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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 43



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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 43
June 2003

supported by Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft, Triodos-Stichting 
and Greenpeace 


Contents
Legal and political developments
Science News 
Business News
News From Organic Farming

Legal and political developments

Europe

Regulations on labelling of GM food and feed adopted 
The European Parliament has adopted in the second reading the 
regulations on GM food and feed and on labelling and traceability 
of GM food and feed on 2nd of July. Hence, long and difficult 
negotiations close up regarding mainly the threshold for 
adventitious and technically unavoidable presence of GMOs in 
food and feed, which does not have to be labelled. Altogether, the 
regulations provide a strict regime of labelling that is bound to a 
system of traceability of GMOs from field to fork. Thereby, GM 
food has to be labelled irrespective of whether transgenic DNA or 
protein may be detected in the final product. However, some 
points heavily criticized by environmental and consumer groups 
remain:
The threshold of 0.9 percent is too high as the limit of detection is 
as low as 0.1 percent.
In a transitory period of three years a threshold of 0.5 percent will 
be set for the adventitious presence of non-authorised GMOs that 
have a positive scientific approval. Upon the expiry of these three 
years, zero-tolerance for unauthorised GMOs and GM materials 
will apply. This clause represents an exception from authorisation 
requirement.
Animal products produced with GM feed, such as meat, milk and 
eggs are excluded from mandatory labelling.
(Dan Leskien Green Party/EFA 07/02/03, see also Genetic 
Engineering Newsletter 37 and 38, http://greenpeace.org/press/, 
http://www.foeeurope.org).

EU adopts implementation of the Cartagena protocol 
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an international 
agreement on international transfer and trade with living GMOs 
that are to be intentionally introduced into the environment and 
that are to be used directly as food or feed or for processing. On 
the 13th of June 2003, Palau has become the 50th country to 
ratify the Cartagena Protocol. Therewith, the Cartagena Protocol 
enters into force within 90 days (United Nations Environment 
Programme Press Release 06/13/03, cited from GENET 
06/14/03). 
The European Parliament adopted the regulation on transboundary 
movements of GMOs on the 4th of June 2003. This regulation 
implements the Cartagena Protocol. Important points of the 
regulation are as follows: 
Before GMOs are exported, the recipient country has to give a 
written, express consent. This clause is designed to ensure that 
recipient countries are provided with the information they need for 
making informed decisions about whether or not to accept GMO 
imports.
The member states shall take appropriate measures to prevent 
unintentional transboundary movements of GMOs.
As for identification and labelling of GMOs, it is referred to the 
regulation on labelling and traceability of GMOs. 
The regulation does not foresee any thresholds. If a product 
contains traces of GMOs, the advance informed agreement 
procedure applies (Dan Leskien Green/EFA 06/04/03). 
The USA has not ratified the Cartagena Protocol yet. Instead, the 
US Agency for International Development is funding a Program 
for Biosafety Systems (PBS) with 14.8 million US Dollars. The 
PBS initiative aims to enhance the ability of developing countries 
to prepare regulatory frameworks on GMOs (AGBIOS Press 
Release 06/09/03, cited from GENET 06/11/03). The fundamental 
idea of the PBS competes the precautionary principle of the 
Cartagena Protocol. 

Germany: Food producer want to provide GM free food
According to a survey of the Greenpeace consumer network 
called EinkaufsNetz among 216 food producers in Germany, 170 
food producers renounce the use of ingredients derived from 
GMO. The GM free companies avoid admixtures of GM crops, 
which consist mostly of GM soy and GM maize. Only 18 
companies did not want to exclude GM food or GM ingredients. 
Also the big supermarkets Aldi and Metro, two important food 
retailers, did not give a clear statement on their use of GMOs 
(http://www.greenpeace.org/deutschland/?page=/deutschland/new
s/einkaufsnetz/kaum-gentechnik-in-deutschem-essen). 

Switzerland: national vote on moratorium
The Swiss parliament has defeated a proposal to impose a five-
year moratorium on the use of GM crops. The issue is now 
expected to be put to a nationwide vote. So far, 115,000 citizens 
have backed the initiative demanding for a five-year moratorium 
(Swissinfo 06/12/03, cited from GENET 06/13/03, see Genetic 
Engineering Newsletter 42). 

Great Britain: Michael Meacher had to resign
The GMO-sceptic British Minister of Environment Michael 
Meacher lost his job in a government reshuffle (Environmental 
Daily 06/16/03, cited from GENET 06/16/03; The Guardian 
06/14/03, cited from GENET 06/17/03).

North America

USA: Survey shows impact of GMO contamination on organic 
farmers
According to the forth National Organic Farmer Survey in the 
USA conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation 
(OFRF), 8 percent of the organic farmers have reported the direct 
financial costs related to the threat of contamination by GMOs for 
the first time. These costs include payment for testing for GMO 
contamination, loss of organic markets or loss of organic 
certification due to presence of GMOs in organic products. 17 
percent of survey respondents indicated that they have had GMO 
testing conducted. 11 percent of the tests were positive for GMO 
contamination. 48 percent of the farmers have taken some 
measures to protect their organic farms from GMO 
contamination. 19 percent indicated that they have increased the 
size of buffer zones to neighbouring farms. Consequently, their 
field size is decreasing (Organic Farming Research Foundation 
05/14/03, cited from GENET 05/29/03; 
http://ofrf.org/publications/survey/GMO.SurveyResults.PDF). 

