from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor


Dear all:

Why are we not surprised that the drug that produced horrific side effects on human volunteers turns out to be genetically engineered (GM MEDICINES)? We have some not-new but interesting research on the ill health effects caused by non-GM Bt crop spray, which raises the question of why the United States authorities have failed to safety-test the GM version that's engineered into food crops (THE AMERICAS).

There's an urgent action aimed at getting the New Zealand government to stop acting as an agent of the United States by blocking labeling of GMOs at the Biosafety Protocol meeting (BIOSAFETY PROTOCOL).

And look out for some interesting comments from Dr Arpad Pusztai, Dr Chuck Benbrook and Charles Margulis (FOOD AND ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY).

Claire This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. /




We urgently need to take action against the New Zealand government which is attempting to block the Biosafety Protocol from being implemented. The negotiations are currently taking place in Curitiba in Brazil. Please send a fax or, if this is not possible, an email to the New Zealand Prime Minister.

The key issue is whether developing countries will have the right to know whether shipments coming into their country contain GMOs. If they do not know if a shipment has GMOs in then they cannot implement any biosafety legislation. Their food and environment will become contaminated.

There's a draft letter at

Please feel free to edit into your own words. Please send fax as soon as possible. If you cannot, please send an email.
FAX Number: +64 4 473 3579 EMAIL Helen Clark This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

See Sustainability Council of NZ critique of NZ central govt position on Terminator, labelling, liability for LMOS:

and their new report, "Brave New Biosecurity":

New Zealand appears to be a "stalking-horse" for the United States in blocking consensus on the labelling of living GE organisms traded between countries, NZ Greens Environment Spokesperson, Nandor Tanczos says.

Many African countries are absent from the international Biosafety Protocol meeting in Brazil because they cannot afford to send their delegates to it, with major implications for the meeting's outcome for all developing countries. "There just weren't enough [financial] pledges in" from developed donor countries, said a delegate from Namibia. "There were more [pledges] on Sunday but... it was too late. I have not seen my fellow delegates from Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Swaziland or Morocco."

Some African delegates may arrive next week as there was more money pledged for biodiversity - which developed countries have an interest in. By then the important decisions on GMO labelling will have been made.

A new report will be presented at the Biosafety Protocol meeting in Curitiba, Brazil, providing detailed accounts of the current violent campaign against rural and indigenous communities in Paraguay, which is strongly related to the expansion of GM soy production. Witnesses of the cases exposed in the report will be present at the meeting. The report has been compiled by Grupo de Reflexion Rural (Argentina).

EXCERPT from press release announcing new report:
Jorge Galeano witnessed the infamous eviction of June 24 2005 in the community of Tekojoja, where a group of soy producers and hired policemen expelled 270 people from their lands, burnt 54 houses and adjacent fields, arrested 130 people and killed two. In 2003, Petrona Villasboa and her entire family were poisoned after fumigations with glyphosate by a GM soy producer next to their farm. Her 11-year-old son Silvino Talavera died...

Among the pro-biotech lobby groups active in Curitiba, Brazil, this week at the 3rd Meeting of the Parties (MOP-3) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the Public Research and Regulation Initiative - a pro-GM lobby which will be fielding over 40 representatives, mostly picked from the developing world and trained and scripted by PRRI, to promote identical goals to those of the industry.

A profile of the group, whose leading lobbyists in Curitiba include former Monsanto man Gerard Barry, and Piet van der Meer, who is married to a lobbyist for the Global Industry Coalition, is at

PRRI issued a position statement on the Aarhus Convention - the United Nations Treaty covering Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. PRRI opposes the amending of the Convention so as to extend the rights of the public to participate in decision-making on GMOs. Like the biotechnology industry, PRRI is adamantly opposed to any amendment that would give the public any greater rights. In other words, these "public researchers" while seeking a far bigger voice for themselves in decision-making on GMOs, want no say for the public.


