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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 28
November 2001

supported by 
Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft, Gerling Foundation, Triodos-Stichting, Mahle 
Foundation & Hatzfeldt Foundation

Contents
Legal and political developments
Europe
North America
Asia
Others
Science News
Business News
News From Organic Farming


Legal and political developments

Europe

Labelling laws leaves EU in GMO quandary
The European Commission plans compulsory labels for all food products made 
from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These strict measures have raised 
problems with U.S. farmers and exporters, who believe them to be unworkable. 
But they may be able to live with them if - as the Commission wants - they lead 
to the swift lifting of a three-year-old de facto ban on approvals of new GM 
varieties in Europe. Under new traceability proposals, any food product derived 
from a GM crop must be labelled as such, even if the genetic material is 
removed during the manufacturing process - as is the case with some vegetable 
oils. The regulation will require manufacturers to provide certificates of GM 
content at each stage of the production process, an obligation that according to 
U.S. farmers will augment costs and be an administrative burden open to 
mistakes and fraud. They would prefer a system based on the testing for GM 
content in the final product placed on the market. The Commission has been 
forced to take a tough line to appease a hard core of the six member States: 
France, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, Italy and Greece, which have said they 
would not authorise any new GM crops until the laws were in place. A total of 13 
GM varieties have been in regulatory limbo since 1998, leaving companies like 
Monsanto and Novartis waiting for years to know whether their new strains of 
modified maize, soy and cotton can be sold in the EU. The Commission has 
now proposed that approvals restart immediately, even though the new labelling 
laws have not yet been adopted - a process that could take another two years. It 
suggested last month that the EU should license new GMOs as long as their 
producers agreed to be bound by the new rules. However, it appears that the 
hard core of member states are sticking to their guns, and demanding the 
legislation to be fully in place on the statute books before any new approvals 
could be made. During a meeting of EU environment ministers in Luxembourg in 
October, only Spain, the Netherlands and the UK showed any willingness to 
accept the Commission's idea. It isn't possible to start discussing a possible 
end to the moratorium as long as there is no operational system on traceability 
and labelling, and that is some way off, the French Minister for the Environment 
Yves Cochet told during the meeting. Some countries, such as France and 
Luxembourg, are also hinting they may insist on additional laws covering the 
environmental liability of GMOs - leading to extra delays (Reuters 11/09/2001, 
cited from GENET 11/16/01). Germany might be about to join the group of 
countries opposing against a lifting of the moratorium. Germany´s Minister for 
Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture Renate Kuenast wrote a letter to the 
Commission signalling a shift in the country´s policy towards overt support for 
the ban (Environmental Daily 10/17/2001, cited from GENET 10/31/2001).

GM seed labelling measures approved by the Welsh Assembly
The Welsh Assembly approved to take new measures towards genetically-
modified seed after being threatened with a 300 million £ fine from the EU. 
Members voted to approve new regulations for strict labelling of GM seeds after 
being warned the Assembly was in breach of EU obligations as the measures 
should have been passed in February. Plaid Cymru abstained from the vote on 
the measures, saying they did not go far enough. The regulations come on top 
of new directives approved by the Assembly in October aimed at consolidating 
the internal market on seeds and introducing new safeguards on genetically-
modified plant varieties. The Assembly was forced to scale down its opposition 
to GM crops after being warned refusal to do so could result in legal 
proceedings from Europe. The Lib-Lab coalition has pledged to press for a 
moratorium on all GM crop trials in Wales. That policy is in line with the 
Assembly's expressed desire to operate the most restrictive policy possible on 
future commercial GM crop developments within the context of existing EU 
legislation (icWales, UK, 
http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0200wales/page.cfm?objectid=1141381
7&method=full - GENET 11/16/2001).

Slovak cabinet approves draft law on GM food
According to a draft bill which the cabinet passed on the 31st of October, 
genetically modified food products or food made of genetically modified 
materials will have to be labelled. If passed by parliament, the bill will be 
effective from the beginning of next year. The law on the use of genetic 
technologies and genetically modified organisms is the first of this kind in 
Slovakia and is necessary for harmonising the Slovak law in this field with the 
legal norms of the European Union (BBC Monitoring UK, cited from GENET 
11/05/2001).

