GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Global Days of Action Against Biotech

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Global Days of Action Against Genetically Engineered Foods--April 21-27, 1997

Campaign Progress Report March 5, 1997
by Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign USA
Tel. (218) 226-4164
Fax. (218) 226-4157
e-mail <>
world wide web<>

At the end of January the Pure Food Campaign began circulating a
call--signed by leading activists from 16 different organizations in a
dozen countries--for April global actions against genetically engineered
foods and crops. These actions are meant to complement the considerable
amount of global campaigning that has already taken place over the past six
months in Europe, North America, Japan, India, Malaysia, Australia, and
other countries. The call for Global Actions has been distributed so far
via fax, mail, and e-mail to over 400 non-governmental organizations and
activist groups in 40 countries. Publications and internet lists have also
begun reprinting the call. The response to the call has been very
positive--people are inspired by the idea of globally coordinated
actions--although a number of NGOs in the South have pointed out that
genetically engineered foods and crops are not yet issues of major concern
in their regions. Everyone seems to agree, however, that agricultural
biotech and cloning issues will become increasingly important as time goes

In Europe activists are also having to deal with the life form patents
debate at the same time as the gene-foods controversy, given that an
important vote is coming up soon in the European Parliament over whether
genetically engineered organisms and life forms can be patented. Media
calling in from around the world seem to be interested and intrigued by the
notion of globally coordinated resistance to biotech. In the United States,
recent activism has been somewhat hampered by the fact that the major media
are just now beginning (see attached New York Times article from February
24, 1997) to give coverage to the biotech foods and labeling controversy.
Previous media coverage of consumer and farmer resistance against the first
US biotech food, the Bovine Growth Hormone, rBGH (rBST), on the other hand,
has been significant over the past three years. The "Sheep Cloning" story
has been headline news in North America, as well as the rest of the world,
and has fueled citizen concern, not only over animal and human cloning, but
over gene-altered foods as well. A poll released in late January by the
biotech multinational firm Novartis found 93% of U.S. consumers demanding
mandatory labeling of G-E foods, with a majority 54% favoring organic
farming. Another CNN/Time poll released March 1, found 93% opposed to human
cloning and 66% opposed to animal clonoing.

So far campaigners have committed themselves to organize actions and press
events in approximately 20 countries, including:

(1) United States--so far commitments in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles,
San Francisco, Minneapolis, Detroit, Atlanta, Austin, and Albuquerque; with
anti-biotech activities also being incorporated into Earth Day Week
activities in many other cities. Contact: Pure Food Campaign (Ronnie
Cummins) Tel. (218) 226-4164 Fax. (218) 226-4157 e-mail: <>

(2) Canada--actions planned at the GATT Codex Alimentarius labeling meeting
in Ottawa the second week of April, and for Global Action Week during the
third week of April. Also press conference planned for Prince Edward
Island. Contact: Council of Canadians (Dave Robinson) Tel. (613) 233-2773
Fax. (613) 233-6776 e-mail <>
Also contact: Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Food (Richard Wolfson)
Tel. 613-564-8517 Fax. 613-565-6546 e-mail: <>

(3) U.K.--actions planned across the country by Women's Environmental
Network and other groups. Contact: Women's Environmental Network (Ricarda
Steinbrecher) Tel. 44-171-247-3327 e-mail <>

(4) India--actions planned in April. Contact: Research Foundation for
Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (Vandana Shiva) Tel.
91-11-696-8077 Fax. 91-11-685-6795 e-mail <>

(5) Malaysia--actions planned by Third World Network and Consumers
Association of Penang. Contact: Third World Network (Martin Khor) Tel.
60-4-226-6728 Fax. 60-4-226-4505
e-mail <>

(6) Philippines--actions (still tentative) planned by Center for
Alternative Development Initiatives. Contact CADI (Nicky Perlas) Tel.
63-2-928-3986 Fax. 632-928-7608 e-mail: <>

(7) France--actions planned by Ecoropa and other groups. Contact: Ecoropa
(Etienne) Tel. 33-1-43-38-38-17 Fax. 33-1-43-38-37-88  e-mail:

(8) Austria --actions planned by Global 2000 including an important
national referendum on biotech foods the second week of April. Contact:
Global 2000 (Daniel Hausknost) Tel. 431-812-57300 Fax. 431-812-5728 e-mail

(9) Netherlands--actions planned by ASEED, the Amsterdam-headquartered
European youth network (also Friends of the Earth), possibly coordinating
actions in a number of European countries. Contact: ASEED (Stephanie
Howard) Tel. 31-20-668-2236  Fax. 31-20-665-0166 e-mail:

(10) Spain--actions planned by AEDENAT. Contact: AEDENAT (Ramon Duran) Tel.
34-91-319-8782 Fax. 34-91-571-7108 e-mail: <>

(11) Australia--actions planned by Australian GeneEthics Network and
Australian Consumers Association. Contact: GeneEthics Network (Bob Phelps)
Tel. 61-3-9416-2222 Fax. 61-3-9416-0767  e-mail: <>
Also contact: Australian Consumers Association (Carole Renouf) Tel.
61-2-9577-3332 Fax. 61-2-9973-2328  e-mail: <>

(12) Japan--actions planned by Network for Safe and Secure Food and
Environment April 19-20.  Contact: NESSFE (Mika Iba) Tel. 813-3327-6444
Fax. 813-3325-5890 e-mail: <>

(13) Sweden--actions planned. For further information contact Martin Frid
Tel & Fax. 46-479-10010

