GENTECH archive


Sunday Independent - Genetix menu (fwd)

As to genetic manipulation the brit. government is pulling one way, and
the newspapers, all of a sudden are pulling the other. The topic is
getting more space (it seems to me) than Monica ever did. Sorry if you're
a regular reader of the INDEPENDENT - this will reach you before the
Sunday morning delivery !!


Labour pays GM giants to come to UK

By Marie Woolf, Political

Genetic engineering giants, including Monsanto, have been offered millions
of pounds in taxpayers' money to encourage them to expand their presence
in the United Kingdom.

The Government has earmarked more than #15m for biotechnology firms,
including Du Pont, one of the pioneers in genetic engineering, and
Monsanto, the American GM crops giant. In May 1997, the month that the
Labour government was elected, it gave Monsanto the first slice of a #1.5m
package to expand investment in Scotland.

The revelation comes as the Government is under increasing fire for its
close links with the genetic engineering firms. Firms involved in
genetically modified (GM) food have met government officials or ministers
81 times since Labour was elected. Monsanto visited the agriculture and
environment departments 22 times while Zeneca held 31 meetings with
officials or ministers.

Last night the Government insisted there was no evidence that GM food on
sale in the UK was a health risk. Such products on sale in the UK were
safe, Dr Jack Cunningham, Cabinet Office Minister, said after food
retailers demanded a clear statement to reassure consumers. The British
Retail Consortium had warned that shops could lose billions of pounds if
consumers lost confidence because of government dithering over GM food.

"No new products [containing GM substances] will be allowed for sale
unless they have passed a whole series of rigorous and careful checks and
tests," said Dr Cunningham. "We believe the products currently on sale are
safe. Stores have been selling these products to the consumers for several
years, and they have been very happily buying them because they are safe."

However, last night supermarkets, including Somerfield, Asda and
Sainsbury's, showed signs of turning against GM crops. They said that they
were asking suppliers to buy up GM-free fields all over the world so that
they could guarantee their own-brand foods such as crisps and ready-made
meals were GM-free. "We are actively looking for GM-free supplies," said a
spokesman for Sainsbury's. "We want to reduce the number of GM ingredients
used wherever possible."

Government funds will go to a Monsanto factory in Girvan, south of Ayr,
which extracts chemicals from seaweed. Monsanto, which insists that no
work on genetic engineering goes on at its plant, has so far received
#785,000; it will be eligible for the rest of the #1.5m inward investment
package once it has hired more workers.

"As far as this place is concerned there is no GM work whatsoever," said a
spokesman for the company.

The Government has offered Du Pont, the UK arm of the American-based
chemical multinational, almost #15m to encourage it to expand factories in
the North-east of England and Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for Du Pont said: "Most of our work on genetic engineering is
being done in the States. We are doing some research in the UK. The money
given to the plants in the North-east and Northern Ireland has nothing to
do with genetic modification."

This week a group of MPs from all parties will be established to
scrutinise government policy on GM food, and the Commons environmental
audit select committee plans to launch an investigation into genetically
modified organisms.

Last week MPs tabled a Commons motion congratulating The Independent on
Sunday on its campaign for a freeze on growing GM crops in Britain until
rigorous tests of their effects on the environment have been completed.

GM foods campaign - The seeds of destruction

By Marie Woolf & Geoffrey Lean

Work is under way to target Third World farmers with a new form of
genetically modified seed, nicknamed the Verminator because it contains a
fat gene from a rat.

Agro-chemical giants have been patenting dozens of genetically engineered
"terminator" seeds which are programmed to kill their own embryos so they
cannot produce next year's crop. But the Verminator is the most dramatic
example of the new science of genetic modification.

The patents have been condemned by scientists and Third World charities
who say the technology will "enslave" the world's poorest farmers to
businesses such as Monsanto.

Over 1.4 billion subsistence farmers and their families in the Third World
rely on keeping back seeds from each crop to grow next year's harvest,
ensuring that they can breed their own plants. Charities, which have been
working to make poor communities self-sufficient, say that the new GM
seeds could herald the demise of sustainable development.