USA: contract of Chapela not renewed
The contract of Ignacio H. Chapela as Assistant Professor at the 
University of Berkeley, USA, has not been extended (personal 
communication 06/26/03). Chapela was the author of the study on 
the introgression of transgenic DNA into traditional maize 
landraces in Mexico published in Nature that was heavily 
criticised (see Genetic Engineering Newsletter 29 and 30). 

Asia

India: protein-rich GM potato soon on the market?
The commercial cultivation of a GM potato is expected to be 
approved in India within six months. The GM potato contains a 
gene from amaranth and produces up to 30 percent more protein, 
thus called protato. It was developed by scientists at the 
Jawaharlal-Nehru-University in New Delhi (BBC 06/10/03, cited 
from GENET 06/14/03). The discussion on the application of the 
GM potato is ongoing since January 2003. So far, publications are 
not available that have passed an independent peer review. So, no 
detailed descriptions of the inserted transgene or tests on nutrition 
safety are published (Norfolk Genetic Information Network 
01/17/03, http://ngin.tripod.com/170103d.htm). The protein-rich 
GM potato shall combat malnutrition in India. Alternatively, a 
diverse cultivation, especially of pulses and amaranth itself, would 
be a more sustainable way avoiding high costs for research and 
development (RFSTE Press Release 06/11/03, cited from GENET 
06/14/03). 

Others

New Zealand and Australia support the WTO case of the USA – 
in spite of own moratorium
New Zealand and Australia support both the WTO case of the 
USA concerning the EU moratorium although both countries 
imposed regional or national bans on GMOs. In Australia, four 
states have currently placed a moratorium on GM crops 
(http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2003/-
AW_18_June_GMO_trade_war.htm). In New Zealand, the 
national moratorium is phasing out in 2003 
(http://www.mfe.govt.nz/issues/organisms). In a survey, half of 
the farmers said that Government's moratorium should be 
extended beyond October 2003 (Newsquest 05/16/03, cited from 
GENET 05/20/03).

Science News

New results on spread of transgenes by GM plants 
A study on GM sugar beets showed that transgenes are released 
in the soil by plants during growth. The transgenes as free DNA 
are binding on soil particles. The study also found transgenes in 
adjacent field plots where GM plants have not be grown so far. 
The input could be identified as coming from pollen. Transgenes 
from pollen could still be detected after seven months. Beets are 
wind-pollinated plants. Pollen therefore is spread over greater 
distances (Meier and Wackernagel (2003): Monitoring the spread 
of recombinant DNA from field plots with transgenic sugar beet 
plants by PCR and natural transformation of Pseudomonas 
stutzeri. Transgenic Research 12: 293-304). 

New method to detect horizontal gene transfer in bacteria
Antibiotic resistance genes used as marker in GM crops can be 
taken up by bacteria. The mode of action is called horizontal gene 
transfer. Horizontal gene transfer works by so called mobile 
genetic elements enabling the bacteria to exchange DNA 
between species and enabling bacteria to take up free DNA. This 
is the reason why the directive on deliberative release 2001/18/EC 
phases out the use of resistance marker genes by 2005 for 
commercially used transgenic plants and by 2009 for transgenic 
plants in research trials. The extent of horizontal gene transfer 
was so far difficult to assess because only a very small amount of 
bacteria can be cultivated. Now, a project funded by the EU 
developed a method to detect bacteria that are carrying antibiotic 
resistance genes independent of whether they can be cultivated. 
For that purpose recipient-bacteria strains (strains absorbing DNA 
easily) are incubated with an environmental assay. Afterwards, 
the recipient strain is cultivated on an antibiotic containing 
medium. Only in the case that the recipient strain has taken up an 
antibiotic resistant gene located on a mobile genetic element, it 
can grow on that medium (Forschungsreport 1/2003; 
http://www.bmvel-
forschung.de/FORSCHUNGSREPORTRESSORT/DDD/R9_200
3-1_0010.pdf).

Less caffeine in GM coffee leaves
Scientists in Japan developed a decaffeinated GM coffee plant 
(Coffea canephora). The leaves contain 50 to 70 percent less 
caffeine and 30 to 80 percent less theobromine, another 
stimulating substance. Therefore, a technique was applied to 
repress the synthesis of an enzyme that is involved in caffeine 
production in the plants. The scientists of the Nara Institute of 
Science and Technology assume the coffee beans to contain less 
caffeine, too. Besides, they promise a full flavour of the 
decaffeinated GM coffee. The so-called RNA interference biased 
technique is now to be applied in C. arabica that is usually used in 
the trade (Ogita et al (2003): RNA interference, Producing 
decaffeinated coffee plants. Nature 423: 823). However, caffeine 
is known to have insecticidal properties and has been linked to 
resistance to coffee berry disease. So it is possible that the 
amount of insecticides would actually increase.