Investigators have begun an urgent inquiry into the clinical trial that has left six healthy volunteers in intensive care. The girlfriend of one of the men, Myfanwy Marshall, said her 28-year-old boyfriend had swollen beyond recognition. She said his doctors had told her: "He needs a miracle."

The trial drug is not a chemical but a biological product, a genetically engineered "humanised" protein. Unlike the old chemical entities, these monoclonal antibodies are designed to be accepted by the human body, which experts say makes it difficult to work out by animal testing what dose would be toxic to humans.

The volunteers took the drug on Monday - the first time that humans had been exposed to it. Within hours they were critically ill. Yet the MHRA and the regulatory authorities in Germany, where the biotech company TeGenero is based, had both examined the data from the animal tests and allowed the human trial to proceed.

When drugs are first tested on humans, doctors do not expect any response at all. But the six men who had taken the drug suffered a massive inflammatory reaction. Scientists are concerned that the incident may deter people from volunteering to take part in clinical trials.[!!!]

"Life is only going to get better and better. That is the sweet promise of biotechnology, an emerging field in which technology... is married to biology to produce more useful drugs, foods, medical processes, and more... Not too deep into the 21st century, we can expect more drugs to be smart-fighting only the rogue viruses or bacteria or cells operating in our bodies. That will mean fewer side effects and higher cure rates." - Council for Biotechnology Information (director: Sean Darragh) ad in the Harvard Business Review

Deaths, illness, unexplained side-effects of GM insulin:

"The promises of good tolerability of biotechnology substances have not been met - most are no less toxic than conventional drugs." - Roberta Joppi, Vittorio Bertele', Silvio Garattini, "Disappointing, biotech", BMJ, 2005;331;895-897


Non-approved GM rice has been detected in Heinz's Baby Rice Cereal. In Beijing Greenpeace called for an immediate recall of all the contaminated products and asked the government to control the spread of illegal GM rice in the food chain. The test results were provided by GeneScan, a Germany-based independent laboratory, which tested 19 food samples that Greenpeace had collected in supermarkets in Beijing.

The protest against the government's Seed Bill has gathered momentum with Deputy Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa announcing his support for a movement against restrictions on the use of seeds patented by multinational companies. "I am speaking as a farmers' representative and I will be with you to resist any legislation that goes against the interests of millions of farmers, including those in Karnataka," he said.


Over 50 people have cut down a contaminated organic maize field, and burned the nearly 4 tonnes of maize in protest for the situation organic farmers are enduring in Catalonia as a result of the expansion of GM maize fields. This happened in Albons, a village in North Catalonia, where the number of hectares of GM maize is growing year after year.

Enric Navarro, the organic farmer, has built near this village an agroecologic park, where people can come to learn about local varieties, medicinal plants, and agroecology. Enric also produces and sells certified organic products. Enric had planted organic certified maize seeds two years ago and when he harvested he asked for the organic production certifying body, CCPAE (Consell Catala de la Produccio Agraria Ecologica), to analyse the yield, which tested negative for GMOs.

The next year he planted the same seed, but problems began when CCPAE told him that the field had been contaminated by GM maize to a level of 12.6%, the highest seen in Catalonia. The crop was declassified by the CCPAE, who offered to sell it as conventional maize. But Enric refused, because he didn't want to introduce contaminated maize into the food chain.

The man whose name is synonymous with the cloning of Dolly the sheep has admitted that he was not responsible for the scientific breakthrough. Prof Ian Wilmut told a tribunal hearing in Edinburgh that he did not develop the technology or carry out the experiments that led to the first clone of an adult animal from a single cell. He added that he only appeared as the lead author on the paper that described the historic event because of a prior agreement with his colleague, Dr Keith Campbell.

Prof Wilmut, formerly of the Roslin Institute outside Edinburgh, was giving evidence at an employment tribunal at which an Asian colleague is accusing him of racial harassment and bullying. Dr Prim Singh, 45, a leading molecular biologist, claims that Prof Wilmut tried to steal his ideas - on work not related to Dolly - and bullied him because of his ethnic origin.