"The whole concept of this invention is based around making the poor pay
for seeds instead of saving their own. It risks damaging the seed base
poor people depend on," said Isabel McCrea, of Action Aid.

Zeneca, a leading biotechnology spin-off of ICI, is working on the
Verminator, a killer gene which can be switched on or off by a chemical
trigger. Its patent describes the gene as coming from "mammalian
uncoupling protein isolated from the brown adipose tissue of ratus ratus".
Once inserted into the plant it acts as a killer of pollen cells by making
them starve themselves to death. The energy function of pollen-producing
cells is blocked.

"Terminator technology is dangerous because it puts an end to life," said
Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist. "If you stop the energy
factories in the cell from working it does not have any energy to keep it

The controversial new terminator technology will be debated this week by
politicians, ecologists and scientists at the 1999 convention on
biological diversity in Colombia, a conference on protecting the world's
plant life. There are likely to be calls for tight controls on introducing
GM crops - including suicide seeds - into the developing world.

"By peddling suicide seeds the biotechnology multinationals will lock the
world's poorest farmers into a new form of genetic serfdom," said Emma
Must, campaigns officer of the World Development Movement. "Currently 80
per cent of crops grown in developing countries are grown using farm-saved
seeds. Being unable to save seeds from sterile crops could mean the
difference between surviving or going under."

It may be years before the terminator seeds are being planted
commercially, but already Indian farmers are up in arms about the threat
to their livelihoods. They have launched "Operation Cremate Monsanto" with
the intention of "burning" the company out of their country. Fields of GM
cotton have been set alight in Karnataka, and a government minister has
expressed concern.

Professor N Najundaswamy, president of the 10 million-strong Karnataka
farmers' association, says: "This is a terminator of food security. It is
a damaging technology because pollination pollution can render indigenous
varieties sterile. This gene will remove all characteristics of
germination from our seeds."

At the end of last year Professor Najundaswamy and 200 of his farmers
descended on two experimental fields of cotton which had been genetically
engineered to resist pests but did not carry the terminator gene. They
uprooted the cotton, piled it up and set it alight. "We are making a call
for direct action against Monsanto and the rest of the biotech gang," he

Meanwhile, Babagouda Patil, India's minister for rural development, has
warned that "the terminator gene will pose a serious threat to Indian
agriculture". And the world's largest agricultural research institution
has banned terminator technology. The Consultative Group on Inter-
national Agricultural Research, which co-ordinates the research centres
that spawned the Green Revolution, has announced it "will not incorporate
into its breeding materials any genetic systems designed to prevent seed


GM foods campaign - Monsanto pleads guilty to flouting rules on crops

MONSANTO , the controversial biotech giant at the heart of the growing row
over "Frankenstein foods", will this week plead guilty to criminal charges
of flouting rules over the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops.

In the first case of its kind brought in Britain the company will admit
breaking the regulations at a test site for its crops in Lincolnshire. The
development will be a huge embarrassment for the company, which has been
aggressively promoting GM foods.

It could not have come at a worse time for the US multinational with the
country in an uproar over the issue, and the Independent on Sunday's
campaign attracting massive political and public support. Today Baroness
Young, chairman of English Nature - the Government's official wildlife
watchdog - calls on page 30 for tougher conditions for such test sites and
a delay on commercial planting until thorough research has been carried

The case, which will be heard at Caistor Magistrates' Court on Wednesday,
has been brought by the official Health and Safety Executive after a
routine inspection of the site, at nearby Rothwell, last June revealed
that control measures designed to prevent GM crops cross-pollinating with
nearby plants had been "partially removed". Environmentalists fear that
"escaped" genes from the crops may create superweeds, and that once out
they could never be recaptured.

Monsanto (slogan "Food - Health - Hope") and another firm, Perryfields
Holdings, were supposed to leave a six-metre wide "pollen barrier" around
the crop of GM oilseed rape to stop cross-fertilisation. But the
inspectors found that the barrier was only two metres wide on one side of
the test site.

