from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
The encouraging news at the end of a long week of talks in Kuala Lumpur is that the Biosafety Protocol is back on track, and looks stronger than ever, thanks largely to the work of the Africa Group. (AFRICA GROUP'S VICTORY OVER U.S. AT BIOSAFETY MEETING)
Something else that emerged from Kuala Lumpur this week was news of important new research by Prof Terje Traavik pointing to yet more evidence of serious health dangers from GM foods and vaccines. (RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK)
And don't miss a brilliant ARTICLE OF THE WEEK by George Monbiot exposing the hypocrisy of those who vilify the MMR vaccine researcher, Dr Andrew Wakefield, while remaining as silent as the grave on the countless conflicts of interest of scientists who support, rather than threaten, industry's agenda.
George Monbiot points out that the crime for which science's "new Dr Evil is being punished is everywhere. The scientific establishment is rotten from top to bottom, riddled with conflicts far graver than Dr Wakefield's."
Ironically, the same weekend that the UK media was full of fulminations against Wakefield, an article was prominently published in The Observer pointing out that leaked government documents revealed Lord Sainsbury, well known for his financial and other interests in the biotech industry, had played an active part in a ministerial meeting which developed a strategy for promoting the interests of the, er... biotech industry! This article failed to appear in later editions after, it is rumoured, the paper's editor was successfully lobbied by "Sainsbury's people".
Dragging the truth about the terrible cost of corporate science into the public arena is, as George Monbiot points out, an increasingly difficult task and one that often now falls to non-scientists. Monbiot notes that "Friends of the Earth are currently being sued by the biotech company Bayer to prevent them from exposing its data on the environmental and health effects of glufosinate ammonium, the herbicide used on the GM maize the government wants to approve for planting in Britain. By all accounts the figures make grim reading. But if Bayer gets its way, neither we nor the government will be allowed to see them before the decision is made." (ARTICLE OF THE WEEK)
Look out also for some telling comments on the UK government's attempts to assist Bayer, Bush and the rest of the Biotech Brigade by edging towards GM maize commercialisation - see QUOTES OF THE WEEK. In fact, it now looks as if the government may not be able to give the go ahead for at least another year, thanks to the the furore following the publication of the leaked Cabinet documents disclosing their intention to press ahead. (OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK)
We've had quite a week here at GM WATCH. Someone took an axe and a can of petrol to the local telephone exchange for our server, knocking our sites and lists off-line for several days. It's great to be back in action in time to report on a remarkable week.
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*AFRICA GROUP'S VICTORY OVER U.S. AT BIOSAFETY MEETING
*QUOTES OF THE WEEK
*RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
*OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK
*OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL
*ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
*HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
AFRICA GROUP'S VICTORY OVER U.S. AT BIOSAFETY MEETING
+ Teresa Anderson of Gaia reports: "The last week of UN CBD meetings in Kuala Lumpur was exclusively focused on the Biosafety Protocol. There were fears that in spite of the urgent need to develop and strengthen many issues, the United States delegation would continue in their efforts to undermine the Protocol. Indeed, the US lobbied hard to weaken the agreement, claiming that the labelling and liability wanted by other nations was unrealistic for trade. The US is not even a signatory of the Protocol, but that did not stop them from trying to interfere. But developing countries, particularly the Africa Group, (led by Dr Tewolde Egziabher) kept the agenda firmly focused on what was needed. They argued convincingly and effectively for the adoption of labelling and documentation requirements, as well as progress in the issue of liability.
"So the Biosafety Protocol is back on track, and looks stronger than ever, thanks largely to the work of the Africa Group. This makes the claims by the US and UK governments that GM crops are wanted by Africa look all the more foolish."
+ Reuters reports: Countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and most of Latin America have agreed to tighter rules governing trade in gene-modified seeds, prompting dismay among major producers such as the United States.
Negotiators from nearly 90 countries struck a deal in Kuala Lumpur on Friday requiring detailed information on shipments of GM crops such as maize, cotton and soy, to help importers decide whether to accept them, going way beyond what exporters wanted.
They also set terms for talks to thrash out a framework to fix blame for problems due to trade in the controversial technology, along with systems of redress and enforcement.
Ethiopian negotiator Tewolde Egziabher, who led in talks for many developing nations represented at the week-long Malaysian meeting, highlighted the liability deal as key.
