SnowBall archive


GE - Genetix Update March 1999

Newsletter of the Genetic Engineering Network: INFORMATION  FOR ACTION

GEN, PO Box 9656, London, N4 4JY PHONE: 0181-374 9516
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On the 12th February a press briefing in the House of Commons saw 20
release statements supporting Arpad Pusztai, the scientist at the centre of
row over GM potatoes and the safety of GM food. He was sacked and gagged by
employers,  the Rowett institute, last summer, with his reputation and
scientific credibility destroyed, following startling results from his
The results showed that rats fed on genetically manipulated pototoes
suffered a
weakened immune system and damage to vital organs. The research pointed to a
problem with the process of Genetic Manipulation itself and made one thing
clear. Nobody really knows what the long term effects of consuming GM foods
will be - because the   studies have not been done. Dr Pusztais experiments,
incredibly, were the first independent feeding trials that have been conducted
on GM food stuffs, yet we are already eating GM food. 
In the wake of the press conference was a huge wave of media coverage and
government misinformation.  A number of "factual inaccuracies" were made by
Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet enforcer, which are corrected here. 
Myth Number 1: "It is simply not sensible to conclude that if a laboratory
experiment with a known toxin added caused damage to rats, that all other GM
potatoes are therefore unsafe." 
Fact: Jack Cunningham has clearly not looked at the research. The potatoes
concerned were genetically engineered with a snowdrop lectin. It is not true
that all lectins are toxic - Dr. Pusztai, a leading authority on lectins had
been working with the snowdrop lectin for seven years and was using it
precisely because it was not thought to be toxic to mammals. 
Dr. Pusztai's research was so significant because a control group of potatoes
which had the snowdrop lectin added to them did not affect the rats in the
way as the potatoes genetically engineered with the snowdrop lectin - even
though the lectin was present in both. This points to the process of genetic
engineering itself - the same process used for the genetically engineered
currently approved for human consumption in the UK, none of which has been
tested to see if it has the same effects on the immune system or internal
Myth Number 2:"The scientists who spoke out have not as provided any evidence
to our advisory groups, to our scientists. They have been asked for it now for
some considerable time. As soon as they do make their findings available to us
of course we shall examine them quickly and comprehensively."

Fact: On 12th February 20 scientists released statements vindicating Pusztai's
original conclusions. These scientists include highly respected pathologists,
geneticists, immunologists, physiologists, and molecular biologists from a
dozen countries. The government has had all the information which was reviewed
by the international group of scientists, for three months. Dr. Pusztai sent
all the information to the Scottish Office, the relevant government authority,
by recorded delivery on the 22nd of October last year. They subsequently
acknowledged receipt of these documents. 
Myth Number 3: "We are certainly a lot closer to the consumer organisations
the environmental organisations [than to the GM food Industry]"
Fact: Between the 16th of June 1997 and the 24th of July 1998 there were 56
official meetings between the biotech industry and the government compared
to 6
meetings with environmental and consumer groups.