The GM rape had already flowered by the time the inspection took place,
and government advisers were informed that "pollination with the
surrounding crop may already have taken place". The entire GM crop and all
seed harvested within 50 metres of it had to be destroyed. No oil seed
rape is to be grown on the site for at least two years.

Both firms face a maximum fine of #20,000 in the magistrates' court for
breaching the Environmental Protection Act 1990 - and an unlimited one if
the case is referred to the Crown Court.

David Hill, a media consultant to Monsanto, confirmed late last week that
the company will be pleading guilty. "It will be a very short court case,"
he said.

He added that, as things stood, there was little the company could do to
stop a similar breach happening again. Monsanto had no direct control of
the trials, which were done by third-party growers appointed by the
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods (Maff). The company says it
is working closely with Maff and the Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions (DETR) to produce "a standard set of operating
procedures" to avoid future breaches.

Both firms have been in trouble before for a similar offence although no
charges were brought. Just over a year ago the DETR was informed that too
small an "isolation distance" had been left around another crop of GM
oilseed rape near Broadway in the Cotswolds. The crop had to be destroyed.



***As a consumer, given that GM foodstuffs are already on the market, I
would press for easy identification. Few shoppers have the time or the
inclination to read avidly the small print on the back of tins. There are

The labels on the containers of GM foods could be coloured differently; or
they could show a prominent "GM" sign on the front of the label; or (and
in my view preferably) they could be stacked separately on shelves which
are clearly marked "GM Foodstuffs".

This would give consumers a sporting chance of buying ethically, if that
is what they want. It would also give retailers reasonably accurate
information about their customers' preferences and priorities. If the
major supermarkets could be persuaded by such information that their
customers preferred natural, unmodified goods then we would be a long way
towards winning the battle.

Lesley Browne, London, SW1

***Although not strictly vegetarian, I eat a lot of "vegetarian" food. I
will not knowingly buy food which has been genetically modified. In
reality, this has meant buying nothing containing soya which has not been
clearly marked as being free from GM.

I do not wish to eat GM foods, and am particularly concerned about such
products being fed to animals in the food chain, and even more, about the
effects of GM crops upon the environment. Assurances of safety are
patently ridiculous - effects cannot possibly be predicted.

P M Noble, London E11

I AM rarely moved to campaign. However, on GM food I am extremely
concerned. I am able to protect my family from beef and beef produce
because it is labelled. I demand the choice to be able to protect my
family from GM food.

M Burnett, Purley, Surrey

***The human food chain is being hijacked by big corporations for their
own ends. We deplore this. We are also very unhappy with the way the
Government is putting the interests and wishes of these companies above
those of the British people.

We are concerned about the inherent unpredictability of GM crops with
possible danger to both humans and animals; the spread of unwanted and
possibly harmful genes into weeds, wild species and organic food; the
impossibility of enforcing and policing the labelling of foods containing
GM ingredients; and the effect on developing nations, where there are
already food shortages through Western greed.

DR M Antoniou and J Antoniou, Edgware, Middlesex

***GM foods are the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. Nature is a
beautifully organised and complex system that can never be fully
understood or predicted. Like similar complex systems such as the weather
or the behaviour of the economy it is beyond prediction.

Unfortunately, this is not another topical issue that will eventually fade
from public concern. It is a battle which must be continuously fought, for
this technology isn't going to go away, no matter how much we wish it

Keith Richardson, East Berkshire Green Party, Slough, Berks

***This process should be discontinued immediately and completely banned
until further testing for safety of the consumer is carried out and until
confidence can be expressed by all informed and disinterested bodies that
the broader implications for the ecology of our planet are fully
understood, and that all anticipatible consequences have been identified
and deemed acceptable.

M J Russell, Crief, Perthshire

***The belief that Genetic Modification can provide a solution to the
problem of world hunger is a fallacy. Increasing the yield of cash crops
does not provide the producers of the food with more to eat; poor people
cannot eat food that is exported. Rich landowners and those who control
the technology will be the ones to prosper. GM will concentrate the
wealth, and the gene pool, in the hands of the few. Technology in
isolation cannot be the answer to problems that are fundamentally
economical and ethical in their composition.