"It's badly needed. Not as much for the redress side of it but for the caution that we will force on those who export," he said as formal talks drew to a close.
+ The three key decisions made in Kuala Lumpur were:
No international liability regime for GM damage exists, but a Working Group on liability with a strong and clear mandate to complete the international rules and procedures for liability and redress by 2007 has been created. The US strongly objected to the text, but as a Non-Party their demands were not taken into consideration by the chair.
Crucial compliance measures have been agreed. A 15 person committee on Compliance has been created and will be effective immediately.
The rules to develop and implement clear identification of GM will not please lobbyists from the biotechnology industry. While the likes of the International Grain Trade Coalition were pressing for many loopholes to be included, India, China and the EU opted for stronger requirements which mean that countries can require exporters to provide clear detailed information about exactly what GMOs are involved and to refuse the shipment if this is not provided.
See also: US undermining UN biosafety treaty http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/74049364-EE3B-40B2-9E63-194C1E4325B6.htm
+ At the meeting in Malaysia Friends of the Earth released a report, "GM crops: a decade of failure": http://www.foei.org/media/gmdecade
The report is available to download, in 4 parts.
+ WHAT WAS SYNGENTA DOING IN THE PHILIPPINES DELEGATION TO CARTAGENA TALKS?
A top-ranking regional officer for Syngenta, the agrochemical and seed giant, was part of the official delegation of the Philippines. How many other industry stooges were there? http://www.biotechimc.org/or/2004/02/2638.shtml
+ THIS MAY CONTAIN GMOS...
The USA, Canada and Mexico made a trilateral agreement on the labelling of GMOs that sounds like a joke, but is meant seriously. Regarding the transboundary movement of GMOs for food, feed and processing, they agreed on documentation to label GMO shipments with a "may contain" statement that does not include any information which GMO it is. No labelling whatsoever is needed if the GMO content is less then 5%, or for any unintended GM contamination, no matter how high that is. http://www.biotechimc.org/or/2004/02/2646.shtml
The weasel wording is at http://www.biotechimc.org/or/2004/02/2647.shtml
+ The dire influence of the US on Latin American countries like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil was all too obvious during the week, but fortunately in the end the US did not prevail. However, Argentina has even been reduced by the US and Monsanto into proposing to tax its own farmers in order to collect an estimated $34 million in royalties for Monsanto and other seed companies. Argentina will effectively police the patent system for Monsanto, using its police and the courts against its own farmers. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2715
Argentine agronomist, Adolfo Boy, issued a warning at the conference that the country's GM experiment was threatening a catastrophe for Argentina's agriculture, food security and ecology. "Let Argentina be a warning to others. We are going down the path of destruction." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2719
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
JOURNALIST IAN BELL ON THE THREAT OF GM COMMERCIALISATION IN THE UK
"The [UK] government's real motives are, as usual, not hard to fathom. You can just about summarise them in a sentence: what America wants, America must have... At the risk of sounding melodramatic, our government is taking the side of a foreign power against its own people.
"Well, if Iraq demonstrated nothing else it showed that such is a tenet, these days, of what passes for British foreign policy. It also illustrates a wilful misunderstanding, in some quarters, of what the anti-globalisation campaign is about. We can argue about capitalism and free trade - put me down as a practising heretic - but when commercial interests are elevated above the will of a country's people the real debate is about democracy." - Ian Bell, "The Not-So-Funny Farm", The Sunday Herald (Scotland), 22 February 2004 http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2691
JOURNALIST GEOFFREY LEAN ON GM COMMERCIALISATION
"Let us get one thing straight, before the spinning torrent of misinformation being prepared by ministers is unleashed on the long-suffering British public. Despite what we will be told, the Government's decision to allow the planting of GM maize is far from the rational, science-based assessment of the risks and benefits that we have the right to demand from our rulers.
"No. The leaked Cabinet minutes show this to be an entirely political act, taken in defiance of the scientific evidence and public concern, by a Government desperate to curry favour with big business, appease President George Bush and, above all; to save the face of a Prime Minister.
"... Despite the presence of 13 ministers at the crucial meets of the Cabinet Office ministerial sub committee on biotechnology on February 11, when the GM crops go ahead was discussed, it records no consideration whatsoever of the pros and cons. Instead, the meeting was devoted to debating how best to spin the decision.