(14) Italy--actions planned. Contact Greenpeace (Alessandro Gianni) Tel.
39-6-575-0053 or 39-6-578-2484 Fax. 39-6-578-3531 e-mail:
Also contact: Crocevia (Antonio Onorati) e-mail: <>

(15) Norway--actions planned. Contact: GATT WTO Campaign (Helge Christie)
Tel. & Fax. 47-6249-6096 e-mail: <>

(16) Belgium--actions planned. Contact: Pesticide Action Network Belgium
(Catherine Wattiez) Tel. 322-358-2926 Fax. 322-358-2926 e-mail
Also contact: CPAQ (Patrick Vander Linden) Tel. 322-218-4727 Fax.
322-217-6078 e-mail <>

(17) Denmark--contact NOAH (Jesper Toft) Tel. & Fax. 45-3879-1415 e-mail:

(18) Germany--contact Gen-Ethisches Network (Werner Reisberger) Tel.
49-234-540-294  Fax. 49-234-540-239  e-mail: <>

We still have a long way to go, but initial commitments are encouraging.
The PFC will issue progress reports on a weekly basis from this point on.

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February 24, 1997

Biotech Firm to Advocate Labels on Genetically Altered Products


  One of the world's biggest biotechnology companies is preparing to
advocate that all genetically engineered crops and food products made from
them be clearly labeled, a practice long demanded by opponents of genetic
engineering but strongly opposed by farm and industry groups.

  The new policy by Novartis, a giant Swiss agribusiness, chemicals and
drug company formed last year by the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz, is a
response to the much stronger push for such labeling in Europe. It also
reveals a rift within industry over whether consumers can be trusted to
ultimately ignore what biotechnology backers see as scare-mongering by its

  "There is no need from a scientific and safety standpoint, but if we
believe in the consumers' right to choose, the industry cannot reasonably
argue against labels facilitating this choice," Wolfgang Samo, head of
agribusiness at Novartis, said in an interview Friday. He will outline the
company's position Monday at a conference in Boston.

  That right to choose is advocated by biotech opponents. But James
Maryanski, biotechnology coordinator at the Food and Drug Administration,
said the agency did not "require things to be on a label just because a
consumer might want to know them."

  "We couldn't find any common characteristic conferred by genetic
engineering so we look at each product on a case by case basis," he said.

  Genes are segments of DNA, the long double chain of molecules in every
cell that governs its form and function. Genetic engineers modify the
behavior of existing genes in a plant or animal or, in a matter of more
controversy, insert genes from that species or other species that give the
transgenic organism a new trait or enhance an existing one.

  Genetically engineered products are now used on American farms to
increase milk production and reduce the amount of herbicides or
insecticides used on corn, soybeans, cotton and potatoes. Foreign genes
have also been introduced into tomatoes to delay ripening. None are
explicitly labeled as genetically modified.

  Supporters of the technology say that most consumers accept it but that
across-the-board labeling of all genetically altered products might falsely
imply significant risks that could scare consumers away and slow the
technology's development.

  Scientific advisory panels to government regulators have found no
substantial risks in such products, said Jerry Caulder, chief executive of
Mycogen Corp., a biotechnology company based in San Diego, and head of the
agricultural section of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade
group. He said labeling "would be like when they used to label blood as
black, Jewish or white, a social prejudice with no scientific basis." He
also said, "It's saying, 'I want to reduce my risk to zero at the cost of
denying advances in food production that the rest of world is going to need
to feed itself."'

  But biotechnology opponents -- and now Novartis -- say it is wrong to
ignore many consumer surveys showing a majority of Americans would like the
choice of avoiding food produced from genetically altered crops or animals.

  Some opposition is based on religious convictions. But critics and
supporters agree that most consumer uneasiness can be traced to assertions
that the biotechnology industry and government regulators have played down
or ignored studies pointing to problems or potential risks.

  Critics cite studies hinting at ways biotech products might increase the
risks of some forms of cancer, limit the effectiveness of antibiotics or
unexpectedly release natural toxins in plants. They say that unknowing
consumers might suffer allergic reactions to microscopically altered forms
of products they assumed were safe. And they say that the genetically
altered crops will inevitably lead to superweeds resistant to herbicides
and new breeds of pesticide-resistant insects. Such insects would be
especially damaging to organic farms, which rely on natural bacterial forms
of the same pesticide being transferred to the plants.

  Neither side is confident that consumers understand the issues very well.
A new consumer survey Samo intends to release on Monday showed that while
more than 90 percent of Americans want "bioengineered" products to be
labeled, more than two-thirds of those surveyed say they know little or
nothing about the technology.

  The labeling issue is about to become even more heated and confused in
Europe. Last week, the European Union issued new regulations covering
"novel" food. They would clearly require labeling of some
biotechnology-based products, like genetically modified tomatoes marketed
directly to consumers. But the fate of many others that are blended into
finished food products is subject to interpretations that must be worked
out before the rules take effect this spring.

  "For most people, it isn't a matter of immediate safety concerns but
long-term unknowns," said Steven Shaw, technical director for Tesco PLC,
Britain's largest grocery chain. Along with other British grocers, Tesco
has announced plans to demand not only labels for obviously engineered
products like tomatoes but also segregation of genetically engineered crops
so that vegetable oils, canned foods and other products containing them can
be labeled. "But we don't intend to label anything as free of gene-modified
materials because we don't want to imply that is better," Shaw added.

  The multinational giants of the soybean and grain trade say segregation
is impractical in the long run since farmers, railroads and barge lines
typically mix bean or corn varieties during delivery to processors.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times