GE more 8th March news
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1) Already commercial planting in UK
2) Sainsbury in the hot seat again
3) Organic booms in UK
4) Pusztai testifies
5) US agriculture loses huge markets thanks to gmos
6) How I told the truth and was sacked
1) Already commercial planting in UK
Genetic crop growing is admitted
By Paul Brown, Environment
Saturday March 6, 1999
A commerical licence to grow genetically engineered oil seed rape was granted
by the government three years ago and crops planted in East Anglia, despite
ministerial assurances this had not happened and would not do so until
scientists were sure it would not damage wildlife.
Plant Genetic Systems, part of the AgrEvo group, has been planting rape since
1996 and harvested 17.5 acres last year as part of a plan to produce seeds
commercially successful hybrids of the genetically modified crop.
Less than two weeks ago Michael Meacher, the environment minister, held a
press briefing to assure the public that commercial growing was not being
allowed. He said, "Until we have clear scientific evidence about the impact on
the environment we will contiunue to prevent the commercial planting of these
crops as long as is necessary."
The same day five cabinet ministers, Nick Brown, John Prescott, Stephen
Frank Dobson and Jack Cunningham, sent a dossier to all MPs on the GM debate
reassuring them that the government was in control of the situation. The
covering letter said, "There have been calls for a moritorium on cultivating
genetically modified crops in this country. No crops are yet grown here
Last night the Department of the Environment accepted that a commercial
licence had been granted three years ago but "it is a technical matter". The
licence did not allow the company to sell seed to farmers or allow it to get
in the food chain."They can only grow the seed for their own
use. It still has to get a further permission to go into commercial
for sale to farmers."
Pete Riley, the Friends of the Earth Food Campiagner, said: "AgroEvo and
GM oilseed rape could be coming soon to a field near you. They have full
permission to go ahead with commercial seed production. This news blows a huge
hole in the government's claim that their so-called voluntary agreement with
the GM giants will prevent commercial growing in the UK for the time being.
fact is growing has already started."
The government's nature watchdog,English Nature, and a number of
environmental and development groups have called for a moratorium on
commercial licences while the effect on the wider countryside of such crops
tested. Some scientists fear that cross pollination with other plants might
cause superweeds while others believe that the use of chemicals on herbicide
tolerant crops might kill almost all wildlife on farms. It is these fears that
Michael Meacher said
the government would address before commercial growing was allowed.
Paul Burrows, of the chemicals and biotechnology unit of the Department of
Environment, said in a letter to Friends of the Earth that the company "are
not obliged to inform DETR when, where and how much of this oilseed rape they
grow. Nevertheless, we have ask the National Institute for Agricultural Botany
(NIAB) to monitor some of the releases for us. This is not because we have
about the product but instead see it as a good opportunity to verify the risk
assessment and further improve the regulatory evaluation of similar products.
"The company have voluntarily informed NIAB of where some of the releases
been conducted so they can do their monitoring, I understand NIAB monitored
four sites in 1995 and one in 1996. The results will be published in the final
Clive Rainbird, for AgrEvo, speaking from the UK headquarters near Kings
said the company did have a licence to grow the seed commercially but was not
as yet doing so because the licence did not permit the seed to be used in food
production. The primary use of the seed for commercial purposes would be to
make cooking oil or
margarine. "We are using the licence to develop genetically modified varieties
which are at least as good or better yielding than traditional varieties, and
to see how they
perform in UK conditions.
We want to breed better varieties and that is what we are doing."
He said the company would have to build up to larger scale plantings if it
to offer the seed commercially for farmers, but this was not possible without
a further permission.
Sainsbury in the hot seat again
UK Independent 8 March 99
Sainsbury in talks with
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, with family
business interests in genetically modified food, met
with senior officials from Monsanto, the American
GM giant, while playing a key role in government
discussions on biotechnology.
The Independent can reveal that Lord Sainsbury
held a confidential discussion with three Monsanto
executives in his private office at the Department of
Trade and Industry on 14 December, three weeks
after he attended the first meeting of the Cabinet's
new Ministerial Group on Biotechnology and
Genetic Modification - known as the Misc 6
His meeting with Monsanto, attended by civil
servants, raises fresh concerns about the extent of
his role in dealing with GM issues within
government and the potential conflict with his
private business interests.