"Ministers discussed how public apposition could be worn down', how 'key MPs' could be persuaded to 'prepare the ground' before the decision is announced, and how important 'careful presentation' would be.
"In their desperation to find a sellable 'line' on GM, they plumped for trying to persuade the public of the dubious proposition that growing GM crops in Britain would help feed hungry people in the Third World. "This is despite the fact that surplus food already produced by Western countries is routinely dumped in the Third World.
"... In truth, it's not much of victory. ... Hostility to the technology will grow, making it impossible to introduce GM crops that might in years to come, be proven safe and have real benefits.
"But none of this nor public opinion, protecting the countryside or safeguarding future health seems to matter to ministers so much as trying to show that, like some tinpot tyrant, Mr Blair, America's poodle, is always right." - Geoffrey Lean, "GM - The Great Betrayal", Daily Mail, 20 February, 2004 http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2690
STEVE SAWYER ON ASTROTURF 'GREEN' PATRICK MOORE
"Patrick Moore, in his article 'The blindness of the greens" (on this page last Monday), describes opponents of genetically engineered crops as "anti-science, anti-technology, and anti-human'. But if Moore applied the logic he claims is missing from the arguments of opponents of GE crops, he would realise that such crops are no more "science" than refrigerators, nuclear weapons or washing machines.
"GE crops are commercial products that result from the application of one specific technology from within a much broader field of scientific inquiry. GE crops are commercial products, not science - and there are sound scientific reasons for opposing them." - Steve Sawyer, "Why opposition to GE crops is based on sound science", The Age (Australia), February 23, 2004 http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2688
RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
+ RESEARCH SHOWS NEW DANGERS OF GM FOOD
New research by geneticist and advisor to the Norwegian government Prof Terje Traavik points to serious health dangers of GM foods and vaccines.
The study found that:
*Inhaled GM maize pollen may cause disease
*GM food promoter (CaMV or cauliflower mosaic virus promoter) transfers to rat cells
*GM vaccines recombine into unpredictable hybrid viruses in human and animal cells.
Data from three groups of studies being conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology, in Tromso, Norway, reveal potentially serious health dangers of GM foods and vaccines. The findings are summarised below.
Terje Traavik, PhD, Director of the Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology, announced the findings at a meeting held on February 22 in Kuala Lumpur, sponsored by the Third World Network. The studies are ongoing and not yet published, but Traavik says, "Publication of results typically requires a waiting period of up to one year or more. With such evidence of possible human health impacts of foods already on the market, we believed that waiting to report our findings through publication would not be in the public's interest."
Traavik presented the data the day before the UN conference on biosafety began so that the results could be taken into consideration when drafting regulatory guidelines.
NEW RESEARCH ON SURVIVAL OF CAMV PROMOTER IN RAT TISSUES (EXTRACTS FROM SUMMARY)
Terje Traavik Ph.D
The cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) promoter was found intact in rat tissues after a single meal, and was also confirmed to be active in human cells.
The full 1100 base pairs of the CaMV promoter was found:
*In stomach cells and in intestinal (mesenteric) lymph nodes two hours after eating;
*In mesenteric lymph nodes, kidney, and liver cells six hours after eating; and
*In mesenteric lymph nodes, spleen, and liver cells three full days after eating.
Future tests will determine if the CaMV is active.
Implications for human health
The CaMV promoter is attached to inserted foreign genes in nearly all GM foods. It overpowers the cells' own self-regulatory mechanisms so as to permanently turn on the foreign inserted gene and produce large amounts of the transgene proteins. Without the promoter, the gene would likely be dormant in the DNA, unexpressed. Scientists use the CaMV because it is aggressive and because it works in the DNA of all types of plants.
The assumptions used by biotech advocates as the basis of safety claims were that the CaMV:
*Will only turn on the gene to which it was attached
*Is plant specific and will not function in mammals, including humans, and
*Will not transfer from food to gut bacteria or internal organs;
Each of these assumptions have been contradicted.
1. Studies also show that the promoter creates a 'hotspot' in the DNA. This means that the whole chromosome can become unstable. This may cause breaks in the strand or exchanges of genes with other chromosomes. Research reported in June 2003 confirmed that genetically engineered crops exhibited broken DNA sections at the CaMV.
