GE - news mixed Feb 10th
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Seven environmentalists face charges today
The Irish Times 9/2/99
In the first Irish case of its kind, seven environmentalists are to
appear in court today in Co Wexford on charges of causing
criminal damage to a genetically modified crop.
The seven, who include the 84-year-old food writer and
organic farmer John Seymour, are due to appear at New Ross District Court,
They are alleged to have damaged a GM sugar beet trial on June 21st last
at the farm of Mr
Martin Foley of Arthurstown, New Ross.
He was growing the crop under licence from the Environmental Protection
Agency for the US
multinational [ Monsanto ] , the first company to introduce the
controversial gene technology to
The offences are alleged to have occurred after a public meeting on GM
foods was held nearby at
Duncannon. The meeting was addressed by the Green politicians Mr John
Gormley TD and Ms
Nuala Ahern MEP, and the Socialist Party TD, Mr Joe Higgins.
The three may be called to give evidence.
Several gardai and private security men were present at the site, but no
arrests were made.
> Financial Times (London) February 8, 1999, Monday LONDON EDITION 1
> SECTION: NATIONAL NEWS; Pg. 11 HEADLINE: Modified crop trials in
> FOOD TECHNOLOGY FARMERS FEAR TESTS WILL BE TARGETED BY ENVIRONMENTAL
> ACTIVISTS: BYLINE: By Vanessa Houlder BODY: An important set of
> environmental trials of genetically modified crops is in jeopardy
> because farmers fear that the crops will be targeted by
> activists if they participate. Novartis, a developer of GM sugar
> said that the government-backed ecological trials might not go
> of the difficulty in finding growers.
> "Given the statements of people like Genetix Snowball who
> want to destroy test sites, farmers are reluctant to put
> themselves forwards. Farmers and landowners are extremely
> anxious," Novartis said.
> Genetix Snowball, a protest group that has destroyed crops at
> test sites, said that its campaign would extend to the trials,
> which it believed were dangerous and unnecessary. "It is very
> likely we will see further protests at GMO [genetically
> modified organism] release sites from activists who are
> articulating public demands for a moratorium," it said.
> English Nature, the government's official adviser on
> environmental issues, said it was very important that the
> trials go ahead, because, under EU rules, the government needs
> supporting evidence if it is to ban a GMO without fear of
> But English Nature is critical of the government's attitude
> towards getting results from the trial, which will monitor the
> ecological effects of growing herbicide-resistant crops. The
> government has said it wants to see the results before deciding
> whether to move ahead on commercialisation. But English Nature
> believes that the trial will not yield any meaningful results
> before the first GM crop is commercialised, which is due to
> happen in a year's time. English Nature says the research
> will not be completed and evaluated for at least four years. It
> has urged a delay in commercialisation because of its concern
> that GM crops - although potentially beneficial - could have
> adverse effects on wildlife.
> AgrEvo, the German agrochemicals group that is developing a
> modified oil seed rape which is likely to be the first GM crop
> to be planted in the UK, concurred that the trials would take
> several years to yield significant results. "English Nature is
> correct. You can't just do one year and expect to see results,"
> it said.
> It has no plans to postpone the commercial launch of its seed
> in a year's time while the trials take place, as it does not
> view the research as being as part of the regulatory process.
> Some of the fears about the ecological risks associated
> with the GM rape were eased last week after the publication of
> a review by the government's Scientific Advisory Committee on
> Releases to the Environment. With the exception of one
> dissenting member, the committee decided that the risk that
> crops would be invasive or would confer herbicide tolerance on
> weeds was very small.
Irish among European environmental groups fighting GM cotton application
The Irish Times
European environmental groups, including Ireland's Genetic
Concern, have asked an EU committee to reject applications to
allow two varieties of genetically modified (GM) cotton to be
grown in Europe.
They are due to go before the "Section 21" committee for approval on
Thursday. Approval by
this committee is crucial if GM crop-producers are to get licences for the
of new varieties to EU markets.
Genetic Concern claimed the finished applications were "flawed and
inadequate to ensure that
these crops are safe for release into the environment". The US company [
Monsanto ] has applied
for EU-wide distribution through the Spanish government. If approved,
cotton would be grown
in southern EU states and the by-products included in animal feed
throughout Europe, including
Genetic Concern has urged the Government to vote against the introduction
of the GM cotton.
The "genetic constructs" put into the plants - effectively a new gene with
a mechanism including a
"marker" to indicate it has been incorporated into a crop - include genes
giving resistance to three
antibiotics used by vets. But Monsanto has repeatedly denied any risk of
humans from its products.
