from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
Why are we not surprised that the UK government's Science Review Panel got their science wrong? Even an article in the vigorously pro-GM journal Nature Biotechnology has now admitted that GM DNA can be transferred from GM plants to bacteria in the guts of people or animals who consume them - an event that the Science Review Panel claimed was "unlikely".
We are not surprised because we know that "there is more stupidity in the ag-biotech industry than there is hydrogen in the known universe" (NLP Wessex's Mark Griffiths, after Frank Zappa). As proof of this, we have another Nature Biotechnology article blasting the folly of engineering drugs into food and feed crops (see STUPID WHITE MEN RUNNING BIOTECH). As Mark puts it, "How do you feel about leaving the future of the world's biology to stupid people?"
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OBSCENITY OF THE WEEK
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK - UK
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
OBSCENITY OF THE WEEK
+ SAVING BILLIONS OR MAKING BILLIONS?
'BIOTECH BOUNTY' is the title of the latest issue (March 2004) of 'The American Enterprise', a publication of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Biotech's principal bounty, to judge from the contents, is a surfeit of biotech lobbyists. This issue of The American Enterprise is chock full of their offerings. http://www.taemag.com/issues/issueID.157/toc.asp
AEI is the Godfather of Washington Neo-Conservative lobby groups. It has the guiding hand of pharma giant Merck and Dow Chemical's CEOs on its Board. It is America's richest and most influential think tank and is generally regarded as one of the Bush administration's closest allies.
Many of the leading lights in the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, directly connect to AEI, which also rents office space to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Founded in 1997, PNAC has been agitating since its inception for war with Iraq. Like PNAC, the AEI is regarded as a major promoter of Bush's war-agenda.
BIOTECH BOUNTY has half a dozen articles on the GM foods theme, including one by CS Prakash and Greg Conko called, 'Technology That Will Save Billions From Starvation'. Prakash and Conko are the co-founders of the AgBioWorld campaign. Conko works for AEI's young cousin the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) which has Dow Chemical among its funders. AgBioWorld has had links to Monsanto's PR operations, particularly its Internet PR firm Bivings.
Prakash was exposed in a recent report by Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies as promoting the benefits of Monsanto's GM sweet potato project in Kenya when he had no knowledge of the data. The recent publication of that data has shown the project was a complete failure.
There is a real irony here because Monsanto's front-person for that project was Dr Florence Wambugu, who was celebrated in Forbes magazine as one of the fifteen people who would reinvent the future. The headline for the Forbes piece was "Serving millions...". In fact, Wambugu's project has served nobody but herself - she's built a career around it - and Monsanto, which has won hundreds of column inches of PR hype while the project's dismal failure has gone almost unreported.
Unfazed by the failure of the project he helped to hype, Prakash has - in true Dr Goebbels style - transformed "serving millions" into "saving billions"!
In reality, the Prakash-type hype and misinformation with which this technology is being promoted, and the resulting distortion of research funding and priorities, actually threatens the prospects of improving the livelihoods and food security of the very people it is supposed to help.
The real agenda here, of course, has little to do with "saving billions" and almost everything to do with "making billions" for US corporate interests. That is the real BIOTECH BOUNTY.
Other contributors to BIOTECH BOUNTY include Tony Gilland of the far right LM-network; Carol Foreman - an outspoken lobbyist on behalf of Monsanto's genetically engineered cattle drug rBGH before returning to the Consumer Federation of America (!) - who encourages us to "love not fear biotech products"; and, inevitably, there's Canadian logging-industry front man Patrick Moore, who's presented by the AEI as a "Green activist"!
For more on Prakash, Conko, CEI, LM, Gilland, Moore & Co., see our directory 'THE BIOTECH BRIGADE' at http://www.gmwatch.org
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
+ GM SCIENCE REVIEW PANEL GOT IT WRONG
University of Leeds microbiologist John Heritage has published a paper in Nature Biotechnology which argues, based on the evidence thus far, that GM transgenes do transfer to gut microflora of people or animals that eat the GM food. UK prime minister Blair's Science Review Panel had argued (2003) that such transfer was "unlikely".
Heritage claims that such transfers "are highly unlikely to alter gastrointestinal function or endanger human health" (though this claim is not supported by science). But he warns that this may not be the case with genes encoding for antibiotic resistance.
It's sad that the scientific establishment's concept of the health-giving properties of a food seems not to stretch beyond the question of whether it affects the action of antibiotics. Nevertheless, Heritage's paper is a bold statement within the context of biotechnology publishing.
