24 December 2002
ALARM AS GM PIG VACCINE TAINTS US CROPS
It's that miraculous season of all-singing, all-dancing GM Xmas trees not to mention festive booze without the hangover, as biotech boosters capture headlines around the world (see also Private Eye below). But this time even a subscriber to AgBioView can't quite believe what he's reading (item 5).
Private Eye no 1069, 13-26 Dec 2002
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1.Alarm as GM pig vaccine taints US crops (see also item 4)
2.Monsanto Receives Final Regulatory Clearance for Bollgard II Cotton
3.Need To Learn Lesson From IGKV-Syngenta Deal
4.'The Campaign' on pharma crop crisis
5.A sceptical note on AgBioView! Wine, GM yeast, and hangovers
1.Alarm as GM pig vaccine taints US crops
Strict new guidelines planned after contamination
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Tuesday December 24, 2002
US authorities, shaken by a case in which food crops were contaminated with an experimental pig vaccine, are preparing to impose stringent guidelines on a new generation of experimental GM crops.
The department of agriculture and the environmental protection agency are encountering growing disquiet from a coalition of farmers and food manufacturers about the potential dangers of the next phase of GM products - "biopharming", or the implanting of genes in food crops to grow drugs and industrial chemicals.
The idea of tightening regulations on GM products represents something of a revolution in thinking in the US, where about 70% of the processed food on supermarket shelves contains genetically engineered ingredients.
But concerns have arisen after a small biotech firm in Texas was fined $3m (GBP2m) for tainting half a million bushels of soya bean with a trial vaccine used to prevent stomach upsets in piglets.
Under a settlement reached this month, the first of its kind against any biotech company in the US, a firm called Prodigene agreed to pay a fine of $250,000 and to repay the government for the cost of incinerating the soya bean that had been contaminated with genetically altered corn.
US authorities said the corn did not reach food crops or animal feed. But the episode has drawn unwelcome attention to an as yet experimental area of GM farming.
The premise behind biopharming, or "pharming" for short, is that genetic tinkering can turn an ordinary-looking corn or barley field into a potential drug factory, producing insulin, chemotherapy drugs, and other products for much less than it would cost to set up an industrial plant.
At present, two dozen trials of the experimental GM drugs are under way across the US.
The biotech firms argue that the new technique can revolutionise health care, especially in the developing world where hospitals short on syringes can dispense edible drugs. But in the wake of the Texas case, questions are being asked.
The latest incident was the worst violation so far of regulations intended to keep biopharming out of the food supply. It was also seen as the most serious setback to date to the next generation of GM farming.
Until now, genetic engineering has been used mainly to make crops such as corn and soya bean resistant to insects and disease, and the US food industry has been solidly on side.
The Texas alarm has begun to change that. "The incident overall just reaffirms our concerns that something could go wrong," Stephanie Childs of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which represents food companies such as Kellogg and General Mills, told the Los Angeles Times.
Analysts in Washington said yesterday that they expected the department of agriculture to impose more stringent guidelines next year. Published reports said yesterday that guidelines under consideration by the authorities include moving experimental farms away from America's grain belt in the mid-west, or requiring growers to dye the leaves of the altered crops.
The agriculture department's disciplinary measures against the small Texas firm have crystallised concerns among farmers, environmentalists and industry about the risks of experimental vaccine crops getting into the food supply.
"The department of agriculture wanted to send a signal that the companies need to take the obligation to protect the food supply very seriously," Michael Rodemeyer, the director of Washington's Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, said yesterday.
"The whole issue of growing pharmaceuticals in food crops has certainly raised concern within the food industry, as well as among environmentalists and others, about genes from these crops getting into the food supply."
2.Monsanto Receives Final Regulatory Clearance for Bollgard II Cotton
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Monsanto Receives Final Regulatory Clearance for Bollgard II Cotton Technology
ST. LOUIS, Dec. 23 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Monsanto (NYSE: MON) announced today that it has received full U.S. regulatory clearance for its Bollgard II insect-protected cotton technology. This announcement means that U.S. cotton producers will have access to cotton seed containing this technology for the 2003 planting season. "Monsanto is pleased that regulatory agencies in the United States and other countries have confirmed the food, feed and environmental safety of this and other plant biotechnology products, which are delivering tremendous value to growers and the environment," said Robb Fraley, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto. Bollgard II is the second-generation of insect-protected cotton developed by Monsanto. This technology contains two different insect-control genes, compared to the single insect-control gene in its predecessor Bollgard.
3. Need To Learn Lesson From IGKV-Syngenta Deal
Ashok B Sharma
FARM FRONT (India)
The proposed collaboration of the multinational Syngenta's subsidiary Syngenta India with the Raipur-based Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (IGKV) for developing new rice hybrids from the collected local germplasms held in the University”šs gene bank was the centre of controversy since last month. The controversy got finally defused when on December 10, Syngenta India president (seeds division) Pawan Malik finally told the media that his company was no longer interested in the proposed collaboration project.
Ten days later, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) director-general Dr Panjab Singh said, "No such MoUs was actually signed between IGKV and Syngenta India and there was no question of the company 'pulling out' of the collaboration." He also said, "Even if the IGKV intends to have any colloboration with Syngenta India, it cannot hand over the collected germplasm. The ownership of the collect germplam rests with the National Biodiversity Board and the state biodiversity board.
What is clear from the news appearing in the language media from November 9 is that a 15-point MoU was drafted which was then curtailed to a 12-point MoU, but was not signed by the either parties. There are reports that the local press in Raipur insisted IGKV vice chancellor Dr VK Patil, on many occassions, to divulge the details of the MoU which he did not oblige.