Gareth Simpson, West Bridgeford, Notts

***As someone involved in plant gene transfer since the early 1980s, I
find your latest campaign is based on unsound arguments. Genetic
modification receives a great deal of unsubstantiated and misrepresented
publicity, and I am disappointed that your otherwise excellent paper seems
keen to take a lead in this.

A much more positive reaction from your paper would be an in-depth review
of the whole area of genetic modification, not merely the opinions of some
badly informed people. Though the science of creating transgenic plants is
new, the precision and scope of the science is increasing quickly, with
the elimination of some of the previously cited problems, such as
antibiotic resistance genes.

I am not advocating an all-out acceptance of genetic modification;
however, in many cases the benefits far outweigh the risks involved.
Instead of "Stop GM Foods", stop misrepresenting the scientific facts.

Dr Steve Millam, Dundee

***I strongly feel that GM food should be stopped. Will we have no choice
in how we live our lives? Will the big food corporations run the world?

Sandra Brown, Consett, Co Durham

***I farm 450 acres of mediocre arable land in South Yorkshire. I
wholeheartedly agree with you that GM crops should be banned, stopped and
thrown out. I farm in a conventional system using agrochemicals as
sparingly as possible. There is no way I could be described as a
vegetarian yoghurt knitter but I do object to being a conduit for
taxpayers' money being delivered to Monsanto to develop systems that are
dangerous, untested and unwanted. Think of rabbits in Australia, grey
squirrels in Britain and the numerous other incidents of humans tampering
with nature. Let these be a lesson to all.

T G Elmhirst, Barnsley, S Yorks

***Genetic engineering could be extremely dangerous, and all shops and
supermarkets ought to indicate which foods contain genetically modified
ingredients. This would enable customers who do not agree with genetic
engineering to avoid them.

Frances J Jones, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

***Although a moratorium is better than nothing, for nature's sake a total
ban is the only acceptable outcome of this debate. A freeze of three years
is not long enough to determine what adverse effects GM foods will have on
us. Organic farming is the only way forward.

M M H Hogestijn, Radnage, Bucks

***I find it interesting that companies like Monsanto are acting like
farmers and treating consumers like domesticated animals. We're to be fed
according to their requirements, and they will harvest the profits.

Give us the names of the products Monsanto and the other GM companies
produce. We may not be able to stop the introduction of GM foods, but we
could initiate a consumer boycott of all their other products so they
learn not to hold consumers in such contempt.

K M Murphy, Sittingbourne, Kent

***I do not wish to see the end of composting because of rot-proof

Michael R Martin, Weymouth, Dorset

***MY FEELINGS of abhorrence and disgust with both the Government and the
food industry, that they should try to inflict their decisions without a
forum after the BSE crisis, cannot be overstated. Unless food is properly
labelled, the Government and industry will be force feeding the population
on food that they may have very great concerns about. Food must remain a
matter of choice determined by knowledge.

T Wilcox, London NW10

***Firstly, I fail to see how your political correspondent can describe a
written Parliamentary Answer published in Hansard of 3 February, col.
691/2, as a "confidential briefing note from civil servants seen by The
Independent". Secondly, at no time has the Government given its approval
to Monsanto cotton for animal feed. Thirdly, MAFF has not yet completed
the setting up of the Advisory Committee on Animal Feedstuffs. The
Chairman will be appointed before Easter.

Jeff Rooker MP, London SW1



- Mori poll shows that 57 per cent of the public are concerned about
genetically modified food.

- American scientists warn that there could be global consequences of
using GM foods. Professor Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois
School of Public Health says: "Genetic modification of food is a dangerous
game of ecological roulette."