Short notes

First European Conference on Co-existence: The Danish Institute 
for agriculture is holding a conference on the coexistence of GM, 
conventional and organic crops in Helsingor from on the 13th and 
14th of November. The conference is organized together with 
other international research institutes. The central question will be 
how to maintain the farmers’ free choice to grow the crop they 
choose - GM, conventional or organic. The transfer of genes will 
be discussed for maize, oilseed rape, beet and wheat 
(http://www.agrsci.dk/GMCC-03/).

Who owns biological diversity?: The Institute for Church and 
Society together with other organizations is holding an 
international workshop from the 7th to 9th of July 2003 in Iserlohn, 
Germany. The workshop is titled Who owns? Are patents on plant 
genetic resources representing a motor for northern countries and 
a bake for the southern countries?. The reason for the workshop 
is the ongoing negotiations on the TRIPs agreements 
(TRIPs=Trade related aspects of intellectual property rights) of 
the WTO 
(http://www.kircheundgesellschaft.de/pdf/tg98_patente.pdf).

First GM peanut: The International Crops Research Institute for 
the Semi-Arid Tropics in India has developed the first GM peanut 
resistant to the peanut clump virus (PCV). The GM peanut is to 
be tested in field trials and shall be commercialised in three years. 
There was no detailed information given on how the resistance is 
meditated (The Philippine Star 05/25/03, cited from GENET 
06/04/03; 
http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/2002/09/14/stories/200209140
5500700.htm).

Development of Golden Rice continues: The Indian Department 
of Biotechnology (DBT) has identified four regions in the country 
to inbreed the prototype of the Golden Rice line in established 
traditional rice varieties. Therefore, the DBT got the private 
licence from the scientist who developed the GM rice. Besides 
India, five other countries, namely Vietnam, China, South Africa, 
Indonesia and Philippines are also implied in this collaborative 
programme (The Hindu Business Line 05/22/03, cited from 
GENET 05/27/03; see Genetic Engineering Newsletter 36).

Business News

Independent research is important
A study of the York University in Toronto, Canada, analysed 30 
previous reports examining pharmaceutical industry-backed 
research and concluded that research funded by drug companies 
is four times more likely to produce results that favour the 
sponsor's product than research backed by other sponsors 
(Lexchin et al. (2003): Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship and 
research outcome and quality: systematic review. British Medical 
Journal, 31. Mai 2003, 326: 1167-1177). Industry sponsored 
studies were less likely to be published than research funded by 
other sources. Besides, industry sponsors studies were more often 
published in proceedings. Proceedings are not passing a peer 
review. Concerning the scientific methods used, none reported 
that the industry-backed trials were of lower quality. The study is 
available in the Internet 
(http://bmj.com/cgi/reprint/326/7400/1167.pdf). 
In Germany, universities are increasingly dependent on third-party 
funds that are also financed by industry. The official statistics 
offices analysed that the German universities received third-party 
funds amounting to 2.7 billion Euros. The third parties were 
private and public organizations (http://www.statistik-
berlin.de/pms2000/sg23/2002/02-11-25b.html).

News From Organic Farming

EU approves regional eco label
The German federal state Baden-Wuerttemberg has got the EU 
approval to use an additional label to the eco label to indicate the 
regional origin. Baden-Wuerttemberg is the first region labelling 
regional organic food. The label can only be applied if farms went 
completely organic and if the whole production is located and 
traceable in Baden-Wuerttemberg (BioFach-Newsletter 06/10/03, 
http://www.mlr.baden-wuerttemberg.de).
The regional eco label of Baden-Wuerttemberg is based on the 
label for conventional agricultural products on origin and quality 
from Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Study on comparison of conventionally and organically produced 
food
The senate of the Federal Research Institutes of the Ministry of 
Consumer Protection has published the status report 2003 on the 
topic of Assessment on Food Products Deriving from Different 
Production Processes. The study claims the integration of 
alternative approaches to determine the quality of food products. 
Especially, socio economic aspects should be included for a 
broader quality assessment. 
The study notes that organic food has a high quality, but according 
to the current state of the art, it cannot be concluded that organic 
food is generally healthier so far. Positive aspects are that the 
diversity of wild herbs and insects in the fields is higher and that 
soil and water are less exposed to less eutrophication by nitrogen 
and phosphate. The organic agriculture uses area related less 
fossil fuel, but requires more floor space due to a lower yield. 
Generally, organic crop is charged by fewer residues of 
pesticides. Data of the different production systems on the 
greenhouse effect are not clear, as well as on the charge of 
cereals by mycotoxins (toxins produced by fungal pests). So far, 
studies did not find significant differences in nutrient and vitamin 
contents in conventional or organic fruits, vegetables and cereals. 
The study is available in the Internet only in German 
(http://www.bmvel-forschung.de/themen/-
download/tdm200306_bericht_030515.pdf). 


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