Dr Singh, who now works in Germany, is claiming race discrimination and unfair dismissal against the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Prof Wilmut, Prof Julia Goodfellow and the Roslin Institute.

In spite of the above, here's more hype from an article published 15 March: "Last month, another Roslin scientist, Professor Ian Wilmut, who created Dolly the Sheep, was granted a licence to clone human embryos to help further stem cell research. It is thought this could lead to cures for diabetes, quadriplegia and blindness, as well as Parkinson's and other conditions." ("Cure for Parkinson's disease in three years")

GM Free Cymru reports that the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has come under sustained and unprecedented attack from a variety of different quarters during recent months, largely because of the actions of its widely-despised GMO Panel. The future of that panel must now be in doubt, even if there are changes in its personnel and in its working methods.

EXCERPTS from GM Free Cymru press release that's well worth reading in full:
In [an] attempt to mount a charm offensive, EFSA met with eight representatives of NGOs in Parma on 22 February, ostensibly to talk over "GM science." But at the meeting the EFSA Acting Chairman Herman Koeter and his GMO Panel members were left in no doubt that the NGOs had little confidence in their impartiality or in their ability to conduct objective science, and they were bombarded with many very specific criticisms. They made no commitments either to revisit unsound "GM opinions" or to alter their working methods, and things finally came to a head with the Environment Council Meeting on 9 March at which the NGO concerns were echoed over and again by European Ministers. Press reports referred to the "intense criticism" directed at EFSA by one speaker after another, and also reported that Commissioner Stavros Dimas (previously a staunch supporter of the Agency) now accepted that fundamental changes would have to be made to the GMO Panel's working methods.

Ironically, one of the very few voices heard in support of EFSA at the Environment Council meeting was that of the UK Environment Minister Eliott Morley, who argued that GM assessment procedures were basically sound. This was no great surprise, since the UK (with Ireland and Holland) has always voted for GM approvals and has consistently dismissed public concerns about GM.

Commenting on the EU's loss of confidence in EFSA, GM Free Cymru's Dr Brian John said: "We believe that all of the discredited GMO Panel members and its acting executive director must resign. A new Panel must be put in its place with a more balanced representation, and its terms of reference must be rewritten."

From the Irish Examiner (shortened):
BASF has submitted an application to the EPA for permission to conduct open-air experimental field trials of GM potatoes in Co Meath. BASF says the potatoes may provide greater resistance to late potato blight.

... why has the Irish Government never voted against GM food and crops in a dozen votes in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers? Why do the Irish Farmers Association, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and Macra na Feirme, appear to have no policy on GM?

The Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association is one of 80 farm and food organisations that are opposed to the proposed trials on the basis they would destroy this country's economically valuable clean green marketing image as Ireland - The Food Island.

More blight-resistant potatoes are a desirable trait. But natural blight-resistant varieties are already available to Irish farmers, and non-GMO breeding techniques provide the only safe way to increase resistance.

The pro-GM scientist, Shane Morris, has issued a press release demanding that a profile of him compiled by GM Watch be removed from an Irish website, calling it "lies" and "misinformation". GM Watch retorted that it's Morris's claim to being non-partisan in the GM debate that is the lie.

This is demonstrated, in particular, by Shane Morris's former close working relationship with the biotech-propagandist Douglas Powell at the Center for Safe Food at the University of Guelph in Canada, and by Morris's co-authorship with Powell of material that has been condemned as offensive propaganda.

The activities of the Center for Safe Food, where Morris and Powell worked, are also known to have benefitted from extensive sponsorship from the biotechnology industry.

