to be packed in
genetically modified soybean oil. Thailand objects the ban because it is
imposed only on Thai products. While Thailand is not disputing Egypt's right
to ban food imports, Bangkok complains that the Egypt ban illegally
discriminates against its exports because Egypt has no evidence that the
soybean oil contains GMOs (Weekly trade News Digest 373, 04.10.2000, GENET
8-Misc, 27.10.2000).

Science News

GM maize detected in chickens

German scientists detected DNA material of genetically engineered maize in
organs and muscles of chickens. For 32 days, the animals were only fed with
Bt maize. After they were slaughtered, the scientists examined tissue
samples of kidneys, spleen, liver and meat from the thighs and breast by PCR
(Polymerase Chain Reaction). They found in all animals typical sequences of
maize-DNA, though not the engineered genes. But the scientists presume that
also fragments of those genes arrive at edible parts of chicken
(LifeScience, 06.11.2000,

Maize DNA also found in cows and even milk

Another German working group also did studies with Bt maize fed to chickens
and cows. DNA-Sequences of maize were detected in blood-immune-cells of cows
and also in traces in milk. In chickens, the DNA material was detectable in
almost all organs. The fact that no genetically engineered sequences were
found beyond the inserted parts is according to the scientist only a
question of probability. The Bt-gene only has a share of 0,0001% of the
whole maize genome (Bauernstimme 11/2000, p. 8).

Parkinson caused by pesticides?

Considering the results of an animal test study, the Parkinson disease might
be promoted by pesticides. The study shows that exposure to a small dose of
a broadly used insecticide (Rotenone) over a longer period of time causes
typical symptoms of Parkinson disease. According to the scientists, these
results urge cautious dealing with the substance and poses the question if
environmental toxins, including pesticides, can promote certain diseases in
the long term (LifeScience, 06.11.2000,

Prevention of cross-pollination of maize

American Scientists might have found a way to stop corn from
cross-pollinating at all. They discovered an interesting characteristic at a
grassy wild relative of corn. Despite being a corn relative, the plant which
is growing as a weed in Mexican cornfields, it doesn't cross with it's
cousins in the field. The gene complex responsible for this genetic
stability has now been identified. The researchers want to transfer the gene
complex into corn via traditional breeding and hope to create corn-varieties
for commercial planting as early as 2003. The scientists foresee an
application of those varieties especially for non-GMO and organic producers.
According to them, farmers could ensure the genetic integrity of their corn
crops. Application for patents on the genes and process have already been
made; these varieties therefore surely will be more expensive than those not
protected against cross-pollination. Remains the question who is supposed to
carry the burden to guarantee for a GM-free production - those involved in
non-GMO agriculture or those responsible for contamination with GMOs
(CropChoice #184, 18.10.2000,

Non-GM corn variety resistant to insect pest

American Scientists have developed four lines of inbred sweet corn whose
silk have a natural compound that can kill corn earworms. The compound in
the new lines is restricted to corn silks where earworms start their
feeding. It is only active in the earworm's gut and is not toxic to humans
or other animal. In forced-feeding trials, a concentration of the compound
of less than one third of 1 percent of the silk's total fresh weight was
enough to kill 50 percent of earworms that digested it. The scientists are
now using marker-assisted selection to speed development of hybrids with
high concentrations of that certain compound (Plant Breeding News 118,

Business News

News from the Life Science Industry

Avebe must remove volunteer GM potatoes

Under threat of a 1000 guilders penalty per hectare, the Dutch inspection
service for environmental hygiene ordered the potato starch producing
company Avebe to remove genetically engineered potatoes from certain fields.
Last year the company planted the GM potato variety Apriori, though it did
not have and later did not get approval for commercial planting. The
contract cultivators had to bring the potatoes back from the fields.
Apparently they did not remove them properly, since in the following year
the left tubers grew to complete potato plants (Bauernstimme 11/2000, p.

Monsanto presents figueres on GM planting

Monsanto announced the number of acres planted with its genetically
engineered crops rose 9% world-wide this year. Monsanto's GM seeds were
planted on 94 million acres, up from 86 million acres planted in 1999,
according to the company's estimates. Monsanto wouldn't provide a geographic
breakdown of the planting figures, but said that 59 million acres were
planted with GM soy, up from 54,8 million last year; plantings of GM corn
fell slightly from 19,3 to 19 million acres, engineered cotton rose to 10,3
million acres (7,4 million) and biotech canola rose to 5,4 million acres
(4,6 million) (Bloomberg, 30.10.2000, cited from AGNET, 06.11.2000 II).

Parts of fungicide business of Novartis sold to Bayer

Novartis sold the world-wide fungicide business of "Flint" to Bayer Crop
Protection, a subsidiary of Bayer Inc. for 880 million Euro. At the moment
the fungicide is sold in Switzerland, the US, Great Britain, Norway,
Ireland, Belgium and South Africa. The sale of the Flint business and other
parts of the fungicide business was required by EU cartel authorities to
give approval to the merger of Syngenta Inc. (AgroOnline, 17.10.2000,


BSE - further animals may pass on pathogen?

According to fears of experts, beside cattle sheep and other animals may
pass on the BSE pathogen to humans. It is known that pigs, chickens and
sheep received BSE contaminated feed. If they possibly pass the pathogen
though they themselves do not get the disease is not clarified yet. Trials
showed that sheep can be infected with BSE by animal feed. Besides, the
infection is not restricted to their nerves but spreads through the whole
meat and can be passed on by blood from animal to animal (LifeScience,

City of Munich is biggest organic farmer in Bavaria

With 800 ha and a total of 60% of their agricultural area converted to
organic farming, Munich is the biggest organic farmer in Bavaria. According
to a decision of the city council in 1989, six of eleven city estates are
farmed organically with the aim to preserve cultivated area and nearby
recreational area. Though the area was bought by the city in long term for
eventual building development. Other major cities such as Hamburg, Berlin,
Frankfurt/Main, Leipzig and Hanover also more and more support an
environment-friendly agriculture (Bauernstimme 11/2000, p.10).

Special Tip
Video tape: "Organic research - An African success-story"
If you are interested in alternatives to genetic engineering in agriculture,
you should take notice of a 12 minute video tape reporting on the research
work of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, based in
Kenya, which is doing pioneer-work in biological pest-control. We have
already reported on their push&pull method (Genetic Engineering Newsletter
Nr. 12). More information at

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