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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 41



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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 41
April 2003

supported by Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft and Triodos-
Stichting


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


Legal and political developments

Europe

Disagreement on the interpretation of scientific results on co-
existence 
Scientific results on gene flow in the cultivation of GM crops and 
non-GM crops are evaluated very differently. That was the 
overall result of a Round Table of the European Commission 
(EC) held on 24th April. Opening the meeting, which focused on 
maize and rapeseed, Franz Fischler, agriculture commissioner of 
the EC, stated that co-existence works both ways, which means 
that the admixture with non-GM crops could have economic 
consequences for the GMO farmer, too. This argument is 
weakening the concerns of organic farmers who are claiming for 
a financial compensation in case of GMO contamination 
(http://www.zs-
l.de/gmo/downloads/fischler_speech_24_04_03.pdf). The 
discussion went on in this purpose during the whole event. 
Contributions from the audience on e.g. ecological hazards were 
dismissed as irrelevant. Giving the final statement, Joachim 
Schiemann from the German Federal Biological Agency 
concluded that guidelines on co-existence should contain 
thresholds for adventitious out crossing, but these thresholds 
should be flexible to take into account local conditions. 
Following this recommendation, given thresholds could be 
continuously enlarged (Environmental Daily 1431 04/25/03). 
The German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) made a 
contradicting statement prioritising the protection of GM free 
and organic cultivation. Additionally, measures to ensure the 
peaceful co-existence has to be taken according to the polluters-
pay-principle. The polluters causing the conflict are the users of 
GMOs, according to the UBA. Besides, NGOs did not take 
part in the Round Table. In the run-up to the Round Table, the 
NGOs demanded a balanced participation on the panels in an 
open letter, to which the EU Commission did not reply 
(http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2003/GR_24_April_EU_round
.htm). Text passages not cited: personal communication K. 
Moch, Institute for Applied Ecology. On 28th May, the 
Greens/EFA together with Friends of the Earth Europe, Euro 
Coop and the Böll Foundation are holding a conference on the 
challenge to ensure co-existence of organic and conventional 
farming with GM crops. The conference is titled “GMOs - co-
existence or contamination” 
(http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/conference/home.htm).

European Commission requested implementation of 2001/18/EC
The European Commission formally requested twelve countries, 
among them Germany, to adopt and notify national legislation to 
implement the directive 2001/18/EC on deliberative release of 
GMOs. The twelve Member States failed to meet the agreed 
deadline of 17th October 2002 
(http://europa.eu.int/rapid/start/cgi/guesten.ksh?p_action.gettxt=g
t&doc=IP/03/528|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display=).

Germany: field trial with GM wheat approved but prevented
The German Robert-Koch-Institute has approved the 
notification of Syngenta to test fungus tolerant GM wheat 
(http://www2.rki.de/cgi/lasso/fsl/liste_d.lasso; see Genetic 
Engineering Newsletter 38). However, the field trial can 
probably not be carried out because Greenpeace sow organic 
wheat in this field. The sowing could adulterate the experimental 
results (dpa 04/09/03, cited from Genpost 04/09/03). Syngenta 
announced that the fungus tolerant GM wheat will be approved 
on the market within five years (Reuters 04/11/03, cited from 
GENET 04/15/03).

North America

USA: GM papaya lines infected by fungal diseases in Hawaii
The virus resistant GM papaya lines „SunUp“ and „Rainbow“ 
are more susceptible to late blight (Phytophtora spec) and other 
fungal diseases than conventional papaya lines. The farmers have 
to apply increasingly fungicides in order to control these pests. 
The GM papaya lines are resistant to the Papaya Ringspot 
Virus, another harmful disease in papayas. They are cultivated in 
the US state Hawaii since 1998 (Hawaii Island Journal 
04/01/03, cited from GENET 04/23/03).

Protest against GM wheat is going on in the USA and Canada
The Canadian Wheat Board claims in an open letter that the 
herbicide resistant wheat of Monsanto should be tested for the 
costs and benefits and especially the market acceptance 
(Reuters 03/31/03, cited from GENET 04/04/03). In Ottawa, a 
coalition of grain producers, millers, marketers and farm groups 
demand a moratorium for the notification of the GM wheat in the 
USA and in Canada (http://www.saveorganicwheat.org). A 
survey in the US state North Dakota revealed that 82% of the 
farmers are very concerned about the proposed introduction of 
the herbicide resistant wheat. 78% supported an expanded a 
public review of the GM wheat compared to what the United 
States Department of Agriculture has previously required for 
approval of GM crops (Institute for Agriculture and Trade 
Policy, Press Release 04/08/03, http://www.iatp.org). A broad 
environmental impact assessment of the GM wheat was already 
claimed in a legal petition in March that is seeking to list GM 
wheat as noxious weeds. The petition was signed among others 
by the National Family Farm Coalition and different Resource 
Councils (http://www.iatp.org).