The day after the Monsanto meeting, Lord
Sainsbury chaired a government-sponsored
biotechnology seminar with consumer associations,
environmentalists such as Friends of the Earth, and
one of the Monsanto officials he had met the day
John Redwood, the opposition spokesman on trade
and industry, last night accused Lord Sainsbury of
being misleading over his role in government
discussions on GM issues and has called on him to
"Lord Sainsbury has promised us that he has had
nothing to do with GM food in government, so I
don't see why he is having a meeting with Monsanto
on this particular date - the day before the 15
December meeting which he chaired," Mr
"Lord Sainsbury, who is a shareholder and investor
in GM companies, had made it clear in some of his
statements that because of that he has nothing to
with GM food issues in government," he said.
"We now learn he has had a meeting with
Monsanto. So what I want to know from Lord
Sainsbury is which story is he going to stick to?"
A statement from the DTI said: "Lord Sainsbury
meets numerous companies and other
non-governmental organisations in his capacity as
Science Minister. Last year he agreed to meet
Monsanto, at their request, to discuss issues relating
to research and development in the biosciences."
At the 14 December meeting, Lord Sainsbury met
with Ann Foster, Monsanto's director of public and
government affairs in the UK, Hugh Grant,
president of the company's agricultural division in St
Louis, Missouri and Robert Horsch, general
manager of Agracetus, a GM research company
owned by Monsanto.
Dr Horsch is one of Monsanto's leading scientists in
genetically modified plants and is named on the
company's key patents controlling the use
Ms Foster said the meeting with Lord Sainsbury
included a discussion on GM crops and food. "It's
perfectly normal for companies, its perfectly normal
for interested parties to meet ministers," Ms Foster
Last month,after controversy surfaced over his
patent interests in GM technology, Lord Sainsbury
said that he "stands aside" from government
decisions or discussions that may have any specific
effect on his family company, J Sainsbury plc.
"I have not taken part in any government decisions
or discussions relating to GM food policy," he said.
The government also made it clear that at the
second meeting of the Cabinet's Misc 6 committee,
Lord Sainsbury left the room when the subject of
GM food was raised.
However critics claim that the whole issue
compromises his work as a government minister.
If the GM debate goes on much longer then the whole country will be
Independent 8 March 99
Organic food sales enjoy modification modified enjoys GM sales boom
By Michael McCarthy, Environment
THE CONTROVERSY over genetically modified
food has led to an unprecedented surge in the sale
of organic food, The Independent has found.
A survey of major retailers shows that two of the
country's leading supermarkets - Tesco and Asda -
recorded around a 20 per cent increase in sales for
February, compared to January.
Tesco's organic food buyer, Andrew Sellick, said:
"The upsurge in February was nothing short of
phenomenal, and it is the awareness of the GM
issue which has pushed the rate of sales."
A third supermarket, Sainsbury's, was able to give
precise sales figures. They showed that organic
sales were worth #163#6.7m last month, compared to
#163#5.8m in January - a 15.5 per cent rise.
In some medium-sized food retailers, who have
come later to the organic market and do not yet
have extensive product lines, the February sales
were even more spectacular. Marks and Spencer
said its increase was "more than 100 per cent."
Iceland, which has a small number of organic frozen
foods, saw a 42 per cent increase.
Organic vegetables, fruits and cereals are grown
without any pesticides or artificial fertilisers - natural
methods such as crop rotation take their place -
while livestock and poultry are raised without
intensive farming techniques. All organic food is
guaranteed to be non-genetically-modified. Farmers
must spend two years converting their land before it
can be organically certified.
Organic carrots or apples do not look as perfect
and regular as the products of large-scale
agribusiness. The production techniques are also
more laborious production and the costs greater.
It is only the lack of available produce which is at
present holding demand back, as 70 per cent of the
organic food sold in Britain has to be imported.
Less than one per cent of farmland here is
organically managed, by fewer than 2,000 farmers,
while Germany, Austria, Sweden and Denmark are
all aiming to have ten per cent by next year.
Nevertheless the market is experiencing runaway
growth of 40 per cent a year. Tesco is Britain's
largest food retailer with more than 15 per cent of
the UK grocery market, and has more than 200
organic lines from potatoes to yoghurt, with more to
be put on the shelves next month.