According to the Pasteur Institute in France, however, use of
antibiotic-resistance genes may
increase the rate at which diseases become immune to various antibiotics.
One of the cotton varieties has the controversial "bt" gene. This makes
the plant produce its own
insecticide in the form of the natural bt toxin. While Monsanto says this
means chemical sprays
are not needed, Genetic Concern cited studies suggesting this system
immune to bt, rendering this natural insecticide useless for organic
farmers in the future.
The second variety of cotton has been engineered to withstand sprays of
Round-Up - a highly
successful broad-spectrum herbicide, though environmental benefits claimed
for the herbicide are
disputed by Genetic Concern.
Although Monsanto claims the cotton is "substantially equivalent" to
ordinary cotton, researchers
have shown the trangenic cotton leads to higher levels of gossypol, a
toxin naturally present in
cotton. This trend, according to Genetic Concern, warrants further
"These products, using antibiotic-resistance markers are the blunderbusses
of the genetics
industry, developed using old techniques that have been superseded long
ago," said Mr Gargan.
"Even mainstream industry accepts that fluorescent marker-genes are safer
and make the use of
antibiotic markers an unnecessary additional risk with this technology."
Tuesday February 9, 11:46 am Eastern Time
Note: this article has a followup with more information.
Monsanto-US 99 Roundup-ready soybeans
35 mln acres
ORLANDO, Fla., Feb 9 (Reuters) - U.S. farmers are expected to plant
about 35 million acres of Roundup-ready soybeans in 1999, up from 25
million last year, a Monsanto Co.
(NYSE:MTC - news) official said on Tuesday.
Hugh Grant, co-president of Monsanto's worldwide agricultural sector, told
Reuters that U.S. farmers are also expected
to plant 3.5 million to four million acres of Roundup-ready corn, up from
about one million acres last year.
(Note: this article is ``in progress''; there will likely be an update soon.)
TRYING TO BE GREEN, MANY COMPANIES INVESTED IN BIODEGRADABLE PLASTICS.
THEY ENDED UP IN THE RED.
The New York Times February 6, 1999
Credit card maker NBS Technologies Inc. issued a breathless press release
in December touting a new "Green Earth Card" credit card using a
biodegradable plastic made by Monsanto, known in some quarters for its
toxic chemicals and pesticides. But behind the scenes, Monsanto was
quietly pulling the plug on its biodegradable plastics division, such as
it was. "We came to the conclusion that the jury is out [on biodegradable
plastics], and it's not apparent people are willing to pay a premium,"
acknowledges Michael Berezo, the former general manager of Monsanto's
Biopol unit. Berezo says that Monsanto could have sold its plant-derived
plastic for $ 3 to $ 4 a pound at best. That's almost ten times as much
as what an ordinary plastic sells for; too expensive to make it
competitive. Writeoff: undisclosed. Sales: virtually nil.
Monsanto is by no means alone. Several companies have lost hundreds of
millions of dollars on biodegradable plastic schemes since the late
1980s. What wonderfully good intentions they had. But business has to
cover its costs. "The hype got out in front of what the technology can
deliver," says Patrick Gruber, manager of a fledgling corn-based
biodegradable plastics joint venture between Cargill and Dow Chemical.
Consider the saga of Novon, a once-promising biodegradable plastic
developed by pharmaceutical giant Warner-Lambert. Derived from corn and
potatoes, Novon was promoted as a replacement for everything from golf
tees to diapers. "The bio- plastic starch technology could eventually
play a role in helping to better manage the highly visible litter stream,
much of which consists of plastics," lectured the company's then- chief
executive in a 1990 announcement. Three years later Warner-Lambert
abruptly killed the business and took a $ 70 million before-tax charge on
its reported $ 100 million investment. Novon later ended up in the hands
of Churchill Technology, Inc., a Buffalo, N.Y. outfit that claimed to
have invented a "revolutionary" biodegradable plastic. But the company
sank into bankruptcy in late 1996, soon after a director and major
shareholder was arrested in a stock promotion scheme. What's left of
Novon was bought last year by Churchill's former president, Robert Downie.
ACX Technologies, the Adolph Coors Co. packaging spinoff, killed yet
another highly touted biodegradable plastics venture, Chronopol, last
fall after deciding that it would take at least an additional $ 100
million to build a full-scale plant and sell the stuff commercially.