For our previous comments on Shane Morris's claims, see:


Several hundred peasant activists have occupied a research farm in Santa Tereza do Oeste, Parana, southern Brazil. The farm is owned by the Swiss multinational biotechnology company, Syngenta. The peasant activists are part of the Landless Movement which is working in alliance with the network of rural workers, Via Campesina.

Via Campesina says that Syngenta's experimental GM crops are incorrectly established in a protected area on the outskirts of the Iguacu National Park. The Superintendent of the National Environment Protection Agency (IBAMA), Marino Goncalves, confirmed that the experimental crops are 6 km from the park, while the law determines a minimum distance of 10 km. The Biosafety Law forbids planting GMOs in these protected areas, as well as in indigenous lands and preservation areas. IBAMA learned about the illegal planting through the NGO "Terra de Direitos".

Neil Carman of the Sierra Club reports that despite evidence of ill health effects from exposure to the non-GM form of Bt toxin in agricultural sprays, USDA has failed to test for possible ill effects of ingesting the GM form of Bt in foods.

Carman writes:
Exposure to Bt sprays may lead to allergic skin sensitization and induction of IgE and IgG antibodies, or both based on recent scientific studies ["Immune Responses in Farm Workers after Exposure to Bacillus Thuringiensis Pesticides", Environmental Health Perspectives, v. 107, no. 7, July 1999]. Although health risks to pesticides containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have been minimal, the potential allergenicity of these organisms has not been evaluated.

More than 500 people reported a range of health reactions including acute toxicity in Oregon, Washington state and Canada due to the large-scale aerial spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki [a strain of Bt toxin, abbreviation Btk]. But USDA falsely claims no adverse health effects will occur if people are exposed inside and outside the aerial spraying zone.

Today large acreage of US crops like soy, corn, canola and others are genetically engineered (GE) to contain Bt in every plant cell and USDA has failed to evaluate the adverse health effects of large-scale Btk spraying on a population where people are likely consuming GE food crops and may be developing skin sensitization and immune reactions to Bt. To date, USDA has egregiously failed to mention the likelihood of skin sensitization and immune reactions to the Btk pesticide spray in GE food consumers.

EXCERPT from "Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt): Insecticide Fact Sheet", by Carrie Swadener, in Journal of Pesticide Reform, vol. 14, no. 3, Fall 1994:
One case of Btk. infection resulted from a farmer splashing a Btk formulation, Dipel, in his eye. The man developed an ulcer on his cornea from which positive Btk cultures were taken. Another man working on a spray program splashed Btk on his face and eyes. He then developed skin irritation, burning, swelling, and redness. Btk was cultured from a sample taken from his eye. Ground-spray applicators using Foray 48B reported symptoms of eye, nose, throat, and respiratory irritation. The frequency of their complaints was found to be related to the degree of exposure. Workers with similar preexisting health problems were more likely to report adverse effects from the ground spray.

A woman exposed to a Btk formulation as a result of drift went to the hospital due to burning, itching and swelling of her face and upper chest. She later exhibited a fever, altered consciousness, and suffered seizures.


EXCERPT from good article by Fr Peter Henriot:
Mutale, a 40-year-old Zambian peasant farmer, was standing in front of his two hectares of maize, smiling broadly. He had just finished explaining that despite poor rains, he was able to raise a good crop to feed his family and sell a bit of surplus for some extra cash to meet household needs. He looked so very different from the other farmers I had spoken to only a few days earlier. They were his neighbours, worked soil similar to his, and had experienced the same dry season. But they were not smiling! No good maize harvest for them.

The difference was that Mutale had planted his maize field using an organic agriculture approach, not relying on heavy doses of chemical fertiliser as did his neighbours. The organic approach - using cattle manure and decayed materials from nitrogen-rich plants like legumes - was both much less expensive and much more efficient. During a drought season, it is important to keep as much moisture as possible close to the crops. But chemical fertilisers don't store this moisture like organic matter in the soil. The organic matter retains excess moisture and slowly releases it to the crop in a natural way.

