GENET archive


6-Regulation: Why U.S. biotech industry opposes labels for GM crops

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Wanted - Labels for Genetically Engineered Products
SOURCE: IPS News, by Diego Cevallos*
DATE:   21 Feb 2006

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Wanted - Labels for Genetically Engineered Products

MEXICO CITY, Feb 21 (Tierramérica) - Labels on foods sold in Latin
American countries don't indicate whether they contain genetically
engineered ingredients. There is legislation on the books in Brazil, but
companies aren't complying with the requirement. In Mexico the laws on
the matter are imprecise, and in Chile a new law is expected soon.

Many of the foods consumed in the region do indeed contain transgenics,
in other words, ingredients that have been genetically modified in some
way, and science has not produced definitive answers about their possible
effects on health and the environment..

That is why defenders of consumers' rights believe labelling of foods
with genetically modified ingredients should be required.

More than 30 countries had adopted or planned legislation as of 2004 for
requiring labels for transgenic products, according to a study by the
World Health Organisation (WHO).

A 2003 presidential decree in Brazil requires that all foods containing
more than one percent genetically modified ingredients must bear a "T"
inside a triangle. But shoppers have yet to see this symbol on
supermarket shelves.

"We Brazilians are consuming genetically modified products without
knowing it," and the government "is irresponsibly omitting" its duty of
requiring the label, Paulo Pacini, attorney for the non-governmental
Brazilian Consumer Defence Institute, told Tierramérica.

In 2000, then-minister of health and current president-elect of Chile,
Michelle Bachelet, issued an order for obligatory labelling of
transgenics, but it was not enacted. She has pledged to resolve the
matter during her presidency, which begins Mar. 11.

A 2005 Mexican law on biosafety entails obligatory labels, to the extent
that the product involves transgenics whose nutritional content is
significantly different from other foods. Because the nutritional value
of genetically modified foods is generally the same as conventional
ffods, lawmakers are seeking to modify the law so that labelling occurs
without considering the nutritional factor.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were developed in the 1980s as a
means to improve certain characteristics of crops, such as appearance,
colour and yield, and resistance to pests or extreme climate conditions
or to specific pesticides.

The technique consists of introducing genes from another species -- which
can be plant or animal -- into the seeds.

Activists, governments, agroindustry executives and scientists are unable
to agree on whether transgenics should be labelled, but most do agree
that consumers are likely to be wary of genetically modified foods.

In the European Union, where labelling is required, the consumer who sees
this alert tends not to buy the product. Several surveys conducted in
Latin America indicate that consumers in this region would have a similar

In Brazil, 74 percent of those surveyed in 2001 by the Brazilian
Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics said they preferred non-
transgenic foods, while 73.9 percent of those consulted in 2004 by the
Institute Studies on Religion said GMOs "pose a risk".

And in Chile, 58.5 percent of consumers prefer foods that have not been
genetically modified, according to a survey by Ipsos polling firm in 2005.

In Mexico, the Sigma Dos pollster found that 98 percent of the people
consulted said they distrust transgenic products and that food companies
should inform consumers about whether they use them or not.

Environmentalists and some governments, such as the Europeans, call for
the cautionary principle when it comes to cultivating and consuming GMOs,
but farmers and many scientists assure that these biotech products are
harmless and should be used more widely.

According to a 2005 WHO report, it is unlikely that transgenic foods
already on the market pose risks to humans, although, in the future, they
could carry "potential direct threats for health and development."

"There is certainty that foods derived from genetically modified plants
that are being marketed are as harmless as their conventional
counterparts. This is verified by 81 European research projects" and the
WHO, said Esteban Hopp, coordinator of the plant biotech unit of the
Argentine Institute of Biotechnology.

"Furthermore, from the more than 300 million hectares harvested and
processed for human and animal food so far, it is estimated that globally
more than 100 billion meals of high GMO content have been consumed,
without any consequences for health reported," Hopp said in a
Tierramérica interview.

But there are documented examples of potentially dangerous genetically
modified foods. In the United States, the corn variety Starlink was
withdrawn from the market in 2000 after cases of allergic reactions by
consumers were reported.

And the transgenic corn variety Mon863, produced by the U.S.-based
Monsanto, an agroindustry giant, and authorised for human consumption in
Mexico, caused health problems in rats during experiments, according to a
confidential document from Monsanto that was made public in 2005 by court

GMO cultivation has been expanding worldwide since 1996, when
commercialisation of these seeds began. From then through last year, 471
million hectares have been planted with transgenic crops, according to
the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications
(ISAAA), a U.S. company that promotes transgenic crops.

The leading producers of these crops are the United States, Argentina,
Brazil and Canada, concentrated in soybeans resistant to certain
herbicides, and maize and cotton resistant to herbicides and insects.
Almost the entirety of the seeds for these crops are created and sold by

In the international forums where the labelling question is being
discussed -- like the International Committee of Codex Alimentarius --
the United Sates, Argentina and other countries are resoundingly opposed
to any binding international rules on labelling requirements.

In May 2005 in Malaysia, during the last meeting of Codex, an agency of
the United Nations, the labelling debate ended in a stalemate, and the
parties to the discussion only agreed to take up the matter again in the

"If there are companies and governments so sure that transgenics will not
produce secondary effects in the long term, why this resistance to
labelling?" wonders Aleri Carreon, coordinator of the consumers campaign
and genetic engineering for the environmental watchdog Greenpeace-Mexico.

According to Argentine biotech expert Hopp, "the label should provide
information to the consumer, and not fear, nor should it lead to
political discrimination" against those who sell products derived from
GMOs, he said.

For the scientist, who believes organisations like Greenpeace are
"fundamentalists" when it comes to transgenics, if the food truly isn't
safe, it shouldn't be labelled -- it should be banned.

(* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent. With reporting by Marcela
Valente in Argentina, Mario Osava in Brazil and Daniela Estrada in Chile.
Originally published Feb. 11 by Latin American newspapers that are part
of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service
produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development
Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)

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

TITLE:  Easing fears of biotech food
        Why industry opposes labels for genetically modified crops
SOURCE: The Sacramento Bee, USA, by Jim Wasserman
DATE:   21 Feb 2006

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Easing fears of biotech food
Why industry opposes labels for genetically modified crops

Nineteen months ago Sean Darragh, a former U.S. defense, national
security and trade official, became a leading promoter and new public
face of the global agricultural biotechnology industry.

Representing more than 1,100 biotech companies, academic institutions and
state research centers, Darragh travels the planet as head of food and
agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C.

As chief spokesman for a decade-old and still controversial technology
used on 1 billion acres of farmland worldwide, Darragh tries to reassure
a sometimes skeptical public that genetically modified food is both safe
and good for the environment.

U.S. farmers grow mostly herbicide-resistant corn, soybeans, cotton,
canola, squash and papaya on 123 million acres.

Darragh recently stopped by The Bee to talk about pressures to label
biotech food for consumers, continuing safety concerns of public interest
groups and his own faith in biotech science.

Q: Tell us what you do.

A: My role is to talk to folks and talk about the technology. We
recognize as an industry that things are evolving quickly in
biotechnology and that anytime you have a new technology folks want to be
sure that it's safe and it's something that they're comfortable with.
Part of what we do is try to make people comfortable with it.

Q: Does your industry advocate labeling products if biotech products are
put in them?

A: We do not support the labeling of biotech products. The idea being
that scientists, the American Medical Association and all the regulatory
bodies in the U.S. and the European commission that oversee this, have
all said the technology is safe.

Our concern with putting on a label saying that the products were made
with genetic modification is that it raises, from our perspective, the
concern that there must be a reason.

It's almost like a warning sign. If science says genetically modified
products are safe and our government is saying they're safe, what is the
reason for putting a label on it that says they're genetically modified
other than to say there's some reason why?

Q: Have you done studies over a long period of time to say whether people
who eat more genetically modified foods get more cancers or get more of
other diseases than people who eat more organically grown food? Have
those sorts of studies been done?

A: Ten years have gone by without one documented case of any problem
associated with the technology. ... I've never met anybody with a science
degree, who has a Ph.D. in biology, ever, who was not comfortable with
the safety of biotechnology.

Does that mean you shouldn't be cautious? I'm not saying that. ... We
have been modifying plants for tens of thousand of years. In biotech
we're going in and saying this is the gene we want to transfer, and we're
ensuring that it transfers and nothing else does. It's a more precise way
of doing what (19th century Austrian monk and founder of genetics Gregor)
Mendel did with peas moons and moons ago.

Our fear is that by putting a label on it that says GMO (genetically
modified organism) it's like a skull and crossbones. We don't think the
science justifies it.

Q: The government has approved things that it said were safe and later
were found to be harmful.

A: If I had a conversation with anybody with a Ph.D. in biology and they
could articulate why they were concerned about it and why this technology
is any different than the stuff that's been happening for years - like
Mendel's peas - then I could understand. But there's nobody out there. I
think part of the problem is we haven't done a very good, or as good a
job as we could, with making people feel comfortable with the technology.
I think it's a failure on our part.

Q: Many Europeans cite the precautionary principle. They say, "Prove it's
safe rather than tell us it hasn't been proved unsafe."

A: Part of the problem existing today in Europe is they had a number of
failures in their system, whether it was BSE (mad cow disease) or other

It appears they weren't transparent with their population and there were
a number of regulatory and governmental organizations charged with safety
that lost credibility with the population. ...

I think as a whole most Americans think the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug
Administration) does a good job doing their best to keep our food supply
safe and good. And the Europeans don't have the same faith in their food
safety system that we do. That's why it's a little easier here for the
technology than it is in Europe.

Q: With labeling, isn't there a fear that groups like the Center for Food
Safety would ramp up a campaign and urge people to boycott those foods?

A: Here's an analysis. Just the other day in the Wall Street Journal was
an article by (former U.S. President) Jimmy Carter talking about the
technology. Most Americans think Jimmy Carter is a straight shooter. He's
going to tell you what he believes, and it comes from the heart.

He's coming out and saying he's a mainstream American leader, who has
proven his worth to the nation and the world, and he's coming out and
talking about it. I think there will be more politicians and thought
leaders that come out in the next few years that will do something similar.

Q: Sonoma County voters just rejected a ban on biotech crops. What was
your reaction to that?

A: I think Californians and people in general should choose their
destiny. That's what we are about. We want to have freedom of choice. Am
I happy the vote went the way it did? Yes.

Q: What do you fear most that could bring this technology to a halt?

A: I have faith in the scientific community, and if you look at
challenges we're facing, feeding the world or providing fuel for the
future, biotechnolgy is a major part of the solution to that. We need to
move forward and have appropriate regulatory regimes to make sure we
don't have problems. But we have challenges we have to deal with, and
this is a path that is going to get us where we need to go. I don't think
I'm going to wake up in the morning, and there's going to be something
that's going to stop it.


Executive vice president for food and agriculture, Biotechnology Industry

Appointed: Aug. 9, 2004

Previous positions: Deputy vice president of international affairs,
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; principal deputy
assistant secretary of defense; principal negotiator, Office of U.S.
Trade Representative; senior adviser to the deputy secretary of the U.S.
Treasury; director for global issues and multilateral affairs, National
Security Council staff

Source: Biotechnology Industry Organization


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