GENET archive


3-Food: Hard times for GE brewage in the EU

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Winegrowers sound alarm about genetically modified grapes
SOURCE: Associated Press, by Gregory Flanders /
        The San Diego Union-Tribune, USA
DATE:   9 Jul 2004 

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Winegrowers sound alarm about genetically modified grapes

PARIS - French vintners are sounding the alarm about what they see as
another threat to their centuries-old winegrowing traditions -
genetically modified grapes.

Earth and Wine of the World, an association that includes nearly 400
French winegrowers, is worried about a government research project to
tinker with grape genes.

It's a serious concern in a land where the average person over 14 drinks
a quarter-bottle of wine a day, and where genetically modified crops are
often derided as "Frankenfoods."

"It is of utmost importance that the future of our profession is not
determined solely under the influence of scientists, industrialists and
technocrats," the group said in a statement Thursday after meeting in
Paris to draw up a plan of action.

The National Institute of Agricultural Research is seeking ways to make
vulnerable grapes more resistant to disease, and it plans to replant a
batch of genetically modified vines after a five-year pause.

"We're not persuaded that the tests will start with the maximum number of
precautions that we consider absolutely necessary," said Alain Graillot,
the president of the vintners association, which also includes
winegrowers from California to Germany.

"We want to be certain that there will be no accidental spreading, and
that any possible toxicity of the plants is completely ruled out," he
told The Associated Press.

A small crop of genetically modified grapes was planted in 1996 in
eastern France by the champagne manufacturer Moet et Chandon in
partnership with the agricultural institute.

But consumer pressure forced the company to dig up the plants in 1999 and
limit research to the lab, said Sylvie Colleu, an institute spokeswoman.

After all, France is the land that made a hero out of Jose Bove, the
farmer-turned-activist known for ripping up genetically modified crops
and ransacking a half-built McDonald's in 1999.

"In France, the consumers of wine are rather traditional, and many are
against genetically modified organisms," Colleu said. "And many
professionals feel that this could hurt the image of their brands."

The dug-up plants were frozen in a laboratory, and the institute is
waiting for permission from Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard to replant

Jean Masson, the president of the research center in Colmar where the
tests would be conducted, said the vines could be planted as early as August.

This time around, the institute has agreed to certain restrictions to
ease consumer fears, he said. No wine will be produced from the plants,
for example.

Winemakers have complained that there is a lack of dialogue between the
researchers and the public.

In his defense, Masson said he replied to a letter he received from Earth
and Wine of the World in March 2003 but got no response until a fax last week.

France's vintners have for years suffered a steady erosion of their
livelihoods by margin-squeezing supermarket chains, falling demand at
home and the growing popularity of Australian and American wines abroad.
A government crackdown on drunken driving has also battered domestic sales.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Modified-food industry to Europeans: Let them drink beer
SOURCE: Associated Press, by Matt Moore / International Herald Tribune, USA
DATE:   10 Jul 2004 

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Modified-food industry to Europeans: Let them drink beer

COPENHAGEN - With its food products spurned across the Continent by
fastidious Europeans, the biotechnology industry is trying to win
converts with beer.

A consortium of the world's largest biotech companies led by Monsanto
helped finance a Swedish brewer's new light lager that is produced with
the usual hops and barley - and a touch of genetically engineered corn.

The brewer, Kenth Persson, hopes to profit from the notoriety his biotech
brew is generating, while biotech companies hope it can gently sway
consumers as European regulators slowly reopen the Continent to
genetically altered foods.

But those are tall orders to fill.

A series of food-related health scares in recent years, from mad cow
disease to poisoned poultry, have stoked fears among many Europeans about
so-called GM foods.

Europeans insist that such food be clearly labeled, in contrast to U.S.
consumers, who do not appear bothered that so much of their processed
food includes genetically engineered soy and corn and is not labeled as such.

Indeed, most of the European Union's 457 million residents are adamant
that their food be kept free from any sort of modifications, genetic or

That might help explain why Persson's beer, called Kenth, is hardly a
barroom hit.

The brewer would not say how much had been sold since the beer was
unveiled in Denmark and Sweden this year. But he said that 4,000 bottles
were on their way to stores and pubs in Germany and that he was in talks
with stores in Britain.

Although research on genetically modified foods has not yielded any
nightmare results, like damage to life or limb, consumers do not appear
to be entirely convinced. Despite reassurances of safety, Nicholas Fjord
of Malmo, Sweden, says he keeps thinking of a relative whose mother took
Thalidomide in the 1960s, assured it was safe.

"So safe, indeed, that he has no elbow or knee joints and, despite living
a good life, has been hindered since his birth," Fjord recalled.

In April the EU lifted a six-year moratorium on new biotech food, but
just barely. The previous month, it approved the sale of a modified
strain of sweet corn, grown mainly in the United States.

But any food containing that corn must be labeled as genetically modified.

U.S. farmers argue that the labeling amounts to a de facto ban and the
Bush administration says it will continue pushing its biotech trade
complaint at the World Trade Organization.

And that's where Kenth comes in.

The beer was created because Monsanto felt the biotech debate "never rose
further than the inner circle of scientists, politicians" and
nongovernment organizations, said Mattias Zetterstrand, a Monsanto
spokesman based in Stockholm.

"Our wish was to contribute to this situation by making an abstract
discussion more concrete," he said.

The corn in Kenth was approved for use in 1998, before the European
moratorium started, and is grown in Germany.

The Monsanto-created corn seed is spliced with a bacterium's gene to
resist the corn borer pest without the need for insecticides.

Zetterstrand would not say how much the biotech consortium contributed to
the project, but he said the companies have not purchased equity in the
small Swedish brewer and would not share in sales of the beer.

The other companies involved in the project are Bayer CropScience,
DuPont, Plant Science Sweden, Svaloef Weibull and Syngenta.

Persson said he realized that selling a genetically modified beverage in
the European Union could be a risky proposition - especially when its
label cites the genetically modified ingredients unabashedly.

Greenpeace activists chased Kenth-laden beer trucks in Sweden and
Denmark, discouraging store and tavern owners from buying the brew when
it was first introduced, and Greenpeace continues to pressure big grocery
chains to avoid stocking it.

Dan Belusa, a Greenpeace spokesman, said the protest encouraged ICA, a
large Swedish grocery store chain, to remove Kenth from its shelves.

"Basically no GM foods are sold in Europe because consumers and retailers
make a conscience choice to say no to them," he said.

The brewer and Monsanto say Greenpeace's efforts have not deterred their

Kenth is now being sold through the Swedish state-owned liquor monopoly,
Systembolaget, and there have been no protests. But its availability is

At a recent barbecue in Ingaroe, a small town about a 30-minute drive
from Stockholm, a six-pack of the bottles was offered up for a taste
test. The beer was poured in glasses and offered up.

All in all, everyone who quaffed said it tasted just fine, just like
other beer.

They were not put off by its label, which proudly denotes its GM use.

"To me, it's strictly the taste test," said Debi Vaught-Thelin, a media
consultant. "If the beer is made with GM ingredients and tastes OK to me,
then yes, I will drink it happily."


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
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