Myth Number 4: "None of our advice is saying that there is a case for a
moratorium on these matters." 
Fact: According to their press release, English Nature, the statutory advisor
to the government on nature conservation in England, has "consistently called
for a moratorium on the commercial widespread release of two types of
genetically modified crops - herbicide resistant and insect resistant". These
are the only types of genetically engineered crops that may be grown in the
near future.
Myth Number 5: "No-one is advising ministers here that there is a risk to
public health. No-one is saying that products should be withdrawn from the
market. There are out and out opponents of the processes whose position is
known and well understood. They've produced no scientific evidence, no
force of
argument, no intellectual case for what they are saying."   
Fact: On Tuesday 16th Feb it was reported that the government had failed to
release a report by the biotechnology unit at the DETR which raised major
concerns about the impact of GM crops on wildlife. On 12th February 20
independent scientists said that there was an urgent need to bring the
of Dr.Pusztai (the scientist sacked for expressing concerns about the lack of
adequate safety testing) into the public arena so that the safety and hazards
presented by GM crops could be properly assessed. The scientific community is
clearly divided on the health and environmental safety of the genetic
engineering of food crops.
ex.html - for puzstai’s report.
Activists ready to stand up to Monsanto in Brazil
Monsanto has revealed that it hopes to start selling Round up Ready Soya in
Brazil for the 99/2000 growing season. 
Brazil is the 2nd largest soya producer in the world (behind the US) and is
main source for non-GM soya in the UK and elsewhere - commercial growing could
have catastrophic effects on access uncontaminated non-GM Soya supplies.
Monsanto is intending to invest a cool  $US 550 million to build a raw
plant in Bahia. Other investments include  $10million to build a soyabean seed
processing plant in Rio Grande do Sul, opening around April /May . Such
investments seem to be aimed at ensuring it can monopolise the world soya bean
However a legal challenge has been launched against the "technical approval"
for growing that was given by the National Commission for Biosafety in Brazil
as it was given without risk assessments being done. Further the MST - a
movement of Landless peasants, have announced their intention to destroy any
illegal transgenic crops planted in the state of Rio Grande do Sul - indeed
there are unconfirmed reports as the Update went to press that a crop was
destroyed on the 3rd March.
Talks on Regulating trade in GMO's fail:  Thanks to the US, oh and one or two
biotech companies.

"We sincerely regret that a small group of countries have not  been  able to
complete this work. History will not forgive us for this"

Cuban delegate at the biosafety protocol negotiations.
Talks to agree a Biosafety Protocol ended in Colombia without agreement in the
last week of February. The US and other members of the 'MiamiGroup', now
the 'Miami Vice' (US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay) of
grain exporters, derailed the negotiations after 10 days of round the clock
meetings. It was the first time in more than 20 years that an international
environmental negotiation had concluded in such disarray, said Michael
Williams, spokesman for the UN Environmental Program. 
More than 135 countries have been involved in the intense negotiations to
develop internationally recognised safeguards on the world trade in
engineered (GE) crops.  The safeguards were to include liability and a
requirement of exporting nations to inform importing countries before shipment
when GMO's are included in cargo. The problem was the fact that the Miami
wanted to exclude commodities for food, feed and processing, which actually
make up for over 90% of all internationally traded GMO's completely from the
The US in particular has been condemned by participating countries that argued
for a strong agreement. It was not a signatory to the 1992 UN convention on
Biological Diversity and therefore had no voting rights at these negotiations.
However, that did not stop it employing bullying tactics to ensure that in any
agreement trade should triumph over environmental protection. Joseph Gopo, of
Zimbabwe's Biotech Research Institute noted "I don't think its fair to come
here and negotiate for 2 weeks to make sure that the US has a free market in
Worth noting was the presence and influence of a range of companies at the
talks. Monsanto, Novartis, AgroEvo, Pioneer, all happy to ensure that the
in their unwanted, unsafe and unnecessary products goes unregulated by anybody
but the WTO whose only current focus is the removal of barriers to trade.
on a Biosafety Protocol will resume at some time during the next 18 months.
Five Year Freeze 

The Five year Freeze campaign was launched in mid February. It  could hardly
have been more timely given the media madness over GE that swept the UK
the previous weekend.
The campaign is calling for a five year freeze on the growing of GE crops for
any commercial purpose, the import of GE foods and farm crops and on the
patenting of genetic resources for food and farm crops.  Well over 25
organisations have now joined this campaign including FOE, Iceland, Action
The Townswomens Guild, CPRE, Greenpeace and the Local Government Association. 
The Freeze has launched an Early Day Motion in Parliament (no.334) and is
asking for people to contact their local MP to sign this. A postcard campaign
has also been started.
Contact The Freeze Campaign on 0171 837 0642
How to get a referendum on GE in your area…