Excerpts from the paper:
"...relatively little work has been devoted to the possibility of transgene transfer to the animals consuming the plant or to their commensal [sharing the same food] microflora. Even less work has been carried out on the fate of plant DNA when crops are eaten by humans."
"In its 2003 GM Science Review, the UK government concluded that trans-kingdom transfer of DNA from GM plants to bacteria is 'unlikely to occur because of a series of well-established barriers' and illustrated support for this position from experimental evidence in peer-reviewed literature... Much of this work has been done using animal studies, and very little is known about the process in humans."
"...on balance, the data presented in the paper [Netherwood et al, showing gut microbes may acquire and harbour genes from genetically modified plants] support the conclusion that gene flow from transgenic plants to the gut microflora does occur. Furthermore, because transfer events seem to have occurred in three of the seven subjects examined, it may be that trans-kingdom gene transfers are not as rare as suggested by the UK GM Science Review Panel. This observation is significant, and it is imperative that the transfer events be characterized more fully."
John Heritage, "The fate of transgenes in the human gut", Nature Biotechnology, February 2004, Vol 22 no. 2 pp170-172
+ STUPID WHITE MEN RUNNING BIOTECH
It seems even the vigorously pro-GM Nature Biotechnology journal is losing patience with the greed and stupidity of the biotech industry. The journal has published a damning editorial on the genetic engineering of pharmaceutical drugs into food or animal feed crops, a practice which it fears will muddy the pitch for the whole GM industry.
"It seems that an industry in which the PhD is the intellectual norm is either incapable of learning a simple lesson from the past or cannot bring itself to act appropriately, despite what it has learned previously."
"The problem is - as anti-GM lobbyists have argued already - that the production of drugs or drug intermediates in food or feed crop species bears the potential danger that pharmaceutical substances could find their way into the food chain through grain admixture, or pollen-borne gene flow (in maize, at least) or some other accidental mix-up because of the excusably human inability to distinguish between crops for food and crops for drugs. The 'contamination' of soybeans and non-GM corn in 2002 with a corn engineered by Prodigene to produce an experimental pig vaccine shows just how plausible this is (Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 3, 2003). This position is not anti-GM (something industry should appreciate) - we should be concerned about the presence of a potentially toxic substance in food plants. After all, is this really so different from a conventional pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical manufacturer packaging its pills in candy wrappers or flour bags or storing its compounds or production batches untended outside the perimeter fence?"
"The predictable obstacles are: that regulatory oversight will become more stringent and exhaustive because of the juxtaposition of drug crop and food crop; that protest lobbies will obstruct the drugs-in-food-crops companies directly through the legal system; that they will also obstruct them indirectly by applying pressure on corn producers generally; that producers and farmers' interest groups will run away very quickly from the fight as soon as any of their markets are threatened; that European corn producers will decry the potential commingling of food-corn and drug-corn; that a consignment of drug-corn will find its way into bird-feed mix and, by an amazing coincidence, be picked up by random tests conducted by Friends of the Earth; that 'Pigeon Fanciers [Twitchers] Against GM' will mobilize celebrity ornithologists against drug-corn; that politicians in technologically lagging nations will introduce trade barriers, such as traceability, that have little technical merit but much populist appeal. In short, the whole farce of GM food could play out again, only this time with much greater justification."
Mark Griffiths of NLP Wessex commented on the article, "That it should even prove necessary to debate such an issue in a scientific journal is proof, if any were needed, that there is more stupidity in the ag-biotech industry than there is hydrogen in the known universe..."
Sadly, however, Nature Biotechnology has poked its head out of the mire of stupidity, but has not chosen to pull itself out entirely. Its solutions for the pharmacrop crisis are twofold:
1. THE GEOGRAPHICAL CONDOM: avoiding growing pharma crops in regions where food crops are grown, e.g. don't grow pharmaceutical corn in the Midwestern cornbelt - grow it in New England or California.
2. THE SPECIES CONDOM: avoiding growing pharma crops in food or feed crops. Instead, grow them in non-food crops such as duckweed or flax.
These condoms are so riddled with holes that only stupid white men would put their trust in them. Obvious objections to (1) are that crops are frequently mixed together in processing, no matter where they are grown; that for many reasons, different regions constantly change their favoured crops and will surely do so more in the future, as climate change kicks in; and that birds and freak weather conditions can carry pollen and seed for miles.
Many people will find (2) an outrage. Many people do use flax seed and flax oil as foods. And all plants are food for something. Duckweed, as the name suggests, is food for ducks, and is a useful medicinal herb for people. Do we really want to drug ducks? http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2621
+ WALES BLOCKS GO-AHEAD FOR BRITAIN'S FIRST GM CROP
The UK government has been forced to postpone plans to announce the go-ahead for GM crops in Britain after Wales and Scotland refused to cooperate. The announcement was supposed to allow, in principle, the first GM crop in Britain, a strain of GM maize called Chardon LL or T25 and patented by Bayer.