2. The CaMV promoter may turn on native genes over long distances up and down the strand of DNA. It can even turn genes on in a different chromosome. This can create a flood of proteins that may create toxins, allergens, carcinogens, or nutritional changes.
Some scientists believe that the CaMV promoter, in conjunction with other genetic material, might also create a growth factor that could result in excessive cell growth - a potentially pre-cancerous condition. A study by Ewen and Pusztai demonstrated significant cell growth in the stomach and intestines of rats fed a genetically engineered potato. An Egyptian study also showed evidence of cell growth in rats fed a Bt potato, and a feeding study on genetically modified peas showed greater weights of rat intestines, supporting the possibility of extra cell growth.
While scientists believed that the aggressive nature of the CaMV promoter might have been responsible for these results, it was not confirmed whether the CaMV promoter was able to transfer intact to organs and whether it would be active in human cells.
The new evidence confirms the transfer and potential activity. The new evidence does not, however, show any specific links to cell growth, nor does it confirm that unstable hotspots or the turning on of dangerous genes will occur in mammalian DNA.
Waking Sleeping Viruses
Embedded into the DNA of many organisms, including humans, are ancient viruses that have worked their way in, perhaps in previous species. While most of this viral material has eroded, some may be complete but simply not turned on. In theory, the fact that the promoter can turn on genes up and down the DNA, combined with the fact that it can transfer to human or animal organs, means that it may be possible for it to turn on a previously dormant virus.
see also: Scientists suspect health threat from GM maize
John Vidal, environment editor
Friday February 27, 2004
Filipino farmers show GM pollen reaction, says scientist (Reuters) http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?RecID=2404
+ SEEDS OF DECEPTION AUTHOR LINKS CAMV TO L-TRYPTOPHAN DISASTER
Jeffrey M. Smith, author of the book Seeds of Deception and director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, told delegates at the UN Cartagena Protocol for Biosafety that Terje Traavik's findings shed light upon other research showing problems with GM foods and the L-tryptophan disaster in the US. The GE-produced version of the food supplement L-tryptophan was a suspected cause of an epidemic in the US in the 1980s, which killed about 100 Americans and caused 5-10,000 to fall sick or become disabled.
Smith said, "The fact that the CaMV promoter can transfer to mammalian cells might explain the excessive cell growth found in the stomach and intestines of animals from other GM feeding trials, and raises additional concerns that GM foods might encourage genetic instability and mutation, accidental expression of allergens or toxins from non-target genes, and even activation of dormant viruses." Smith said that the link between Bt-maize pollen and disease in the Philippino villagers is supported by other studies on Bt-toxin and the crops genetically engineered to express it. Smith said, "Because Bt-toxin appears to increase the sensitivity of mammals to other allergens or immunogens, we must investigate whether Bt-crops contribute to the unexplained rise of allergies."
Smith provided evidence that the L-tryptophan epidemic had started four years earlier than is generally cited, and was linked to a series of GM bacterial strains used by a Japanese manufacturer between 1984 and 1989. This information undermines the alternative explanation that the epidemic was created as a result of a change in the manufacturing methods introduced in 1989. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2712
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK -UK
+ GM CROPS DELAYED BY AT LEAST A YEAR IN THE UK AFTER CABINET LEAK
According to a Guardian report, GM crops cannot be planted in the UK for at least another year, and maybe not even then, the environment minister, Elliot Morley, said on February 25. The delay is because it will take many months to sort out proper separation distances between crops, and a liability regime for contamination of conventional or organic crops.
A planned Commons statement by environment secretary Margaret Beckett, that the government is to go ahead with the first commercially grown GM crop, has been delayed after the leak to the Guardian last week of cabinet sub-committee minutes.
Details of government plans to recruit MPs and scientists to put a gloss on the announcement embarrassed ministers, who have decided that another wide public consultation exercise is required before the policy on commercial growing can be implemented.
Although the issue of distances between crops might be relatively easy to resolve, the problem of compensation, and who pays for it, remains intractable. The biotech companies remain adamant that they will not foot the bill, and that it is a matter for insurance by farmers. The government refuses to set up a fund with taxpayers' money. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2714
+ GOVERNMENT FACE GM LEGAL THREAT
Any plan by the government to commercially grow GM maize could face a legal challenge from Friends of the Earth (FOE) who said testing had failed to rule out risks to human health and the environment.