Lower yields and higher costs planting GM maize 
The Spanish regional newspaper Diario de Navarra published some results of a 
three years study on the transgenic maize variety COMPA CB which is based 
on Novartis event 176 maize. According to the news the yields of the transgenic 
variety are no higher and in fact often lower than equivalent non-GMO maize 
varieties. The seed costs about 1000 pesetas more per dosis (packets of 50.000 
seeds). For these reasons, plus the fact that transgenic maize is now hard to 
market, the Navarre Agricultural Research Institute (ITG.A) considers to cease 
the transgenic maize production in Navarre (Diario de Navarra 10/23/2001; cited 
from GENET 10/29/2001).

short notes: The Netherlands have to permit patents on genes. The European 
Court sentenced the Government of the Netherlands to permit in future patents 
on genetically modified organisms (CREAM e-Ne.ws 10/22/2001 http://www.w-
Ne.ws – see also Genetic Engineering Newsletter 27 October 2001).
GM maize found in many food products in Northwestern Switzerland: 56 food 
products were tested for GMO`s. 28 products (50 %) contained low amounts of 
GMO´s (below 1%). 

North America

US regulators renew the registration for Bt corn use for 7 years / economist are 
studying the economic impact of planting Bt corn
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) renewed the registration for 
the cultivation and marketing of five Bt maize varieties, which had been applied 
by several companies. According to the EPA risk assessment studies on the Bt-
varieties made by Monsanto Co., DuPont Co., Dow Chemical and Syngenta AG 
didn´t reveal any risks for human health or the environment (Reuters 10/18/2001, 
cited from GENET 10/18/2001. A team of researchers at the Purdue University 
(USA) which studied the economic impact of planting Bt corn found out that 
higher-priced Bt seed, combined with lower corn borer infestation levels and 
other issues, makes transgenic corn less attractive than traditional varieties for 
farmers in Indiana. Bt corn costs are often higher than returns in Indiana. In total 
farmers at the eastern end of the nation's Corn Belt are less likely to recover the 
cost of planting seed containing the gene Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), than 
producers farther west, (AgAnswers, by Purdue University, USA – 10/25/2001 - 
http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/aganswers/2001/10-26_Corn_Costs.html; 
cited from GENET 10/29/2001)

Restaurants and grocers asked to avoid transgenic fish 
Three environmental groups are asking seafood retailers across the United 
States not to sell genetically engineered fish and to oppose their 
commercialisation. Citing potential negative human health effects and a threat to 
the genetic purity of wild salmon, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food 
Safety, and Clean Water Action announced a new campaign that aims to 
prevent the commercialisation of genetically engineered fish. Transgenic fish of 
various species of salmon, tilapia, channel catfish and others are being actively 
investigated worldwide as possible new food producing varieties (Environmental 
News Network 10/22/2001; cited from GENET 10/31/2001).

Food policy Institute awarded 2.5 million $ from USDA
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded a $ 2.5 million grant to the 
Food Policy Institute, a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional institute based 
at Cook College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. The grant 
was awarded for evaluating the consumer perception on biotechnology, which is 
seen as a key issue facing the food industry and the public (Ascribe News, The 
Public Interest Newswire http://www.ascribe.orgy; cited from AGNET 
10/26/2001).

Organic Farmers from Saskatchewan plan suit against biotech companies
Saskatchewan organic farmers plan to take legal aim at developers of 
genetically-modified (GM) crops, claiming that transgenic canola has crashed 
their market for the oilseed. At a news conference the Saskatchewan Organic 
Directorate (SOD) announced its intention to file a class action lawsuit, likely 
against companies involved in GM crop development such as Monsanto. The 
group's lawyer was cited as confirming that SOD will launch a fund today to pay 
for the claim. The lawsuit will seek compensation from those responsible for the 
damage caused to organic farmers of Saskatchewan caused by the introduction 
of genetically engineered canola. The suit will also attempt to prevent the 
introduction of GM wheat into Saskatchewan. There was no indication when the 
suit will be filed (The Leader-Post, Canada 10/12/2001; cited from GENET 
10/29/2001).