After finding no partners to commercialize the business, ACX took a $ 17
million writeoff and buried the news of Chronopol's death in a quarterly
Despite these failures, the biodegradable business continues to attract
dreamers and schemers, some of whom manage to convince public investors
to go along with them. Planet Polymer Technologies of San Diego has lost
$ 9.4 million of its shareholders' money since its founding in 1991, and
doesn't expect to make a profit "for the foreseeable future." Then
there's EarthShell Corp., which raised $ 250 million in an initial public
offering last March with promises that it had come up with a
limestone-based, biodegradable replacement for polystyrene foam formerly
used most prominently in McDonald's clamshells. "Finally, fast-food
packaging that Mother Earth can love!" pronounced Essam Khashoggi,
chairman of the board and 73% shareholder (and brother of famous arms
trader Adnan), in the company's prospectus. Maybe Mother Earth, but not
the auditors, who, noting more than $ 74 million in operating losses
since 1992, questioned the company's viability. Earth-Shell is depending
heavily on a tentative deal with McDonald's, but acknowledges that there
is "no binding commitment." Big Mac sent the company back to the drawing
board on an earlier clamshell. "We have agreed with McDonald's to make
every effort to keep a low profile," alibis Vince Truant, an Earth-Shell
vice president, when pressed for a delivery date. Meantime, investors who
got in at $ 21 last March have seen much of their money mulched: the
stock trades around $ 14.
"The reality is, as of today, they are basically nothing," sneers
Frederic Scheer, whose privately held Biocorp Inc. of Redondo Beach,
Calif. is making biodegradable garbage bags and cutlery for a European
McDonald's franchise. Scheer claims he's got the only meaningful sales of
biodegradable plastics --which he claims are less than $ 5 million.
The Cargill and Dow Chemical joint venture prefers not to acknowledge
that it's developing biodegradable plastics at all. Instead, the
companies want to first compete on price and performance with traditional
plastics for applications such as clothing fibers and food wrapping. Then
they'll promote biodegradability.
"People don't need a degradable product," declares James Stoppert, the
president of the joint venture. "Where in the world are there solid-waste
problems? There certainly isn't one in the U.S. today. When you look at
the current degradable market, it's probably 30 million to 40 million
pounds, growing to maybe 250 million pounds, compared with a
petroleum-based plastics market of 250 billion pounds a year. Do we want
to compete for 30 million pounds -- or 250 billion pounds?" Funny things
happen when environmentalism meets economics. GRAPHIC: Picture, Biocorp's
Frederic Scheer and Allan Graf, A business of dreamers and schemers.
Herbicide-tolerant wheat research gets firm backing
By Ed White
University of Saskatchewan researchers expect herbicide-tolerant wheat
will hit the market within a few years. Cyanamid Canada and the
university's Crop Development Centre have announced they plan to spend
four more years developing imidazolinone-tolerant wheat. They have been
developing varieties for two years. Two are already in field trials. If
these have no problems in the registration process, they should reach
seed growers before the 2001 growing season. Imidazolinone is the active
ingredient in the broad spectrum herbicides Odyssey, Assert and Pursuit.
Imidazolinone-tolerant canola has been available for years. Crop
Development Centre head Gordon Rowland said making the long-term deal is
important. "Without this agreement ... we would not have been able to
proceed in developing the varieties in this particular area," said
On solid ground
Dwight More of Cyanamid said the breeding program can advance because it
knows it will continue for four years. "We believe that there's the
opportunity for some significant new developments to come out of this
collaboration," said More. Jay Bradshaw of Cyanamid said the varieties
developed in Canada will also be sold in the United States. The
imidazolinone-tolerant wheat is not a product of biotechnology. The
patented gene that allows the plant to survive the herbicide was found in
an existing winter wheat variety. Cyanamid provided this wheat to
Saskatchewan Wheat Pool's wheat research program, which it ran for the
three prairie pools. Breeders crossed the gene from the winter wheat into
Canadian spring wheat varieties. When the pool ended the research
program, it passed its work to the Crop Development Centre.
Bradshaw said Cyanamid is developing herbicide-tolerant wheat because
prairie farmers continue to grow more of it than any other crop. Cyanamid
is also developing imidazolinone-tolerant wheat with United Grain
Growers. Other companies are also trying to develop herbicide- tolerant
wheat. Monsanto and Agriculture Canada are developing a
glyphosate-tolerant wheat, which might hit the market by 2002. Cyanamid
officials would not reveal the cost of the coming research. But they said
the research of the past two years has cost about $500,000.
Seattle Times February 7, 1999