FOE said in a statement, "The only feeding study to look at the impact of feeding animals the whole plant was severely criticised for poor science...(and) other studies using the GM protein failed to show that the crop was safe. No feeding studies were carried out on cattle, the intended recipients of the GM maize." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2687
+ INDEPENDENT SCIENCE PANEL'S LETTER TO BECKETT
Dr Brian John of GM-Free Cymru and Dr Mae-Wan Ho, director of the Institute of Science in Society, both members of the Independent Science Panel on GM launched 10 May 2003, have written a strongly worded letter to UK environment secretary Margaret Beckett to challenge the approval of Chardon LL GM maize for Britain. The letter is reproduced at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2685
+ INDUSTRY RESPONSE TO GM LIABILITY PROPOSAL
Paul Rylott, chairman of the industry-backed Agricultural Biotechnology Council, has responded to a government proposal in the leaked minutes of a Cabinet meeting that the biotech industry will be liable for damage or contamination caused by GM crops.
Rylott warned that if the industry were made liable for compensation, GM crops would become too expensive for farmers to plant. He said there was a "finite limit of money" to be gained by planting GM, which was at "risk of erosion" if the government made the industry liable for losses and that "there will not be any point in planting GM crops because there will be few benefits to farmers".
The minutes say, "the difficulty of proving that a particular farmer was to blame for GM contamination should not be underestimated". By making industry responsible, it would be necessary only to identify the GM variety, which could be easily traced back to the biotech company that developed the GM seed.
The proposal, if adopted, is likely to derail any plan by the government to license at least one GM crop this spring. However, industry will oppose the liability proposal; Rylott was quoted in last week's Weekly Watch as saying the proposal was "silly" and unnecessary [http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2681].
+ SAINSBURY'S MILK FROM GM-FED COWS?
Protesters dressed as cows descended on a branch of supermarket chain Sainsbury's to demonstrate about GM feed allegedly given to cows supplying its own-label milk. Fifty members of Greenpeace chained themselves to the dairy aisle and entrance and scaled the roof of the store in Greenwich, London. Greenpeace says UK cows which produce milk for Sainsbury's are fed on GM maize imported from the US.
If the UK government approves GM maize, as appears likely, it will have to go into animal feed, the only route left for GM crops in the UK. So it's time to stop the use of GM ingredients in animal feed. A total rejection of GM in animal feed, which would take in all GM maize and GM soya - no matter what the country of origin - would turn a small step forward for the biotech industry into a total disaster. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2686
+ MINISTER 'BROKE CABINET RULE' IN BIOTECH PROMOTION
UK science minister Lord Sainsbury is fighting for his political life after he was accused of breaching government guidelines over his business interests. Leaked minutes obtained by The Observer reveal that Sainsbury, who has extensive business interests in the biotech sector, was at a key Cabinet meeting which drew up a strategy to promote the fledgling industry, a policy shift from which he could reap large dividends.
At the meeting Sainsbury was tasked with asking the Prime Minister to use his influence with European leaders to promote the biotech industry. By doing so Sainsbury is accused of contravening Article Six of Cabinet Office guidelines that stipulate: 'Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.' The news triggered calls for the minister to be sacked.
See our profile of Sainsbury at http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=116&page=S
+ 'GM-FREE' REBELLION GROWS
Dozens of regions across Britain are preparing to declare themselves "GM-free" after leaked cabinet minutes said the government was poised to give the go-ahead for GM crops. At least 20 local authority areas - and the whole of Wales - are preparing to oppose the planting of GM maize. Another 20 regions have voiced opposition and may also refuse to allow them to be grown.
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, has conceded the government may have to allow GM-free zones because of public opposition. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2682
STOP PRESS: Hampshire County Council is the latest Council to oppose the introduction of GM crops. Among the measures agreed by councillors are no GM crops on council-owned land or meals with detectable amounts of GM, new regulations on food labelling, and a demand that the government consults the council on GM trials within the county. Hampshire CC joins twenty other Councils with similar policies, including a recent convert, Oxfordshire. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2691
+ A LOAD OF OLD POLLOCKS
Chris Pollock, director of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (which has had contractual and financial relationships with AstraZeneca - now Syngenta - and Aventis) and chief advisor to the government on GM crops, has been talking up GM crops to the Guardian.