The Welsh executive, which is keen to foster organic farming, was eager to safeguard farmers and declined to give permission for the crop. The Scottish executive has also refused permission.
The government was considering giving the green light for maize to be grown in England alone. But the Welsh executive pointed out that UK regulations stipulate that a particular crop can be grown in one country only if the other two agree.
An unexpected lifeline has been thrown to the opponents of GM in the wording of EU regulations on cross-fertilisation between GM crops and conventional varieties. In order to sell produce as non-GM it must contain less than 0.9% of GM content.
The government believed that because maize pollen does not spread easily [this is rubbish - see next item], GM maize could be grown close to conventional varieties without risk of breaching this threshold. However, the EU rules say that member states must set the rules of co-existence so as to endeavour to keep contamination to zero or below 0.1%, the detectable level of GM.
Government lawyers believe the government would be open to a probably successful legal challenge if they did not set separation distances accordingly. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2598
More on the Welsh Assembly's decision: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2623
+ MINISTER WILL MAKE WALES GM FREE - OR MAYBE NOT
A breathless article in the Western Mail claims that Wales' first minister Rhodri Morgan recently gave the clearest signal yet that Wales will be a GM-free zone: "He vowed that the National Assembly would do all that was legally possible to restrict genetically modified crops in Wales... Rhodri Morgan said, 'The National Assembly is committed to approving the most restrictive approach [on GM crops] allowed by EU and UK legislation.'"
However, the minister has left himself plenty of wriggle room. He added it was also the duty of the Assembly to ensure the public had a "true freedom of choice", which, from the mouths of politicians and industry-ites, usually means only the choice to eat GM, and not the choice to avoid it. Morgan also said that Wales would do whatever UK and EU legislation allowed to prevent organic crops being polluted by GM crops. But politicians have a habit of interpreting Euro laws to support whatever policy they are pushing. So, you've made a promising start, Rhodri, but you could do better. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2619
+ MAIZE PRONE TO CROSS-CONTAMINATION
New evidence has emerged from the US on the extent to which different varieties of maize cross-pollinate. Organic farmer Victor Schrock, of Illinois, grew a variety of blue maize that cross pollinated normal yellow maize grown three miles from his holding.
Mr Schrock, who farms 1,600 acres organically, grew the open pollinated blue maize for the first time in 2003. It produces distinctive blue kernels and Mr Schrock received calls from farmers three miles away worried that the blue kernels were so abundant and noticeable in their crops that they would have problems selling it. The group GM-Free Cymru has passed the evidence to Carwyn Jones, Wales Countryside Minister.
"We thought that what amounts to an excellent field experiment, illustrating the distance over which cross contamination of neighbouring crops of maize can occur, would be very useful to Mr Jones when dealing with the imminent threat of commercialisation and drawing up co-existence regulations for GM maize in Wales," said Ian Panton of GM-Free Cymru. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2623
+ GREENGLOVES PLEDGE
2,200 people have thus far signed the Green Gloves pledge to pull up GM crops, or support those who do, if they are commercialised - see www.greengloves.org
+ FISCHLER SAYS NO NEED FOR MORATORIUM, PREDICTS GM WILL BECOME THE NORMAL WAY TO BREED SEEDS
Franz Fischler, EU agriculture commissioner, was in Oxford last week to defend the motion "Free trade is fair trade" at the Oxford Union. Some students were predictably unimpressed. When asked what he thought of Britain being on the point of authorising the growing of GM maize, Fischler said: "I don't see any reason any more for a moratorium. We are at the beginning of a new technology ... I think this will become more and more the normal way to breed new varieties."
