GE - last news until Monday
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- Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 22:35:09 +0000
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1) Guess what's coming to dinner!
2) following title: "Sarney Filho [Brazilian Ministry of Environment]
the plantation of transgenics - Ministry says Brazilian exports may be
3) Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
PUBLICATION The Spectator
DATE Fri 12 Mar 1999
BYLINE Laurent Belsie
1) Guess what's coming to dinner!: We are what we eat. But what are we
eating? Gene-spliced plants and hormone-treated beef raise serious
ethical questions about the way the world is fooling with Mother Nature
Geneticists are on the verge of revolutionizing agriculture and medicine
in much the same way that computers have transformed business. Labs
around the world are working on crops that could feed a growing planet,
plants that could clean up contaminated soils, and pigs whose organs may
one day get trans-planted into people.
But to do these things, scientists are fooling with nature's basic
building blocks. As they do, they are kicking up dissent around the
world as one nation tries to sell its genetically altered foods to
The current food fight between the United States and Europe -- over
hormone-treated beef and genetically altered soy beans -- could be just
a prelude of arguments to come.
That's because the greatest risks probably don't lie with today's simple
genetic alterations. Future rounds of exotic agriculture pose bigger
threats because they will put organisms to completely new uses.
The fundamental question: How much should science manipulate nature to
care for mankind?
And there's no going back, scientists say.
Consider the U.S. experience. While Europeans debate how far to proceed
with the new technology, North Americans are quietly ingesting the new
foods, often without knowing it.
``The genie can't be put back,'' says Marshall Martin, an agricultural
economist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. ``Anyone who eats
pizza or cheese on their hamburger has consumed genetically modified
food ... We pulled the cork out of the bottle in a sense with the
discovery of DNA.''
For example, three-quarters of America's cheese gets its start with a
bio-engineered enzyme. Nearly one out of six dairy farmers injects his
cows with a genetically engineered growth hormone to boost milk
And genetically modified crops are increasingly taking over farmlands --
with some 70 million acres planted worldwide, 60 million of it in North
This planting season promises more inroads. For example, half of
America's soybeans, perhaps more of its cotton, and a third of its corn
could be genetically modified -- a remarkable adoption rate in the four
years since the new seeds were introduced.
Other countries are also moving rapidly to incorporate the technology.
Last year, some 650,000 farmers in China planted genetically modified
And this year Monsanto, which produces the cotton seed, expects to
double that number.
Even the European Union has approved bio-engineered soybeans and corn.
Small quantities of corn, genetically modified to resist pests, are
being grown in Spain and, if approved by France's high court, could
start showing up in the fields of Europe's largest corn producer.
Biotech companies such as Monsanto hope that resistance to the
technology will crumble once European farmers begin to adopt the new
strains. That move is likely, companies say, because the new-fangled
crops typically improve yields and cut costs.
``It's likely to be adopted because the value of the benefits will be
recognized,'' says Philip Angell, a Monsanto spokesman.
Take cotton, one of the world's most pest-prone crops. By incorporating
the genes of a natural insecticide, scientists have created a
pest-resistant strain that requires fewer chemicals.
It ``has been massively beneficial,'' says Val Giddings, a vice
president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington.
In the three years since they began using it, U.S. farmers have saved
the equivalent of 850,000 gallons of pesticides -- the equivalent of 48
railroad tank cars of chemicals.
Cutting pesticide use saves money.
According to newly released figures by one of Britain's leading
plant-research centres, bio-engineered soybeans saved farmers an average
$30 US a hectare (because they used 40 per cent less herbicide.
Pest-resistant corn saved $42 per hectare. (A hectare represents some 2
Doug Powell, associate professor in the department of plant agriculture
at the University of Guelph sees genetic engineering as ``one additional
tool that allows farmers and food processors to provide nutritious,
``We always need to be vigilant but I am confident there is a system in
place for this.''
Despite these benefits, environmentalists worry the new crops pose a
bigger hazard to human health and the environment. They've caught the
ear of many Europeans.
The environmental group Greenpeace, for example, has mounted an
effective campaign across Europe to block the sale of genetically
In February, it persuaded biotech giant AgrEvo (Hoechst) not to conduct
field trials of such crops in Austria.
In January, it organized anti-bio-engineering protests at the national
offices of three European food companies in nine countries.
Thanks to a Greenpeace suit, France's highest administrative court in
December upheld its preliminary ban on genetically modified corn from a
The debate rings loudest in Britain, where memories of the government's
mishandling of ``mad-cow'' disease remain fresh.
The issue has gone all the way to the top: Prime Minister Tony Blair is
risking his popularity to support genetically modified foods, while
Prince Charles says he will never eat any of them.
Further confounding the issue have been the findings of Arpad Pusztai, a
Scottish researcher who ignited the whole controversy.
Last summer he was quietly feeding potatoes to rats. Then he went public
with concerns about the genetically modified rations he was using.
