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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 42



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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 42
May 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

WTO case against EU moratorium 
On the 13th of May, the US trade representative Robert Zoellick 
and the US agriculture secretary Ann Veneman announced that 
the USA together with Canada, Egypt und Argentina will file a 
World Trade Organization (WTO) case against the EU 
moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products. Nine other 
countries are supporting the complaint, Australia, New Zealand 
and seven Latin American countries (USDA Press Release 
05/13/03, cited from GENET 05/14/03). In the meantime, Egypt 
has withdrawn from this attempt (Friends of the Earth Europe 
Press Release 05/28/03). The European Commission (EC) regrets 
the WTO case as misguided and unnecessary (EC Press Release 
05/13/03, cited from GENET 05/14/03). The EC pointed out that 
the USA has so far opposed the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety. 
The Cartagena Protocol sets international rules for the 
transboundary movement of GMOs. It claims e.g. that a country 
has to be informed and has to agree before GMOs are delivered 
to that country. The USA is not keeping up to these rules on prior 
information and labelling. 
A WTO case will take 18 month. During that time, the EU will set 
up the directives on labelling and traceability for GM food and 
feed, claimed by the countries supporting the moratorium as one 
of the basic needs for a commercial use of GMO. When these 
directives are set up, the moratorium could be officially lifted. The 
required systems for labelling and traceability comply with the 
WTO policy. The WTO accepts strong labelling that gives the 
consumer the freedom of choice (Financial Times 05/15/03, cited 
from GENET 05/16/03). Even if the present moratorium is lifted, 
the European consumers still have the possibility to maintain the 
moratorium by not buying GM products (Hiltrud Breyer MEP, 
Press Release 05/13/03).

News on GM free initiatives in Europe 
In Albania, the Agriculture and Food Commission voted for a ban 
of GMOs for a 5-year period. Now, the Ministry of Environment 
has to prepare the legal framework to implement the ban 
(GENET 05/13/03; http://www.organic.org.al). In Switzerland, the 
National assembly accepted a 5-year-moratorium on commercial 
releases for GMOs (GENET 05/08/03; Environmental Daily 
05/09/03 cited from GENET 05/12/03). In England, the National 
Trust banned its 2,000 tenant farmers from growing GM crops on 
its land. (London Times 05/11/03, cited from GENET 05/15/03). 
Friends of the Earth Germany (Bund für Umwelt- und 
Naturschutz) launched the action “No GM crops on municipal 
land! No GM crops on the land of the churches!” on the 
ecumenical church congress in May. The slogan means that 
landowners such as the communes and churches can instruct 
tenant framers not to use GM crops 
(http://www.bund.net/lab/reddot2/landwirtschaft_ernaehrung.htm).
 

North America

USA: Inconsistencies in the refuge size in Bt-cultures
The Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) of the US American 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criticized that the EPA 
does not follow the SAP’s recommendations concerning the 
refuge size for pest insects. In Bt-crops a certain percentage of 
the area has to be planted with non-Bt-plants to provide a refuge 
for pest insects in order to slow down the development of 
resistance to the Bt-protein. The SAP recommends to plant 50% 
non-Bt-plants in a Bt-culture, whereas the EPA guidelines 
officially demand 20%. Monsanto advises not to use a 50% 
refuge because it would cancel the benefit of insecticide reduction 
(Nature Biotechnology Vol 21 (5): 467-468). This discussion was 
opened in the course of the approval of a new Bt-line of maize. 
The new Bt-maize is resistant to the rootworm (Diabrotica spec.) 
and contains the construct of MON863. Because of the fact that 
this Bt-line is not approved in Europe and other countries, 
American corn growers cultivating this Bt-maize have to 
segregate it from other maize on the field und during processing to 
prevent contamination (Corn Segragation: A Necessary Evil in 
Today´s Biotech Age?, cited from GENET 04/30/03).

Africa

Zambia develops own strategy on biotechnology for GMO-
regulation
The Zambian government has developed a five-year plan for a 
national biosafety and biotechnology strategy. The new 
framework aims at nature conservation and the protection of the 
Zambian diversity on crops. Aside, the framework planes to 
support research especially in the medical field. The reason to 
develop this strategy was the food aid of GM maize delivered by 
the USA in winter 2002/2003 that Zambia rejected (Environment 
News Service 04/29/03, cited from GENET 05/08/03). For further 
information on the debate on GM food donations to Zambia see 
http://www.blauen-
institut.ch/Tx/tT/ttSambiaDok/tt_s01GrainNo.html). 