The smile on Mutale's face taught me an important reason for the wisdom of Zambia's rejection of GMOs coming into our country. There simply are plenty of alternatives to the GM approach being vigorously pushed by the United States.


Former UK environment minister Michael Meacher writes in The Guardian that the claim by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that it has not altered its policy on Terminator - used to sterilise farm-saved seeds, thereby protecting corporate seed sales - is misleading.

The Defra policy, published on February 21 in advance of the meeting later this month of the eighth conference of the parties to the UN convention on biodiversity (CBD), calls for a case-by-case assessment of terminator crops. It differs significantly from what I approved in 2000...

This decision [of the UN convention on biodiversity], in 2000, stated that no terminator licences should be approved until the potential socio-economic impact of the technology on farming communities around the world had been assessed. To date, no such assessments have been published...

Defra's published policy has retroactively reinterpreted the CBD decision in favour of a national case-by-case approach, which is EU policy for any GMO approval. Terminator crops would thus be subject only to a scientific risk assessment, as required by EU directive 2001/18. Socio-economic factors, such as the impact on poor farmers' livelihoods, would be ignored. Without internationally accepted assessments of impacts, and globally-binding rules, poor southern countries would struggle to withstand pressure from biotechnology companies to license terminator seeds. Is this Defra's ulterior motive?

The governments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand - apparently prompted by Washington - have just been trying to get the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD, to overturn a six-year-old moratorium on the production and use of 'Terminator' Seeds. Terminator, also known as GURTS (Genetic Use Restriction Technologies) makes plants produce sterile seeds. It aims to stop farmers from reusing seeds developed by large companies.

The international outcry against Terminator led the CBD to agree an international moratorium in 2000. However, at a meeting of the CBD in Granada, Spain, in January 2006, Australia, Canada and New Zealand successfully argued that the technology could increase productivity. These countries argued that the new technology causes all crops to ripen at the same time - with minimum losses to storms and pests - which could increase profits for farmers.

New wording added to the CBD by these countries at the working group meeting in Granada threatens to overturn the moratorium, advocating instead "a case-by-case risk assessment basis with respect to different categories of GURTs technology".

The new text from Granada is to be placed before a meeting of the CBD at Curitiba in Brazil in March. Campaigners say the stand taken by the European Union at Curitiba will be key to the fate of the moratorium.

Farmers' groups from around the world - particularly Africa - are up in arms. Additionally, a coalition of African NGOs told the Granada CBD meeting, where the Ugandan representative spoke on behalf of all African countries: "We find bewildering the insistence by industry, and the countries that are promoting the use of GURTS (Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand), that this technology will lead to food security and improved yields. We can only shake our heads in wonder at the logic. To us it is obvious. There can be no food security if there are sterile seeds," they said.

"Perhaps it is harder for those from developed countries to appreciate what seed means to us. But let us assure you that when we have described this technology to farmers, their response is one of disbelief, fear and outrage."


There's an interesting commentary by Dr Arpad Pusztai on an excerpt from a new book by Dr Nina Fedoroff, 'Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food', at

Fedoroff's piece - "Pusztai's Potatoes - Is 'Genetic Modification' the Culprit?" - has been published on CS Prakash's AgBioWorld website.

Unsurprisingly, Fedoroff's conclusion is that the culprit in producing the variations Dr Pusztai found in the GM potatoes, and that affected rats adversely, is not GM. She claims the culprit was the tissue culture procedure through which the potatoes were obtained. However, as the excerpt below shows, Fedoroff either has not read the science, or is misleading her readers.

The following comment on Fedoroff's piece comes from the New Zealand scientist Dr Robert Mann, "Here we see a novel place in the spectrum of contentions over [GM foods]. Much of Fedoroff's account is far truer than what has been promulgated by GM-fanatics; yet she in turn becomes grossly inaccurate and unfair."