A researcher on the Mark Thomas programme has discovered that under the 1972
Local Government Act, civic parish councils in England (community councils in
Wales) can vote to request their local district council to hold a
referendum on
any issue of concern to the local parish. 
Once the Parish has voted in favour, the District Council has to carry out the
referendum. This law presents a major opportunity to promote a rolling
of parish referendums on genetics. The relevant law is Part 111, schedule 12,
para 18, sub-paragraphs 4 and 5 of the 1972 Local Government Act. For Wales,
the relevent section of the Act is Secton v, para 34, subsections 4 and 5. So,
a) Choose an issue you want a referendum on:
b) Decide on the wording of the referendum question; 
c) Together with at least five other local parish residents approach the
Council and request a parish council meeting. Advertise the meeting
locally. At
least 10 people must be present at the meeting, where a formal motion must be
put forward to support a referendum (the wording of the referendum must be
of the resolution), and a vote taken.
d) The motion can only be carried if at least 10 people (or a third of those
present) vote in favour. 
e). Next, take the resolution to the District Council and submit a request for
a referendum, invoking your right to do so under Part 111, schedule 12 etc of
the Local Government Act.
f). The District Council must respond within a week and the referendum has to
be held within 14-25 days of the request being submitted.
If the District Council kicks up difficulties, Mark Thomas says he would like
to know. He can be contacted at Vera Productions, 3rd Floor, 66-68 Margaret
Street, London W1N 7SL. 

Anyone who has had endured a speech by Dan Verackis, Ann Foster or any of the
other Monsanto cronies will know how much pride they take in letting us all
know about the wonderful success of Bt resistant and Roundup Ready GM
cotton in
the US - higher yields, lower chemical inputs etc
Uhmm, well it aint quite so. Nearly 200 cotton farmers in Georgia, Florida,
North Carolina are suing Monsanto for damages after crop failures of both
varieties of their cotton seeds, according to a news story in the Augusta
(Georgia) Chronicle on Jan. 25 1999. In a separate lawsuit 25 cotton
farmers in
Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana are suing Monsanto for fraud and
misrepresentation--also in regard to Bt cotton crop failures. GEN is sure that
Monsanto would like to be reminded of this in a public setting and notes the
current lack of action against GM cotton within the UK!
News in Brief

LGA calls for all Councils to ban GE

The Local Government Association has called on  Councils across the country to
remove GE food from all of their outlets - schools, town halls, old peoples
homes etc. A unanimous vote was taken on 24th Feb - so if your council is not
yet GE free, get on the case!

Anti Genetic Movement grows

Yet again more new anti GE groups have been set up since the last Update in
places such as Carmarthen, Worcester, Sheffield and North london. Check out
contacts list for details and contact us if you have a new group or would like
to set one up so we can put others in touch with you. Apologies for the small
font size on the contacts list! 
The Totnes  Group (ToGG) website

Has UK local campaign groups directory 
- GE-FREE FOODS -what's ok & what's not.
- Supermarket addresses - many named CEOs and freephone numbers + lots more
Find them at: <>  or
If you have any problems getting in, email

SYGEN -Newsletter

South Yorkshire GEN have set up an email and Newsletter service - for details
and networking contact Box No.1, Lower TownHead, Dunford Bridge, Sheffield.
4TG. -email

Bt Resistance grows.

Reports from a Californian farming magazine in January state that Bt
has emerged among pink bollworms, a major cotton pest, in Arizona cotton
fields. this confirms the worst fears of campaigners against GE crops and
Organic farmers. Monsanto, Novartis and co. are, by adding the Bt gene to
so they express insect resistance, now well on their way to destroying the
usefulness of the world's most important natural biopesticide. 

Ban GM Food Petition

Iceland stores, with Greenpeace have launched a petition campaign to ban GM
There are 770 Iceland stores across the country where copies can be obtained. 
email -

Iceland sells its genes

Since the last update Iceland has become the first country in the world sell
the rights to the entire population's genetic code to a biotechnology
Roche Holding Ltd. has signed a $200 million, five-year deal to develop new
drugs and tests from the data. 
Clones converge on Centre for Lies