Others

Brazil allows the sale of GM soy but requires labelling 
A governmental decree authorizes the sale of GM soy until the 
31st of March 2004. But soybeans and soy products with more 
than one percent content of GM soy will require labelling. 
Cultivation of GM soy is not approved, but the decree meets the 
illegal cultivation of GM soy in the province Rio Grande do Sul 
(Reuters 05/16/03, cited from GENET 05/19/03). The Brazilian 
requirements for food labelling annoy Argentina that delivers 13% 
of its total food export to Brazil (Reuters 05/12/03, cited from 
GENET 05/13/03). The Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da 
Silva wants to cling to non-GMO production (see Genetic 
Engineering Newsletter 37), but he is under growing pressure in 
the parliament with this position (GENET 06/05/03). 

Science News

Control of seed germination by a two step modification 
Canadian scientists developed a system to prevent the unwanted 
transfer of the transgene constructs over generations. The 
scientist of the "Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada" modified 
tobacco plants with a seed lethal (SL)-system. Plants containing 
the SL-system produce sterile seeds. The SL-system is composed 
by genes of the soil bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens and is 
complemented by a binding site for a repressor. By specifically 
binding on the DNA, a repressor prevents the transcription of a 
specific DNA segment. The gene coding for the repressor 
derived from the bacteria Escherichia coli was inserted in a 
second line of tobacco. Crossing the two lines of GM tobacco 
combined both constructs. The GM plants resulting from the 
crossing event produce normal seeds. But in a case of outcrossing 
both constructs are separated with a very high probability. Then 
the repressor is not expressed anymore, subsequently the SL 
system is expressed and the plants produce sterile seeds 
(Schernthaner J. P., Fabijanski S. F., Arnison P. G., Racicot M., 
Robert L. S. (2003) Control of seed germination in transgenic 
plants based on the segregation of a two-component genetic 
system. PNAS 2003 100: 6855-6859).
The German Newspaper „Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung“ 
praised this system as a way to prevent outcrossing to wild 
relatives (FAZ 05/07/03). It is important to note that this method 
does not prevent outcrossing but only prevents the transfer of 
transgenes over generations. The question hereby is whether a 
wild population can survive on the long term if they undergo 
regular hybridisation with a sterilisation mechanism. Besides, the 
SL-system also affects cultures of the same crop species by 
outcrossing. This would render part of the harvest from 
neighbouring fields sterile and thereby limit replanting, as farmers 
often save part of their harvest to use as seed for the next year. 
Generally, those so-called terminator technologies are 
objectionable in both ecological and social terms. 

Short notes

„The color of research“: The German foundation “Zukunftstiftung 
Landwirtschaft“ is holding a symposium on the 23rd of June to 
discuss future research that is necessary to reach a sustainable 
agri- and nutrition-culture. The symposium wants to launch a 
debate on the political aspect of research, herein called the color 
of research (http://www.zs-l.de/forschung/index.php4). The 
debate follows up a memorandum of the Federal Nature 
Conservation Agency titled “Research for a sustainable and 
environmentally friendly agriculture” 
(http://www.bfn.de/10/index.htm). 

“Biodiversity implications of genetically modified plants”: The 
conference, hold from the 7th to the 12th of September in Ascona, 
Switzerland, is organized by the Geobotanical Institute, ETH 
Zurich, Switzerland, and the Plant Research Institute Wageningen, 
Netherlands, 
(http://www.geobot.umnw.ethz.ch/bigmp/bigmp.html). The 
objectives of the conference are to present new results on the 
long-term ecological consequences of cultivation of GMOs, on 
which very little data exist so far. 

GM-plants fluorescing under presence of specific chemical 
compounds: Scientists of the Pennsylvania State University, USA, 
modified the thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) in a way, that the 
GM-plant starts to express the inserted gene coding for the Green 
Fluorescent Protein when the plant is exposed to salicylic acid, 
which means that the plants starts to glow under laser light. This 
GM thale cress is to be the beginning of 300 thale cress´ lines that 
start to glow if they are exposed to specific chemical or biological 
agents. Those GM plants are planned to be cultivated around 
governmental buildings to detect terror attacks. The question is 
whether this method works reliably and fast enough. However, 
the US Defense Department is betting 3.5 million US dollar on 
this project. Also the development of GM bacteria as detectors is 
funded with 3.7 million US dollars. Detailed information on how 
the expression of the fluorescent protein is regulated is not given 
(The Philadelphia Inquirer 04/27/03, cited from GENET 05/05/03).