Dr Pusztai's commentary is adapted from comments he sent to Dr Fedoroff. Having received no reply from her, he has agreed to their circulation. Given the technicality of the issue, both Fedoroff's text and Dr Pusztai's comments are mostly highly readable.

[Fedoroff:] What these [Pusztai's] studies basically showed was that the transgenic potato lines were different from each other, as well as from the parental potatoes. A later study on transgenic potatoes came to the same conclusion (Down 2001). Here Pusztai jumped to the conclusion that these differences must be attributable to the fact that the plants were transgenic - and he went public with his conclusion. What he probably didn't know - because he was neither a plant breeder nor a plant biologist - was that the very process through which the plants are put during the introduction of the transgene - culturing through a callus stage and then regeneration of the plant - can cause marked changes in both the structure and expression of genes.

The variation that arises as a result of passage through tissue culture is called "somaclonal variation" and is both a nuisance and a potent source of new materials for plant breeding.

[Pusztai:] Prof. Fedoroff did not actually read the publications on the development of the GNA-GM potatoes or she would not have talked about culturing through a callus stage and then regeneration of the plant. The transformation was carried out on potato stem internodal segments and the transformed plants were never regenerated from the callus stage. This was done for the very reason to minimise somaclonal variation. Although this cannot be fully avoided, most potato breeders regard this as one of the methods least prone to somaclonal variation. In addition, and to stabilize the transformed and the parent lines they were re-grown in field trials for two years at Rothamstead and once at SCRI under closely controlled conditions.

An excellent interview with agronomist Dr Charles Benbrook on the imprecise and unpredictable nature of GM is at

EXCERPT:'s true that in terms of knowing exactly what gene you're trying to move into the plant, it is more precise [than conventional breeding]. But it's not more precise. In fact it's fundamentally more imprecise, in that the techniques that are used to move the transgene into the crop are no more precise than a shotgun. They shoot into the cells thousands of particles that have the transgene coating and hope that one penetrates into the inside of the cell and gets picked up and stably expressed. They hope that it's only one, and that it gets expressed properly. But they have no way of knowing whether it does, and in fact they do know that it's likely that more than one of those particles actually leads to some expression, and some may lead to some partial expression.

So they have no control over where in that cell or where in that plant's genome the new genetic material gets lodged and expressed. Because they don't have control over that, they have absolutely no basis to predict how that transgene, the new genetic material, is going to behave in the future as that plant deals with stresses in its environment, whether it's drought, too much water, pest pressures, imbalances in the soil, or any other source of stress. They just don't know how it's going to behave.

An intelligent paper by Charles Margulis of the Center for Food Safety has been published in Environmental Health Perspectives, in reply to a piece by Charles W. Schmidt, "Genetically Modified Foods: Breeding Uncertainty", in the same journal.

Schmidt's article states that "GM agriculture is here to stay" (Schmidt 2005) and gives readers the false impression that safety and regulatory issues have been adequately addressed by industry and government. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, regarding the risk of allergies from gene-altered foods, Schmidt stated that biotech companies avoid allergy problems by avoiding genes from the most common allergens. However, in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, Nestle (1996) pointed out that this approach leaves many uncertainties.

Most biotechnology companies use microorganisms rather than food plants as gene donors, even though the allergenic potential of these newly introduced microbial proteins is uncertain, unpredictable, and untestable . . . . Because FDA requirements do not apply to foods that are rarely allergenic or to donor organisms of unknown allergenicity, the policy would appear to favor industry over consumer protection.

Schmidt (2005) went on to assert that after a 1993 study alerted them to the possibility of introducing allergens, biotech companies developed better screens and learned to abandon varieties that could not be deemed allergen-free. Far from abandoning a risky new variety 5 years after this study, industry marketed a new genetically engineered corn variety, despite warning signs that it might trigger allergies in people. Although it was registered only for nonfood uses, the altered corn, called StarLink, contaminated hundreds of food products sold in supermarkets nationwide and cost industry and farmers hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up.