Asia

Bt cotton controversy in Gujarat/India – an update
Unapproved GM cotton (the variety Navbharat 151) was detected in Gujarat 
(India) in the beginning of October (see Genetic Engineering Newsletter 27). The 
company Navbharat Seeds which sold this variety announced now that it has 
not carried out genetic engineering methods to produce seeds. The company 
has even no facilities of genetic engineering research. It has basically produced 
a hybrid from cotton plants collected from Maharashtra, selected superior 
hybrids, which had been registered as the hybrid Navbharat 151. This hybrid 
variety was marketed during the last two years. The company argues that the 
source of the Bt-gene in the Navbharat 151 hybrid has come from either the 
open field trials undertaken by Monsanto and MAHYCO or by cross-pollination 
from their trials with other cotton varieties. In either case Monsanto and 
MAHYCO are the source of the genetic pollution which has now entered the 
commercial seed supply through hybridisation either intentional or natural 
(Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, India – 11/ 
12/2001; cited from GENET 11/14/2001).

Others

New Zealand: Government extends moratorium on commercial GE release
New Zealand´s Prime Minister Helen Clark today confirmed the Government 
would extend a moratorium on the commercial release of genetically engineered 
organisms for two years. She also confirmed the widely signalled plan to allow 
GE research to continue under contained conditions with mandatory controls 
and monitoring (New Zealand Herald – 10/30/2001 – 
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyID=225617&thesection=news&t
hesubsection=general – cited from GENET 10/30/2001)

Mexico: Fox administration to legalize GM crops 
According to Greenpeace the Mexican Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) is 
working to legalize the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. Sagarpa 
discussed in closed-door meetings with agribusiness executives, the creation of 
a measure that would set the rules by which GM agricultural products could be 
grown and sold on a large scale (The News Mexico – 11/02/2001; cited from 
GENET 11/06/2001).

Soya productivity in Brazil surpassed the USA without transgenics
Soybean productivity in Brazil surpassed that of the United States this year, 
thanks to technological advances in agriculture which did not include the use of 
genetically modified crops. Brazil's productivity averaged 2,708 kg per hectare 
this year, compared to 2,594 kg per hectare in the United States, as calculated 
by the US Department of Agriculture (Inter Press Service (IPS/IMS), Rio de 
Janeiro – 10/08/2001; cited from AGNET 10/09/2001).

Science News

Transgenic plants for the production of medicines and vaccines
A considerable selection of medicines are produced today by genetic 
engineering methods. Up to now mainly bacteria and cell cultures derived from 
animals are used to produce pharmaceutical products like insulin, interferon or 
vaccines against jaundice. But the production of medicines in bacteria or 
mammal cell cultures has several disadvantages. First the production is quiet 
expensive, since the proteins have to be further processed prior to their 
application, and second the proteins can cause immune defence reactions or 
can transmit pathogens like the hepatitis B virus. Interestingly in the public 
debate when the bacterial derived human insulin was introduced the opponents 
discussed the argument of bacterial toxins and also the other problems. (On 
this point it should also be mentioned, that we don´t know anything about the 
possible production of plant toxins and plant derived allergens.) According to Dr. 
Stefan Schillberg from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied 
Ecology in Aachen, Germany, the production in plants has the advantage that 
plants don´t produce bacterial toxins, viruses or other pathogens. The 
expression of heterologous proteins and antigens in plants could be a safer and 
more economic way to produce pharmaceutical substances. 
The plant cell contains all components of the protein biosynthesis of higher 
developed organisms, including mammals, so it is also possible to produce 
highly complex proteins in plants on condition the gene encoding for these 
proteins are characterized and suitable gene constructs, which can be 
successfully transferred into plants, are developed. Another vision regarding the 
use of plants as bioreactors is the possibility to produce edible vaccines in 
plants. But up to now it is not known how to achieve, that the vaccines are 
produced steadily in the same concentrations. There exists also a lack of 
research regarding the absorption of such vaccines. Prior to the application of 
transgenic plants as bioreactors an adequate risk assessment has to be carried 
out. It has to be guaranteed that health risks and environmental risks, like 
outcrossing of the transgenic plants including the transfer of foreign genes to 
closely related wild races and food crops, don´t occur. That will be a hard task 
to achieve (Schillberg & Fischer: Molecular Farming, Enzyklopaedie 
Naturwissenschaft und Technik, 6. Erg.-Lfg. 2/2001; Chargelegue et al.: 
Transgenic plants for vaccine production. HMS Beagle, Issue 112, 10/12/2001; 
http://news.bmn.com/hmsbeagle/112/notes/feature12).