Asia

India: Farmers reject Bt-Basmati rice 
The Bt-Basmati rice will not be tested in field trials this year. 
Moreover, the Indian government is freezing the development of 
the GM Basmati rice because of protests of the Basmati farmers 
fearing a loss of export markets. The National Research Center 
for Plant Biotechnology (ICAR) in Delhi has developed the GM 
Basmati rice inserting a gene coding for a Bt toxin to make the 
rice resistant to the lepidopteron pest of the pink and white stem 
borer (Sesamia inferens and Scirpophaga innotata). 
Furthermore, ICAR is developing a GM rice line that is resilient 
to drought and salinity in soil. ICAR wants to test this resilient 
GM rice in field trails this year (The Economic Times 04/11/03, 
cited from GENET 04/22/03).

International

FAO e-mail conference on GMO regulation in developing 
countries 
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) is 
holding an e-mail conference on regulations of GMOs in 
agriculture and food production in developing and transition 
countries, which lasts from end of April to end of May 
(http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp). The outcome of the 
conference will be used for the upcoming FAO-publication 
"Agricultural biotechnologies: Meeting the needs of the poor?" A 
background paper to the conference is available on the following 
website: http://www.fao.org/biotech/C9doc.htm. Furthermore, 
the FAO has set up a database „BioDeC“ to summarise the 
state of the art of crop biotechnology products and techniques, 
which are in use, or in the pipeline, in developing countries. The 
database contains about 2000 entries from 70 developing 
countries (FAO-BiotechNews 5-2003¸ 
http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp). 
Further on, the FAO and the International Atomic Energy 
Agency are organizing a symposium on the applications of gene-
based technologies for improving animal production and health in 
developing countries from 6th to 10th October in Vienna, Austria 
(http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/-
Meetings/Announcements.asp?ConfID=110).

Science News

Cloned animals are nor identical 
Research results at the North Carolina State University's College 
of Veterinary Medicine indicate that cloned pigs differ in 
behaviour at the same degree of variability as normally bred 
animals. In that study the scientists compared the food 
preference and the time budgets of the cloned and normally bred 
pigs consisting of behaviours, like lying in bedding, lying on 
concrete, standing, feeding, and play/fighting. The two groups of 
cloned pigs consisting of four and five animals showed the same 
and in some cases even a greater differences in their behaviour 
than the normally bred pigs of the control groups (Archer et al., 
2003: Behavioral variation amongst cloned pigs. Applied Animal 
Behavior Science Feb. 19, 2003). Trials to clone dead pets 
have already shown that the clones differ greatly in look and 
character compared to the donor of the nucleus. The first cloned 
cat was grey, active and sleek while its “mother” was golden 
brown, reserved and chunky (Telegraph 04/23/03, cited from 
GENET 01/27/03). The working group at the University of 
North Carolina State also found in the physical appearance of 
cloned pigs a high degree of difference (Archer et al., 2003: 
Hierarchical Phenotypic and Epigenetic Variation in Cloned 
Swine. Biology of Reproduction 
10.1095/biolreprod.103.016147). A possible explanation of the 
observed phenomena, that size, weight and hair type in cloned 
pigs are not the same, may be because the DNA itself are the 
mechanisms for DNA regulation have been modified during the 
cloning process in such a way that it affects the activity of certain 
genes. Altogether, cloned pigs do net seem to be identical are 
more homogenous than conventionally bred pigs. Researchers of 
the University in Cambridge examined in mice the expression of 
eleven genes in an early embryonic phase, the so-called 
blastocyst phase. Only 62% of cloned blastocysts expressed all 
eleven genes while normal blastocysts always expressed the 
eleven genes (Bortvin et al., 2003: Incomplete reactivation of 
Oct4-related genes in mouse embryos cloned from somatic 
nuclei. Development 130: 1673-1680). The consequences of 
the fact that a set of genes is not properly expressed in cloned 
animals are that a big part of cloned animals die before birth and 
others are borne malformed. Also if cloned animals look normal, 
they have a shorter life span. 

Short notes

GM trees for paper production: A genetic modification in trees 
aims to reduce the lignin content in order to facilitate paper 
production where lignin has to be removed from the cellulose. 
Scientists from the University of North Carolina silenced a gene, 
which is involved in lignin production, in aspens. The GM aspens 
produced 40 to 50% less lignin. Cellulose production increased 
of 14% (Li et al., 2003: Combinatorial modification of multiple 
lignin traits in trees trough multigene co-transformation. 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100: 4939-
4944).

