Biotechnology policy developments (fwd)
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- Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 07:24:10 -0800 (PST)
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Date: 19 Feb 1999 01:50:48
To: Recipients of conference <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Biotechnology policy developments (fwd)
Following are three posts on Biotechnology policy developments
forwarded to us by Brian Tokar:
1. New York Times on Biosafety Negotiations
2. Scientists' Warning on Genetically Engineered Food
3. Monsanto's Delta purchase still under antitrust review
---Rose Ryan, The Loka Institute
Subject: NYT on Biosafety Negotiations
The New York Times February 15, 1999, Late Edition - Final
Section A; Page 8; Column 4; Foreign Desk
Setting Rules for Biotechnology Trade
By ANDREW POLLACK
Delegates from about 170 nations are meeting this week to complete an
international biotechnology safety treaty that the United States
Government and many American companies fear could greatly restrict exports
of food and other products made using genetic engineering.
The Biosafety Protocol, which is being negotiated this week in Cartagena,
Colombia, would require that exports of genetically modified organisms be
approved in advance by the importing country.
The negotiations are an outgrowth of the Convention on Biological
Diversity drawn up at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. They are
being held because of concern about the release of genetically modified
plants and animals into the environment.
In genetically altering an organism, genes from one species may be spliced
into another to confer certain desirable traits, like resistance to
blights or pests. One concern is that these enhanced organisms could
overtake and displace native species, reducing the variety of the gene
But Washington and many American companies say such new rules could impede
tens of billions of dollars of annual exports of seeds, grains and perhaps
even products like breakfast cereal made from genetically modified corn,
or blue jeans made using genetically modified cotton.
"It could create enormous disruption to existing patterns of international
trade with no benefits to the environment or human health," said Val
Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology
Industry Organization, a trade group. "Some of the proposals would put in
place a draconian regime that we have never seen before except for highly
toxic and hazardous substances."
Washington thinks it is appropriate to have a treaty covering genetically
modified seeds, said Rafe Pomerance, deputy assistant secretary of state
for environment and development and head of the American delegation in
What worries the Government and American companies is that some nations
are proposing that the new rules cover not only seeds, plants and animals
but also genetically altered corn, soy beans and other agricultural
commodities. Some proposals would go even further and apply the treaty to
products made using genetic engineering, like pharmaceuticals, cookies
made from genetically altered grain, or even paper containing corn starch
made from genetically altered corn.
"The protocol is being written to cover living modified organisms which
have the potential to threaten the environment," said Steven Daugherty,
director of government and industry relations at Pioneer Hi-Bred
International, the world's largest seed company. "It's hard to see how
corn starch fits that."
The United States exports more than $50 billion of agricultural products
each year. And an increasing share of the major crops are genetically
engineered. Genetically engineered crops accounted for 25 percent of the
corn acreage planted in the United States last year, 38 percent of the soy
bean acreage and 45 percent of the cotton acreage, according to the
Biotechnology Industry Organization.
But many other nations, including those in Europe, have resisted
genetically engineered seeds and foods, worried that not enough is known
about the possible effects on human health and the environment. Indeed,
one argument American industry makes against the Biosafety Protocol is
that it is not needed because countries already can and do restrict
Kristin Dawkins, a director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis that deals with
farming policy, said it is legitimate for the treaty to apply to food
because there could be risks to animals and humans from the ingestion of
genetically modified food. Possible dangers could include the spread of
toxins, allergies or resistance to antibiotics.
In a letter sent to Vice President Al Gore last week, her group and other
farm, environmental and consumer groups from around the world urged the
United States to "demonstrate flexibility" in the negotiations and not act
like "a brutish lobbyist for corporate interests."
It is still not clear how the treaty will turn out, or even if an
agreement will be reached. There are deep disagreements not only about
which products will be covered but also on fundamental questions like
whether products made with genetic engineering should be labeled as such,
whether creators of such products should be liable for damages, and how
any conflict between the protocol and the rules of the World Trade
Organization would be resolved.
The United States will take part in the negotiations but will not be able
to vote because it never ratified the 1992 biological diversity treaty,
which was opposed by many Senate Republicans. "This has constrained our
ability to work in these negotiations," said Mr. Pomerance of the State
Washington's position in the negotiations is generally supported by other
big agricultural exporters like Canada, Australia and Argentina, according
to industry and environmental group officials who have been following the
talks, which began a few years ago.
Ethiopia leads a group of African nations, many of them in the tropics
with abundant biodiversity, which are pushing for the widest scope and
most stringent rules. The European Union is somewhere in the middle.
The nations that signed the 1992 biological diversity treaty are scheduled
to meet next Monday and Tuesday in Cartagena to formally approve the
language of the new treaty that will be drawn up by a working group this
week. The treaty would take effect after a certain, as yet undetermined,
number of nations ratify it.
2) Subject: Scientists' Warning about Genetically Engineered Food
Physicians and Scientists for Responsible
Application of Science and Technology
IT IS NOT RIGHT to exploit a technology which may give rise to unexpected
substances that may be damaging to Health, before this risk has been
IT IS NOT RIGHT to exploit a technology that may have irreparable
environmental effects before it has been proven that the products do not
cause significant harm to the environment.
IT IS NOT RIGHT to expose people and the environment to even the smallest
hazard considering that present Genetically Engineered products are of
little if any value.