Research on the impact of genetically engineered fish
The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) has given a four-year, $425 
000,00 grant to the Institute for Social, Economic and Ecological Sustainability 
(ISEES) at the University of Minnesota for building up the capacity of scientists, 
regulators and environmental leaders in Thailand to evaluate and regulate the 
environmental safety of genetically engineered organisms. The AID grant will 
support the first scientific research on the effects of introducing GM tilapia, a 
fish that is a major food source in the region. Tilapia has been genetically 
engineered for growth enhancement. Large numbers of tilapias are raised in fish 
farms around the world. The species is not native in Thailand, but some have 
escaped into natural rivers and wetlands and established wild populations. The 
work will evaluate the potential safety or risk to biodiversity from the introduction 
of this transgenic line. According to ISEES Director Anne Kapuscinski, a 
professor of fisheries and conservation biology and principal investigator for the 
grant, the Thai government has discouraged several requests to introduce GM 
tilapia on account of the absence of case-specific risk assessment data and 
insufficient capability to assess and control genetically modified organisms.
The project will measure the likelihood that genetic material will flow from the 
introduced genetically modified tilapia to the existing wild populations of the fish. 
The impact of the introduction on other fish populations will also be evaluated. 
Another goal of the project is to help officials in Thailand and neighbouring 
countries in increasing their skills in science-based risk assessment and safety 
management of genetically engineered organisms (GENET 11/06/2001).

Pollen transport via honey bees
Daniel Skinner from the Washington State University and Paul St. Amand from 
the Kansas State University have carried out a three-year risk assessment 
study on the cultivation of alfalfa (Medicago sativa). According to Daniel Skinner 
the first commercially available transgenic alfalfa variety can be expected in 
2004, therefore it is necessary to evaluate suitable isolation requirements for 
fields of trangenic alfalfa. Alfalfa relies on insects like honey bees and leafcutter 
bees for pollination. To evaluate adequate isolation distances it has to be 
investigated how far these insects carry the transgenic pollen. Skinner and St. 
Amand planted alfalfa that carried a rare but naturally occurring molecular 
marker, which allowed the pollen to be tracked as if it contained a new gene. 
They tracked pollen movement from the marker-bearing alfalfa plants to trap 
plots planted up to about 1000 m away. Using statistical models Skinner and 
St. Amand estimated that a minimum isolation distance of about 1.500 m may 
be required to prevent gene flow. It has to be noted that some putative 
pollinators fly even greater distances. Such movements couldn´t be detected, 
because of the lack of trap plots in larger distances 
(http://www.checkbiotech.org – 10/11/01).