Dr Patil may be right in the sense that a MoU cannot be made public before it is signed by the concerned parties. But Dr Patil should have taken care to address the concern raised by NGOs and civil rights activities over the possible handing over of 19,095 strains of local rice cultivars painstakingly collected by legendary agro scientist, late Dr RH Richharia and his team. This is definitely an issue of public concern as genetic resources held in gene banks are public property, rather the property of the local community.
Dr Patil way of handling the situation created several doubts in the media which still remains uncleared about what actually transpired between the two parties. However, Mr Pawan Malik was more frank in his statement that his company and the University were looking at a collaborative project to develop new rice hybrids that would meet specfic needs of farmers in that part of the country. He also pointed out that rice is one of the crops covered under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), which aims to facilitate access to genetic resources and benefit sharing.
Incidently, this incident happened at a time when Parliament was gearing up to pass the Biodiversity Bill which is Å’intended to protect bioresources”š and stipulate benefit-sharing and India is still negotiating with the European Union to gain access to UPOV without withdrawing the rights given to farmers to save seeds for the next season in the Plant Variety Protection & Farmers”š Rights Act. The ITPGRA is also likely to come into force soon.
Now, it is necessary to discuss what lessons should be learnt from this mysterious factured deal between IGKV and Syngenta India. ICAR DG Dr Panjab Singh is curt in saying, ”žWe should do adequate homework before entering into such a deal and see that our interests are not sacrificed.”° The UK-based Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) food security policy advisor Patrick Mulvany, writing in AgBioIndia bulletin, said, ”žWe must all remain on-guard - the ITPGRFA is threatened!”° He also said that ITPGRFA to which India is a signatory, still has ambiguities in its agreed text and these can only be resolved once the governing body is formed after it comes into force.
Mr Mulvany said that these ambiguities relates to whether or not IPRs can be taken on the genetic resources in the multi-lateral system (MLS) ie those 35 genera of food crops, including rice, wheat, maize, potato and 29 forages covered by the MLS in its Annex 1.
He said that the UK government”šs Commission on IPRs took advantage of the ambiguity in words Å’in the form received from MLS”š in the Article 12.3(d) of the treaty and said that patents can be allowed on modifications to the materials received from MLS. This ambiquity created needs to be removed he said.
Dr Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign has criticised the Biodiversity Bill recently passed by Parliament for the lack of clarity on IPRs.
Thus, it is clear that we need to learn lessons from the mysterious fractured deal between IGKV and Syngenta India and strengthen our laws to protect our valuable bioresources from any possible biopiracy.
(This article appeared in The Financial Express, December 23, 2002 in the author's weekly Column FARM FRONT)
4.News Update From The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
Dear News Update Subscribers,
Monday's edition of the Washington Post featured an extensive front page article titled "Farmers Grow a Field of Dilemma" on the problems of growing pharmaceutical drugs in agricultural crops. The lengthy article is posted below and is definitely worth reading.
Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth is quoted in the article stating, "The USDA is in a fantasyland when they're allowing food crops to be engineered with chemicals and drugs, and hoping there's no such thing as human error."
We recently posted another in-depth article on the issue of growing drugs in agricultural crops from the December 30 edition of The Nation magazine titled "The Three Mile Island of Biotech?": http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021230&s=nichols
The article in The Nation closes with a statement from Jean Halloran of Consumers Union that everyone should pay attention to. Jean states:
"We should ask whether pharmaceutical products should be engineered into food plants in the first place. Our view is that the answer to the question should be no. The practical aspects of trying to keep these pharmaceutical plants separate from the regular food plants is an insurmountable problem. It just can't be done. It can't be done because of the fallibility of human beings. It can't be done because you can't control pollen flow. It can't be done because you can't control mother nature that way. And if you can't control mother nature and fallible human beings, we've come to the conclusion that you shouldn't try."
The Campaign agrees with the statements of Larry Bohlen and Jean Halloran. If these pharmaceutical plants are allowed to be planted, it is inevitable that the food supply will get contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs. Saying "we told you so" is going to be of little consolation if the food gene pool gets contaminated. You cannot recall genes once they have been released into the environment.
The Center For Science in the Public Interest held a public forum on this issue last week in Washington, DC. C-SPAN covered the event and you can watch the two-hour forum on your computer if you have the Real Player installed. Here is a direct link to the video: http://video.c-span.org:8080/ramgen/ndrive/e121702_pharming.rm
Have a Happy Holiday!
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
FARMERS GROW A FIELD OF DILEMMA: DRUG-MAKING CROPS' POTENTIAL HINDERED BY FEAR OF TAINTED FOOD
December 23, 2002
5. A sceptical note on AgBioView! Wine, GM yeast, and hangovers
Date: Fri, 20 Dec 2002 16:46:35 -0500
Subject: Wine, GM yeast, and hangovers
A brief comment about ``GM yeast provides ultimate hangover cure for wine lovers'', The Independent, December 19, 2002
The component of wine that causes a hangover is ethanol. When the body utilizes ethanol as a food, it converts it to acetaldehyde, which is a toxin. The body finally breaks acetaldehyde down into harmless substances, but slowly. The hangover is the poisoning due to acetaldehyde.
It follows that a genetically modified yeast could produce wine which won't give you a hangover, but only by producing wine with low alcohol content. This, however, might not be what people want! There are other ``congeners'' present in most drinks, byproducts of the fermentation, which seem to contribute to the severity of a hangover. Different drinks have different amounts of these congeners. But my experience is that even pure laboratory ethanol will give you a hangover.
I therefore doubt that GM yeast are likely to give us wines which prevent hangovers.
Charles M. Rader
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