IT IS NOT RIGHT to justify the exploitation of a potentially hazardous
technology today because of a scientifically unfounded belief that it
might generate useful products in the future.
THEREFORE, we demand a GLOBAL MORATORIUM on the release into the
environment of genetically engineered organisms and on the use of
Genetically Engineered (GE) foods until sufficient knowledge has been
acquired to make it possible to judge if it is justifiable and safe for
our Health and the Environment to exploit this technology. This is most
urgent as there are reasons to expect potentially serious hazards from the
products of Gene Technology.
No so far released products have been properly assessed for safety.
Therefore they should be withdrawn with shortest possible delay. Until
production and trade will be stopped, we demand MANDATORY LABELING of all
foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
At the end of this message you will find a SUMMARY OF SCIENTIFIC FACTS
underlying our Declaration.
You can sign the declaration:
where you will find a form which you can submit.
(You can find the same text, but with links to references in addition
1. GENETIC ENGINEERING IS FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT FROM BREEDING. The
artificial insertion of foreign genes represents a traumatic disturbance
of the close genetic control in normal cells. It is completely different
in nature from the combination of maternal and paternal chromosomes
brought about by natural mating mechanisms.
2. GENETIC ENGINEERING OF TODAY IS TECHNICALLY PRIMITIVE as it is
impossible to guide the insertion of a new gene. Therefore it is
impossible to foresee the effects of an inserted gene. But even if the
position of a gene can be localized afterwards, the knowledge of DNA is
far too incomplete to make it possible to predict the result.
3. HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES MAY BE GENERATED UNPREDICTABLY because of the
artificial insertion of a foreign gene. These may, in the worst case, be
toxic, allergenic or otherwise damaging to Health. The knowledge of these
risks is very incomplete.
4. NO SAFETY ASSESSMENT METHODS ARE FULLY RELIABLE. Over 10 percent of
serious side effects have not been possible to detect in the case of new
drugs in spite of rigorous safety assessment. The risk of not detecting a
hazardous property of a new GE food is probably considerably greater than
in the case of drugs.
5. THE PRESENT RULES FOR SAFETY ASSESSMENT ARE SERIOUSLY INADEQUATE. They
have been explicitly designed so as to simplify approval procedures. They
accept very insensitive safety testing. Therefore there is a considerable
risk that foods harmful to Health may pass undetected.
6. THE GE-FOODS SO FAR DEVELOPED ARE OF NO SIGNIFICANT VALUE FOR MANKIND.
The products mainly satisfy purely commercial interests.
7. THE KNOWLEDGE IS VERY INCOMPLETE ABOUT THE ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS of
releasing genetically engineered organisms. It has not been positively
proven that GE organisms may not cause environmental harm. Various
potential ecological complications have been anticipated by ecological
experts. For example, there are many routes for uncontrolled spread of
engineered and potentially hazardous genes, including gene transfer by
bacteria and viruses. Environmental complications will probably mostly be
impossible to repair as the released genes cannot be retrieved.
8. NEW AND POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS VIRUSES MAY EMERGE. It has been
experimentally demonstrated that inserted virus genes may unite with genes
from infecting viruses (so called recombination). Such new viruses may be
more aggressive than the original virus. Viruses may also become less
species-specific. For example, a plant virus might become harmful to
valuable insects, animals and to man.
9. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE HEREDITARY SUBSTANCE, DNA, IS VERY LIMITED. Only
the function of about 3 percent of the DNA is known. It is risky to
manipulate complicated systems that are incompletely known. Extensive
experience from biology, ecology and medicine shows that this may cause
serious unexpected problems and disturbances.
10. GENETIC ENGINEERING WILL NOT HELP SOLVE THE WORLD HUNGER PROBLEM. The
claim that genetic engineering may contribute importantly to reduced world
hunger is a scientifically unsubstantiated myth.
For more information about facts, please look up the Internet
You may also want to read "What to believe? - A personal letter to
you who are confused about the GE-food issue". URL:
To register as a member and sign the declaration in one stroke go to:
To only sign the declaration, go to
http://www.flashbase.com/forms/signdecl or copy the form above and
e-mail to us.
To distribute this message to others, either forward this one, or
preferably, download a fresh copy at:
3) Subject: Monsanto's Delta purchase still under antitrust review
Justice reviewing Monsanto's Delta & Pine Land buy
WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters)
The Justice Department's antitrust team is still reviewing life sciences
firm Monsanto Co.'s deal to acquire cotton seed maker Delta & Pine Land
Co., a government spokeswoman said Thursday. "We are reviewing it," the
spokeswoman said, adding she could not say anything more about the case
because it's pending. When asked how much longer it will take for Justice
to consider the case, the spokeswoman replied, "We don't give timelines."
Monsanto, whose products include Roundup herbicides and Nutrasweet
artificial sweeteners, agreed in May to acquire Delta and Pine Land in a
stock swap. Analysts say the deal could raise red flags at Justice because
Delta and Pine Land is the largest U.S. cotton seed maker, and Monsanto's
Stoneville cotton unit is the second biggest. Monsanto said in January it
planned to auction Stoneville in early 1999, a move analysts said would
bring it closer to government approval of the acquisition. But company
officials also said they had nothing new to report."The conversations are
ongoing with the Department of Justice," a spokeswoman for St. Louis-based
[N.B.: Delta and Pine is the company that developed Terminator along w/
USDA, and controls 75% of the US cottonseed market.]
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