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- Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 08:44:03 -0700 (PDT)
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GUARDIAN (London) Monday July 31, 2000
Genetic chickens get DNA copyright tag /Biotech firm plans to create
strain with extra large breasts for more meat
James Meek, science correspondent
A US biotech company plans to create a strain of chicken genetically
engineered to have an extra large breast to yield more meat, with a DNA
copyright tag inserted among its genes to stop anyone breeding it without
If successful, the firm, AviGenics, based on the campus of the University
of Georgia in Athens, would be one of the first to enable GM meat to
appear on US supermarket shelves, opening up new tensions with Europe over
genetic engineering in food.
AviGenics is already one of three US companies racing to turn poultry into
drugs factories - adding human genes to chickens to create "transgenic"
birds which would then produce human proteins such as insulin in their egg
AviGenics claims to have already created transgenic roosters which have
successfully passed on to new generations of chicks the human gene for a
substance called alpha interferon, used to treat hepatitis and certain
The company hopes to use the same technology to create a new kind of
everyday eating chicken. Instead of adding human genes to make birds lay
drug-rich eggs, genes - not necessarily human - would be added, or chicken
genes removed, to give the birds bigger breast muscles, faster growing
rates or greater disease resistance.
To keep proprietorial control over these valuable new animals, AviGenics
is working on a novel kind of trademark, a unique sequence of DNA which
would be introduced into the chicken's genes. The "trademark" would not
only be locked into each of the chicken's millions of cells, but would be
handed on to the bird's offspring indefinitely.
Contacted by the Guardian last week, the chief executive of AviGenics,
Carl Marhaver, confirmed that his company was working to create
genetically engineered and trademarked poultry for the dining table, but
did not want to comment further.
Referring to recent protests in Minneapolis during a conference on animal
genetics, he said he did not want the firm "to become an exhibit in an
AviGenics does not plan to raise and market GM chickens itself, but to
make its new strains available to large, well-established poultry
The science was developed by Robert Ivarie, professor of genetics at the
university and co-founder of AviGenics. He could not be contacted for
comment but the promotion on the company's website says: "Poultry is one
of our most important meat sources, outranking beef consumption by an
increasingly cost and health conscious public.
"With AviGenics-engineered transgenes that control muscle fibre
development, proprietary lines of chickens can be created that grow larger
breast muscles, enhancing white and, eventually, dark meat yields.
"Poultry breeders are concerned about improving the quality of life for
their flocks. Genetic modification of the chicken genome will eventually
impact disease resistance, improving the quality of life for birds."
Echoing earlier efforts by GM plant firms to keep a grip on their products
by developing "terminator genes", AviGenics says it can use DNA trademarks
to control the proliferation of its chickens once they are sold on to
"Unique DNA sequences can be engineered and introduced into the poultry
genome to indelibly mark valuable transgenic and breeder lines,
effectively acting as genetic encryption devices," it says.
Until now it had been thought that the first GM animals likely to reach
the consumer were farmed fish, genetically engineered to grow faster and
bigger or to survive in colder waters than their natural cousins. Research
into GM fish is particularly advanced in Canada.
Concerns have already been voiced about the dangers of GM fish escaping
and mating with their wild counterparts. But proponents of GM chickens
could argue that centuries of selective breeding have already produced
birds as different from their wild ancestors as a musclebound GM
superchicken would be from one of today's standard broilers.
In the short term, AviGenics investment in GM chickens for food seems to
depend on its success or failure in producing GM chickens to make drugs.
Mr Marhaver said AviGenics had made great strides in making hens which
laid alpha interferon eggs, and was now expanding its flocks to gear up
for commercial production of the drug, the annual market for which is
worth about a billion pounds in the US alone.
Two other US companies, GeneWorks LLC and TransXenoGen, are also preparing
to launch commercially sized flocks of drug egg laying chickens.
TransXenoGen plans to seek a listing on London's Alternative Investment
The technology behind genetic engineering of birds is difficult and
sceptics point out that the companies working with chickens, citing
commercial secrecy, have been coy about publishing their work in
But if chickens can be made to lay the golden eggs of high-value
pharmaceuticals, they will be more cost-effective for would-be "pharmers"
than other, existing, GM animals being developed to produce drugs in their
milk, such as sheep, cows, goats and rabbits.
GUARDIAN (London) Monday July 31, 2000
New trade war looms over GM labelling
Paul Brown in Washington
Europe and the United States are on a collision course over the issue of
the labelling of genetically modified food which threatens to spark a
Washington has warned the EU that it is considering making a formal
complaint to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva on the grounds that
labelling GM products is unfair discrimination against US goods and
therefore a restraint of trade. The US says it will ask the WTO to impose
sanctions against EU exports if GM labels are not removed from supermarket
The row comes at a time when trade relations with the US are tense over
A spokeswoman for the US food and drug administration, which insists that
only nutritional information should be on the label, said: "This is
getting extremely serious. We regard requiring GM labelling as economic
fraud. Our view is that we would not have allowed these products on the
market if they were not safe, they are the same as non-GM food, so they do
not require a label. In fact, to label them is trade discrimination and
The agency confirmed there had been discussions with the European
commission over labelling and the restraint of trade issue, but the two
sides were "as far apart as ever".