The company sold #163#35m worth of organic food in
the twelve months to 1 March, more than double
the amount in the previous year. But in the next
twelve months the company estimates it will sell
UK sales of organic food as a whole have risen
from under #163#100m annually in 1993, to #163#260m in
1997 and about #163#400m last year. And it is possible
the #163#1bn barrier for the UK will be broken next
year, according to Simon Brenman, manager of
producer services for The Soil Association, the
principal organic food and farming pressure group.
Senior food industry figures had no hesitation in
ascribing February's remarkable extra sales surge to
the GM controversy, which intensified in the course
of the month with several newspapers running
anti-GM campaigns, Tony Blair being challenged on
the issue in the Commons by William Hague, and
renewed argument about the work of the
controversial GM researcher Arpad Puzstai.
One of the most striking instances of sales growth
last month was in organic baby food. Baby
Organix, Britain's only organic babyfood
manufacurer, which supplies to Tesco, Sainsbury's,
Safeway, Waitrose and Boots, had its best month
ever in February: its sales were 24 per cent higher
than the month before.
'I know this is down to the GM controversy," said
the company's founder and managing director,
"People feel they won't compromise with their
babies. If a woman's pregnant and she's given up
drinking and smoking, when she gets the baby she's
not going to start fooling around with its food."
Calls to the company's freefone helpline increased
from 300 a week at the start of February to 1,200
a week in the middle of the month and are now
running at 800 a week.
BBC Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 19:56 GMT
The scientist at the centre of a row over the safety of
genetically-modified food has said he would raise concern about his
experiments again if he had to.
Dr Arpad Pusztai, a former researcher at the Rowett Research Institute in
Aberdeen, was giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology
He became embroiled in a major political row after he aired concerns about
the results of his experiments on ITV's World In Action programme last
It has been claimed the animals used in one experiment showed slight
growth retardation, an effect on the immune system and changes in the
weight of their internal organs.
Dr Pusztai was accused of confusing the results and releasing data not yet
in the public domain.
The scientist told MPs the tests had not been carried out on a commercial
basis but the results had raised concerns.
He said: "What we had to put over, and I think I probably did it too well,
looking at it now, based on our experience, there ought to be a concern.
"When you say there is a concern they will probe into it what is this
Dr Pusztai said he was not sufficiently famous for anyone to take notice
He told the committee that on the basis of experiments where it was
possible to see some affects on the growth, the immune system and organ
weights of rats "you have to say something".
Dr Pusztai went on: "You feel frustrated, you have to do something about
The scientist admitted he had been naive but said he would do the same
He said: "I would contest that what I found essentially it certainly gave
me a concern and it was very much shared by the institute this concern.
"In one sense what I achieved is that we are all sitting here and talking
Also giving evidence to the committee was the head of the Rowett Research
Institute Professor Philip James.
Dr Pusztai described how Professor James wrote to him giving his
guidelines on "what he could or could not do" following the controversy.
He said he did not know of any other scientist sacked and gagged in this
"It was a real shock to me," he told the committee.
Dr Pusztai continued: "This business of me going in on the programme was
very much a part of the normal of publicity you get nowadays. You have to
Professor James, in his evidence to the committee, said Dr Pusztai was not
sacked or retired with a gagging clause.
There was confusion in his group to what studies had been conducted and
outrage among his collaborators, said Professor James.
He denied that pressure from Whitehall or the Cabinet Office led to Dr
Pusztai's contract not being renewed.
The issue had shown the scientific world had underestimated the extreme
anxiety about food safety, said Professor James.
He told the committee: "We're in a new dimension relating to public health
The public were terrified about something they had no control about,
Professor James went on.
There had to be pro-active initiative to developing novel science to
enhance public confidence, he said.
His opinion was that in the future GM foods would be prevalent in the food
posted by "NLP Wessex" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
5) US agriculture loses huge markets thanks to gmos
Participation in GM crops is costing US farmers heavily - no wonder their
domestic farm prices are facing collapse.
Reuters (March 3 1999):
"Last year, U.S. growers exported only three million bushels of corn to the
EU, down sharply from 70 million in the previous year. The drop was blamed
on EU delays in approving several varieties of genetically-modified corn
grown in the United States."
In the current climate it is difficult to see EU consumers buying such corn
anyway even if EU approval is given. This is a gift to hard pressed EU
farmers trying to compete against cheap imports provided they stay GM free.