Business News

Expansion of the biotechnology sector stopped
The audit firm Ernst and Young has published the German 
Biotechnology Report and the European Biotechnology Report, 
titled “Endurance“. For the first time in ten years, the 
biotechnology sector registered a decrease in revenues and 
employee numbers Europe-wide. Revenues fell by 2% to 12.9 
billion Euros and employee numbers fell by 6% to 82,100 in 2002. 
The UK remained the dominant player in European biotech 
industry with 43% of total market capitalisation. In Germany, the 
employee number decreased to 13,400 in 2002. The total revenue 
decreased by 3% to 1.014 billion Euros. The investments for 
research and development fell by 11% to 1.09 billion Euros. Data 
on the profit are not given so far 
(http://www.ey.com/GLOBAL/content.nsf/Germany/Branche_-
_Health_Sciences_-_Biotechreport_2003). The German 
government amply supports the biotechnology sector. The Federal 
Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) has doubled the 
biotechnology promotion since 1998. For 2003, more than 480 
million Euros are available to support institutions. Another 180 
million Euros are available to support special projects (idw, Press 
Release BMBF 05/07/03).
Mainly major enterprises are economically stable. The twelve 
quoted biotech-companies share half of the total revenue in 
Germany 
(http://www.ey.com/Global/content.nsf/Germany/Presse_-
_Pressemitteilungen_2003_-_Wachstum_der_deutschen_Biotech-
Branche_gestoppt). Especially Bayer AG ranks among them. 
Bayer increased the profit by two digits in the last quarter. 
Especially in the sector of Health Care and Crop Science, better 
results were achieved. The acquisition of Aventis CropScience by 
Bayer AG in 2002 (see Genetic Engineering Newsletter 33/34) 
contributed substantially to an increase in sales of 92% to 1.66 
billion Euro. Bayer Crop Science comprises production of 
pesticides and GM crops (FAZ 05/08/03, cited from Genpost 
05/08/03). 

“Soya patent” limited
The European Patent Office (EPO) decided that the so-called 
"soy" patent owned by Monsanto (EP 301 749 B1) is to be limited. 
The patent of doubt referred to a technique to genetically 
engineering plants, in particular soy plants, by particle 
bombardment. In its limited form, the patent now relates only to 
soybean plants, not generally to any kind of plant 
(http://www.european-patent-
office.org/news/pressrel/2003_05_06_e.htm). In March 1994, the 
EPO granted Agracetus, subsequently taken over by Monsanto, 
the patent EP301749B1. The companies Syngenta Participations 
and Pioneer Hi-Bred, a Canadian environmental organization and 
a private person objected the patent (http://www.european-patent-
office.org/news/pressrel/2003_05_05_d.htm). According to the 
European Patent Directive of 1998, patents on inventions in the 
area of biotechnology can be granted. Patents on plants are not 
excluded from being patented, if the process is not limited to a 
given plant species. 
The working committee of peasant farming (AbL) in Germany 
opines that the limitation of the soya patent is not sufficient to 
prevent patent legislation that grants patents on life. The AbL 
therefore claims that the European Patent Directive should not be 
implemented into national law (AbL Press Release 05/07/03; cited 
from agrar-aktuell 05/07/03). A recent example shows the large 
extend patents can have. The Australian company Genetic 
Technologies holds the rights to a patent on non-coding DNA - 
also known as 'junk' DNA. This patent is affecting every 
organism (Nature Vol. 423: 105).

News From Organic FArming

Better storage of apples after treatment with hot water
After harvest, apples can easily be treated against the storage rot 
caused by the fungus Gloeosporium spec. by the case. This non-
chemical treatment prevents the decay of the apple during winter. 
Scientists of the Federal Institute for Nutrition in Karlsruhe, 
Germany, have optimized the treatment. A bath of two minutes in 
hot water of 53°C (127°F) keeps the apples without any damage 
but inactivates the spores of Gloeosporium. Now, the scientists 
are working out a practice to treat the apples in the usual cases of 
300 kg (idw Press Release 05/05/03; http://www.bfa-
ernaehrung.de/Bfe-Deutsch/Aktuell/Forschungsreport-BFE.pdf).

Formation of the International Society of Organic Agriculture 
Research 
The International Society of Organic Agriculture Research 
(ISOFAR) is going to be founded on the 20th of June in Berlin. 
The initiative is mainly launched by the Institute of Organic 
Agriculture (IOL), University of Bonn, Germany and the 
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Switzerland. 
ISOFAR aims at promoting and supporting research in all areas of 
Organic Agriculture by facilitating global co-operation in research, 
methodological development, education and knowledge exchange 
(http://www.isofar.org). 


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Biodiversity, Nutrition & Agriculture
OEko-Institut e.V. - Institute for Applied Ecology
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