Among those urging the US to take action is Senator Christopher Bond, a
Republican from Missouri and a leading advocate of US bio-technology. He
told the Guardian that the EU's insistence on labelling was designed to
lower consumer confidence in US goods and was a barrier to trade. "I will
be pushing for trade sanctions over this hysteria," he said. "We are on a
collision course, and our government must go to the WTO if the EU does not
In Brussels, Beate Kminde, speaking for the commission, said the EU was
aware of US threats but no formal complaint had been made. "We are aware
of our trade obligations but we also believe in consumer choice so we
require GM foods to be labelled. The Americans will not accept this but we
are determined. We will have to see what they do."
Unless the row is resolved, there could be a trade war that would make
present disputes seem very small.
The British government is already braced for heavy job losses in the
Scottish cashmere industry as a result of US retaliation in the
long-running US-EU banana dispute. US officials complain that Caribbean
producers in former colonies of EU members are getting preferential
Britain has so far escaped sanctions in the row over the EU ban on the use
of hormones in beef, which has led to 12-year embargo on US beef. Goods
including French cheese and truffles and German and French mustards have
faced 100% US tariffs in tit-for-tat action but Britain's support for the
US position, even though it cannot opt out of the EU ban, has meant
British goods have not been targeted.
The EU meanwhile has complained about US export subsidies to huge
corporations such as Boeing, Exxon, Ford and Monsanto.
Regulators on opposite sides of the Atlantic disagree about the purpose of
food labels and the EU stance on consumer choice is regarded as
fundamentally wrong in Washington. The FDA believes that GM foods are safe
and the nutritional value is the same as non-GM foods, so there should be
no mention on the label of the "process" by which the food was grown.
In Washington, Tom O'Connor, director of technical services for the
national grain and feed association, said the EU labelling system would
"kill GM technology in Europe".
"It looks like a warning, like putting a skull and crossbones on the
packet, a kiss of death in marketing terms," he said.
The FDA and other regulators decided in May to look again at the issue
after US organic and other food producers began to label food GM-free. No
final decision has been made but officials believe that to conform with
regulations the food would have to be 100% non-GM, a difficult feat in a
country where almost all processed food contains some GM maize or soya.
Lincoln Journal Star.
GUEBERT: Packers' self-inspection plan hammered
Alan Guebert is a freelance agricultural journalist. He can be reached
at Aguebert@world-net.att.net or P.O. Box 648, Delavan, IL 61734.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service took
two hard hits in June over USDA's controversial initiative to empower
meatpackers and processors to inspect their own products.
The initiative, called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System -
or HACCP for short - first was slammed by USDA's own Office of Inspector
General in a lengthy June 21 report. OIG noted that HACCP, began in 1996
and now operating as a "Models Project" in about 20 of the more than 6,000
U.S. meat and poultry packing plants, "has reduced (FSIS) oversight short
of what is prudent and necessary for the protection of the consumer."
Then, on June 30, HACCP took another body blow. The Washington, D.C.,
Federal Court of Appeals ruled that HACCP does not meet federal meat and
poultry inspection laws. The laws, noted the court, require U.S. federal
inspectors "stationed at fixed points along the slaughter processing
lines" to perform "post-mortem inspections of the carcasses and parts of
all livestock and birds processed for human consumption."
But HACCP permits packers - with USDA oversight - to inspect and approve
their own product for sale. The court slaughtered that self-inspection
approach by saying bluntly: "The government believes that federal
employees fulfill their statutory duty to inspect by watching others
perform the task. One might as well say that umpires are pitchers because
they carefully watch others throw baseballs . . .
"(The) statutes clearly contemplate that when inspections are done, it
will be federal inspectors - rather than private employees - who will make
the critical determinations . . . (U)nder the Models Project, they are
inspecting people not carcasses. Delegating the task . . . violates the
clear mandates of the (federal meat inspection laws.)"
That language is a "dagger in the heart" to HACCP, says Rod Leonard, a
former USDA and White House food safety official in the Johnson and Carter
administrations. Leonard was one of the litigants who sued USDA (others
were the Community Nutrition Institute and a federal meat inspector's
union) over their view that HACCP allows USDA to abdicate its meat and
poultry inspection responsibilities.
"HACCP was sold by USDA as a better 'science-based' approach to meat and
poultry inspection," explains Leonard. "In practice, though, HACCP really
is little more than the old 'poke and sniff' inspection. The only thing
different is that the packers, not USDA, are doing the poking and
sniffing. The law says food safety is the job of federal government, not
packers. Under HACCP, consumers are being turned into guinea pigs."