Clones from GeneNO! (Newcastle genetics group), and DANE (Disability Action
North East) descended on the International Centre For Life, Newcastle, as it
opened its doors for its first public event. The 3 day 'Making Biotechnology
Happen' conference had speakers from Monsanto, Wellcome and the Government,
with wonderfully balanced talks such as 'How to start a Career in
Biotechnology'. There wasn't a single speaker to raise concerns about any
aspect of biotechnology. The £55 million Centre has said that, because it is
publicly funded, it will not be used as a showcase for the biotechnology
industry, but the first ever conference has done just that. Clones with 'Bad
Science + Big Business = Bad News' placards picketed the conference and
leafleted delegates. On day 3, after sustained protest by the groups, the
Centre For Life were embarrassed enough to let 2 GeneNO members into the
conference to give a 5 minute presentation in response to Monsanto's whole
on 'How Biotechnology will Feed the World'. Both GeneNO! members were escorted
out of the building as soon as their speech had ended, even though one member
was being interviewed by a reporter at the time! 
Info on Centre for Lies - GeneNO!, PO Box ITA, Newcastle NE99 1TA or DANE 0191
US Activists target Monsanto Cotton Conference 

On February 25th a group of artists and activists calling themselves fabRAGE;
Fabulous Resistance Against Genetic Engineering disrupted a conference
panel on
genetically engineered cotton featuring Monsanto and sponsored by
"We'd rather go naked than wear genetically modified cotton!" shouted Biogrrl,
a fashion diva at the event, as half a dozen artivists charged through the
and stripped off their biohazglam gowns. Monsanto representatives appeared
apoplectic in the face of the action.
FabRAGE explained: “ We are not fooled by their advertising campaigns or by
complicity of the Clinton administration in covering up the dangers of
genetically engineered foods and products, or by the U.S. media blackout on US
resistance to GE products." 
Following from the conference FabRAGE appeared on the local  radio, initially
in a head to head with Monsanto. However, so disturbed (!) by the action were
the company that they refused to go on air. For more info visit -

Scottish Genetix Action took a clear message to the Labour Party's Scottish
headquarters regarding Tony Blair's support of GM food on 26th Feb. 12
activists in white suits displayed a 10 metre banner reading  "DON'T XXXX WITH
OUR FOOD - OR WE WONT X(VOTE) FOR YOU!" During the protests activists were
invited in to talk to members of the Scottish Labour party. Recent
headlines in
the Scottish press have suggested that the new Scottish parliament could
ban GM
crop trials once it is established, the SNP, Lib Dems and Tories all agreeing
to work together for this. The election itself could present a whole host of
opportunities to embarrass the government! Contact Scottish Genetix Action
07970 391 620
The last Genetix Update asked, "Do we want spuds with toad Genes?" A group
calling themselves "Wild Greens" in New Zealand has provided the answer.
the night of Wednesday 10th March they uprooted a field trial of GE
potatoes in
Canterbury, New Zealand which were genetically engineered to contain the genes
of the African clawed toad, designed to give resistance to soft rot bacteria.
The trial was part of a 10 year experimental programme to assess the safety of
GE potatoes for commercial. The decontamination has set the programme back by
at least 12 months. The "Wild Greens" belong to the radical youth wing of the
New Zealand Green Party. Co- leader of the Greens Jeanette Fitzsimons
that whilst she could understand the sense of frustration that the group to
break the law she could not condone such action.

Downing St gets the beans

"Tony don't swallow Bills seed" was just one of the messages that have
been delivered to Tony Blair at Downing St, on this occasion courtesy of
Greenpeace. On the 18th of February the pressure group dumped 4 tonnes of GM
soya on the PM's doorstep, protesting at his complicity in the Genetix
experiment. Other delegations to Downing St in the past couple of months have
included COG (Marlborough based Coalition opposing Genetix) who delivered over
1,000 letters collected in the town in just a few weekends towards the end of
last year. Their delivery was made with the aid of a very mobile mutant cow
that can be used for other actions - call 0765 429 1467.
Genetic Food Alert (The Natural  Food Trade Campaign) have also been visiting.
Delegates delivered the 5-year moratorium message to Tony, who as we have seen
in the press recently is intent on completely ignoring the massive public
concern on this issue. A call has gone up recently for concerned
individuals to
write to him on the grounds that in the last few months he has not been
receiving much GM related mail. Anyone wishing to add weight to his mailbag
should know the address!
Demonstration to support the protestors on trial for decontaminating the GE
crop next to Guy Watsons Organic Farm - 29th March, Plymouth-see Diary
continued in part 2.....