Losing a 70 million bushel export market in one fell swoop shows how little
American farmers know about matching their production to markets. This
follows on from Canada losing the whole of its EU oilseed rape market
because of non-segregation of GM varieties.
As the Americans love reminding us in all other sectors: "The customer is
always right." British farmers take note!
next article posted by MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
Friend in need...
The ladybird, an agricultural ally whose breeding potential may be reduced
by GM crops
By James Meikle and Paul Brown
Guardian (London) Thursday March 4, 1999
Scientists yesterday sparked fresh concern about the effect of genetically
modified crops on Britain's wildlife when they suggested the lifespan and
fertility of ladybirds could be reduced dramatically by poisoning their
Government-funded research has indicated that altering the genetic make-up
of plants to resist destructive aphids might have serious effects on other,
The findings, now being studied closely in Whitehall, will keep the
pressure on the Government over its GM policy. There is already a row over
the significance and credibility of tests suggesting GM potatoes can harm
rats, and other scientists have suggested that pollen from GM crops can
cause contamination over great distances.
The latest study, led by Dr Nicholas Birch of the Scottish Crop Research
Institute, Dundee, will encourage campaigners wanting a ban on commercial
growing of GM crops until detailed research on their effects on the
environment are completed. It may also prompt new questions about the food
chain for birds. None is known to eat ladybirds, but several, including
bluetits and warblers, feed on aphids.
Ladybirds are traditionally regarded as gardeners' and farmers' best
friends and their well-being is a prime indicator of environmental
Environment Minister Michael Meacher has said he will extend a one-year
voluntary moratorium on commercial growing indefinitely until he is
confident there is no damage to the countryside or wildlife.
The scientists involved in the latest research fed genetically modified
potato plants to aphids which were in turn fed to ladybirds. The ladybirds'
lives were shortened by up to half the expected life-span, and their
fertility and egg-laying was significantly reduced. Females were apparently
affected more seriously than males and a change of diet to aphids not
exposed to GM plants seemed to reverse the process.
The researchers, who published their findings in the scientific journal
Molecular Breeding, were funded by the Scottish Office, and included
academics from Cambridge and Durham Universities. They genetically
engineered potato plants to include an anti-aphid protein called lectin
from snowdrops - similar to the potatoes that have caused the rumpus over
research carried out by Dr Arpad Pusztai on rats. Potato aphids were fed to
adult two-spot ladybirds for 12 days, before switching the ladybirds to a
Female ladybirds fed GM-affected aphids died on average after 36 days,
compared with the 74 days of those in a control group fed on aphids not
exposed to a GM
March 8 INDEPENDENT Pusztai news -
INDEPENDENT (Sunday) March 8
I was right, says GM row scientist
ALARMING evidence that eating genetically modified (GM) food may harm
health is to be presented to MPs tomorrow, writes Geoffrey Lean. The
previously suppressed research by Dr Arpad Pusztai shows vital organs may
be damaged and immune systems weakened, making epidemics worse and
The research, to be submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on
Science and Technology, is likely to reignite the controversy over Dr
Pusztai, of Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute, who sparked a fierce
scientific and political row last month.
Until now the dispute has centred on only skimpy accounts of his research,
funded by the Scottish Office, because his data - based on 10,000 samples
from rats fed GM and ordinary potatoes - were "confiscated" and his
computer sealed when he made his concerns known on television last summer.
Dr Pusztai was suspended, forced into retirement, and his research
He has only now recovered the evidence and subjected it to independent
analysis for the first time. He will not give details before the results
are seen by MPs, but says they broadly confirm his preliminary findings.
INDEPENDENT (Sunday) March 8
6) How I told the truth and was sacked
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent
NO ONE, says Dr Arpad Pusztai, could have been more surprised to find rats
he had given genetically modified (GM) food developing alarming
ill-effects. He had been "a very enthusiastic supporter" of the
technology, and fully expected his experiments to give it "a clean bill of
health", he said.
"I was totally taken aback; no doubt about it," he told the Independent on
Sunday last week. "I was absolutely confident I wouldn't find anything.
But the longer I spent on the experiments, the more uneasy I became."
His unexpected findings have landed him, bewildered, in one of the hottest
scientific controversies for years. They have abruptly ended his career,
and destroyed his international reputation. He was magisterially rebuked
by a score of Britain's most august Fellows of the Royal Society, attacked
by a collaborator on the study, and accused by Sir Robert May, the
Government's respected Chief Scientific Adviser, of violating "every canon
of scientific rectitude". Only now is he able to reply.