He argues that the UK needs to go GM to stay competitive: "If the UK is going to play some part in a global agricultural market, any new technology that reduces the price of a crop will have to be taken up if you are not to be at a disadvantage." Predictably, he also plays the third world card: "Developed countries need to implement new technologies to stay ahead of the game".
Pollock's notion that GM crops will be cheaper is unsupported by any evidence.
Pollock fatally undermines his own argument with his next point: that farmers will not make a profit from the mythical cheap GM crops but that the savings will be passed to the consumer in the form of still cheaper food. "Historically, every time you do something more efficiently, what happens is the price falls. The profit does not stay with the farmer. You can make the same argument about integrated circuits. Chip manufacturers go out of business like there's no tomorrow because every time they make them better, the price goes down and the benefit gets shoved right down to the consumer."
So in Pollock's brave new GM world, we're going to see UK farmers producing massive harvests of cheap GM crops, which will further erode their profits and force them out of business, leaving nobody in the country to grow any sort of crop. http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/interview/story/0,12982,1155990,00.html
More Pollocks: http://www.gmwatch.org/p2temp2.asp?aid=36&page=1&op=1
+ BRITISH BEE-KEEPERS ASSOCIATION - BOUGHT BY THE BIOTECHS?
BBKA member Phil Chandler writes on the BBKA forum that it has emerged that the BBKA is taking money from biotech corporations. After their GM Conference at Stoneleigh in September 2002, which Phil says was "a blatant propaganda exercise by biotech corporations and other vested interests, we were promised another meeting, where scientists and others with genuine concerns about GM could put another point of view to beekeepers.
Not only has this promise has been quietly forgotten, but there have been a series of talks to local associations by biotech mouthpieces like Paul Rylott and Mick Fuller, and practically none putting the case for the opposition. It seems likely that BBKA has, behind the scenes, sold out to the biotechs in the most shameful way, potentially putting at risk the entire British bee population if this technology proves less benevolent than its proponents claim. If this was happening within a political party, it would be all over the press. Because the media generally regard beekeeping as an amusing hobby practiced by harmless, mostly elderly folk, instead of an activity that is vital to British agriculture, nothing is said." http://www.bbka.org.uk/phpBB2/index.php
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL
+ CROPS 'WIDELY CONTAMINATED' BY GM DNA
New Scientist reports that US scientists are warning of a potentially "serious risk to human health" after the discovery that traditional varieties of major American food crops are widely contaminated by DNA sequences from GM crops. Crops engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs - so-called "pharm" crops - could already be poisoning ostensibly GM-free crops grown for food, warns the study by the Washington-based Union for Concerned Scientists. "If genes find their way from pharm crops to ordinary corn, they or their products could wind up in drug-laced corn flakes," says the report's co-author, UCS microbiologist Margaret Mellon.
The UCS asked two commercial laboratories to test traditional varieties of three crops - maize, soybeans and canola or oil-seed rape - for sequences of DNA that have been introduced into GM varieties currently grown on US farms. The sequences studied mostly give resistance to proprietary pesticides. The labs reported that the seeds were "pervasively contaminated with low levels of DNA sequences from GM varieties". Up to 1 per cent of individual seeds, and more than half the batches of seeds, contained one or more of the GM sequences. The authors say while there is no evidence that these crops were unsafe, the same may not be true for pharm crops. http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994709
More on the contamination story: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2713
The UCS report, "Gone to Seed", can be found at: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/biotechnology/seedreport_fullreport.pdf
Or you can read the four-page executive summary of here: http://www.thecampaign.org/ucssum
and the entire 70-page report, here: http://www.thecampaign.org/ucsreport
+ BIOTECH FIRMS PUSH TERMINATOR AGAIN
Excerpt from an excellent article by Geoffrey Lean: Giant biotech companies are pressing for the revival of a GM technology so damaging to the world's poor that it has been suspended by worldwide agreement. The drive to rehabilitate the so-called "terminator technology" - designed to deny hundreds of millions of poor farmers the ability to replant seeds from their own crops - is expected to reach a peak at an international conference in Malaysia [on the Cartagena Protocol] this week.