- Green campaigners and senior Tories call for Science Minister Lord
Sainsbury to be removed from his post over allegations that he still
retains control of the charitable trust the Gatsby Foundation. Gatsby has
spent #18m on researching genetically engineered organisms since 1990,
although Sainsbury's only links are the power to hire and fire the
foundation's trustees. Gatsby also finances a "public information service"
- promoting genetically modified food - called Biotechnology in Our

- Friends of the Earth chairman Charles Secrett says: "When Sainsbury
comes out of government he is likely to be handed back his commercial
interests in GM food. His laboratory will be at the forefront of the
science partly because of the money he indirectly donated through
research. And there is the probability of a culture of acceptance of GM
food that as a minister he is likely to have helped to foster."


- Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker concedes that GM food does pose "a
really serious problem". He warns food producers that consumers will vote
with their feet unless their concerns are listened to.

- Labour MEP David Bowe says new British regulations could pre-empt
Brussels' own plan to introduce tighter controls. "I feel we might see
British legislation before we are finally finished with European
legislation," he says.

- Cabinet enforcer Jack Cunningham - who banned beef-on-the-bone as
Agriculture Minister - attacks the Tories for calling for a three-year
moratorium on GM food, saying it undermines public confidence and damages
British prospects.

- A survey carried out by market research company Mintel shows that the
vast majority of people want the Government to introduce food labelling in
supermarkets showing if a product has been genetically modified. The
Report into Food Safety finds that GM foods are of concern to 36 per cent
of consumers with 78 per cent calling for them to be clearly labelled.


Dr Arpad Pusztai, who was forced to retire by the Rowett Research
Institute and condemned for saying GM foods could damage human health, is
backed by 20 scientists from around the world. He left the
government-funded institute in Aberdeen last August after his research
suggested a link between GM food and ill health in rats.

Vyvyan Howard, a toxipathologist at Liverpool University and one of the
scientists who is backing Dr Pusztai, explains: "We find that his data is
sound. We think it would pass peer review and be published, and we are at
a loss to explain why the Rowett Institute came to the conclusion it did."

The Government's handling of the GM food issue is criticised when Mr
Cunningham is accused of misleading MPs into believing that its official
wildlife advisers, English Nature, had not recommended a three-year
moratorium on GM crops.

English Nature's chairman, Lady Young, said they were not asking for a ban
of all crops but only those likely to damage the countryside. Delegates
from the Genetix Food Alert campaign, which represents more than 100
health food companies, present a petition to Downing Street which calls
for a five-year ban on the use of GM food and the wholesale commercial
growing of GM crops.


- Food safety campaigners warn supermarkets that they may face legal
action if GM foods cause illness. Tim Lobstein, who is co-director of the
Food Commission, the consumer watchdog, warns: "If there are implications
for public health in the future as a result of GM ingredients being put in
the food chain then this may raise the question of legal liability."

- Safeway says it will sell products containing GM ingredients provided it
has approval from the appropriate regulatory authorities and "tangible
benefits" for consumers. Meanwhile Asda says that it is working to remove
all GM ingredients from its own-brand products. Iceland and Marks &
Spencer have responded to reports of public aversion to so-called
Frankenstein foods by not stocking them at all.

- Greenpeace launches a campaign against GM food. Campaign director Doug
Parr says: "If the genetic modification process is causing problems then
the Government should apply the precautionary principle."

- Patrick Holden, who is director of the Soil Association, says: "The
Government must stop all imports of GM foods on the grounds of safety.
Consumers are clearly extremely concerned and rightly so."

- At a Westminster news conference Dr Ronald Finn, past president of the
British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, says: "We could be
going into a mad cow situation."

- Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Tim Yeo calls for
the sacking of Jack Cunningham. "The Prime Minister should sack Jack
Cunningham for deliberately misleading the House of Commons over the
position of English Nature and a moratorium."


Retailers fear disaster at the impact of customers' fears about GM foods.
The umbrella group, the British Retail Consortium, writes to the
Government, warning that billions of pounds of profits are at stake if
customers start to lose confidence. Somerfield/Kwik Save vow to order GM
labelling on its own-label brands. Waitrose is working on phasing out all
GM products in its stores.


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