I spent nearly six hours with him in his modest semi-detached home in
Aberdeen on Wednesday, as he told his side of the story in full for the
first time. He is a small, vital man - grey-faced with the strain (he has
recently had a minor heart attack which he ascribes to it), but retaining
a self-deprecating humour - he spoke of the "intolerable burden" of being
unable to clear his name.
>From the day after he briefly mentioned some of his findings on television
in August until three weeks ago, he was bound to confidentiality by his
employer for 37 years, Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute. Since then he
has been preparing to make his case before the House of Commons Select
Committee on Science and Technology tomorrow.
"All I need is a chance," he said. "For the past seven months I haven't
had one. I could not even defend myself against very heinous accusations.
Sometimes I felt I should just get on a plane and go away. I couldn't take
It has been a devastating end to a brilliant career. He is the son of a
Hungarian wartime resistance hero and fled when the 1956 rising was
suppressed. But he had published his first scientific papers while still
at university, and the Ford Foundation found him in an Austrian refugee
camp. They gave him a scholarship to study anywhere in the world he chose.
He picked Britain, partly "because I knew I was an odd sort of guy, and
the country then had a certain tolerance". He was recruited to the
Institute in 1963 personally by Dr Richard Synge, a Nobel prizewinner in
Dr Pusztai, 68, has published 270 scientific papers, and the Institute
acknowledges he became "probably the world's expert" on lectins, proteins
used in genetic modification. So valuable was his work he was asked to
stay on after retirement age.
His nemesis began in 1995, when his group beat 27 contenders to win a
#1.6m Scottish Office contract to test the effects of GM foods. He was
particularly interested because he could find only one previous
peer-reviewed study on feeding them to animals. It was led by a scientist
from Monsanto, the controversial GM company, and found no ill-effects.
Dr Pusztai fed rats on two strains of potatoes genetically engineered with
a lectin from snowdrop bulbs, a third with the snowdrop lectin simply
added and a fourth of ordinary potatoes.
He has been repeatedly accused by top politicians and scientists of merely
adding a poison to potatoes. But he says he spent six years up to 1990
proving the snowdrop lectin was safe, even at high concentrations - and it
is due to his work that it is used in genetic engineering at all.
To his surprise he found the immune systems and brains, livers, kidneys
and other vital organs of the rats fed the GM potatoes were damaged, but
not those of the rats fed the ordinary ones or those simply spiked with
the lectin. This, he says, suggests the genetic modification could be
largely to blame.
By last summer, he says, the Scottish Office money was running out, and
the Institute refused funding. He therefore agreed to appear in a World in
Action documentary, with the Institute's support, to raise the profile of
the work in the hope of attracting funds. He says the Institute's press
officer sat through the interview and no objection had been raised to what
he had said in the seven weeks before screening on 10 August last year.
He was "absolutely surprised" his brief comments hit the headlines, but
the Institute put out press releases supporting him the same day, and the
next. But on 12 August he was suspended from work on the experiments. The
study was stopped.
He worked out his contract until the end of the year, but found himself
"sent to Coventry" by his colleagues. His computers were "sealed" and all
his data from the experiments "confiscated". Dr Pusztai was forced into
An audit committee of four scientists, set up by the Institute, reviewed
his work and disagreed with his conclusions. He says he was given three
days to write a reply, without access to his full data.
This reply, which the Institute put on the internet, has been attacked as
"unpublishable". He agrees and says this is hardly surprising given the
limitations. He has also been condemned for not publishing a refereed
scientific paper in the normal way. He says this was impossible without
access to the complete data, which he has only just recovered.
Martin Polden, of the law firm Ross and Craig and president of the
Environmental Law Foundation, who has taken up Dr Pusztai's case, says
this is "a classic case for the need for openness in science". The
Institute says it has nothing to add to previous statements.
Dr Pusztai insists: "I believe in the technology. But it is too new for us
to be absolutely sure that what we are doing is right. But I can say from
my experience if anyone dares to say anything even slightly contra-
indicative, they are vilified and totally destroyed."
But surely others will do the same research elsewhere? "It would have to
be a very strong person. If I, with my international reputation, can be
destroyed, who will stand up?"