- John Vidal, Eco Sounding, The Guardian, February 11, 2004 http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2619
+ WHAT BELGIUM SAID ABOUT BAYER'S GM OILSEED RAPE APPLICATION
The Belgian Biosafety Council has issued a report giving its reasons for refusing Bayer's application to grow its Liberty Link oilseed rape MS8xRF3. These are:
- effective and practicable measures minimizing the environmental risks associated with this GM line have not been defined. The Belgian Biosafety Council considered that "presently, a number of the recommendations of the agricultural guidelines proposed by the notifier in order to limit the vertical gene flow are impracticable, hardly workable and hard to control in current agricultural practices ... "
- a loss of biodiversity due to the use of the associated herbicide was demonstrated in the Farmscale Evaluation trials in the UK and no measures compensating this loss were proposed by the notifier. The Belgian Biosafety Council observed that: "short term adverse effects on biodiversity of the GM crops and the associated herbicide were demonstrated in the FSE trials"
- the long distance dissemination of pollen, an intrinsic oilseed rape characteristic, will lead to a gene flow to the neighbouring oilseed rape fields and wild relatives, at a time where coexistence regulation is not yet entered into force. The Belgian Biosafety Council considered that "such a gene flow can lead to the long-distance dissemination resulting in the potential fertilization of wild relatives currently present in European flora and the adventitious presence of GM material in neighbouring fields." http://www.biosafety.be/TP/partC/StatementBE_C_BE_96_01.pdf"
+ US-EUROPEAN ROW ON GM CROPS SET TO TROUBLE U.N. BIODIVERSITY TALKS
The chief bone of contention between the US and Europe at the three-week gathering on the United Nations' biodiversity accord, which began 12 Feb in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is GMOs. The conference will review application of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, an offshoot of the 1992 Rio summit that promotes conservation and sustainable use of species, bacteria and genes.
Argentina, Canada and the US, the major growers of GM crops, helped draw up the Biosafety Protocol, a legally binding offshoot of the Convention which deals with transboundary movements of GMOs. They have refused to ratify it, partly in deference to their farming lobbies. But they have the right to attend as observers, and the signs are that they will actively and vocally defend their interests.
The US is sending its assistant secretary of state for the environment, Claudia McMurray, backed by a team of about 30 officials: a powerful show of media power that it also deployed at the Kyoto Protocol talks in Milan in December. "The US is trying to undermine the Biosafety Protocol and prevent the labelling of GMOs," said Eric Gall, GMO policy advisor for Greenpeace Europe. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2597
+ US AND AUSSIE WRECKERS AT CONFERENCE
See interesting feedback by Patrick Mulvaney from the above conference at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2618
Patrick reports that Australia is attempting to undermine the Precautionary Principle as defined in the Biodiversity Convention and the Biosafety Protocol and make Convention on Biological Diversity decisions subordinate to trade agreements such as the WTO. Patrick explains that the USA, as a non-Party to the Convention, can only operate through others; Australia is often its proxy.
+ CALL FOR CHANGES IN RESEARCH FUNDING AS GM FAILS WHERE CONVENTIONAL BREEDING SUCCEEDS
GE Free New Zealand has called for a change in research funding following the failure of the GM sweet potato project and the success of a conventional breeding project in creating a virus-resistant plant. A recent study in the US also revealed overall yields in commercialised GE crops are lower than conventionally bred crops and need more chemicals after the first few years.
"Evidence is mounting that public funding of GE research is not the best way for government to spend our taxes," says GE Free NZ's Claire Bleakley. "The benefits or organics and IPM [Integrated Pest Management] are proven - not speculative: so why is money being gambled on GE instead of being spent on these sure-bets for New Zealand? The government should listen to their citizens and put precious research money into conventional breeding, organics and research into sustainable farming."
This call for a redirection of funding is timely. The Nuffield Council's recent report, produced by a working group dominated by GM proponents, including two former leading lights of the John Innes Centre (JIC), together with the pro-GM lobbyists at Sense About Science, are all pushing for a big increase in public funding of GM research to fill the gap left by the corporate retreat (e.g. Syngenta's multi-million pull out at the JIC/UC Berkeley etc.). The failed GM project in Kenya consumed $6m of funding that came from private (Monsanto), public (USAID) and private/foundation (ISAAA) sources. The redirection of research to stop this massive waste of scarce resources on producing inefficient and unmarketable products is long overdue. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2596
+ USDA EMPLOYEES EARN EXTRA FROM GM CROPS
Craig Sams has written to draw our attention to the fact that US Dept of Ag (USDA) employees gain financially from the sales of GM patented seed that USDA helped develop. In particular, employees stand to profit from the widely hated Terminator technology crops. As these USDA employees are the same people who approve and regulate GM crops, there appears to be something of a conflict of interest.
Excerpts from Craig's mail:
... the fact that the US govt funds research and that USDA employees then get royalties from the patents on that research is an outrage. How on earth can they be expected to make rational choices when a pro-GM choice [which is patentable] can increase their income up to the annual cap of $150,000 a year and a non-GM choice leaves them with nothing but their salary?