Outcrossing of transgenic squash into wild relatives
Hybridisation between crops and their weedy or wild relatives is an area of 
concern because the widespread use of genetically engineered crops may allow 
novel transgenes to enter nearby populations. It is known that crops such as 
rice, sunflower, rape, squash, sorghum, sugar beet and carrot can hybridise with 
wild relatives. However, the potential benefits of crop genes to populations of 
wild relatives, especially the inserted traits of genetically engineered cultivars, 
are unknown. Possible consequences of gene transfer into wild species or of 
propagation of transgenic plants cannot be foreseen. For example Canadian 
farmers are facing now a new weed problem. Transgenic rape varieties carrying 
a gene for herbicide resistance appeared this summer in fields, where other 
crops are planted. These canola plants compete with the planted crop - like a 
weed – about nutrients, water and light. Attempts to eliminate the new weed by 
using conventional herbicides haven´t been successful (GENET, 06/22/01, 
www.gene.ch/genet.html). There exists also the possibility that transgenic rape 
plants hybridise with wild weedy relatives, which could become a kind of super-
weed-species hardly to get rid off. Spencer & Snow (2001) investigated the 
extent of gene flow and hybridisation between a transgenic yellow squash 
cultivar, called Asgrow´s Freedom II (a transgenic cultivar of Cucurbita pepo ssp. 
ovifera, var. ovifera) and its wild relatives (Cucurbita pepo ssp. ovifera, var. 
ozarkana and var. texana). In addition they compared different fitness 
components of both varieties and of wild-crop hybrids (for example survival of 
seedlings, flowering phenology, flower production and seed production). 
Flowering times of wild and hybrid plants overlapped extensively, allowing 
hybrids to backcross with neighbouring wild plants. The study demonstrates 
that hybrids between transgenic yellow squash and wild Cucurbita pepo are 
vigorous enough to contribute to the gene pool of subsequent generations, 
thereby allowing transgenes to introgress into free-living populations (Spencer, 
L.J. & Snow, A.A. (2001): Fecundity of transgenic wild-crop hybrids of Cucurbita 
pepo (Cucurbitaceae): implications for crop-to-wild gene flow. Heredity, 86, 694-
702).

New golden-nematode-resistant potato developed
Scientists from the US-American Agricultural Research Service (the chief 
scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) developed a 
new potato that resists the golden nematode (Globodera rostochensis) by using 
traditional breeding methods. This is an important development because when 
uncontrolled the pest can reduce potato yields by 80 percent. The golden 
nematode is known to occur in cooler region of subtropical and tropical areas as 
well as in temperate regions around the world. The new nematode-resistant 
potato is named Eva. Eva is available from foundation seed growers in New 
York, Pennsylvannia and Maine (AGNET 10/10/01).
At the Amsterdam University researchers have produced a substance in 
laboratory which wakens potato cyst nematodes (eelworms) from hibernation. 
Using this substance in a field of potatoes the eelworms came out of hibernation 
too early and died from starvation. As mentioned above nematodes cause 
serious damage to potato crops throughout the world.
Potato cyst nematodes are normally hatched from their protective cyst in spring 
by a substance excreted by potato plants. Each cyst is in fact the swollen 
remains of a mature female and it contains several hundred fertilised egg cells. 
The young nematodes attracted by the potato secrets penetrate the potato 
plants and live as a parasite on the plant. As result, its growth is impeded. 
Looking for an environmental-friendly way of confusing the young nematodes the 
scientists at the Amsterdam University synthetically produced a substance very 
similar to the substance solano-eclepin A, which young potato plants excrete 
via their roots. By testing their products two derivatives showed a promising 
ability to hatch juvenile nematodes. The team intend doing further research on a 
wide range of substances derived from solano-eclepin A. The tests are intended 
to produce a biologically active substance which will provide an environmentally-
friendly means of protecting potato crops against nematode infestation. Farmers 
would then be able to combat the pest with the substance. They would treat 
fallow fields with it in order to awaken the nematodes in the ground. These would 
then die because there would be no potatoes to feed on. Next season, potatoes 
could be planted without any danger of their being infected by the parasite 
(AGNET 10/09/2001).

Californian researchers developed new natural pesticide
A research team of the company AgraQuest, Inc., in Davis, California developed 
a natural pesticide that is just as effective as conventional pesticides. Pamela 
Marrone and her team discovered and developed a strain of the soil bacterium 
Bacillus subtilis that fights a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases, including 
gray mold, powdery mildew, leaf and stem blights, and fireblight. Called 
Serenade, this natural pesticide attacks pathogens on several fronts: it prevents 
them from attaching to leaves, stops fungal spores from growing, disrupts spore 
growth and activates the plant´s natural defenses. It can be used on pome fruits, 
grapes and vegetables. Found in an orchard in Fresno County, Calif., Serenade 
is just as, or more, effective than conventional pesticides but virtually nontoxic to 
humans, birds, fish and invertebrates. Farmers may use the pesticide with their 
existing integrated pest management or biological control systems because it 
doesn´t cause secondary diseases or insect problems, and it is nontoxic to 
beneficial insects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the 
pesticide for agricultural and home and garden use. The research team received 
one of two 2001 Industrial Innovation Awards awarded by the American 
Chemical Society (AGNET 10/22/2001).