„Genetically modified food - the American experience”: To learn 
from the American experience, the Center for Bioethics and 
Risk Assessment in collaboration with the Danish government 
agency Secretary of BioTIK has organized a conference held 
from 12th to 13th June 2003 in Copenhagen, Denmark 
(http://www.bioethics.kvl.dk/gmexperience/).

Event of the German Academy for Environment: On 23rd May, 
an information event takes place in the Schweißfurt Foundation 
in Munich to discuss the future of genetic engineering in 
agriculture and food production in the EU (http://die-umwelt-
akademie.de/veranstaltungen/).

The impact of genetically modified plants (GMPs) on microbial 
communities: This workshop, held from 24th to 28th May in 
Tromso, Norway, aims to summarize the current knowledge and 
experience with the effects of GMPs on microbial communities. 
The workshop is supported by the European Science 
Foundation (AIGM programme), the University of Tromso and 
the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology 
(http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2003/news03.mar.html#mar0307). 

Business News

Vaccine against nerve gas produced in GM goats
The announcement made jumping the shares in Nexia about 
20%, that GM goats could produce a vaccine against nerve gas 
in the future. The company Nexia Biotechnologies intends to 
genetically modify goats in a way that they synthesize the 
substance „Protexia“ in the milk. Protexia derives from an 
enzyme, a butrylcholinesterases that is able to bind nerve agents 
and dispose them thereby (Montreal Gazette 04/01/03, cited 
from GENET 04/03/03). Nexia receives a 3.94 million dollars 
award from the US Army Medical Research Materiel Command 
to develop Protexia 
(http://micro.newswire.ca/releases/April2003/04/c7634.html/353
34-0). Two years ago, Nexia Biotechnologies announced to 
produce spider silk in GM goats. This “biosteel” is considered to 
be used on medical devices but is not on the market yet 
(http://www.nexiabiotech.com/en/01_tech/01.php ).

Bayer CropScience plans to market more GM seeds
Bayer CropScience plans to get more in the seed business, 
especially to market proper GM seeds. The financial success of 
a company in the field of biotechnology depends on the 
commercialisation of GM seeds. Therefore, Bayer CropScience 
cooperates since last year with „FiberMax Cotton“. Cotton 
varieties of FiberMax accounted for almost 11% of the 
cottonseed market last season. FiberMax has also been 
marketing Bt- and Roundup Ready cotton varieties (Western 
Farm Press 03/31/03, cited from GENET 04/03/03). 
Furthermore, Bayer CropScience extended the cooperation with 
Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research 
Organization (CSIRO Press Release 04/20/03, cited from 
GENET 04/03/03). A main focus in research and development 
of CISRO is the improvement of the cotton characteristics by 
modern biotechnology 
(http://www.csiro.au/index.asp?type=researchProgram&id=Plant
%20Industry_Cotton%20Production&xml=relatedResearchArea
s,researchProjects&stylesheet=divisionResearchProgram).

Monsanto’s annual sales dropped in 2002
The business volume of Monsanto decreased of 15% in 2002. 
In 2001 the business volume amounted 5.5 billion US dollars 
and decreased in 2002 to 4.7 billion US dollars (ETC News 
04/23/03). Greenpeace announced that Monsanto incurred a 
loss of 1.7 billion US dollars (Greenpeace Press Release 
04/16/03).

News From Organic Farming

Ecobarometer: consumers pay attention on quality and healthy 
products
In April, the EMNID Institute conducted a survey in behalf of 
the German ministry for consumer protection asking 1,000 
consumers in Germany about their opinion and buying patterns in 
the sector of organic products. That survey called Ecobarometer 
resulted that consumers attach increasingly importance to quality 
and healthy products. Therefore they esteem organic farming to 
renounce pesticides. Overall, consumers esteem that 
prophylactic antibiotics are not used in organic farming and 
animals are kept in their natural environment. Organic farming 
per se is not a criterion for buying a product. The biggest group 
of the interviewees (60%) buys organic food occasionally. In 
comparison to the first Ecobarometer in November 2002, less 
interviewees buy organic food exclusively. 20% of the 
consumers, 4% more than in November, are not interested in 
organic products at all 
(http://www.verbraucherministerium.de/presse-woche-
2003/PM-084-2003.htm).

Once a week: recipe with organic ingredients 
The web page of the German federal program for organic 
farming offers an e-mail service to send a recipe once a week 
for cooking a cheap meal with organic ingredients. This offer is 
called “Organic food for beginners” helping and easing to go 
organic (http://www.oekolandbau.de/presse1.gif).

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Katja Moch
Biodiversity, Nutrition & Agriculture
OEko-Institut e.V. - Institute for Applied Ecology
PO Box 6226
D-79038 Freiburg
Germany

Phone: ++49 - 761 - 45295-37
Fax:      ++49 - 761 - 475437

email: k.moch@oeko.de

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