Thomas Billy, FSIS administrator, strongly defended HACCP July 19 in a
conference call to the media. He offered initial data from seven HACCP
Model Projects slaughtering plants that he said "raises the bar" higher
than "traditional slaughter inspection."
And, Billy added - perhaps taking a shot at the appeals court's clever
umpire-pitcher analogy - FSIS inspectors at these HACCP pilot plants "are
not standing on the sidelines watching others playing the game."
Leonard isn't buying Billy's explanation. "Meatpackers are big business,
and they want profit-making product out the door. Big government wants to
streamline. The two ideas fit neatly together and HACCP was born. HACCP
makes food safety a company issue. But food safety is a public issue.
USDA, by law, must do the inspection. That's what the court held."
HACCP's new bloody nose will stain already ugly ag trade talks.
FSIS boss Billy also is the chairperson for Codex Alimentarius Executive
Committee, a group of masters of the universe who are sifting and
suggesting food safety rules for upcoming WTO talks on agriculture.
HACCP's bum leg threatens its standing in Codex and the WTO.
For now, however, FSIS - through Billy - maintains HACCP holds "promising
potential" both here and abroad. Other industry views are far less sunny.
"We just don't know where HACCP is today or where it will be tomorrow,"
says one meat industry source.
Oh really. The law, the court held, is quite clear: In its present form,
HACCP is down for the count.
please visit www.citizen.org or
USDA Confuses Facts with Myths
Government Misleads Public about Pilot Meat Inspection Program, Public
Citizen and the Government Accountability Project Charge
WASHINGTON, D.C. In attempting to "clarify" statements contained in news
articles about a pilot meat inspection program, the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) is only further misleading the public,
Public Citizen and the Government Accountability Project said today.
Under the pilot program, the meat industry polices itself, rather than
relying on federal inspectors. Federal meat inspectors do not check every
carcass. Rather, the meat industry hires its own inspectors to check meat,
while the federal inspectors watch the company inspectors from afar. The
program is being tested in about 30 facilities nationwide. News reports,
however, have shown that the program is not in the best interests of
consumers because it allows contaminated meat into supermarkets.
At a news conference on Wednesday, the USDAs Food Safety and Inspection
Service (FSIS) released a document entitled "MYTHS AND FACTS, Inaccuracies
in News Articles Concerning HACCP-Based Inspection Models (HIMP)" (see
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/news/mythfact.htm). Public Citizen and the
Government Accountability Project charge that the agency transposed its
myths and facts.
"Instead of coming clean regarding the deficiencies in the HIMP program
and the agencys continued attempts to weaken the wholesome standards in
meat and poultry inspection, they continue to deceive the public," said
Felicia Nestor, Food Safety Project Director of the Government
Accountability Project. "HIMP is a program to turn the inspection of meat
and poultry over to the industry for self-inspection. The public has to be
informed of the truth about the dismantling of our food inspection
Added Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizens Critical Mass Energy and
Environment Program, "This pilot program is bad for consumers.
Self-policing by the food processing industry has not worked in the past,
and it will not in the future. Its bad enough when the wolf is allowed to
guard the chicken coop, but it is absolutely unconscionable when the
government gives the wolf the key to the lock on the chicken coop door."
In response to the "Myths and Facts" sheet, Public Citizen and the
Government Accountability Project are answering each point made by the
Myth # 1: According to the agencys own documents (see
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/haccp/fsocp.htm), the FSIS is, in fact,
permitting meat and poultry that is contaminated by certain animal
diseases and defects to enter the food supply. In 1998, FSIS circulated a
paper listing those diseases and defects that would be reclassified
because they do not present an immediate public health threat; in 1999 it
implemented those standards in the pilot plants and has started the
process to codify the lower wholesomeness standards and new "inspection"
Myths # 2 and 3: The second and third myths are actually facts. Under the
current inspection process, every carcass has to be inspected. Under the
pilot program, only a sample of the carcasses is inspected. Also, federal
food inspectors are relegated to being auditors and inspectors of the
industry inspectors. In a recent court ruling, a federal appeals court
agreed that HIMP was an inspection system of dubious quality. The court
stated: "In other words, the government believes that federal employees
fulfill their statutory duties to inspect by watching others perform the
task. One might as well say that umpires are pitchers because they
carefully watch others throw baseballs."
Myth # 4: Under the industry self-inspection program, federal meat
inspectors inspect fewer than .01 percent of carcasses all other product
is judged using sampling. The sampling standards for what can be released
to consumers have large tolerances for diseases and defects, and
inspectors are instructed only to keep records of the levels of disease
and defective meat that enters the marketplace.
Myth # 5: The inspector is rarely at the end of the processing line.
Currently, in poultry slaughtering facilities, each inspector checks
approximately 30 birds per minute, which has been considered to be a high
rate of speed. In some of the plants that have the pilot project, the rate
has increased six-fold, to 170 chickens per minute. It is not humanly
possible for proper inspection at these high rates of processing.
For more information, please visit www.citizen.org or
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