Short Notes

First transgenic animal developed via spermatogonial stem cells by retroviral 
DNA insertion: Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary 
Medicine have successfully used a retrovirus to modify genes in spermatogonial 
stem cells in a mouse - the first instance, in any species, of a transgenic animal 
created by inserting a gene into male germ-line stem cells. Previous attempts to 
genetically alter this unique type of stem cell, either through retroviruses or other 
methods, have met with little success. Retroviruses are the most common 
vehicles for introducing genes in human somatic cell gene therapy, and some 
scientists had expressed concern that this approach might result in genetic 
alterations to germ-line cells. The paper indicates that the germ cells are indeed 
susceptible to insertion of foreign genes via retroviruses, although the somatic 
cells that surround stem cells in the body most likely provide a protective shield 
(GENET 10/23/01).

Cloning human beings is more likely possible by now: Scientists of the Oregon 
Regional Primate Research Center have created the first embryonic clones of an 
adult primate and are preparing to implant them into surrogate mothers. The 
work is a significant development in cloning technology. Until now all the 
research had suggested that primates would be far more difficult to clone than 
species such as sheep and goats, which have already been used more or less 
successfully in experiments (Sunday Times 10/28/2001, cited from GENET 
10/30/2001). 

Business News

Monsanto under fire for 'pirating' Chinese soy strain 
Agro-chemical giant Monsanto is under attack from Greenpeace for seeking to 
patent a natural gene sequence originating from a wild Chinese species of soya. 
Some experts are worried that the patent would block both local farmers and 
researchers from freely accessing the soya. As early as April 2000, Monsanto 
filed the patent application in up to 101 countries, including the United States 
and China. The application, which claims a total of 64 rights, is presently under 
evaluation in the patent offices of relevant countries (China Daily – 10/30/2001; 
cited from GENET 11/05/2001). 

Pharmacia seen spinning off Monsanto
Pharmacia Corp. will likely spin off Monsanto Co. to shareholders next spring as 
the drug company seeks to rid itself of its volatile agricultural business. 
Pharmacia completed its acquisition of Monsanto in March last year. Its aim 
was to gain access to Monsanto's drug unit, which developed the blockbuster 
arthritis drug Celebrex. Under the transaction, however, Pharmacia also 
acquired the agricultural business. The requirement to hold on to Monsanto 
ends in March 2002, and analysts believe Pharmacia will waste no time in 
getting rid of a business which develops genetically transformed crops and 
whose main product is Roundup herbicide. Pharmacia has already sold off 15 
percent of Monsanto (Reuters. 11/12/2001; cited from GENET 11/14/2001).

News From Organic FArming

Thailand: The Thai government will promote Organic Farming
The Thai government will promote Organic Farming by financing teaching 
projects for farmers. In addition financial support is also given to switching 
farmers. A certificate for chemical-free products or organic transition will also be 
issued (The Bangkok Post – 11/08/2001; cited from 
http://www.checkbiotech.org).

Organic Agriculture Worldwide 2001 published by Stiftung OEkologie & Landbau
The third edition of the study Organic Agriculture Worldwide, written by Helga 
Willer and Minou Yussefi, has been published now by Stiftung OEkologie & 
Landbau. Organic agriculture has rapidly developed world-wide the last few 
years. The third edition of Organic Agriculture Worldwide aims at documenting 
concisely recent developments in global organic farming. In this edition the 
focus is laid on the world organic market, which exceeds yearly growth rates of 
more than 20% in some countries (the publication can be downloaded from the 
internet at http://www.soel.de/inhalte/publikationen/s_74_03.pdf)

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Institute for Applied Ecology
Oeko-Institut e.V.
Bereich Gentechnik
Postfach 6226
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