Senior managers have been trying to rebrand it as a green technology that will solve the spread of genes from GM plants to other crops and weeds. Delegates to the Malaysia conference say that they are expecting a big push next week by biotech firms and the Bush administration.
This comes at an embarrassing time for the Government, which is drawing up plans to persuade the public that GM crops would particularly benefit developing countries.
Terminator technology - officially classified as a Genetic Use Restriction Technology (Gurt) - would make the seeds produced by the GM plants sterile. This means that many of the 1.4 billion poor Third World farmers who save seed from their crop each year and resow it to produce the next harvest would no longer be able to do so. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2696
+ LOCAL COMMUNITY ORGANIZES TO BAN GM CROPS IN CALIFORNIA'S MENDOCINO COUNTY AND IN VERMONT
While residents of Mendocino County, California prepare to vote for a county-wide ban of GM crops on March 2, the Vermont legislature may vote on a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on planting and growing GE crops in the state on February 26.
Called the "Farmer Protection Act," the bill, S. 162, has enormous support among Vermonters who care about local agriculture. Residents recently turned out in force to support the bill and demand that the rights of local farmers are supported while calling the legislature to hold biotech corporations strictly liable for economic, ecologic and food security damage caused by GE crops and seed.
For ten years the grassroots GE-Free Vermont Campaign on Genetic Engineering, a statewide coalition of public interest groups, businesses, concerned citizens and farmers, has been organizing residents of Vermont to stop the biotech industry from pushing its GE products across their state. Their efforts have already been boosted by a pledge from Vermont farmers not to grow GM crops.
Vermont has a large number of organic farmers who are outraged at the thought of GE crops near their land, threatening their crops with contamination and possibly leading to the complete loss of GE-Free local food. Over a third of Vermont towns have already passed resolutions for a moratorium on GE crops. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2714
NB: Vermont's an unusual place. Its residents played a central part in opposing the use on dairy cows of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone rBGH or rbST. Vermont State Law prohibits farmers from using rBGH without notifying the handler that sells their milk.
Until recently the chain store Wal-Mart was banned from setting up its stores in the state, on the grounds that they would devastate the local economy. Finally, certain local authorities allowed Wal-Mart in, but strict conditions were set - such as on size and on what the stores could sell.
So if any US state can get a ban on GM planting passed, it's Vermont.
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
+ THE SLEAZE BEHIND OUR SCIENCE
The conflicts of interest revealed by the MMR story are everywhere.
By George Monbiot
The Guardian, 24 February 2004
Pity Andrew Wakefield. The doctor who suggested that there might be a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, causing thousands of parents to refuse to let their children have the jab, is being paraded through the nation with the label "cheat" hung round his neck. The General Medical Council is deciding whether to charge him with professional misconduct, MPs have called for an inquiry, and the newspapers are tearing him to bits.
There's little doubt that he messed up. Some of his findings have been disproved by further studies, and we now know that when he published his paper he failed to reveal that he was taking money from the Legal Aid Board. The board was paying him to discover, on behalf of parents hoping to sue for damages, whether or not the jab was harmful.
It looks like a conflict of interest, and his failure to disclose it was wrong. But the crime for which the new Dr Evil is being punished is everywhere. The scientific establishment is rotten from top to bottom, riddled with conflicts far graver than Dr Wakefield's. Such is the state of science today that if, for example, there HAS been a genuine rise in the incidence of autism, and if that rise is linked to an environmental pollutant or the side-effects of a valuable drug, it's hard to see how we would ever find out.
Just as Wakefield was being burnt in effigy over the weekend, a much bigger story passed by almost unnoticed. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report showing how American science has been systematically nobbled by George Bush. Whenever scientific research conflicts with the needs of his corporate sponsors or the religious fanatics who helped him into office, he has sought to suppress it.
...Bush has simply systematised something which has been taking place informally, all over the world, for years. The religious component is mostly new, but the corporate distortion of science is almost universal.
One study, published in 2001, found that only 16% of scientific journals had a policy on conflicts of interest, and only 0.5% of the papers they published disclosed such conflicts. The same researcher found that 34% of the lead authors of the scientific papers he studied were compromised by their sources of funding. In other words, the great majority of the scientists with conflicts of interest are failing to disclose them.