On one hand, the researcher claims he's enthusiastic about
But he warns that it has to be done right because genetically modified
potatoes stunted the growth of rats and depressed their immune system.
Pusztai has not released his full results for review by other scientists
-- a traditional practice.
And when an internal audit committee evaluated his study, it disputed
But 20 scientists, including one from Canada, have come forward since,
saying Pusztai may have a point.
Whatever the outcome, even biotech executives acknowledge the
controversy is likely to continue. ``I think we have to be very, very
careful about how these technologies are applied,'' says Richard Gill,
senior vice-president and general manger of BTG International Inc., a
tech-transfer company with offices in the US, Britain, and Japan.
``There needs to be ... more information shared with people in a form
that can be understood.''
Even in the United States, activists remain hopeful they can slow down
the technology. Dairy farmer associations and consumer groups, for
example, continue to battle the milk-boosting growth hormone.
``Americans are expressing their concern with genetic engineering and
agribusiness in general, not in a political way but in the
marketplace,'' says Ben Lilliston of the Center for Food Safety.
That's why organic products are growing so rapidly, he says, and why
some 200,000 citizens complained when U.S. agricultural officials
proposed including bio-engineered food as organic.
Concern is justified, scientists say, because no one can predict how
nature will react when new organisms appear.
``We're not talking about killer tomatoes. We're talking about plants
that will pick up genes,'' says Norm Ellstrand, a geneticist at the
University of California at Riverside.
Genes can only transfer to relatives. So genetically modified corn in
Iowa doesn't pose much danger because it has no wild relatives there.
But planted in central America, it could create super-weeds that could
out-compete the corn. And the risks increase as more of these
genetically modified plants get released into the wild and interact.
The biggest question hangs over plants containing many new genes so they
can take lead out of contaminated soil or create ingredients for
``The next generation of crops is going to be engineered for truly novel
traits ... and we don't know how those combinations are going to play
out,'' says Louis Myers, a biotech specialist at a U.S. law firm.
> today there is a report in one of our main newspaper with the
following title: "Sarney Filho [Brazilian Ministry of Environment]
> condemns the plantation of transgenics - Ministry says
> Brazilian exports may be damaged". The ministry has also given
> his support to the Landless Movement's request for a public statement
> from the government against the GMOs.
> I hope this information is useful for you.
> Renato Guimaraes
> Gerente de Comunicac|o/Communications Manager
> Greenpeace Brasil
P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
Resource Pointer #199
For copies of the following resources, please contact the appropriate
publishers or organizations directly.
*Getting Food on the Table: An Action Guide to Local Food Policy, 1999*
Dawn Biehler, Andy Fisher et al. Provides an overview of city and county
government policies in the U.S. and programs that affect community food
security. Profiles nine organizations working in the area, highlighting
their efforts and successes. Offers basic organizing information,
identifies potential project funders and recommends additional
resources.75 pp. US$12. Contact Community Food Security Coalition, P.O.
Box 209, Venice, CA 90294; phone (310) 822-5410; website
*Holding Our Ground: Protecting America's Farms and Farmland, 1997* Tom
Daniels and Deborah Bowers. Discusses reasons for protecting farmland as
well as methods to advocate for farmland preservation. Analyzes federal,
state, and local farmland protection efforts and techniques. Explores
land protection options such as purchasing develoment rights and private
land trusts. 420 pp. US$34.95. Contact Island Press, Box 7, Dept. 2AU,
Covelo, CA 95428; phone (800) 82801302; fax (707) 983-6414.
*Final Results of the Third Biennial National Organic Farmer's Survey,
1999* Compiles survey findings from 4,638 organic farmers. Prioritizes
their perceived needs for organic farming research, ranks usefulness of
production resources, ranks products grown as well as marketing outlets.
Gives an overview of organic management strategies utilized and examines
constraints and challenges to organic production. 126 pp. Contact
Organic Farming Research Foundation, P.O. Box 440, Santa Cruz, CA 95061;
phone (831) 426-6606; fax (831) 426-6670; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Making the Transition to Organic Farming, Conference Proceedings,
University of Guelph, January 29-31, 1999* Workshops include weed
management, soil fertility, getting your farm certified, permaculture,
community supported agriculture and more. 70 pp. US$10. Contact Tomas
Nimmo, Conference Coordinator, Box 116, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada,
L9Y 3Z4; phone (705) 444-0923; fax (705) 444-0380; email
*Organic Consumer Association (OCA) Website*
Provides an overview of OCA's programs including its campaign to support
strong organic standards. Provides resources on why to buy organic.
Addresses food safety issues such as genetically engineered food and
rBGH. Provides a calendar of relevant events, book reviews and
resources on where to buy organic products.
We encourage those interested in having resources listed in the PANUPS
Resource Pointer to send review copies of publications, videos or other
resources to our office.
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