GP GMO update 11/14/97
GENETIC ENGINEERING CAMPAIGN UPDATE by Paul Clarke of Greenpeace
* New Scientist printed several interesting articles on November 1,
including info on the Scottish ladybug experiments (from the last
update), as well as recent information on genetic transfer and
Roundup Ready Cotton. For those of you with internet access, these
articles can be found at:
A couple of clippings from this: * Agricultural botanists in France
have now shown that genes for herbicide resistance engineered into
oilseed rape can persist for several generations in hybrids between
the transgenic rape and wild radishes. Industry sources fear that
the new results will further undermine public acceptance of
genetically engineered crops.
The escape of genes into wild plants has always been the main worry
surrounding transgenic crops. To study this, Anne-Marie Chèvre and
her colleagues at INRA, France's national agricultural research
agency, planted plots of wild radish, Raphanus raphanistrum, next to
transgenic oilseed rape, Brassica napus. The rape was engineered to
carry a gene for resistance to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium
and did not produce pollen. Researchers had previously found
evidence that the rape produced hybrids with shared characteristics;
further experiments were followed through four generations, with
variable results. However, even in the fourth generation, 20
percent of the hybrids retained the gene for herbicide resistance.
Although the results suggest that the gene might be lost eventually,
botanists note that the hybrids studied by the French team are more
persistent than many crosses between different species, which
frequently don't survive beyond the first generation. "Often things
will die out at that stage," says Philip Dale of the Joh nInnes
Centre in Norwich. John Beringer of the University of Bristol, who
chairs Britain's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment,
believes that there is no cause for public alarm. But hybrid weeds
could remain in fields and sprout despite herbicide spraying. "It is
more of a problem for farmers than a nenvironmental problem."
Industry sources fear the French findings could delay approval for
transgenic crops currently awaiting the green light in Europe, which
include five separate strains of herbicide-resistant oilseed rape.
"We've had a whole spate of bad news recently," says David Bennett
of the European Federation of Biotechnology, based in The Hague. "I
can only assume the European Commission will react badly."
* Some 320,000 hectares (790,720 acres) across the US were planted
with Roundup Ready cotton this season, its first on the market. In
Mississippi, and to some extent in Arkansas, Tennessee and
Louisiana, entire fields have shed their bolls, or have developed
small, malformed bolls.
Robert McCarty, director of Mississippi's Bureau of Plant Industry
in Starkville, says that only Monsanto plants seem to have failed,
over an area totalling 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres). "Cotton right
across the road of a different variety was not affected," he says.
Monsanto maintains that only a few thousand hectares are involved,
and argues that malformed bolls have also been seen with other
varieties. But Lisa Drake, a spokeswoman at Monsanto's headquarters
in St Louis, Missouri, accepts that plants that have dropped bolls
look similar to those damaged in tests involving very large doses of
herbicide. She speculates that an abnormally cold, wet spring
in Mississippi stressed some plants and reduced their herbicide
Charles Merkel, a Mississippi lawyer representing about a dozen
cotton farmers, accuses Monsanto of trying to play dow nthe problem.
He claims that his clients' losses alone may total millions of
dollars. From New Scientist, 1 November 1997
* (clipped from Nikkei English News, 10/30/97) U.S. To Hold
Bioengineering Seminars In Japan: TOKYO --The U.S. Department of
Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration will send a
delegation to Japan to assuage concerns about bioengineered
agricultural products by holding seminars in Tokyo, Sapporo and
Fukuoka in December. The move follows rising concerns about the
safety of such food and calls for clear labelling. Some in Japan and
Europe want to ban imports. U.S. acreage devoted to such products is
expanding yearly, and it is a major exporter. The U.S. delegation
will likely ask the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to exchange
opinions about the matter.
* (clipped from Reuters, 10/31/97) Ag researchers to use biotech
patents to aid poor By Charles Abbott WASHINGTON, Oct 31 (Reuters) -
The global network for agricultural research will use "pre-emptive
patents" if needed to assure biotechnology's fruits improves the
food supply of the developing world, its chairman said Friday.
Leaders of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural
Research also announced progress on a major enhancement of corn. It
would allow hybrid corn to reproduce itself without the loss of
vigor that now forces farmers to buy new seed every year to maintain
yields. During its annual meeting, CGIAR endorsed biotechnology as a
research technique. Supporters said it was necessary for the group's
16 research centers to protect their biotech work so it would be
available for free to the developing world. At one point, Serageldin
(CGIAR chair) said "pre-emptive patents" could counter what was
described as "saturation patenting" by competitors around any work
that looked promising. About $30 million of CGIAR's annual funding
now goes to biotechnology projects, Serageldin said. Donors have
pledged $335 million to run the CGIAR system next year. There was
"general agreement," Serageldin said, that biotech should be one of
the tools available to researchers. Most of CGIAR's biotech work
focuses on traits such as heat and drought tolerance and pest and
disease resistance that will result in more bountiful food. Patenting
has become a divisive issue for agricultural biotechnology. While
some say a patent is simply a way to gain repayment for research and
crop improvements, others say it hijacks a plant or natural process
previously available to all.