Wakefield's paper (and therefore his conflict) was consequential - measles, mumps and rubella are likely to have spread as a result of the vaccine scare - but no more consequential than the daily deceptions practised by the most eminent scientists. A study of research papers examining the side-effects of a class of heart drugs called calcium channel blockers found that 96% of the researchers who said they were safe had financial relationships with the manufacturers, as opposed to 37 per cent of those who raised concerns. Other studies have found similar relationships between the financial interests of researchers and their reporting of the dangers of passive smoking and the side effects of contraceptive pills.
It gets worse. In 2002, the Guardian revealed that British and American scientists are putting their names to papers they have not written. The papers are "ghosted" or co-written by employees of the drugs companies, then signed, for a handsome fee, by respectable researchers. In some cases, the researchers have not even seen the raw data on which the papers' conclusions are based. A pharmacologist who has studied the practice told the Guardian, "it may well be that 50% of the articles on drugs in the major journals across all areas of medicine are not written in a way that the average person in the street expects."
Among the papers he had questioned was one suggesting there was no link between SmithKline Beecham's anti-depressant drug Seroxat and an increased risk of suicide. Last year, the government managed to extract the company's original data. This showed that the drug trials revealed a clear increase in suicidal tendencies. Earlier this month a further leak, to the Panorama programme, revealed that the drug didn't even work. How many suicides might have been avoided if those scientists had not put their names to SmithKline Beecham's report? And why haven't THEY been hauled before the General Medical Council?
It's left to non-scientists to try to drag the data we need to see into the public domain. Friends of the Earth are currently being sued by the biotech company Bayer to prevent them from exposing its data on the environmental and health effects of glufosinate ammonium, the herbicide used on the GM maize the government wants to approve for planting in Britain. By all accounts the figures make grim reading. But if Bayer gets its way, neither we nor the government will be allowed to see them before the decision is made.
Three years ago, eleven of the biggest medical journals drew up a code on conflicts of interest. It is plainly not working. Since it was published, an analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that 87% of the scientists who write the clinical guidelines used by doctors for prescribing drugs have financial links to drugs companies. Over half of them are connected to the companies whose drugs they are reviewing. Of the 44 papers analysed, only one carried a declaration of conflicting interests.
So, given that undisclosed conflicts of interest in science are everywhere, why is it only Dr Wakefield whose bloody remains are being dragged through the streets? The obvious answer is that his alleged co-option works against the interests of the drugs companies, while almost everyone else's works in their favour. Why? Because in science, as in all fields of human endeavour, you get what you pay for. There is more corruption in our university faculties than there is in the building industry. But, though the mobs are baying for Wakefield's blood, hardly anyone in Britain seems to give a damn.
A fully referenced version of this article is at
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the GMWATCH archive
26/2/2004 Research Shows New Dangers of Genetically Modified Food
26/2/2004 The Sleaze Behind Our Science
26/2/2004 What is Syngenta doing in the Philippines Delegation on the Biosafety Protocol?!!
22/2/2004 Blair's Not-So-Funny Farm / Another County Council goes GM-free
22/2/2004 Executive 'no' to GM crops
22/2/2004 Lord Sainsbury 'broke Cabinet rule' in biotech promotion
22/2/2004 Mexican farmers worried by GM corn
22/2/2004 The great betrayal
22/2/2004 Why opposition to GE crops is based on sound science - great reply to Patrick Moore
21/2/2004 Gene giants pressing for Terminator
21/2/2004 Government face GM legal threat / Planting a GM future / Blinded by the light of technology / more Morley in Kuala Lumpur
21/2/2004 Meacher - Government has no mandate - ministers listening to themselves
21/2/2004 Mendocino draws big money - CropLife America lays down its barrage
20/2/2004 Bad for the poor and bad for science / 'GM-free' rebellion grows as ministers give crops backing
20/2/2004 GM cow protest over Sainsbury's hypocrisy
20/2/2004 Letter to Beckett from Independent Science Panel
20/2/2004 Video of UK minister questioned about GM leak / Expert condemns 'fake' GM science / Spinning the science
FOR THE COMPLETE GMWATCH ARCHIVE: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive.asp