The Terminator gene in particular, but any USDA discovered gene construct in general, can generate huge profits for USDA researchers...:
In a recent interview with RAFI, the Canada-based Rural Advancement Foundation International, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) spokesman, Willard Phelps, explained that the USDA wants this technology to be "widely licensed and made expeditiously available to many seed companies." The goal, he said, is "to increase the value of proprietary seed owned by US seed companies and to open up new markets in Second and Third World countries." [http://www.sustainable-city.org/articles/terminat.htm]
The USDA and Delta & Pine Land Co. have applied for patents on the terminator technology in at least 78 countries! Once the technology is commercialized, the USDA will earn royalties of about 5% of net sales. "I think it will be profitable for USDA," Phelps said. (Royalties? Profits? For a Department of the US Federal Government? What's wrong with this picture?)
The USDA is eager to pass technology on to the private sector, and researchers work closely with companies. But they are not allowed to create start-ups the way many university professors are now encouraged to do. Once an idea is ripe for implementation, the USDA casts about for an industrial partner. Then, typically, the government retains the patent and the company gets the first licensing rights to the technology. Researchers cannot invest in these companies, but they do get a 25 per cent share of the licensing royalties up to a maximum of $150,000 a year.
+ 'MIRAGE' OF GM'S GOLDEN PROMISE
Worth reading after the GM sweet potato debacle is a surprisingly sceptical article by the BBC's Alex Kirby with the above title, published in September 2003, about that other pretended saviour of the poor, Golden Rice.
"... poorly-fed people are unlikely to be able to absorb beta-carotene even when they eat golden rice. To use it, they need a diverse diet, including green leafy vegetables. But the sorts of vegetables people used to be able to find have declined in number as the green revolution of the 60s and 70s emphasised monocultures of new varieties. Household consumption of vegetables in India has fallen by 12% in two decades." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2620
See the GM WATCH profile of Ingo Potrykus, the originator of Golden Rice, at http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=105&page=P
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"For years, they worked hard, manipulating scientific data, to justify the increasing public investment in a risky technology. For several years now, they have succeeded in diverting the public attention from the more pressing problems of hunger and malnutrition for the sake of private profit. The citadel of scientific fraud has now begun to crumble.
"Amidst reports that the pesticide applications on GM crops in the United States have actually multiplied, comes the damming indictment of the faulty technology from the crop fields of Africa. Trials to develop a virus-resistant sweet potato, launched in Kenya in 2001 by the US special envoy, Dr Andrew Young, have failed. The much-hyped GM technology, that was claimed to usher in a green revolution in Africa, has finally turned out to be scientific crap."
- Devinder Sharma, "GM crops - If it can't work, fake it!" http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2624
CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK - UK
+ WRITE TO BLAIR TO CONTINUE GM MORATORIUM
Five Year Freeze, an umbrella organisation embracing 120 British NGOs, has written a letter to UK prime minister Tony Blair asking him to continue the GM moratorium and "until our questions [about the risks of GMOs] have been properly answered". Among the groups represented by the letter are Britain's 2 largest trade unions and the Women's Institute, the largest national organisation for women in the UK. The combined membership is many times greater than all the UK's political parties put together and they all want a continuing ban on GM commercialisation.
Five Year Freeze asks us to write to Tony Blair [address: The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair MP, 10 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AA] in the next couple of weeks, before the Government announcement of its decision on GM, with the message that the UK is not ready for GM crops and that you do not support any decision in favour of commercialisation. FYF says: "We do not know exactly when the announcement will be made, but we are expecting it to be in two stages. The first will be a response to the FSEs and the public debate and is expected in March. The second is likely to be a specific decision on the commercial growing of GM maize, later in March. If the Government comes under enough pressure they do take notice!"
See Five Year Freeze's letter to Blair at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2625
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the GMWATCH archive
11/2/2004 Scandal of Labour's GM go-ahead / EU ag minister says no need for moratorium
11/2/2004 US & Aussie wreckers at COP7/How to find out what's going on
10/2/2004 'Mirage' of GM's golden promise / Potrykus profile
10/2/2004 GM crops - If it can't work, fake it!
10/2/2004 Stupid white men running biotech
10/2/2004 The gloves are off / Welsh and blue maize / Why GM oilseed rape rejected
10/2/2004 USDA employees earn extra from GM crops
9/2/2004 A letter to Tony Blair from 120 UK NGOs
9/2/2004 Call for Change in Research Funding as GE Fails where Conventional Breeding Succeeds
9/2/2004 Row on GM crops set to trouble United Nations biodiversity talks
9/2/2004 Transgenes in the human gut - Science Review Panel may have got it wrong
9/2/2004 Wales blocks go-ahead for Britain's first GM crop
6/2/2004 THE WEEKLY WATCH NUMBER 58 - and monthly review
FOR THE COMPLETE GMWATCH ARCHIVE: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive.asp
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