* (clipped from Information Systems on Biotechnology News Report,
11/4/97) PIONEER HI-BRED CONTINUES TO MAKE DEALS Leading agricultural
biotechnology corporation Pioneer Hi-Bred International has been
active on the business front over the past few months. In August,
Pioneer announced the formation of an alliance and joint venture
with DuPont to speed the discovery, development and delivery of new
technologies and crops in the coming years. As part of the
agreement, DuPont will invest $1.7 billion in Pioneer, ultimately
owning 20 percent of its stock for $104 per share and two seats on
Pioneer's board of directors. The $104 per share is at a premium to
Pioneer's market price of $93 per share (as of the writing of this
article). The vision behind the alliance is to create synergy by
bringing together DuPont's capabilities in materials sciences and
biotechnology with Pioneer's global strength in corn and oilseed
genetics to nurture the genesis of new products.
The alliance creates one of the world's largest private agricultural
research and development collaborations, with the companies combined
investing over $400 million in agricultural research in the next
year. A portion of the budgets will go to directly support the new
joint venture through collaborative research in genetic modification
of corn, soybeans, and other oilseeds to improve their oil, protein,
and carbohydrate composition. The equally owned joint venture,
Optimum Quality Grains, will work to bring newly developed products
to the market. DuPont anticipates taking a one-time, non-cash charge
to earnings in relation to the deal, funding the transaction with
cash flow from operations and debt, as needed. The charge will be
taken as a write-off assigned to in-process research and
development, and is not expected to exceed $1 billion.
Pioneer is using a portion of the proceeds to buy back some of its
own stock. In late October, the company announced that it
anticipated purchasing approximately 16.4 million shares at a price
within an estimated range of $92.50 to $94 per share in a Dutch
auction self tender offer. The company's stock has risen from a
past year low in the $50s to its current value per share in the
$90s. Part of the reason for the markets support of the stock is the
company's overall performance. Pioneer has recently done a number of
other deals related to biotechnology. The company's healthy
financial position and growth expectations, in addition to major
deals like the DuPont alliance, provide strong validation for the
future of biotechnology as a cornerstone in commercial agriculture.
Reference: Pioneer Hi-Bred web site, http://www.pioneer.com, 1997.
* (clipped from Reuters, 11/6/97) EU delays plan to end bans on
gene-altered maize BRUSSELS: European Union governments on
Wednesday stalled for two months European Commission attempts to
prevent Austria and Luxembourg banning imports of
genetically-modified maize, EC officials said. The decision was
welcomed by Greenpeace, though the environmental organisation said
it would have prefered an outright rejection of Commission plans to
overturn national bans on gene-altered maize.
Denmark and Sweden wrote to European Environment Commissioner Ritt
Bjerregaard last week urging her to delay plans to repeal the
Austrian and Luxembourg bans, saying there was still widespread
public anxiety about the consequences of using gene technology.
They also said they were concerned that the Commission had failed to
start monitoring insect resistance to the Bt toxin, despite a
commitment to do so in December 1996.
The maize, produced by the Swiss agrochemical multinational
Novartis, contains a Bt toxin which is designed to ward off pests.
But this may result in insects becoming resistant to the toxin, which
is used in natural formulations by organic farmers, according to
Greenpeace. Austria, worried by health risks, last December
unilaterally banned imports of the maize, which is resistant to the
herbicide gluphosinate. Luxembourg and Italy followed suit but the
Commission said on September 10 that there was no scientific
justification for their bans. Luxembourg and Austria have vowed to
fight any decision to repeal the ban in the European Court of
Justice. Under EU procedures, the Commission's decision can only be
overturned competely if all 15 member states vote against it.
* (clipped from Reuters, 11/5/97) Wide opposition to UK's gene food
labels stance LONDON: The British government has been left isolated
by a broad front of food processors, retailers, consumers and
environmental groups opposed to its view on plans for labelling
gene-modified products. Genetically modified (GM) soya has already
started to appear in food products on British supermarket shelves,
but the question of what to put on the labels has yet to be
resolved. As it will not be possible to tell whether GM soya has
been used or not, the EU Commission has put forward a proposal with
includes a "may contain..." category of label for soya and other
But food processors, retailers, consumers and environmental
campaigners were united in their scorn for the idea. Only food
safety minister Jeff Rooker, who has called for better labelling of
GM foods, is ready to accept it. The British government position was
to push for more labelling. "Jeff Rooker would like to see all GM
foods labelled, even if it says 'may contain,"' a ministry of
agriculture spokeswoman said.
"I know of no other significant body of opinion that regards 'may
contain,' as acceptable," Greenpeace campaigner Douglas Parr told
Reuters. Parr wondered why the foods could not simply be labelled
with the words "contains genetically modified soya." A similar view
was taken by the British Retail Consortium, the retailers' trade
group. Food and drink director Janet Nunn pointed out that once this
year's US harvest gets through the food chain, by the turn of the
year, there was likely to be GM soya in every cargo.
Thus retailers were gearing up to start using the word "contains"
with out the "may." "May contains" just gives the message that you
don't know," she said Consumers undoubtedly wanted genetically
modified foods "to be labelled clearly and fully so that they can
decide whether to eat them or not," according to the Consumers'
Association's recent policy report Gene Cuisine. "It's
difficult to find people who are happy with it," Greenpeace's
Douglas Parr said. "It doesn't satisfy anybody's needs."
Although US producers were adamant that segregation could not be
achieved, the Consumers Association took a cynical view. "It will be
interesting to see whether segregation remains so difficult to
achieve when the genetic modification results in a benefit that can